Windows 7 & the Growth of Linux

Lifehacker had a post on this topic today.  It’s a relatively geeky group that follows that blog, so the comment traffic was understandably dense and heated.  I haven’t had a chance to read through all the commentary, but it raised an interesting thought for me, as I now consider myself an experienced Ubuntu user, and I’m also participating in the Windows 7 beta…

There seems to be some effort on the part of Microsoft to shore up several of their OS’s shortcomings over the last 10 years or so with this newest release.  A few of the features that are being added and more development going in to certain aspects of the software that have been lacking is a big step in the right direction.

I was brought back to the reason I actively switched over to Ubuntu, though: in Linux land, you are a participant in a community of users and developers sharing ideas and helping each other make things work (if I sound like some goddamned hippie socialist, stay tuned…).  With Windows, you pretty much always have (and probably always will) had an easier out-of-the-box experience, and considering the market share that the operating system commands in the developed world, there’s no reason to think that will change any time soon.

However, there are certain ways that even paying customers are made to feel like they’re being punished in Windows (DRM and Genuine Windows validation are my favorites), and that’s not the case for Linux.  I switched because I don’t want to pay a license fee for a piece of software I can get by without.  That is the MARKET working at its best, Commies!  The growth of computing in the developing/third world during this century is one way that I could see Linux “winning” in the long run.  If Microsoft fails at either marketing themselves in these developing areas, or if their product simply proves to be too costly, Linux will eat up that market share, and quickly.

But even then, what is “winning” in this context?  In my mind, the existence of multiple platforms and competing products is what leads to the best consumer experience.  Do you think there would be an Internet Explorer 7 or a Google Chrome if there hadn’t been Mozilla and Firefox?  Of course not.  Same goes for the new Windows.  Being pushed to innovation by your competitors is what American capitalism is all about.

Will a new and improved Windows OS make Linux shrivel up and go away?  Unlikely; the latter has far too passionate a group of enthusiasts working on this software because they ENJOY IT as much as any other reason.  A better and easier Windows might stifle the interest in Linux for some, but that reciprocal challenge is how software development should work.

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