A future without Microsoft

A future without Microsoft


It's June 2008, and it's not a good time to be a Microsoft shareholder or employee. The computing industry is changing very, very quickly, creating new opportunities and killing once-prosperous markets. In this short article, I will outline these changes in relation to free software and Microsoft. If you can think of more changes, or if you don't agree with some of my forecasts, please let me know!

It's a world of Unix servers

Regardless of how much hype Microsoft creates, the world still runs on Unix--and most of those servers are GNU/Linux machines. Your Netgear router has Linux in it. Your Internet provider is very likely to be running on GNU/Linux servers. So is your office. It's a little hard to come by hard numbers, because anybody can download CentOS and deploy a top-class server in minutes. Each GNU/Linux server has stolen market share to the proprietary, expensive Windows NT--and Microsoft is immensely unlikely to get that market back.

Windows Mobile is tottering, Android is coming strong

Windows Mobile has had a very hard life penetrating the mobile market; today, in 2008, Windows Mobile is still tottering. The only really usable device I've seen using it was one made by HTC: Andrea was showing it to me, pointing out that without HTC's proprietary UI extensions (which are very iPhone-ish), HTC PDAs would be mobile nightmares. I am holding my breath, waiting for the HTC Dream to be released: that's an Android-based PDA which should make the iPhone feel like a text-based terminal. And yes, Android is based on Linux. I suspect that once people start noticing Android-based devices (and they will, once HTC Dream comes out), the Windows Mobile market will shrink even further.

A computer on everybody's lap, not everybody's desk

Bill Gates had a dream: a PC (with Windows installed) on everybody's desk. Instead, the computing world is taking a different turn: computers are smaller and smaller, and people are getting used to carrying them around. A lot. In 2008, laptop sales are supposed to overtake PC sales. This has changed the rules in several ways: laptops are generally slower, and putting Vista on most laptops today is like putting an elephant on a child's chair: it will crash under the elephant's weight. Also, laptops tend not to be used as gaming systems, but as internet terminals. Finally, laptops are still seen as "secondary machines", which complement people's desktop computers.

So, more and more people today are installing GNU/Linux (specifically, Ubuntu) on their laptops: it doesn't matter if you can't play many games on it, it's much much faster, it doesn't get attacked by viruses and Trojans every other minute, it's free, and well, it's a good idea to install it even just to have a look at it. Dell offering GNU/Linux laptops (and then expanding the product line) made a huge difference to the GNU/Linux market. Others will soon follow suite.

A computer in everybody's PDA, not everybody's lap

I am writing this article using an EeePC (with Ubuntu Netbook Remix installed on it). Asus has created a new class of devices, the "ultra-portable" ones (or Netbooks, or sub-notebooks...). They are tiny low-cost machines that can be used to browse the web, write letters, and answer emails (or run magazines, which is what I do with mine). This market is big enough to convince Microsoft to resuscitate support for Windows XP /just for this very class of devices/. The problem stays: paying $55 for an OEM license of Windows XP is absurd if the computer itself costs $300. This is probably why the Asus EeePC came with GNU/Linux preinstalled. Unfortunately, it was an ugly fork of Xandros, but it was GNU/Linux nevertheless.

Other hardware makers now want a slice of this appealing cake. Canonical, the maker of Ubuntu, made sure that those makers' distro of choice is Ubuntu, with its promising Ubuntu Netbook Remix project.

So, to sum up...

To sum up, the world in 2 years (2010) has a chance of being very different to what it's like today. People's phones/PDAs will run Android. Their sub-laptops/netbooks/sub-notebooks will run Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Their gaming machine of choice will be a Playstation or a Nintendo one (hopefully, Microsoft will run out of money to pour into the XBox). Their PCs will be collecting dust on a glorious desk, turned off for weeks on end. Their full-size laptops (if they have one) will run Vista or Ubuntu. They will be able to exchange ODF documents with their office and their friends, and will be using OpenOffice and Firefox.

Microsoft has very few weapons to fight this: Windows XP for sub-notebooks will be a joke, compared to a fully-featured Ubuntu Netbook Remix (which comes with OpenOffice); Windows Mobile will put them to shame when compared to Android, which will eat up the already small share Windows Mobile has managed to acquire in 11 years of existence; and while there might well be a computer on every desk, well, it will be the "old" computer, hardly ever turned on. Maybe for the kids to play with, and strictly not connected to the internet. So, it's going to be interesting. Let's just watch out for those silly patent laws which might turn this dream future into a small nightmare.

