December 26, 2009

Living without a Windows key

I live in the UK where it is nigh on impossible to buy a PC keyboard without a "Windows" key on it.  Cherry Linux used to provide one called CyMotion Linux, which had a "Tux" key on it, but this is no longer available.  There are lots of matches to other Cherry keyboards which are "also available in Linux model", but they aren't.  No-one sells it.  My Acer Aspire One netbook has a "Home" key, because I bought the Linux version.  I've seen other netbooks which come with Linux instead of Windows, but they've actually had a Windows key.

 Why is it too much to ask to just get a keyboard with a generic meta/home key?  The Windows branding is pretty much burned into every keyboard, even if it won't be used with Windows.  There are, of course, Apple Mac keyboards, which are no better.

Given that there are thousands of models of keyboard out there, I just can't see why not one manufacturer will step forward and produce an alternative.  Even the cost of adding a replaceable key and providing a couple replacement alternatives wouldn't be a big deal!

And now it appears that Dell Europe have completely abandoned Ubuntu, as it's no longer available as an option on any of their systems, laptop or desktop.  Linux starts to make inroads, but clearly some "deals" have taken place to stymie  any progress of alternatives.  The options aren't there.  Users can no longer be represented or counted on which operating system they really want.  They have to build systems from scratch which doesn't even appear in any user-base statistics.  The same problem existed with Asus, who had a huge success with Linux with the EeePC, but suddenly, and mysteriously, suddenly started marketing against Linux with the "It's Better With Windows" campaign on their own website.  After their netbook was made a triumph by lowering the cost of computers, they turn round and strike it down as it's not needed anymore.  And Microsoft were forced into prolonging the life of Windows XP in an effort to keep Linux from gaining another foothold, and hopefully knocking away the foot that was already in place.

So it starts with something as trivial as a key, but that key represents how ingrained Windows is in the world of PCs.  In fact the term "PC" was used by Microsoft in their Windows adverts to mean a computer with Windows on it, where it actually covers any system with any operating system on, including Apple Macs.  Those are PCs too, but of course they want the term "PC" to be part of their branding too now.

Unfortunately, suppliers only gain from special deals with Microsoft, and little to gain from supporting alternatives.  The potential alternative user-base never grows because it isn't given the opportunity.  It's not about what's best for users, it's about what's best for big companies.

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