Microsoft Wins! Everyone Else Loses

When the Department of Justice announced that it would no longer seek to break up Microsoft, it really wasn't important news. Let's get real. Microsoft was never going to be broken up. No, the real news was that the Department of Justice wasn't going to prosecute Microsoft for illegally tying Internet Explorer to Windows 95.

When the Department of Justice announced that it would no longer seek to break up Microsoft, it really wasn’t important news. Let’s get real. Microsoft was never going to be broken up. No, the real news was that the Department of Justice wasn’t going to prosecute Microsoft for illegally tying Internet Explorer to Windows 95.

Shutdown Microsoft Medal

That’s it — game over man. Microsoft wins. Goodbye Linux on the desktop, so long Opera, Mozilla, and Netscape. See you later AIM and OpenIM. It’s been nice knowing you RealMedia, you’re history.

Microsoft’s been given carte blanche to bundle anything a consumer might want into the operating system, and this means there will be no market for third-party products. Heck, they finally might even do damage to Intuit and Quicken, the one company and end-user application that has always successfully resisted them. After all, is there any doubt that Windows XP 2.0 will include Microsoft Money as part of the operating system?

Now, I know none of these applications are really part of the operating system. I learned my operating system theory from Andrew S. Tanenbaum’s classic Modern Operating Systems and from dinking around with Minix. I have never found an instant messaging client in any kernel or file system that I’ve seen.

However, what we know doesn’t matter. It’s not what a technically adept person sees, its what the courts see. And, with Judge Jackson off the case and the Department of Justice lawyers no longer pursuing the matter, Microsoft is free to add everything to their operating system — and the boys from Redmond will.

Yes, there are better programs. I’ll take Pegasus Mail on Windows over Outlook Express any day. I still like Netscape 6.1 over Internet Explorer 6. (And, while there’s a lot about AOL I don’t care for, I swear by AOL Instant Messenger.) However, Outlook Express and Internet Explorer are already bundled in Windows, so Pegasus and Netscape hold minority market shares.

When users see the seamless whole of a Microsoft operating system and Microsoft applications, Microsoft will determine the entire future of end-user applications. Microsoft Messenger will overtake AIM. Windows Media Player will run down RealVideo. You see, users don’t care if a product is technically better; their concern is that a program is readily available and works well enough for them to get by.

For those of us in the Linux world, this means we can now officially kiss the end-user desktop goodbye. I love KDE, but no end-user is going to move to an operating system that does not include the basics of a personal finance program and instant messaging.

Ximian and the GNOME project have done great things. But the U.S. courts have ensured that 95 percent of all desktop users will see Windows and Microsoft Office, not the Ximian Desktop and Sun’s StarOffice. It’s not that the Linux desktop will die. It will live on Linux supporters’ desks and workstations for decades. It just isn’t going to move from there up to office and home-user desktops.

Sadly, I really don’t think there’s a thing the Linux community can do about it. No matter how much better Linux’s end-user programs and interfaces are, Microsoft always had the lion’s share of the market; Microsoft can eliminate any competition by including its own application within Windows.

Of course, there are programs like Win4Lin that will let you run Windows applications on Linux, but while that’s useful for users, it doesn’t really buy Linux much desktop market share. Let’s face it, most users will run Windows applications on Windows.

I’m also leery of efforts like Ximian’s Mono Project, a community initiative to develop an open source, Linux-based version of the Microsoft .NET development platform. History shows most companies that try to duplicate Microsoft’s proprietary standards usually end up losers. Even if Mono manages to successfully complete a C# compiler, a Common Language Runtime just-in-time compiler, and a full suite of class libraries, Microsoft will simply announce the next version of all of the above — and all of Mono’s work will be viewed as being a step behind. Even when you have the support of Microsoft (as did Citrix with running remote Windows applications from NT servers), it’s a really tough row to hoe.

So what can we really do? Well, I’ve long thought that Linux’s real financial future was on servers. Thanks to the Department of Justice bowing out, I’m now sure of it.


Unix guru and technology writer. He can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com.








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Linux Magazine /
December 2001 / SHUTDOWN
Microsoft Wins! Everyone Else Loses




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