How Microsoft (and Apple) will respond to very-low-cost Linux systems

How Microsoft (and Apple) will respond to very-low-cost Linux systems

Summary: My blogging colleague Robin Harris on Storage Bits poses an interesting question "How should Microsoft respond to very-low-cost Linux systems?" Here's how - by trying to make cheap systems irrelevant.


My blogging colleague Robin Harris on Storage Bits poses an interesting question "How should Microsoft respond to very-low-cost Linux systems?"  Here's how - by trying to make cheap systems irrelevant.

That's easier than you think you know.  You see, take a look at either Vista or Leopard (it doesn't matter which) and what do you see?  That's right, a rich, media intensive platform that's stuffed full of eye candy.  It's no accident that both Microsoft and Apple are embracing media and eye-candy with enthusiasm - this is a very deliberate business choice that both companies have made. 

Not only does embracing media give both companies an additional revenue stream, but at the same time it attempts to make low-end systems that can't handle all the glitz and glamor obsolete.  If your system can't handle hi-def and never-ending eye-candy, it must have been made during the stone age and needs replacing.  As these very-low-cost systems attract more attention, I expect both companies to be more aggressive in promoting higher-end systems over cheap systems.

I'm not sure how long Microsoft and Apple can continue to pull off this illusion, I guess it depends on how consumers view eye candy - if it's an important part of the user experience then cheap, low-end systems become marginalized, if not, these systems have a chance of flourishing.  My guess is that Windows/Mac based PCs have dropped in price so much over the past few years that price isn't as relevant as it was a few years ago and in some ways Linux might have missed the party.


Topics: Linux, Apple, Browser, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Cost of updating have great influence

    One of the main factors - if not THE main factor - keeping Windows users on the Windows platform is the implied cost of updating: Will all my programs work, can I get my data transferred easily and is it easy to learn to use the new system. The stunt that Microsoft pulled with Windows Vista could drive users towards Linux: The user interface is very much different but almost all improvements are pure eye-candy and to some degree the same goes for many users of Office: New userinterface and improvements only relevant to a few.
    The cost of changing from Windows XP with Office 2003 to Linux with in terms of learning-time is comparable to changing to Vista with Office 2007.
    I'm looking forward to someone doing a calculation of the total worldwide cost of the XP to Vista eye-candy stunt - maybe just measured in how many Iraq wars it sums up to.
    • I thnk that one sentence sums it all up.

      "The cost of changing from Windows XP with Office 2003 to Linux with in terms of learning-time is comparable to changing to Vista with Office 2007."

      Thanks for stopping me from reading all the rest of these comments lol.

      I am still using XP, and will stick with it for myself, although I am under the WFP until March for the free Vista Ultimate for my wife.

      Fortunately I am not one of the millions of brain-dead individuals out there that do whatever is shoveled through their eye-sockets via ads and media!
  • RE: How Microsoft (and Apple) will respond to very-low-cost Linux systems

    It will be a small market, but it will thrive.


    Take a look at phones. You've got phones that take pictures, phones that go on the internet, text messaging, broadcast TV, huge screens and keyboards.

    But some people just want a phone.

    For some people, a simple system that does simple tasks without all the eye candy and insane price tag, will be their option of choice. Browse the web, do some word processing, send an email or two. That's all. No need for eye candy and specs that could run the latest games.

    Less is more sometimes.
    • You got that right

      The low cost PC will meet the needs of the greatest number of people using computers today. But here we should note that nearly all these people will use whatever OS came installed on the PC. They do not believe themselves capable, nor will they attempt to install a new OS on their current PC. For now, the low cost PC with Linux pre-installed will be the most numerous gains for desktop Linux.

      The next great change point will be 64 bit OSes. Whether Linux will be ready to take the lead is yet to be determined.
      • 64-bit still a dream

        Until there is a bigger reason to move to 64-bit processing on the desktop, stuff like Flash and other plugins will rely on 32-bit libraries. This will either cause us to remain anchored in 32-bit land for a while or those "necessary" application developers will begin porting en masse. However, we're already butting up against the 4GB memory max, so I have a feeling we'll see 64-bit OS's and apps take off pretty soon.
        Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations. --Albert Einstein
        • 64 bit Linux...

