Desktop Linux Market Share Will Rise, Thanks to Microsoft

Bill Gates said he would get China addicted to Windows and then "collect sometime in the next decade." Now they are indeed coming to collect, but thanks to Linux their plan could backfire, badly.

Recently news has been circulating around the Internet of a Linux clone of Windows. Well, that’s simply not true.

There is indeed a Linux based operating system called Ylmf, however it’s anything but a clone of Windows.

Created by the Rain Forest Wind Guangdong Computer Technology Company, it’s essentially a derived work of Ubuntu, themed to look like Windows XP.

To help provide everything Windows users might need, it also comes with Wine and lots of extra goodies. Under the hood though, it’s all Linux.

Ylmf Desktop, in English
Ylmf Desktop, in English

Cause and effect

Software piracy is rife in China. Indeed, a pirated version of Windows 7 was created three months before the official release and readily available at local computer markets for around US$5. Microsoft knows that piracy is a big problem for them because it represents lost revenue. This is why the company has invested so much money into their activation measures.

One year ago, Steve Balmer gave a presentation to investors in which he outlined threats to the company based on current market share. He put unlicensed Windows as the second largest slice of the pie, saying:

“Number two market share goes to Windows pirated, or unlicensed. That’s a competitor that’s tough to beat, they’ve got a good price and a heck of a product, but we’re working on it.”

Guess who came after that? Yep, Linux, which Balmer sees as a bigger threat than Apple.

Bill Gates is well aware of the situation in China. During a speech at the University of Washington in 1998 he addressed this very topic, saying:

“About 3 million computers get sold every year in China, but people don’t pay for the software. Someday they will, though. As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They’ll get sort of addicted, and then we’ll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade.”

Yes, Microsoft was happy to let China pirate Windows in order to get them “addicted” to it. A decade later just as Bill Gates said, they are in the business of collecting from the very junkies they created. One has to wonder what China would be using, had Microsoft not allowed this to happen. Exactly ten years since Bill Gates’ speech, Microsoft stepped up anti-piracy campaigns in China.

Microsoft is searching for ways to make people pay for Windows (and rightly so) but the harder they make it and the more they lock the system down, the more attractive other options become.

In August last year, four Chinese people were fined and sentenced to 3.5 years jail for distributing a pirated version of Windows XP, called Tomato Garden.

Microsoft said:

“The case served as a warning to anyone thinking about knocking off Windows 7, a new-generation Windows operating system.”

Microsoft allowed the Chinese to pirate previous versions of Windows, but now with Windows 7 out it’s finally time to collect. This court case did serve as a timely reminder of the consequences of piracy, but will it have the desired effect that Microsoft is seeking?

Just four months after the sentencing of those men, a version of Linux aimed squarely at Chinese users of Windows has arisen. It’s ironic then that as Microsoft now tries to collect on those it let pirate Windows in the past, it finds itself inadvertently pushing users over to Linux.

The question for Microsoft is whether it’s better to continue to have users on pirated copies of Windows, or on a completely different operating system altogether. By forcing users to cough up for legitimate licenses, they are doing themselves a disservice as many will switch to Linux instead. With a population as massive as China’s this has the potential to backfire on Microsoft really, really badly. On the other hand, they can’t afford not to make money.


They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but why would anyone want to make Linux look like Windows anyway? Short answer, familiarity. It’s not that the Windows interface is better than others out there, nor that it’s revolutionary, or that there aren’t any alternatives. It’s simply because it’s more widely recognized. Period.

Yes, anyone can download and use Ubuntu but like everything in the Linux world there are lots of niches to fill. In China, some 90% of computers run Windows, so if you want to get users to switch to something else, you need to make the migration as attractive and smooth as possible.

Ylmf focuses on looking like Windows so that users aren’t as daunted. They are also more likely to try it, because it feels familiar. The system also includes Wine so that users can (hopefully) seamlessly install their Windows software. If they can achieve their goal, why would users pay for Windows when they can get Linux for free?

Just how well distros like Ylmf will fare remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Linux has obviously reached a point where it’s more widely acceptable. The free aspect of the software appeals greatly to those averse to spending money on software. There are few restrictions on it (other than compliance with software licenses) which leaves users free to meddle to their heart’s content. Once users start using Free software, they are very likely to stay. So, the important part is getting them to use it in the first place. For users who have only ever used and seen Windows, a version like Ylmf could be just what the doctor ordered.

The road to freedom

While Microsoft is pushing hard against piracy to collect monies owed, they could well be doing so at a dangerous time. Linux is becoming more attractive every day and as we have seen with Ylmf it’s not too hard to achieve something which appeals to Microsoft’s market.

People might not be willing to try something which is entirely foreign, but if it provides some level of familiarity they will be more open to it. Certainly Linux should continue down its own path, doing its own thing, but at the same time it should be aware of what’s going on around it. A little bit of familiarity could go a long way to providing that step to freedom in the long run.