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Comments

feranick's picture
Submitted by feranick on

The fact that the world of server is mainly UNIX is a pretty unsubstantiated claim. GNU/Linux took most of the market share of proprietary UNIX systems, but not much of the Windows server market. Right now Apache and Windows IIS are almost equally split in the server market. The claim that Microsoft is badly loosing ground to Linux server is misleading and somewhat wrong. Who's really loosing ground is the old Unix.

As for Android, I wish what you say is true. Unfortunately, Android is pretty much unexistent in the market, right now. It's a great platform but it has to prove itself as a leading platform. Windows Mobile may be a bad platform, but it still takes a significant part of the market. Apple is growing strong. The article forgets to mention the leading smartphone OS, Symbian. In this heavily competitive market, Android is still a promise. nothing more.

I am a Linux user for years, I know how great Linux is and I advocate for it, but I am also very realistic. This article seems a lot like one of those "200x is the year of desktop Linux". Claiming that "more and more people are installing Ubuntu" is neither scientific, nor accurate. I would like to see a more serious article describing with real data, market penetration in different areas, over the year trends and an accurate description of the challenges that Linux as a platform have to overcome. Otherwise it's simply fanboism speculation.

Tony Mobily's picture

Hi,

Sorry, but no, the article is not wishful thinking. It's based on market _experience_.

Thing is, there AREN'T hard numbers in terms of Linux servers out there. However, I have walked through several data centres, and I have a friend (a contributor) who has a large hosting service (and I am not talking about Linux fanatics). People don't install NT servers. There aren't hard numbers available, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence from all of us.

Android is indeed "just a promise". However, I have to ask: have you _seen_ a "pure" Windows mobile PDA next to an iPhone? Windows Mobile is a joke. Believe me, if Windows Mobile weree a real competitor and was any good, I would say so. Android is a promise, but again, I can't really say much about it but I was lucky enough to see a prototype from April and well, there is a lot happening there too.

This article is definitely speculation, mainly because hard numbers are just impossible here. However, if you keep your eyes wide open and read the signs, you will see exactly where I am coming from...

Merc.

moshe's picture
Submitted by moshe on

While I may not be exposed to the mainstream business sector, I look at everyday, practical experience in the IT industry. I build and service small business systems in a fairly small area of the south. I have been a Linux user and IT consultant for several years. My experience with Linux and other *nix environments has shown a trend away from Microsoft based systems. I openly advocate Linux for small business with a great deal of success. Reduced down-time and system reliability are the major selling points.

Your argument that there is no "scientific" basis for the increase in Ubuntu Linux usage can be refuted by a quick look at www.distrowatch.com showing the number of downloads to date for each distro. Ubuntu leads the pack, and this is only for downloads, not counting requests for disks being shipped to users. The recent introduction of the Ubuntu remix for ultraportable laptops has added a new market for an already healthy OS. The fact that OEM's are approaching *nix companies for special dostro's shows a solid user base is in the works. I hardly think this is speculation.

Far be it from me to pronounce the doom of Microsoft, however, our free enterprise system has room for both *Nix and MS. The current market economy has placed most consumers in a bind financially and the reduced cost of *Nix will, I believe, have a major impact on Microsoft's market share.

Paul Gaskin's picture

GNU/Linux has consumed the market-share of proprietary Unixes.

The New York Stock Exchange just dropped Unix licenses from IBM, Sun and HP in favor of Red Hat Linux which is now suitable for transaction servers for the most mission critical applications. Lots of financial institutions are sure to follow the NYSE.

Microsoft simply is not up to the challenge, so Windows was not an option for the NYSE.

Now that the Proprietary Unix is widely considered to be legacy systems, GNU/Linux will finish them off.

That leaves no buffer between GNU/Linux and Microsoft. After all these years of expecting a market-share decline in Microsoft and not getting it, now may finally be the beginning of the end for Microsoft.

This summer, Mozilla Firefox will break 20% market-share internationally. That 20% was not easy to acquire from a monopoly with over 95% market-share.

