Let's Talk Operating Systems!

Much is made of operating systems (OSes) and the dominance of some and who will have the next dominating system.   Also, much is made about why no one cares.  I, too, care less about who will be the winner.

Arguably (by me) there are 4 competing OSes around at the moment: Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s OSX, Unix and GNU/Linux.  For the purposes of this, we can disregard Unix – it is primarily used in businesses and enterprises and doesn’t affect many of us at home.  And don’t post here with your greybeards telling me otherwise, thank you very much.

So, OSX, Windows and Linux (because I don’t want to keep writing “GNU/Linux” – just pretend I did, OK?) affect all of us in our homes and our places of work.  We all run one flavour (or more) of each in our offices and on our personal desktops.  Fair enough.  Now, Windows want to take over the world, we know this because we know it.  Apple, IMO, seems less bothered about getting its OS to be ubiquitous – they seem more worried about getting Apple’s products as a whole out there.  And why not.

And then we come to Linux.  Linux is a little different.  Firstly, I don’t want to get into the whole “Linux is a kernel, not an OS” argument – I’m talking about ‘Linux + packages’: the OS or distribution as a whole.  The release dates for new versions are relatively arbitrary – some distributions release on 6 month cycles, some pick a month and some just say “this version is now considered ready”.  Right Mr Volkerding?  Linux is largely not worried about when the best time is to release in order to hit the stores and be the next big thing.  And rightly so.

Linux isn’t driven by market shares or by stockholders, it is driven by the users and developers.  I don’t want a buggy broken distribution shipped just because the marketers decide that a particular date is the best time to do it.  I want it to be shipped when it is ready.

So, what do we have?  We have 3 operating systems vying for dominance (whether real or perceived) and having 3 different strategies.  Are we comparing apples and oranges and pears?  And really, who cares?  I know Microsoft care because dominance is their marketing and business model.  Does Apple care?  I doubt it.  The iPod is taking the world by storm, Windows and Linux and OSX have their own versions of iTunes.  The software they produce is produced largely for OSX and for Windows, but should be portable beyond this.  And Linux should really not care at all.

And I’ll tell you why.

It is argued that Windows users use it at home because it’s what they use at work.  They are used to it.  Linux is now getting an ever greater market share and so, using the Windows argument, home use should also increase.  But we don’t have stockholders as such (if you don’t count the users and developers as such) and we have no money riding on releases.  I doubt that Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds lie awake at night worrying about whether we can destroy our competition.

I believe that, to an extent, Linux has already won.  At least, it’s won the hearts and minds war – as Linux users, we take the whole thing personally.  A win for a Linux distribution is seen as a win for all of us.  Which is, I think you’ll agree, pretty cool.

Having an OS War really just distracts us all from using our OS of choice and being productive.  Being evangelical is all very well, but using an OS and living well is the best way to show others what your system can do.


Posted on 16 April, 2006, in Computer Stuff, Open Source. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I agree entirely that there should be a limit to OS wars, but sometimes things do get passionate because people identify themselves a lot with the OS they use, particularly Linux users. It’s the spirit of FOSS that pervades the community and while I agree that OS Wars should be cut down, I wouldn’t like to see the spirit die down.

    After all, what makes Linux unique is not technical efficiency or the OS itself, but the community behind it and the people who contribute.

  2. Agreed, but it does somewhat make us all look like “fanboys”. Personally, I use what I want to use and have no problem with someone else doing the same. I really don’t want to get into a war.

    Microsoft have to, they have put themselves in that position. But a war with only one participant tends not to last long.

  3. Sometimes Microsoft likes to deliberate bait FOSS fanatics merely to get a reaction from that and use it to project FOSS in a bad light. Their FUD campaign is partly for such a confrontation with the FOSS community and to discredit them using their own behaviour.

    Hopefully most Linux fans are above such tactics.

  4. Macs forever!

    oh wait…

    heheh. yeah, OS wars a dumb. It is quite embarrassing for an former anti-mac zealot to admit that they are using a mac and liking it. *blush*

    I agree with you in that Linux has already won in the hearts and minds. Hooray!

  5. Zealotry is never pretty 🙂

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