Talking operating systems deep in heart of Windows country.
I dropped my son, Alex, off at a LAN party this weekend and had to spend some time fussing with the NIC drivers on his PC (PC support being probably my most favorite thing in the world world1) before I could cut out of there. While I was fussing with the drivers, the organizers tried to strike up a conversation with Alex about Linux since he was wearing a shirt of mine with tux on it picked up at some long-forgotten tradeshow. Alex, naturally, punted the conversation my direction. Having done this awhile, I’ve noticed that Linux carries an odd cachet: Almost everyone thinks it’s interesting, statistically (less than 1%2) almost no one runs it.
One guy that was about my age (mid-30s) and had a rocketship for a computer — CPU heat sink about the size of a loaf of bread, SLI-bridged video cards, PC fans with enough kick to cool a small village in the Amazon, &c. — looked up from his BIOS screen and said, “I’ve messed around with Linux. It seems fine but it doesn’t run the apps that I need it to.”
“Mostly games,” I asked?
“Well, I’m not much of a gamer3 but I think there are more games for Linux now then there used to be,” I said. And, speaking well above my pay grade, “I may have even seen Steam running under Wine or CrossOver.”
“Yeah, well, you’ll pry Vista from my cold dead hands,” he said and turned back to the task at hand; adjusting the CPU voltage so his PC would boot.
Vista? The much-maligned Vista? The “Microsoft is going to have to open source Windows if it wants to survive” Vista?
Clearly this group hadn’t received the memo, since an informal poll of the LAN party showed that 80% of the assembled gamers were running Vista. Those still running XP were going to wait for Windows 7 before upgrading. This kicked off a whole parallel discussion about how great Windows 7 was going to be and those running Vista planned to upgrade to 7 as soon as it was out.
When I asked what they like about Vista, the responses could be summed up as:
- It’s pretty slick/Nice UI
- It works out of the box
- Doesn’t crash/Never had any problems with it
Oddly enough, if you added “It’s open source” to the list you would have thought they were talking about Ubuntu. Or OS X.
So what’s the point of writing about a brief conversation with a PC sub-culture? Well, I think it might be that the predictions of Microsoft’s demise or the twilight of the Windows operating system are probably very premature. While I think that the role of operating systems is gradually being diminished and that Microsoft bungled the Vista launch, Vista is ultimately a success for the company. If nothing else it forced the company to retool it’s direction for OS development with Windows 7.
Do I think that Windows 7 will be a bleeding-edge, net-gen OS? Probably not and it probably doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be shiny and work like the consumer expect it to. Why? Because the majority of people just really don’t care about operating systems. They care, really, about only three things: being able to find their files, connectivity and applications. Everything else, for the average user, is a shiny wrapper.
Do the people at the LAN party passionately care about Vista? Probably not. They probably care more about DirectX and the games developed on top of it. Vista isn’t even an all-that-great OS for gaming since the OS requires so much hardware it’s generally advised that you need to double the RAM requirements for any game you are running. And, oddly enough, no one at the LAN party seemed to mind this, perhaps proving my theory that all anyone is looking for in an OS is an excuse to purchase more hardware.
At the SuperBowl party I was at last night, the game was recorded on a Vista media center PC. As our host rewound the Santonio Holmes game-winning catch he mentioned to me that he had only installed Vista that morning. “How are you liking it?” I asked.
“It’s an operating system,” he replied, “Not something I think about all that much.”
1 This is a lie.
2 Source. We don’t call this “poor penetration,” we call this a growth market.
3 60 minutes of TF2 once a month is about my limit.