Wednesday, September 19, 2007

7 Reasons Why Windows Won't Succeed On My Desktop

The closed-source operating system is destined to stay stuck with Viruses and all forms of nasty malware endlessly filling up our inboxes with crap, blogger David Baucum opines. Read why he believes Windows hasn't--and isn't--going to be used on his PCs, then join the debate by posting your opinion in the discussion section at the article's end.

It is inarguably accurate to note that, while Microsoft is a success on the desktop market, the closed-source operating system has been a dismal failure on my desktop. There are at least seven solid reasons, which I'll detail below, why Microsoft Windows has not been installed on any of my PCs since 2006, and never will by my operating system of choice.
Microsoft's failure to to be stable, reliable, or secure is all the more mystifying when you consider that it has billions of dollars in capital to throw at the problems.

Average PC users have been swayed by vehement marketing and FUD campaigns from Microsoft that it's so clearly superior to anything and everything from any other vendor. It seems clear that more users have been bamboozled by the outright deception hurled at them from Microsoft and their legions of suckered users.

While Vista, the newest implementation, has overhaul its security and stability, user reports across the web have shown that it's not as stable as many had hoped and anti-malware is still necessary for anyone who wants to keep their PCs clean. Even if it did do a good job, it's too little too late.

One caveat: While I believe all the arguments I lay out below are valid, I don't give a flying flip what you run. Use what you like. Honestly, I JUST DON'T CARE. If you ask my opinion I will give it to you, but I'm not a Jahova's witness, and my operating system choice is not a religious one. It's simply a matter of personal preforance.

Before I dive into the seven reasons Linux on the desktop will remain an also-ran, let's frame the debate with a quick analysis of the current market share of the open-source operating system...not really. I don't care. So let's move in to the reason why Windows will not succeed on my desktop.

Prohibitive Applications
In case you don't know, Linux is a free and open source operating system. This means that the source code used to write the operating system, and most of the program that run on it, is made freely available. This gives me, or anyone else with programming skills, the ability to make whatever changes to the program I want.
For most people this means nothing because they are not programmers. But the non-programmers still win because when the community says, "This program needs to be able to do X" someone out there will write the code to make it do that. This is why Linux is so feature rich.
This also means that you don't pay anything. That's right, it's all 100% free. The operating system is free, the Office suite is free, everything. You simply don't pay anyone any money. For me, that is a real deal breaker.
Another prohibition that Windows and most of it's software developers put on its software is that they use proprietory formats. This might sound like another thing that the average person really isn't going to care about, but it actually affects us in very many ways.
Let's take for example Microsoft Word. It defaults to saving files in a .doc format. The specifications for this format are closed so that only Microsoft, and people who sign deals with Microsoft, have access to the knowledge to implement software that can work with .doc files. This restricts the ability of developers to create applications that work with .doc files, and indeed Microsoft Word is the only program that allows you to succesfully open and edit .doc files. Other programs try to "reverse engineer" the format, but with hit-or-miss success.
This doesn't stop with .doc files. Most closed source programs implement their own proprietory formats that only work with their own program. While this is great for the software provider and their profit margins, it is bad for everyone else, especially the user who is stuck with "vendor lockin."
Open standards are very important in any industry. In the 80's networking relied on closed-source protocols that other vendors could not implement. This meant that business had to pick one provider, pay them loads of money, and could never switch to anyone else without completely replacing their whole entire network.
Once open standards hit the cost of networking went dramatically down because of competition. That's right, open-source created jobs galore and reduced prices. IBM et. all suffered, but to the benefit of everyone else. Microsoft and co do not want this to happen to them. They want you to use only their product and be stuck there. This only benefits them, not you. It's economics 101. Monopolies only hurt.

The Fanboy alienation factor
There's nothing worse to a Linux user than a Microsoft fanboy. This is the problem they pose, I don't care what they use, but they seem to care immensely about what I use. I don't know why this is. The Microsoft fanboys are always there to taunt me and try to make me "see the light." What do they care what light I see? It doesn't affect them at all. It's not even that big a deal to me. I just want my PC to work well and that's what Linux provides me. It's not like this is a major life ordeal.
It's like Coke vs. Pepsi. Who cares. Find which one you like and it get it. I'll drink both, but I prefer Pepsi. Please don't try to tell me to do otherwise. I don't care enough.

Open-Source creates jobs.
I touched on this previously. Closed source created monopolies, which is bad for the market.
Free isn't bad either. Corporations spend hundred of millions of dollars a year on software. The majority of this money is pocketed by the company in a way that they can maximize profits. This means they implement as little as possible on the leanest staff they can get away with and use the rest to increase their bottom line. This is all at the expense on the consumers that purchase their software.
Open-source allows those companies to free up a significant part of their IT expenses.
The obvious problem is that this puts programmers out of business. As a prospective future programmer this of course concerns me.
But there is a caveat, the businesses need programs. People clearly aren't going to program 40 hours a week just because. But, when there is a community of developers (paid or unpaid) this allows them to pool their resources together to hire programmers to work on applications. When just a portion of those millions saved are put towards hiring a (relatively) small group of programmers to contribute to the software that they rely on on a day-to-day basis, we all win. Companies save money, we all get to use the software, and lastly, companies get to use the software the way the want it.
Let's take for example Open Office. Let's say a company is using the software but their are feature that they need. They can bring this up their programmers. Their programmers can then put those ideas out to the community. If the community accepts these ideas then they will all work in collaberation to implement them. This reduces the programming costs for all parties involved while allowing them to collaberate to produce a better product because more ideas and muscle is put behind the project. If the community rejects the idea, or likes it but wants to implement it in a way that isn't quite what the company wants or needs, they can still implement it. They simply fork the code and go from there.
This model currently exists in both the corporate and private sector, though clearly not as the defacto standard. What does this mean to me? It means I get to use corporate grade software for free. I have free access to database toosl, office suites, programming environments, games, and more for free. The companies develop it beceause they need it, the individuals develop it because they want it, and I use it because it rocks.

