June 17, 2006

How Linux can compete with Windows Vista

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

At first glance, you'd think an operating system like GNU/Linux that installs in less hard drive space and requires a less-beefy computer than Windows Vista would be an automatic sales superstar. Not so! If anything, Linux needs to become more hardware-hungry in order to compete effectively with Vista.

This may seem counterintuitive if you're interested in computational efficiency, but if you're a hardware vendor, the idea of a new, highly-promoted operating system that will force a lot of people to buy new computers makes you lick your chops.

A friend who packages GNU/Linux for commercial sale says the constant need to sell more powerful hardware is a big reason why desktop and laptop vendors love Windows and aren't keen on Linux. (Server rooms, where efficiency counts, are obviously a whole different ball game.)
But there is hope for Linux. Our friend believes the new Xgl 3-D Linux desktop will make Linux need just as much hardware updating as Windows Vista.

I personally find Xgl's "wiggly windows" and "spinning cube" behavior slightly headache-inducing, but each to their own. Here are some badly-done handheld videos that'll show you what I mean. Even through the unsteady camera, you can see how a desktop with all kinds of transparencies and animated effects could be hard on your eyes if you work in front of a computer all day. Too much candy isn't good for you; too much eye candy can be just as bad.

My curmudgeonly assessment aside, I'm sure plenty of people will love this new style of Linux desktop, just as lots of people are supposed to like similar tricks on a Mac or Windows desktop. And there is no way, says our distro-packaging friend, that this kind of special effect can run on a computer that uses shared video memory without causing system performance problems. This means people who want to use the latest and greatest, wiggly-squiggly animated desktop effects in Linux will need to go out and buy new computers -- or at least new video cards.

To you and , this may not seem like an advantage. But if you're a big-time computer hardware manufacturer, it means you get to sell more powerful hardware, which is what your life is all about.

Yes, some of us will go on using old-fashioned, plain-jane, 2-D GNOME or KDE -- or even lightweight IceWM or Xfce desktop environments -- on older computers, but if a large enough group of GNU/Linux users demand sugar-sweet eye candy, Linux could easily become as worthwhile for computer manufacturers and retailers as Windows Vista -- especially if the Linux computers included OpenOffice.org and other interesting application programs that aren't part of a typical OEM Windows installation.


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