          Has the opportunity to lead the way. Granted Windows already has a 64 bit system too, but with the price of Windows, 64 bit Linux could be the wave of, at least, the business computing future.
          For the standard desktops, heck you can't hardly get a computer now, even a low end job, without it being 64 bit or EM64T.
          Honestly I am surprised the software companies haven't already ramped up for 64 bit.
  • Could be too late

    As the internet applications evolve with richer interfaces, more applications will move to the 'cloud'. Seriously, I pretty much sign on to my computer and open Firefox these days. I use Google for Mail and apps, only needing Office to open files that other people send me which Google won't handle.

    All you will need a PC (or other device) for is to store some files locally and run a web browser. How much eye candy is needed for that?
    • Not true for most users

      This may be the case for certain users, but the vast majority of users will still gain significant value from rich desktop applications. Web 2.0, AJAX, and Silverlight is taking the web places its never gone before, thus really improving the end-user experience, but it isn't nearly ready to take the place of desktop applications. You will see desktop applications thrive for at least another 10 years, perhaps longer depending on the evolution of both the desktop and the web.
      • I agree

        I agree with you Tiggster.

        Personally, I have always felt that Linux has made itself a good choice for running servers which is supposed to require infrequent interaction with human. But when it comes to Consumer market, the end-users, I believe that if the interface is not elegant and pleasing (if glamourous, so be it!) one might not be willing to continue use the computer with satisfaction.

        I have had this kind of experience working with At some point I had no choice but to install and for various reasons, one of them being the rich interactivity and elegance of the MS Office suite, missing, I soon uninstalled it and was quite content with the MS Works that came as part of the OS CD.

        I must say that the thread-starter's argument that when every thing 'moves to cloud' it makes less difference on the OS choice, is well meant but am afraid that would not happen any sooner.
        Arun (sreearun)
  • RE: How Microsoft (and Apple) will respond to very-low-cost Linux systems

    Isn't it time Microsoft leverage Unix into their Windows Operating System like every other OS provider? At what point does it become good business sense for them to adopt OS standards in certain areas and concentrate their efforts to add value in other areas of the OS like everyone else?
    • They already have....

      it's called Service's for Unix.
      • They already have?

        this page doesn't look maintained (hopefully). I clicked on a couple of the links and they are all 404, page not found, look elsewhere. Otherwise, if this his what is considered Microsoft's serious overture towards unix functionality, forget it.
  • RE: How Microsoft (and Apple) will respond to very-low-cost Linux systems

    LoL, My opinion is that Microsoft will respond as it always does.

    It will release more buggy software and engage in seemingly anti-competitive, or misleading activities to lead the masses away from these low cost systems.

    Point of thought however is this question, if linux performs so well on these cheap "underpowered systems" which are junk by windows standards, how would it do on real hardware? I found the answer. it screams, it blows everything I have seen from Microsoft over the last 10 years out of the water. But what do I know, according to the microsoft fanboys, Im a linux zealot because I switched to a better product after terrible suffering with Vista.

    God Bless
    • Exactly

      A better product indeed.

      Using KDE on Debian on my main high-end box is extremely fast. Windows xp on this same hardware is a dog in comparison. Far more speed, power, stability, security, and capability. It's a no-brainer.

      Low cost, low end systems is not the only or even the main reason more and more people are switching from Windows to Linux.
      Tim Patterson
      • Ahhh, vaunted Linux...

        I'll have to disagree with you here - I've got a not-so-high-end computer that I use daily (p4 630, ATI SB300 chipset, 1GB of RAM, Radeon x1950Pro), and Windows XP is very snappy on it. My experience in getting Linux on the machine has been bad to this point. I am now downloading the DVD image for the so-called 'bloatware' Fedora, as Ubuntu 7.10 would not install on my 3-year-old motherboard, nor would it install on my Thinkpad T61, for the same reason. Apparently Ubuntu has issues with SATA controllers, which seems a bit ridiculous to me, given their ubiquity and the fact that PATA hard disk controllers are hard to come by on a new motherboard. I couldn't get anything other than panic/hang when trying to read from my SATA DVD.

