The Big, the Bad, and the Ugly
When configuring a new PC the other day,
rather then just reach for a “default” copy of Windows, I paused
and looked long and hard at the latest edition of Suse Linux
instead. I made a conscious decision to analyse if this was
prejudice or practicality, and to be honest, I’m not 100% certain.
I have nothing personal against Microsoft software – like millions
of others, I have been an unpaid beta tester for over 15 years and
known very little else – but I do relish the unfamiliar sensation
that at last, I have a real choice. And that set me thinking,
which always a dangerous moment.
For some reason that must have something to do
with Bill Gates’ inestimable personal charm, and nothing at all to
do with huge financial inducements, European monopoly legislation
continues to allow Microsoft to lead a charmed life largely in
charge of the directions of the IT industry. Who else can boast of
90%+ market share and not find themselves in the dock for
restrictive practises? Correct, no commercial company that you or I
can think of – so why is it permitted?
Search me – although one might reasonably
speculate that governments find it so much simpler to deal with a
single behemoth, than the organised anarchy of the Linux world, that
blind eyes are being turned as governments are planning all sorts of
invasive legislation to attempt to curb various abuses of the
internet. And perhaps the fact that Microsoft pays large taxes
hasn’t gone unnoticed, whereas the alternative is revenue free.
(Although the considerable amount that central and local government
pays for Microsoft Software should be offset).
Perhaps in an effort to avoid rubbing it in,
Microsoft is barely advertising at present. After all, it simply
doesn’t have to since almost every PC arrives de-facto preinstalled
with Microsoft OS and applications. But the other side of this world
dominance coin is that there isn’t any more market to conquer in OS
and apps, and the only way is down – even at the very best, this
aspect of Microsoft’s sales are lashed to the state of the market.
The fact that Linux is free to all intents and
purposes is only a small part of the story, as any IT manager will
know. The price of software is the least of the challenges facing a
commercial IT installation – keeping it all going and meeting users
expectations is everything. And do not forget the cost of
compliance – there is no penalty for allowing users to run riot with
freeware, whereas if a few hooky copies of Word escape, Mr Plod and
his friends may be feeling the collars of all your company’s hard
So the fact that Linux also works as advertised
is an essential part of the plot; and the fact that people like IBM
and Sun are now endorsing it also helps the brand-aware to accept
that there might be such a thing as a free lunch, after all. Indeed,
IBM's delight at edging Linux into its marketplace to displace
Windows whenever it can barely conceals a real desire to see
Microsoft reduced to penury after the way Microsoft abandoned IBM
with OS2 in a dead end. But let’s be honest, we’d all enjoy a
monopoly if we were allowed to get away one, as IBM and Sun both
know very well; and IBM’s only real gripe is that Microsoft took
over IBM’s role as the industry’s Monopolist in Chief.
Is Microsoft now looking at extinction in the
server and desktop software marketplace? Well, not yet, but the
availability of versatile multi-boot partitioning schemes that
allows users to choose between Windows and Linux on start up ought
to make the migration process more accessible. But the availability
of a Hyperos (www.hyperos2002.com) that promises to support
instant flipping between Windows and Linux will make the biggest
contribution yet to encourage the conservative to test the water, as
does the availability of truly vast hard drives (180G IBM IDE drives
for around £135...) and main RAM of 1GByte or more.
Suspecting that their game is in danger, if not
exactly “up”, Micosoft has been edging out into as many ancillary
businesses over the past few years, and has latterly been hoovering
up GIS and mapping businesses, with Mapblast being a recent victim.
Amazingly, Microsoft missed trick and an
opportunity to plug a big hole in its software range recently when
Sony (who obviously read Computer Shopper and take our
advice), concluded a deal to acquire the desktop software assets of
Sonic Foundry – which includes the wonderful Vegas video editing
software, and the equally competent Sound Forge and Acid audio
tools. Sony paid $18m, so although that’s small change to Sony,
it's still slightly more than the RRP. This news was probably
cheered by the competition at Adobe, whose venerable Premiere video
editing software does not compare favourably; and I would imagine
there are even sighs of relief as far up the food chain as Avid and
Discreet, since Sony is not exactly synonymous with competent PC
software development and marketing.
Of course, the next Press Release I read may
well announce “Microsoft Acquires Sony” – which would actually be a
sound strategic move, given Microsoft’s ambitions to escape the OS
hegemony with games machinery and media in general. Although maybe
Bill is waiting to find the remnants of AOL/Time Warner posted up on
eBay so he can get in the Guinness Book of World again, this time
for the biggest PayPal transaction of all time.
So then, what OS did I eventually install..? A
multi-partition Windows/Suse Linux configuration. Which installation
was the more painless? Both about the same. Which seems more stable?
Linux, of course. Which one has all the apps installed ? Blast. As
usual this is where the romance stops and reality gets in the way;
would someone please remind application developers to port
everything to Linux? Thanks!