Resistance from me
This is one thing I mus admit. I love alternatives. Alternatives are usually more fun and represent a lot of the way I run my life. Music found on MTV or the radio has rarely represented my musical tastes. I voted for Nader the last two elections. My clothing selection can't be found at the mall. Even my kids have alternative names, Aurora, Athena and Arianna. There's a saying that it's always the non-thinkers that always come in droves.
Using this rule it's easy to come to the assumption that because most people use Windows that there must be a better alternative, and I'm right. Even the closed-source and even more proprietory MAC is a more stable, reliable and secure choice.

Linux isn't simple, but "It Just Works"
This isn't really 100% true. On the software side of things the market sucks really bad. We are just now starting to see the real potential of software, but we still haven't implemented good software. It is still buggy and not very user friendly. Apple is just starting to make a lot of headway in usability, but the amount of usability they are able impliment should be the technoloy of yesteryear, not cutting edge.
I'm sorry to say that there just isn't an OS out there that really is good. All require the end user to learn and learn lots before they are able to use their PC without having to call up their geeky cousing, or God forbid have to take it to the Geek Squad on a regular basis.
BUT, and this is a realy big BUT, Linux "Just Works" much better than Windows. I was always having to reformat my Windows drive in the past. And when I wasn't reformatting because I had given up, I was researching problems and trying my hardest to squash them.
With Ubuntu I'm using my compuer more than I am fixing it. It is true that it does break. Sometimes things don't work like they are suppose to. But when I look back at my Windows days I know that I have the good life in comparrison.
This is especially important for my wife who doesn't like to have to go through complicated work-arounds to get things done. She hits the power button, logs in, and runs with whatever it is she wants to do.

Linux can do so much
Linux is really just a kernel (the software that handles the hardware) with a bunch of software built around it to give the user an interface to work with. All that extra software is not necessary for a Linux distribution. This gives programmers a lot of power to be creative. Linux can do almost anything. It can run cell phones, networking equipment, electronic toys, portable music players, and of course, your computer.
And you don't have to settle with one of doing things. With Windows there is one desktop and if you don't like it, or it's too much or too little for your PC, tough.
With Linux this is not true. There is a distro that will boot of a 3.25" disk. There's others that will boot off of a CD, no hard drive neccessary. Some distro are made for old computers. With Windows you either have to either upgrade your PC, buy a new PC, or stick with a version of Windows that no longer has security or bug fixes being supplied by Microsoft. With Linux you simply install a distro that was made for older computers and you still get vendor support. Why replace your computer every two years unless you are a gamer? How much PC power and hard drive space do you really need to browse the internet and read your e-mail a couple of times a week?
On the other hand, if you have a brand new computers there are distros that come with all the bells and whistles you expect in a modern operating system. This choice providers power to the end user.
It also provides power to companies. As Vista is being rolled out corporation will have to upgrade their perfectly good hardware to stay up to date. This upgrade is really superficial and unnecessary. The hardware is good and can do all the things that are required of it, the software (Vista) is just too bloated to be any good.
For me this means I can run Linux on all of my PCs. From my 2.0Ghz dual core, 2 Meg RAM, 256M Video Card desktop to my 600 Mhz 384M ram, 64M Video Card laptop. And they both run great. The experience is the same so I don't have to do any relearning.

The community
The Linux community is awesome. They are always willing and able to work with people to help them with their needs. From the grandma to the MCSE looking for another way.
The community is always looking for feedback, and that feedback can result in programmers hacking away at your latest ideas. If you notice bugs the developers are usually on-hand to take a look at what's going on and seeing what needs to be done to fix any problems you may have.
There are forums of Linux enthusiests ready to help scoured across the Internet. For businesses that rely on professional support there are multitudes of companies out there willing to help (for a fee of course.)
The community is also extremelly nice. From the developers to the people browsing the forums you couldn't ask for a more nice and open mined group of people.

Closing thoughts:
i really would like to restress the point that I'm not that concerned with what you use. My computer is very use-friendly, secure, safe and stable. I don't run any anti-malware programs, I'm not constantly trying to fix things, and I really just enjoy using my PC. The available software allows my to do all sorts of neet things. When i want software it's usually pretty easy to find what fits my needs. Software packages are incredibly easy to install and I don't need to shell out money at a store full of people who don't know what they are talking about *cough* Best Buy *cough*.
And if anything speaks volumes about it's ease-of-use, my wife can use it. She's very smart, but she is not a computer geak by any means. She expects things to work and doesn't put up with me providing her with things that don't.