perspective Despite the positive buzz generated by Windows 7, it is only a matter of time before Linux takes its rightful place at the top of the operating-system pile.
Microsoft's failings are finally catching up with it and will cause the once-unstoppable juggernaut to cede to Linux. A key event was September 14, 2000, when Microsoft set a tiny snowball rolling with the release of the deeply flawed Windows Me. That snowball has been gaining momentum, despite some ups and downs along the way--XP was an up, for example.
In many respects, the public mood has already shifted against the operating system that was once considered the heart of personal computing. Here are 10 reasons why that shift has taken place:
1. Inconsistent Windows releases
One of the things you can always count on is that you cannot count on new Microsoft operating systems to be reliable.
Let's look at the individual releases:
- Windows 95: Revolutionized personal computing
- Windows 98: Attempted to improve on Windows 95, but failed miserably
- Windows Me: A joke, plain and simple
- Windows NT: Attempted to bring enterprise-level seriousness to the operating system. Would have succeeded had it not taken Stephen Hawking-like intelligence to get it working
- Windows XP: Brought life back to the failing Windows operating system; not since Windows 95 had the operating system seemed this simple.
- Windows Vista: See Windows Me
With this in mind, what do we expect from Windows 7, which is now in the Release Candidate stage? Not much, in my view.
2. Consistent Linux releases
Contrasting with those problems with Windows versions, the various Linux distributions have been far more consistent. Of course, there have been a few dips along the way--Fedora 9 was one of them. But for the most part, the climb for Linux has been steadily upward.
Nearly every Linux distribution has improved with age. And this improvement is not limited to the kernel. Look at how desktops, end-user software, servers, security and admin tools have all improved over time. Once could easily argue that KDE 4 is an example of a sharp decrease in improvement. However, if you look at how quickly KDE 4 has improved from 4.0 to 4.3 you can see nothing but gains. This observation holds true for applications and systems across the board with Linux.
3. Continuing Windows price hikes
Recently, I have had a number of long-time Microsoft administrators asking my advice on solid replacements for Exchange. The reason? Microsoft changed its licensing for Exchange.
Now anyone who logs on to an Exchange server must have a license. You have 100 employees, including administrators, who need to log on to Exchange? Pay up. This charging really starts to mount up when your company has 500-plus Exchange licenses.
The very idea of making such a significant change to licenses is particularly ridiculous given the state of the economy. Companies worldwide are having to scale back. And like ExxonMobil celebrating record profits amid the catastrophe known as Hurricane Katrina, Microsoft creating such a cost barrier while the globe is facing serious recession is reprehensible.
4. Consistent Linux costs
Again, in contrast to the previous point, the cost of open source software licenses has remained the same--zero. When those administrators come to me asking for open source replacements for Exchange, I point them to EGroupware and Open-Xchange. Both are outstanding groupware tools that offer an even larger feature set than their Microsoft equivalent. Both applications are reliable, scalable, secure and free.
The only outlay you will have with either application is for the hardware to install them on. And with both packages, there is no limit to the number of users.
5. Windows hardware incompatibility
Microsoft Vista was a nightmare for hardware compatibility. Not only was Vista incompatible with numerous peripherals, it took supercomputer-level iron to run the operating system.
Clearly, this was a boon to Intel, which stood to make a pretty penny from the operating system. Intel knew some of the public would be shelling out for new hardware, and the new hardware would cost more because it had to be faster to run Vista in all its Aero glory. But even hardware that would run nearly any other operating system very quickly was brought to a slow, grinding halt with Vista.
6. Linux hardware compatibility
Again, in contrast with Windows, Linux continues to advance in hardware compatibility. Take X.Org, for example. Recent developments with this star Linux graphical desktop allow the X Windows server to run without the xorg.conf file used for configuration.
This measure was taken primarily because the system had grown so good at detecting hardware. So long as there was no cheap KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) unit between your monitor and your PC, X.Org would easily find the mode for your display and run X properly. With new distributions, such as Fedora 10, X configuration is becoming a thing of the past.
7. Windows promises
We have all heard the pundits proclaiming Windows 7 will lead to a resurgence of the Microsoft operating system. But I recall that this same prediction was made for nearly every release from Microsoft.
Windows Vista was going to revolutionize the way the user interfaced with the computer. Vista was going to be the operating system you would never notice. Instead, Vista refused to take a back seat. And Windows Me was going to take Windows 98 and make it far simpler for the average user. What did it really do? Remove nearly every functioning system in the operating system, leaving little more than a browser and an e-mail client.
The public has finally reached such a level of apathy with Microsoft that most people are probably unaware of an impending launch. The media can continue to push Windows 7, but many people will continue to use XP until Microsoft pries it from their cold, dead fingers. And of course no-one really knows when Windows 7 will land.
8. Linux transparency
The next release of any Linux distribution is never shrouded in mystery. Because of the nature of open source, the release candidates are always available to the public--not on a limited basis--and the timeline is always made available.
Any user can know exactly when a feature-freeze happens for a release of any distribution. And all Linux distributions work under the full-disclosure model. Because of this fact, there is little false advertising going on with Linux. And you will never hear of a distribution claiming that its next release will revolutionize computing.
If you go to the Fedora Project Wiki, you can view all the proposed and accepted features that will be included in the next release. You can also view the completed release schedule, where you will see that Fedora 11 has a final release of May 26, 2009. Such dates are fairly firm and almost always on target.
9. Feature comparison
Let's compare the feature lists of Windows 7 and Fedora 11.
- Windows 7: OS X-like docking; multi-touch screen; mapping application similar to Google Earth; hypervisor virtualization; location-aware apps; user-access control improvements; sidebar removal
- Fedora 11: Boot time of 20 seconds; Btrfs file system; better C++ support; Cups PolicyKit integration; DNS security; ext4 default file system; fingerprint reader integration; Ibus input method replaces Scim to overcome limitations; Gnome 2.26; KDE 4.2; Windows cross-compiler inclusion
Looking at those features, both lists look impressive. But the Fedora 11 features are added to an already outstanding operating system. Microsoft is proclaiming multi-touch to be the biggest improvement, but it does not improve the operating system, and it also requires new hardware.
10. Hardware requirements
Microsoft says Windows 7 will run on any hardware that would run Vista--and even on slightly less powerful hardware. Slightly less powerful? What exactly does that mean? Well, Windows 7 will have no luck in the netbook market. And since XP is dying, the netbook market will be owned by Linux.
Netbooks are not gaining enough power to run anything from Windows but the watered-down version of XP. Netbooks are not going anywhere, and home and corporate consumers have limits to how many hardware upgrades they will make to fulfill an operating system's needs. As to Fedora 10, the minimum system requirements look like something from the mid-1990s.
Jack Wallen was a key player in the introduction of Linux to the original TechRepublic. Beginning with Red Hat 4.2 and a mighty soap box, Jack had found his escape from Windows. It was around Red Hat 6.0 that Jack landed in the hallowed halls of TechRepublic. This article was first published on TechRepublic.com, ZDNet Asia's sister site.