March 5, 2006
Maybe this was already obvious to everyone else 5 years ago, and I problably sub-conciously new it as well, but during my recent attempts to switch to Ubuntu, I came to the following realization. Microsoft's monopoly on the desktop operating system is self-perpertuating. Anybody who makes anything that runs on or connects with a computer makes sure it works on/with Windows. Any other platforms are optional. Whether it's a bank web site, a digital camera, desktop software, or a mp3 player, all anyone cares about is "does it work on windows". Even Apple had to make their iPod work with windows. Due to Microsoft's OS market dominance, there is no economic incentive for software & hardware vendors to make their products work on anything but windows. So when XYZ company comes out with the latest-greatest thing, the day it hits the shelves, it works on windows and nothing else. If you want it to run on linux, the only way that is going to happen is if there are enough linux hackers out their that also want that product to run on/work with linux. If you're lucky, they get something out their fairly quickly, but no matter how fast they are, they are always playing catch up.
And in the web site department, there is not much linux developers can do. If some bank doesn't care that they make a requirement of using their site IE on Windows, the end user is screwed. They'll end up blaming linux, saying "my bank website doesn't work with linux", like it's linux's fault the developers of the bank web site don't know how to make standards compliant web sites. There are even government websites that require windows.
Because of this, it is very difficult for a normal end user to switch to linux, no matter how user-friendly linux developers make linux. Linux could very well be a better, more secure, more reliable, more user-friendly operating system than Windows, but the number one thing that will always stop people from switching is that "Yeah, but my XYZ won't work with/on windows" and in most cases is not the fault of the designers of linux, but the designers of XYZ.
To make it even worse, the issue of linux being free doesn't even help linux, because to most home users, Windows appears to be free. First of all, it is nearly impossible to buy a computer without windows installed on it, whether it be from dell.com or from a retail store. Secondly, most of the software that people use with windows (Office, for example), either comes with the computer as well, or can be easily be obtained for free. (example "Oh you need Office, I can get a copy of that for your from a friend of mine"). And I suggest that Microsoft continue to be lax on Office piracy. Most legitimate organizations (corporations, governments, etc.) pay tons of money for Office licenses. If users can easily get it for home, then they'll happily use it at home and continue to live in their Microsoft bubble. If they actually have to shell out $250 for office, users might start giving open office a try, which opens the door for ending the MS Office monopoly.
So, in conclusion, there is no end to this, there is no hope for linux. Linux users will be forced to dual-boot their machines so the can continue to use whatever they need windows for, because Linux will always be playing catch up. For example, right now, support for mp3 players in linux is abysmal (are there any portable mp3 players that work with linux?). I would imagine as time goes on, this will improve, and within a few years, my portable mp3 player that I could easily transfer songs to and from 3 years ago will be working with linux. But by then, the world will have moved on to something else, who knows, maybe cell phones that play mp3s, whatever. But whatever that is, it won't work with linux as early as it works with windows, I guarantee it. Until something drastically changes the landscape of computing, Linux will remain as the small, underground rebellion fighting a losing battle against the evil empire.