With the failed acquisition of Yahoo, the flop of Vista, and the un-checked spread of GPL-licensed software, Microsoft is in trouble.

If you have any stake in Microsoft, it's a fine time to sell it before it loses its value.

yoramnis's picture
Submitted by yoramnis on

In your article you addressed servers and sub-notebooks, PDAs etc. However there is also an alternative for full scale desktop and laptop. Affordy provides TITAN - full scale personal computers that include an easy-to-use operating system geared for people who are accustomed to Windows XP and offers the ability to work seamlessly in both Windows and Linux environments with better performance, lower cost and extensive, ready to use, software packages for home and business users. Low cost does not mean low-end - TITAN provides high-end performance at a low price.

Titan is a package of high quality hardware and innovative software that includes an operating system configured to look and feel very similar to Windows XP, bundled with a complete suite of 120 applications. The package consists of open-source programs, Microsoft programs and applications that were specifically developed by Affordy, which work out-of-the-box without the need for installations. TITAN offers high performance, Windows compatibility and premium technical support, all at less than 33% the cost of a comparable Windows solution.
For more details see http://www.titanlaptop.com

Terry Hancock's picture

It's been a few years since I checked into this, but counting Windows versus Linux servers is sort of tricky. They tend to be used in very different environments:

Windows servers are typically installed by small businesses, because they don't want to hire dedicated Unix/Linux staff and they think it'll be easier to manage it all on one O/S. Also, they are accustomed to the Windows "support" model, and are more comfortable sticking to it. They generally will manage only one or two servers with one or two small sites on each. The administrator is probably much less skilled and probably doesn't work full time managing the servers.

Linux servers, on the other hand, are usually the preference of network professionals at web-hosting companies or ISPs, and they typically will deploy huge mega-sites with many, many servers, often virtualized to provide many, many virtual servers on each, maintaining multiple websites. Free licensing of course, makes this much cheaper and easier to do legally.

These are often much more demanding applications, in terms of both load and application diversity.

So which is "dominant"? The little system that lots of people use for themselves or the big system that runs far more internet traffic? The best answer depends on why you want to know.

Or to put it another way, it's probably not the right question.

admin's picture
Submitted by admin on

Hi,

OK, but this is all speculation.
In my opinion, you are dead right. So... hang on a minute. So, we have two possibilities:

* Half managed servers used because it's "easy enough" to set them up

* Real servers that do the job for real

...? Again, this is a generalisation, but this _is_ what I've seen quite a lot. But, there are more things that need to be considered:

* Hosting companies are indeed offering Windows servers. Not many people are choosing them, but they are available

* Linux servers are _very_ easy to install and configure nowadays. You can install Ubuntu and get Samba going in minutes.

So... it's still quite tricky. Especially when I have two friends who spend most of their working time replacing those Windows servers with "real" ones once the companies who deployed them lose all their data because there was no backup, or the backup was faulty, or the server simply starts behaving erratically.

So, maybe we can safely say that GNU/Linux and Unix in general has the majority of the "real" server market. By "real", I mean with a proper configuration, proper backup, a skilled person that deals with it, and decent hardware. A server can't miss any one of those things, in my opinion, to be considered "real".

Again, it's speculation. However, maybe we can say that GNU/Linux and Unix are dominant in the market of "real" servers. I am still happy.

I am generally much more careful when I talk about "speculative" data. However, I've just seen too much not to voice my opinion. It's been years now: Windows is often used as a toy. I am aware that it _can_ be used seriously, but that's often not the case.

(The amount of money in certifications you have to spend to _actually_ know what to do with a Windows server is yet another story)

Bye,

Merc.

Terry Hancock's picture

I wasn't just idly speculating. I was referring to interpretations offered to explain quantitative measurements by Netcraft. The trouble is that I don't remember a lot of the details of the measurement other than the conclusion that was drawn. I apologize for the lack of rigour!

The actual data (IIRC) was more like this: if you count by websites you get a much higher number for Linux/Apache, but if you count by servers you get a higher number for IIS/Windows.

As I write this, though, I'm looking at a pie chart I made up from 2007 data which shows Apache at 61% versus IIS at 31%. I suspect this means that a lot of the Apache servers are running on Windows, and it's the Linux versus Windows O/S stats that I'm remembering (But I hope this shows how ignoring a detail can skew the numbers one way or the other, depending on exactly what you try to compare).