        I'm no MS apologist, but Linux is hardly the solution for everything. Going to play any store-bought commercial games on it? Want to watch DVDs or play MP3s without worrying whether your system violates IP laws? Linux isn't such a good choice there. WINE may do fine with running older Windows office applications, but it's horrendous when trying to play any relatively new game, particularly if said game has anything to do with .NET and/or DirectX. I don't even know where to turn to look for a commercial MP3/DVD playing package, so I don't have to worry about using software that is properly licensed for MP3/MPEG 2/Macrovision playback.
        Heck, Linux isn't even the good choice as a fileserver any more - the GPL is going to keep zfs out of kernelspace on Linux... More and more, I am inclined to point people to either FreeBSD or Solaris, for server or workstation, respectively.
    • Screams...Not

      Ok, here is my personal experience. I have been using a laptop with the following specs to experiment with different OS's.

      Core 2 Duo 7200 (2.0 GHZ, 4MB Cache)
      2 GB DDR2 667 RAM
      160 GB 5400 RPM hard Drive.

      OS's Tried:
      Windows XP with SP2 and all other updates.
      Vista Business 32 Bit
      Fedora Core 7
      Open Suse 10.2

      My experience has been that the two Linux Distro's and Windows XP SP2 all seemed quite similar. Vista definitely did not "feel" as fast.

      Of the Linux Distros I liked Fedora the best but oops - could not get my wireless network card to work even though its supposed to be supported (Intel 3945). Not acceptable in a laptop.

      In Suse, wireless worked, but I just did not like the user interface as well (personal preference I know - but there you are).

      Once Suse was up and running Ooops - can't print because neither my Sharpe laser printer or my Cannon photo printer have linux drivers. OK, I say, I'll just load VMWare workstation and copy over a Windows XP virtual machine that has the print drivers I need. But oops - The license I have for VMWare workstation is for Windows and VMWare says I have to buy it again (not going to happen) if I want a license to use the linux version. So, obtain the linux version of the free vmware server instead. But Ooops - Suse wants me to recompile my OS Kernal to make VMware work. Recompile my what??? So figure out how to do that but ooops - required gcc libraries not installed (either this isnt done by default during install or I'm not enough of a geek to have selected the correct options). So get the required libraries installed and get VMware installed and working and load my virtual machine and now I can print from that. But I have to start the virtual machine every time I want to do that and save my file in Suse in a place where the windows VM can open it then open the vm then open the file again, then print it.

      Moral of the story: Yup, I eventually made everything work that I needed to work. But it's just too hard. Too hard to set up and too cumbersome to use and no I'm not going to go and buy new printers to be able to print from Linux (Note: Vista could print from my cannon printer but had the same problem with the Sharp laser). So of all these OS's tried, its back to good old Windows XP SP2. Did the Linux distros "scream"? No, Not. They were probably about equal to XP and somewhat faster than Vista but I did not find the performance differences to be significant among any of them - and both of the linux distros had too many serious drawbacks to stick with them. Then again so did Vista.
      • Research

        Yup there are a few devices which are not supported by the manufacturers to work with Linux. Of course many fine individuals have done much work to reverse engineer and code workable drivers for many unsupported devices. I would argue that Windows doesn't support most hardware. Windows relies on manufacturer's supplied drivers. When I install Debian on my boxen all of my hardware is detected and drivers are seamlessly installed. No third party driver disks needed. Try that with Windows.

        Most long-time Linux users research prospective hardware purchases to ensure that the hardware we choose is supported.

        Of course beginners may wish to use distros geared for their knowledge level. I have setup a few boxes for kids using PCLinuxOS and that distro found and configured every wireless chipset I threw it's way.

        Of course it doesn't help that you chose to use two of the most bloated distros out there.(especially SUSE)
        Tim Patterson
      • You are on the boundary. Doesl it move?

        You are incompetent enough to have problems (you should not buy printers blindly or try distros influenced by commercial vendors), but competent enough to solve them. So, you can see the both worlds: the one where technically savvy pay the bare minimum for their computing and the other one where "normal users" are doomed to be milked for money (Windows and Linux differ in the milking rate only, not the attitude).

