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My brother in law gave me some grief recently for having recommended Vista to him a couple of years ago. I had suggested that he postpone a computer purchase until it was available. He did, and it wasn’t a happy experience. His printer stopped printing etc.

I didn’t say

If we knew then what we knew now…

I showed him Ubuntu on my Asus EEE PC 1000 and said that this was the new future, but I carefully avoided waxing too lyrical. Free software. Cheap hardware.

It turned out I had a little credit in the bank that I wasn’t aware of. He recalled visiting 10+ years ago and my showing him the web (using the Mosaic browser), which he’d never seen or heard of up to then. So he wasn’t entirely put off my advice by his bad experience with Vista.

A Double Standard

While basic use of Ubuntu (or any other Linux) requires no use of the command line, or “terminal” mode, I have found myself using it quite often. Every time I’ve typed in a command like

tar cvpzf backup.tgz --exclude=/proc --exclude=/lost+found \
--exclude=/backup.tgz --exclude=/mnt --exclude=/sys /

to give a simple example (this one is to make a backup, manually), I’ve wondered about the impact on “sales.” It makes DOS look friendly, frankly.

Does a person with a life have time for this?

I find myself wondering this whenever I have to consult Google to figure out how to do something new with Linux. Today I had a problem connecting and formatting an external USB drive under Linux. It’s trivial with Windows. I was a bit grumpy about it until I discovered, eventually, that the problem was one of hardware compatibility and replacing the drive caddy solved the problem (lesson for the future: specifcy Linux compatibility). Linux was innocent.

A glance at this PC Magazine article entitled Make Vista Great made me realize something. Years ago it’s the kind of thing I might have read or even acted on.

Today, the idea that I’m going to spend any time tweaking an operating system to make it do what it should have done from day 1 is a non-runner. It won’t happen.

Unless it’s Ubuntu, my preferred version of Linux.

Here’s why

  1. Microsoft sold us a bill of goods with Vista and then failed to deliver. Its credibility has suffered badly, deservedly.
  2. Its market share is falling slowly but steadily. This month should see Internet Explorer fall below 90% (counting all versions). Further decline is inevitable as the packaged software business is squeezed and as Google wins the online revenue battle.
  3. Microsoft may even be the next Digital Equipment Corporation, or it may not.  Many are indifferent to the fate of this tired hegemon. It is an incumbent in a market that is bored with it.
  4. Microsoft’s latest plans to make Windows 7 use an Office 2007 style ribbon are reminiscent of IBM’s PS/2 microchannel: above all else an attempt to maintain market dominance by erecting intellectual property barriers.

Ubuntu, on the other hand:

  1. Its completely free and it just keeps getting better.
  2. Its market share is rising, though from a very small base. It’s about 1% now, still well behind Apple.
  3. Has an active and growing community behind it, ready to help if needed.

I noticed today that the UK’s PC World computer retail stores are selling pre-paid vouchers for technical support. They’re branded “The Ultimate Friend.” What kind of a friend wants to be paid for helping you? Almost certainly someone who’ll help you with Windows, as it happens.

I think I feel about Microsoft now the way some Americans and Brits feel about the Republican and Labour parties. It’s time for a change, even if there will be a few bumps in the road.

Picking up a copy of Linux Format today, a magazine I sample occasionally (at £6.49 it’s making up for Linux being free), I noted that there were now 4 Linux magazines on sale and the latest PC Magazine (UK edition) is the thinnest issue I’ve ever seen. When does writing on the wall become writing on the wall?

I can’t see this recession doing Linux much harm. Quite the opposite. It’s an ill wind…

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