Of course, those studies I'm thinking of are old now, so the map can easily have changed. But I think the point stands that, since IIS and Apache (and Windows and GNU/Linux) generally serve different markets, that it's a bit difficult to compare them head-to-head.

Thus, it's possible to make the statistics say whatever you want, if you gloss over the details that differentiate them.

Add to that marketers on both sides who really want you to conclude one way or the other, and the whole thing really has to be taken with a whopping large chunk of salt.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

So, more and more people today are installing GNU/Linux (specifically, Ubuntu) on their laptops: it doesn’t matter if you can’t play many games on it, it’s much much faster, it doesn’t get attacked by viruses and Trojans every other minute, it’s free, and well, it’s a good idea to install it even just to have a look at it.

Install it to try it? Tony have you not heard of live CDs? ;o)

cheers Ryan

garyalex's picture
Submitted by garyalex on

I am currently doing setups of PBX systems using Asterisk running on Linux and in South Africa we are seeing a lot of these systems going into place and replacing the legacy proprietary equipment. I am sure that in the future, Asterisk will be the dominant player in PBX, and this will only enhance the uptake of Linux.

craigTFD's picture
Submitted by craigTFD on

We use an AsteriskNOW! pbx to host an IP phone for a remote location and integrate into our ancient Meridian PBX. But it has its own T1, and like all Linux systems, is likely to grow and spread in ways never forecast.

AsteriskNOW hides much of the "Linux" nature of the box with a menu driven, web hosted interface over an rPath (Centos/RHEL) based distribution.

I think you are right about the future of Asterisk, garyalex. What will happen when we run both the phones and the pbxes?

dalex's picture
Submitted by dalex on

I generally resist to comment on these kind of articles because they are somewhat a subjective speculation and generally result in a kind of flame war. However this part of the article (re: mobile devices and PDA) was really out of touch with reality.

I understand that the author is in a kind of euphorical state about all things Linux (I like, use and contribute to open source software myself) but when was the last time you actually used the smart phone/PDA for more than calls? The WM appeal on the smart phones and PDAs is *not* in the beauty of its interface but in its extensibility and realtively known interfaces. It existed for so long and API was stable with free development tools available so there are literally tons of applications available including iPhone like interfaces (and HTC one is not the only and even remotely the best one available). Now for all relative newcomers including iPhone and overhyped Android this is a really tough to beat feature and it will be some time while the same diversity of choice will be available as easily on other mobile devices. Tell me for example how many GPS navigation apps do you know that will support Android (or ebven iPhone) out of the well known GPS software manufacturers? My guess would be probably none (at least initially).

Then it is also about the choice, how many choices do you have to customise your iPhone applications and interface (let say choose a different mp3 or video player or change interface to be something different if you don't like theirs)? Or even extend iPhone with an SD card? It has its niche (gadget lovers and youngsters) as will Android but versatility of multiple use as a smart device of a long way ahead in my view from the WM and Symbian devices.

Also the largest consumer of the smart phone devices at the moment are business people, financial centers workers developers who generally need one device does it all (or at least tries to do it all) and in this area it's hard to see any viable alternative so far. I do work in the city (UK, London) and majority of the people that walk by, my colleagues have WM or Symbian based phones.

Again I'm not saying that it's not going to happen and Android won't take off but it will take time and simply dismissing WM and saying it's rubbish because it is is a great underestimation

Tony Mobily's picture

Hi,

I don't mean to cherry pick nor flame. However, consider these points:

* The WM platform's API doesn't have free development tools--not in terms of freedom. Nobody guarantees that those tools will stay free. Microsoft might (cough cough) decide in 2 years that you have to pay to get them.

* A lot of WM (Windows Mobile) devices I've seen didn't have an improved interface. It takes TIME and EFFORT to extend the interface

* And as a corollary to my previous point, have you heard about UNIFORMITY in the UI? I personally think that having a basic (ugly, not-very-functional) platform upon which each maker builds on in terms of UI is... well, insanity. And brings $$$ to Microsoft, even if indirectly, because makers are TIED to Microsoft in order to maintain those UIs.

And yes, of course *initially* there won't be GPS applications compatible with Android. It will take time. I am sure you're not suggesting that we should all stick with WM because it has applications...? I heard this article before, about Windows, and unfortunately it has been very convincing for many years.

