Wednesday, January 12, 2005

On OSes

I've seen some more noise on the net about alternate OSes, i.e. Linux. This almost always revolves around some security issue within MS Windows. Nevermind the fact that every other OS has to be patched as well. The only thing that protects those other OSes is the fact that their market penetration is so weak that not many people write exploits for the vulnerabilities. I'll mention now, though, that I saw worm viruses on Mac and Linux boxes well before Code Red and it's ilk came out for Windows. Seeing it like this, "software bugs" is just another weak club with which to beat Microsoft.

And how about those bugs? Critics of MS are quick to attack the front end, desktop piece, but when it comes to IT management, there's more to it than just the part the end user sees. I was helping another IT guy out with a little side work when he made mention of the fact that he was moving "non-critical" workstations to Linux, and moving other people to Open Office. "Well," I asked "If a major bug or virus comes out for Linux, how do you plan on patching them? How will you centrally control these desktops?" Microsoft might come out with a bug, but I go to ONE spot to patch nearly a hundred workstations. It takes me less than a minute. If I want to do anything from changing the default IE home page to changing what folder Word opens into to what wallpaper appears on the desktop, I go to ONE spot to change this, again in mere minutes. Updating virus definitions? Same thing, though third party (built for which platform? Come on, guess!).

Now how exactly would I go about doing this if I had strictly Linux or Mac systems installed? I'm sure some fanboy would tell me about some horrific kludge that could be deployed, but it's hard enough to get products that are designed and supported for this functionality to work right. Linux may well be able to do anything, but that doesn't escape the fact that it's a pain in the ass to use. It's also a well known fact that the Xwindows shell for Linux is a nasty piece of bloatware, it may run okay on newer systems since PC muscle has finally caught up enough to push that whale, but I don't want to hear any noise about how much thinner Linux is than Windows.*

That being said, Microsoft still has room to worry. Linux isn't nearly as good as Windows, but it's free (unless you pay for the nearly required support packages, in which case it's about the same). On a sliding scale, Microsoft's product should be, due to it's cost, significantly better than Linux, but, alas, it's only slightly better. And there's further trouble ahead for the MS platform. Dvorak covers some OS pluses and minuses, and Windows only has one real big plus for it: video games. However, what if no one made games for Windows systems anymore? I'm not talking those web games either since they're simple enough to re-do for another platform. This may explain Microsoft's almost obsessive pushing of the Xbox. The gaming consoles have already killed off a great many PC games, and many of the remainders are little more than Xbox ports; the next generation of consoles will probably drive a nail into the coffin of PC gaming. Where will Microsoft be then? It won't really matter much what OS you have on your system at home if you can get what you need to do done on it.

Of course business systems are a different matter entirely. Besides the centralized management features, home, or non-computer users (this includes clueless executives who depend on others to run their computers), would be shocked at the number of two bit apps that businesses depend on. These are written for Windows (usually poorly), are expensive to acquire (due to their low user base), and have very few equivalents in any other space. It will be a long time coming before any OS threatens Microsoft in the corporate user space.

In other news, my buddy was pumping the very intriguing Mac mini. It comes with a ton of cool software and functionalities for not too much dough. There is something, though, that I have trouble getting past when it comes to using a Mac: I can't help but feel slightly less than a man for using one. The design says it all. It's sexy, but it's not Arnold Schwarzenegger/Russell Crowe sexy; it's Kirsten Dunst/Natalie Portman sexy: fun to look at, not fun to be (at least if you're a dude). Add to that the fact that Apple's products are openly marketed to idiots ("...and you're not idiot, are you?") and my interest in owning one starts to wane.

(Of course, what do I know about video editing? What do I care to know. Let's face it, I'd rather be an idiot in some areas because I don't have the time or interest to be come an expert; better to let those already trained give the tools to do it. The same can be said for computer idiots. I'd heard it said that math and computers are the only things people will admit to being idiots about; but if that were true, Apple would own at least 80% of the PC market.)

*(I've put together a couple different Linux boxes built around a specific functionality. In these cases, the OS can be made unimaginably thin, much thinner than any MS box could ever dream of being. This, of course, requires a much larger skill set than the average PC user would care to acquire).

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