        Similar boundary exists with hardware. Compared to any not heavily discounted ready made system (business disconnection sale, anyone?), it is always possible to assemble a better machine from parts for the same amount of money or just save at least 20%. I am not a FPS gamer, so with me a $400 system unit is not a low end PC, it is something built without compromises.

        Thus, very low cost Linux systems are not a new phenomenon Microsoft and Apple must react to. They can safely continue to ignore it, provided 1) the majority of users are ignorant, and 2) MS and Apple serve ignorant users better than Linux vendors.

        I guess the second condition is granted. MS is just better and has more resources than Apple, Red Hat, Canonical, Mandriva, and Novell combined. MS can afford ME or Vista from time to time.

        The first condition is more vulnerable. Until recently, the number of computer users increased rapidly and this alone guaranteed that incompetent users are the overwhelming majority. Now, I GUESS, in the developed world everyone has a PC. The BRIC countries are getting there (the ETA for Russia, to my personal experience, is 3-5 years). Thus, the Apple and MS problem is to assure that the 80/20 law holds.

        The key is what happens to an ignorant computer newbie. It is possible that "click-click" users spread their culture, newbies are getting less and less competent or, at best, educated in a safe "click-click" way. It is also possible that competent users educate their neighbors, newbies know better what they are doing, and people migrate from clicking to using their computers. I believe that the latter option is what makes MS hate Linux, since its current share cannot explain the MS rage.

        Now, how do very low cost Linux systems fit into this picture? They add newbies and force them to learn. These actions compensate each other. MS and Apple has little or nothing to worry about.
        • Nice fancy speech, but...

          As a user of both Windows and Linux (I dance from Distro to distro), I find as much as I like using Linux, I have to have a Windows PC around, whether it is XP or Vista.
          Simple reasons, If I have all the time in the world, if I am in the mood to search the endless forums, unenet posts, and read the pages and pages of solutions, I will get on the Linux box. If I want to play with the terminal, spend the time to compile software, hack my xorg to get my native 1440 x 900 resolution, or create and run scripts to get my sigmatel audio card working, I will hop on my Linux box and go to town.
          But, if I want to jump on my computer, and have it ready to use, quickly, easily, without any kind of brainstorming, without having to open a terminal to make any
          thing run, I will get on my Windows computer.
          I don't think I am alone.

          Now where does the low end system come into play? Just as you said, the cheaper draw will create more users. It will also put the pressure on the hardware venders to create drivers, it will also pressure the distros to become more "point and click" friendly to help the newbies.

          How will Microsoft and apple respond to it? At first they will really ignore it. Lets be honest Linux users have such a small percentage of computer users overall, they aren't really that much of a threat. But as that threat grows, a couple things will happen. The prices will get lower, the systems will become lighter, who knows, maybe a stripped down Windows will re-emerge like WinCE.

          Just some thoughts...
        • Cars, Coffee and TV

          How many of you have a car or a coffee maker or a TV set? Have you wonder how they work? Then, why a normal simple home user should worry about how a computer works? He only needs a tool to stay in touch with friends, email, video, photo and music. No more than basics.
          You are experts in IT, you have the knowledge to debug a computer, MS or Linux, but, comparing with the big mass of home users, you are only 0.01%. When MS or Apple sells a mass product doesn?t worry about 0.01%. They need the 99.99%.
          A normal simple home user needs to open the box, connects the wires and start using the product. He does not need to be competent in PC stuff (?recompile my OS Kernel??=~#&*^*%$$##??#?^??), as I do not need to know how the car?s engine works.

          I think that the term of ignorant user is applying only because you are experts. According with this logic, I am an ignorant user of a car, or of a TV set, of a cell phone, etc. For the market, I am just a user/buyer of a product.
          The markets consist of normal simple users/buyers. So, the products should feet their needs. As a simple normal simple user, I will enjoy buying a Linux product, if?
          You can not educate masses to use Linux unless you do offer a product which require NO IT skills to be used. Imagine that you buy a new car and you have to change/adapt the gas pump in your garage. And you are not a mechanic nor have skills. Will you buy/enjoy it?

          Try to think outside the box = your IT world!