LUCKILY, the mobile world is relatively new, and we are in the position of avoiding yet another huge mess.

Merc.

dalex's picture
Submitted by dalex on


* The WM platform's API doesn't have free development tools--not in terms of freedom. Nobody guarantees that those tools will stay free. Microsoft might (cough cough) decide in 2 years that you have to pay to get them.

Not to be a nitpicking but in case you missed last few years - the GCC toolchain exists for WM for quite a while and is a viable alternative to the MS VisualStudio tools.


A lot of WM (Windows Mobile) devices I've seen didn't have an improved interface. It takes TIME and EFFORT to extend the interface

So does any linux distribution (even mobile) - you have a freedom of choice here. For me personally I don't like uniformity (well to the certain degree of course), I prefer to have something that adapts and customises to my needs rather than to be a lowest common denominator of all the UIs. Hence the Symbian or WM approach suits me, I know how I want to use the device and pick the best and easiest interface out of hundreeds of options.


And yes, of course *initially* there won't be GPS applications compatible with Android. It will take time. I am sure you're not suggesting that we should all stick with WM because it has applications...?

This is a typical statement of someonew without desire to put himself/herself at end-user needs. Would typical average Joe choose to wait 5 years with a basic phone (but a glorious prospects of supporting open source and free software by using it) or will he/she chooses the wide range of available options for existing platform? Tough decision... not really.

In the end it's all about the available choice and I agree that adoption of Anroid or iPhone will speed up with the choice being wider and larger - but not right now.

Tony Mobily's picture

Hi,

I hadn't been in a discussion like this for a while.
I can't say I missed it.

----------------------------
Not to be a nitpicking but in case you missed last few years - the GCC toolchain exists for WM for quite a while and is a viable alternative to the MS VisualStudio tools.
-----------------------------

I would love to know how many people are developing for WM using the GNU tools.
Really.
I would love to see how easy (cough cough) it is to use the full API to extend the UI... again using free tools.

----------------------------
A lot of WM (Windows Mobile) devices I've seen didn't have an improved interface. It takes TIME and EFFORT to extend the interface

So does any linux distribution (even mobile) -
------------------------------

Judging from what I have seen in terms of SDK, videos, presentations, and private emails to developers, Android will offer a LOT more in terms of UI than the basic, stock WM does.

------------------------------------
you have a freedom of choice here. For me personally I don't like uniformity (well to the certain degree of course),
-------------------------------------

I (and many others, luckily) feel than uniformity is _crucial_.

-----------------------------------------
I prefer to have something that adapts and customises to my needs rather than to be a lowest common denominator of all the UIs.
------------------------------------------

Customising the UI? Sure. But there is a point where there is just too little available in the default system.

------------------------------------------
Hence the Symbian or WM approach suits me, I know how I want to use the device and pick the best and easiest interface out of hundreeds of options.
-------------------------------------------

Again, i disagree, but I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

------------------------------
TM:
And yes, of course *initially* there won't be GPS applications compatible with Android. It will take time. I am sure you're not suggesting that we should all stick with WM because it has applications...?

YOU:
This is a typical statement of someonew without desire to put himself/herself at end-user needs.
---------------------------------

Incorrect. This is a typical statement of a person who is now accepting to live in a cage because s/he doesn't want to do extra work -- FOR the users.

It's sort of important in computers. Ask Steve Jobs with OS X.

---------------------------------
Would typical average Joe choose to wait 5 years
----------------------------------

you aree exaggerating. it's not 5 years. It might be even less than 2. And if you talk about _meaningful_ application, the ones users actually use and are useful, it might be less than 1 year.

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with a basic phone (but a glorious prospects of supporting open source and free software by using it) or will he/she chooses the wide range of available options for existing platform? Tough decision... not really.
------------------------------------------

Yeah, not really. For the sake of innovation, developers will do the extra work.
And they will.

-----------------------------------------
In the end it's all about the available choice and I agree that adoption of Anroid or iPhone will speed up with the choice being wider and larger - but not right now.
-------------------------------------------

We'll talk again in 1 year.

Merc.

Author information

Tony Mobily's picture

Biography

Tony is the founder and the Editor In Chief of Free Software Magazine