Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Why Linux will never beat Windows, According to The Inquirer

I don’t mind seeing opposing arguments and The Inquirer seems to be on a roll in the Linux versus Windows debate. First an INQ writer explained why Vista would help him to make the transition to Linux. He is thinkering with his hardware all the time, each thinkering running the risk of needing a new activation of Vista. To quote:

Vista forces you to re-activate, or so I am told, if you look at it in the right way. Microsoft, in possibly the most shortsighted move in the company’s history, decided to lock Vista down to the first PC it is installed to and not allow you to move it legally. If you call it up, whine and lie, you can socially engineeer a few reactivations, but technically this is a licence violation. I won’t do that.

So, when I change the mobo on my box, or an unspecified other bit of hardware or three, Microsoft decides that my box is a new computer and my $399 copy of Vista is a doorstop – I must spend another $399 to continue working. Bill Gates does need the money, he gives away a lot of it on trips to cities thinking of moving to Linux.

For me, hardly a week goes by when I do not change the mobo on my machine, I keep getting new ones in the mail. Hard drives get swapped in and out, and video cards change on an almost daily basis. CPUs change slightly less often. If a week goes by when by Microsoft’s standards I do not get a ‘new’ computer, it generally is a sign that I have not been home for a week.

Well, that was easy enough, but the discussion continues with the following article entitled Linux is not an option. The key argument here is that most people won’t ever open their box and leave it happily running without any hardware upgrades untill they buy a new box.

The vast majority of PCs spend their entire lives unopened and most of them – the home boxes, anyway – still run the operating system and apps that were installed when it was new. Normal people don’t swap motherboards, processors and graphics cards. Normal people don’t add extra RAM. Normal people don’t upgrade hard disks. For them, a PC is a consumer item like a TV or DVD player – they use it until it breaks then throw it away and replace it with a new one.

While for businesses, prepared to fund a basement full of geeks to keep their IT running, Linux is an option. For home users, it isn’t. Home users rely on a bloke in the pub to pop round to kick their PC if it misbehaves and reward him with a couple of pints or, if he’s lucky, a bottle of Scotch. Monetary remuneration simply doesn’t enter into the equation – home users simply aren’t prepared to pay for support.

I have been one of those blokes in the pub for years  and I can assure you that trying to talk an ordinary person through an impenetrable command line interface over the phone isn’t something I’m prepared to even contemplate. By comparison, giving telephone advice to someone running Windows is a piece of cake – it requires zero technical aptitude at the far end.

I wouldn’t go that far. I tried to help some computer illiterates over the phone and it is a challenge to keep them clicking on the right icons and not veer of with a “hey, this is interesting”.

The next contribution by the last writer deals with the question what it would take for Linux to become as viable for the desktop as Windows. The Why Microsoft will offer an Open Source OS article takes the viewpoint that this is not going to happen. Support, marketing and advertising all cost money and -according to the author- you can only make money if your distribution has something other don’t (and keep it that way).

But, in order for a company to market a product successfully, ensure it is properly supported and isn’t stolen, you also need to differentiate it from all the other flavours of Linux. This means including features that aren’t available on other people’s versions of Linux. Programmers, designers and consultants will have to be hired to develop these features and drivers. These people aren’t cheap. Even games cost $50-60 a copy mainly because they need to include all this stuff, and an OS is far more complex. Pretty soon, you’ll be looking at Linux price tags that are just a few dollars behind basic Windows products. Whoops.

And if that’s the case, will users be prepared to throw away decades of familiarity, know-how and training and learn something new just to save $20, or will they stick with something familiar? In order for Linux to rival Windows, it will have to become the very thing it set out to destroy.

Well, if money were the only argument to yes or no switch to Linux he might have a point. It’s just that money isn’t the whole side of the equation. With more and more consumer items running on Linux already (hello, TiVo anyone, routers, new Nokia cell phone) and having more and more servers in the basements running our favorite distro, the presence of Linux continues to grow.

True, support needs to get a lot better but we are working on that.

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One thought on “Why Linux will never beat Windows, According to The Inquirer

  1. Well spoken Jan!

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