Comments on "Desktop Linux Market Share Will Rise, Thanks to Microsoft"


\”That’s a competitor that’s tough to beat, they’ve got a good price and a heck of a product, but we’re working on it.\”

He probably meant pirated Windows, but actually this description is even MORE true for Linux!


This reminds me so much about what happened when RedFlag Linux came about. That was just over 10 years ago because of Chinese laws on copyright and piracy. They wanted to avoid any issues around licensing and costs and planned to install RedFlag Linux on every government machine and remove Windows 2000, if I remember right it was infact developed by Compaq China. God Knows what happened.

And just to prove it did exist this is the link to an article.


If only WINE was that good! I have a boat load of applications that just won\’t run in wine. Actually everything I\’ve tried to install and then run either not install or install but bomb out with runtime errors.

No, WINE isn\’t ready so most of these people will likely go back to their old M$ product within a few weeks as they try to get applications to work.


@zx5000: Sound to me like you\’re doing it wrong. Wine works with the vast majority of Windows software out there and plenty of people use it every day to do real work. It\’s passed 1.0 several months ago.

Either you did something wrong (which is hard to do because Wine\’s default config usually works fine) or you\’re using some really REALLY obscure software.


Unfortunately, Wine runs mostly (from my experience) very old applications, or newer 3D games very well. But for other proprietary apps that use .NET and other proprietary technologies, those are hard to get working. The fallback solution is to use a Windoze virtual machine running XP… this can be done with VirtualBox very nicely. So there really is no excuse to NOT get away from using Linux as your primary OS.


Most corporate users just need and Internet browser, email client, word processor and calc sheet, you can get all that with a linux distribution like ubuntu. The problem is usually for home users who need to run complex games and other applications like iTunes when you have an ipod or iphone, which in my case is one of the reasons I dual boot windows and linux, I got virtual box but I really haven\’t tried iTunes on it.


Any Linux distro running KDE 3.X.X has the ability to look like Windows. Themes for KDE 3.X.X are not exclusive to a select few distros.

VirtualBox is the best way to run those windows apps.

Until windows users change their mind set and start using Linux equivalents to the windows apps they will never totally move away from windows. People that play any kind of games that run on windows are very stubborn about giving up their favorite games.

I am amazed at the number of people who are shown (not told… shown) that Linux is better and just will not make the switch to Linux. Usually the only way they are willing to make the switch is after their windows system is so messed up with virus and worms that they can\’t use the system any more because the bugs took it over. Meaning every time they turn it on it just starts doing whatever it wants and the only they can stop it is to turn it off again. I have seen a lot of windows system in that bad a condition. That is usually when they say install Linux for me.


Linux is very good for servers, clusters, storages, cell phones or so. It also fits for average desktop user even if he is not aware of that. Most of Windows apps could be easily replaced by Linux ones. But there is still a great problem for some users – CDs distributed with newspapers, some materials distributed with handbooks etc. Of course there are some widely implemented standards like HTML, PDF, … but who uses them if he could use one of Microsoft\’s \”click and be a programmer\” technologies available only for Windows? And there is a serious issue with device drivers for Wi-Fi.


A Linux distro that looks like Windows may get Linux\’s foot in the door, but the fact remains that Linux (still) has a considerably higher learning curve than Windows, and the first time those folks have an error or an app breaks that requires some work to get around (especially on the command line), they\’re going to bail out like everyone else (except you and me;) and go back to Windows, pirated or not.

For now, Microsoft has nothing new to fear in China that they don\’t already in the west. Once linux becomes as painless and easy to administer as Windows however, I think we will see the respective market shares reverse as Windows slowly looses out to a more flexible, powerful OS.


Problem? I don\’t see a problem. Microsoft will simply follow the precedent set by the U.S. government and let the American public make up for shortages in revenue.


@ak, I\’m not so sure that you\’re right, saying that Linux has a higher learning curve than Windows. It might if you *already know* Windows, but if you know neither system and someone gives you an install disk for both, I think that Linux will actually be easier to install and use.

People have been programmed with the Windows way of doing things, so when a Windows person sits in front of Linux they do things like downloading .exe files off the Internet to install some Windows software. That\’s not because Linux is harder, that\’s because that\’s what they know in the Windows world.

If you gave someone a Windows machine who\’d never used it before, they *wouldn\’t have a clue* how to install things.

At least on Linux, they could see the \”Add software\” icon and install work it out with a little exploration.

Just because people have only ever known Windows, does not mean that it is actually easier.



I have personally met quiet a few people who barely understand the Windows they are running let alone are they competent enough to administer it.
Not knowing how to administer Linux would be a better choice than running Windows and not knowing how to administer that…lol…at least it\’d be a more stable system with less reboots after installs etc. so there would be less administration to not know how to do.

One bloke I used to work with would format his hard drive almost once a week and re-install Windows. This apparently kept it working fast and did away with pesky trial software installs and driver problems.


