The day that we've all feared is soon to arrive: Microsoft has finally made
an operating system that Linux users will love: Windows XP.
No, it wasn't the 25-character installation code key, or the 52-character OS-generated registration key that needs to be submitted to Microsoft--followed by the responding registration key that needs to be inserted into XP. It was more of just how much XP reminded me of Linux when I installed it.
There sat a system with a 933Mhz Pentium III, 128MB of SDR SDRAM, DVD and CD-RW drives, an Aureal SQ2500 sound card, and an nVidia GeForce2 MX graphics card. Windows 95, 98, and ME had passed through that box without any real incident. Now it was time for XP.
So XP looks a lot like Windows ME with a pompadour. I can forgive the looks, and there are options to use the more classic Windows GUI. On the other hand, as the upgrade proceeded, I lost the sound card; EZ CD Creator 5.0 was rejected as unusable, making the CD-RW drive just a motorized cup holder (the integrated CD-RW software in XP, although borrowed from Roxio, creates open session CDs that EZ CD 5.0 cannot recognize); and Cyberlink's PowerDVD software was deemed unacceptable, giving the DVD drive no reason to live. See, very Linux-like.
Of course, Microsoft has always sought to distinguish itself from other operating systems and XP did the job. I decided to upgrade to a DDR SDRAM motherboard and a 1GHz Pentium III about six days after the XP upgrade. The hardware swap went well but, when I returned to XP, I was informed that I had only 8 days left to register the software--something I'd already done on the day after I installed it. Apparently, XP tracks little things like that to make sure you're not cloning hard drives and installing the OS into more than one computer. That little bit of paranoia I've, thankfully, never seen in Linux and only experienced once, so far, in Linux software.
I've always maintained that for Linux to become as popular as Windows, someone needs to talk Microsoft into developing a version of its desktop operating system that's as freaky as Linux. When that happens, Windows will drop in popularity to the same level as Linux and the two will finally be on equal footing. By going in a direction that's extremely opposite to Linux (closed source?), Microsoft seems to be headed toward doing just that.
Emulation isn't flattery
On a related note, I predict that XP will send flocks of people over to look at the viability of Linux. (Windows user aren't stupid, they're just a little too complacent.) Unfortunately, most of that flock will shrug and return to Windows because Linux is simply not ready for prime time (at least not the consumer version of prime time), even now. Some will stay, not so much because of Linux itself but rather because they've found a non-Microsoft operating system to satisfy their vitriol and one that can also run Windows and several of its applications via an emulator without slowing down to a crawl. That's not a good thing for Linux.
Don't get me wrong. I like Win4Lin and VMWare (and I have a strong desire to see Wine bear fruit). It's just that emulators--virtual environments, call them what you will--are not good for Linux. They tend to generate their own aura of complacency as well as impeding the development of Linux-specific complementary applications. Why would anyone develop an MS Word-like app for Linux when you can use MS-Word under Win4Lin? (And if you think Linux doesn't need an MS-Word-like application, ask Apple why it needed one for the Macintosh.)
Truthfully, Microsoft should develop a Linux version of its entire office suite so it can put a wrap on all markets, but it has no real incentive to do so. In comparison to almost anything else, the Linux market is relatively small in Microsoft's eyes. Worse still, the legacy of open source has left us with no one representative body that can speak for Linux and cajole Microsoft into doing it, the way Apple wined and dined Microsoft for its Mac.
It's a thorny conundrum. Emulators and open source have become the heart and
soul of Linux. What we really need is a single brain to guide Linux's development
and associations. The problem there is that any attempt to organize Linux under
one corporate mantle would probably breed as much hatred for that company as
there is for Microsoft.