I actually think the way forward for Linux is very strongly related to what Chris said in his comment above. Schools! I\’m leaving NZ in a few days time, hopefully for good, but I\’ve spent the last year working in their education system for a school that ran entirely Macs, this was the worst year of my life, literally.

Just a few miles down the road on the other hand, is a new high school, who have made the decision right from the start, and I\’m talking before the first blueprint was even finished for the building, that they will be running entirely free/open software. Every computer runs Ubuntu or some variant of it, the art dept are teaching GIMP, Inkscape etc, OO is used for spreadsheets and word processing, the whole school, Open Source or bust!

This is happening more and more across the planet, we are seeing reports of schools throughout Europe and Asia starting up with or switching over to Open Source Software and Linux, this is how Linux will take hold of the desktop market and strangle it with all it\’s might. I know many admins who sit in IRC and on the forums, who get upset with young users logging in for help, but the fact is, they\’re being introduced to Linux and OSS at school, then getting their parents into it and they\’re in need of help.

Given another 3 – 5 years, most of these kids will have left school, most only really knowing Linux and OSS, possibly Mac, they are going to be the influential young worker, who tells their boss all about the free operating system and free software they were using at school, they are the ones who will be able to grab the ears of those who really count (Employers, board members, head masters etc.) and those who can really make the Linux movement bigger than ever before.

Combine all that with companies like Canonical and Red Hat who are getting more and more general media exposure lately, not just tech news, the recession driving companies to look for cheaper alternatives, police forces (Paris I think it was) and governments (Poland?) switching their entire operation to OSS, even the NZ government is starting to move toward open data (Thanks to Nat Torkington and a few others), so I reckon, \”the year of the Linux Desktop\” may never happen, but it\’ll likely be, \”the decade of the Linux Desktop\” instead, and I doubt we\’ll even really see it coming!


Blindness? @csmart I don\’t know if you live in some alternate world were doing a bunch of things is less complex then hitting next a few times to install and entire OS, but I just want to bring you back to reality. Windows(win7 in particular) is like this giant solution to every normal user\’s need all tucked into a neet little DVD. Linux has it\’s strengths, but it doesn\’t have a chance to even come close to being a real threat in the consumer market.


@cueil, Microsoft does not agree with you. They realise that Linux is their number one threat.


I agree with the basic position in this article. The harder MS tries to collect revenues due, the more likely it will encourage the use of Linux. However, I believe that broad adoption of Linux in the home has less to do with installation and administration complexities than third-party applications. Especially, as it relates to multimedia.

Anecdotally speaking, the install process of distros like openSuse and Ubuntu are comparable to contemporary Windows and OS X. Out of the box they are pretty rich in features and applications. Where people get bent is in the multimedia applications like itunes, WMP, etc. Here Linux is not as polished. Economies of market share gets in the way of companies spending the time and $ to develop versions for Linux.

While we like to point out the virtues of security and stability in Linux, the end user could care less. Yeah, sure no one openly admits to it but how many home users really practice secure computing let alone make the decision of choosing their OS based on these requirements?

The detractors of linux and Windows use lazy logic to argue their points rather than looking at root causes. There are legitimate points on both sides, we need to get past the bias.

I think it\’s time for MS to abandon the \”Pay for OS\” model and focus on their office and multimedia suites and LGPL their OS platform as a start. Naturally, it can\’t be done overnight but certainly within a few years.


Take away the OS ($ wise) from MS and they\’re left with only MS Office to lock in users on the desktop. As for multimedia, MS is beaten hands down by 3rd party software, some free too.

Unless MS reaches crisis point, it\’s very unlikely they will ever make their OS free because there are too many millions / billions of $ involved. If they ever reach crisis point, it may already be too late – meaning droves of users have abandoned MS.

Take Internet Explorer and Windows Mobile for example. These were neglected until they were threatened or faced extinction. And, things are not getting any better with IE. Security problems keep mounting, with even governments advising discontinuing use of IE, and competitors keep growing and moving further ahead.

My experience with user adoption of Linux (Ubuntu or Mint) shows it\’s the less knowledgeable (mostly middle-aged) who cling to Windows. Those who adopt or are planning to use Linux are those who:

(1) are dissatisfied with Windows in some way,
(2) are younger users (teenagers mostly) who do not mind trying something different,
(3) like Linux for whatever reason, and …
(4) do not find Win 7 compelling enough to make it a necessity and to justify the $$$ to get full functionality.

As we have seen, MS tries hard to push adoption including the \”killing off\” of older versions. Prior to XP, it was easy as they sort of died a natural death.

So, for the younger generation of users, Windows may figure less in future usage as they were literally born into the PC and Internet era, and by natural consequence are generally more knowledgeable.

The number of users of Linux around me are growing, slowly but very obviously gathering momentum. Usually, the final push comes when XP or Vista does its \”thing\” – make their PC unusable, reach a state of irrevocable infection or just simply crawl slower than a snail.

I just got a request to install Ubuntu on one such infected notebook.

Canonical understood this and a first step into familiarity was the release of Unity. Now the HUD…..etc We’re coming!

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