- By Joab Jackson -
Call me a wuss, but I am turning into a secret fan of Windows. And
nothing helped me come around as much as having to rely on Linux these last few months. Microsoft senior vice president Craig Mundie might want to take note as to why.Earlier this year, I installed Red Hat 7.0 on the hard drive of my
main computer, and I upgraded to 7.1 when that was released. I had long been fiddling
with different flavors of Linux but decided to switch over entirely as I was becoming
increasingly uncomfortable with Microsoft. Bill Gates' company was getting too big
even for its ample britches. The idea of charging monthly rental fees for future versions of its office software is absurd -- but, absent serious competition, quite feasible from a business standpoint. Moreover, using Microsoft Internet Explorer to surf the Web is a one more vote for webmasters everywhere to disregard open Web standards in favor of Microsoft-specific ones.
So now I use Linux, but I've reached the conclusion that I do so more
as an act of conscientious objection than because it makes the desktop computing
experience any more enjoyable. Like every other ideological decision to Do the Right
Thing, using Linux can be a pain in the butt. And some nights, when I'm in a
weakened state of mind, I long for the junk-software goodness of Windows, just as the most health-conscious dieter longs for a greasy cheeseburger.
To be fair, it is not Linux itself that I have a problem with. It's all the end-user
programs that are bundled with the OS that trouble me. Last week, for
instance, I had to spend 20 minutes picking errant question marks out of a story I was filing to my editor -- thanks to the desktop interface I use, KDE. The question marks got in there when I pulled my story from my word processor into my e-mail reader, Pine. Since I have yet to find a graphical Linux-based e-mail reader
that matches the versatility of either Pine or Mutt, I use Pine and
Mutt. The problem is, with KDE, I can't paste into the terminal windows these programs run in. If I want to send somebody something I've written, I have to export it from my word processor as ASCII text and import it into my mail client. And in the conversion
all the apostrophes morph into question marks.
In fact, I've found cut and paste to be problematic across KDE, which is a big, big
stumbling block in my daily routine, as I tend to shift a lot of text between applications. And it's not only cut and paste I miss. It's all sorts of simple things. I long for the days when I could use an Internet browser that was not so slow and bug-ridden that it made me want to log off completely. For when I could move files into folders and
not worry about setting file permissions. For fonts that were easy to
the eye and already installed. For a word processor that can track changes between users and not have its cursor randomly disappear. Recently, I've been sneaking documents to work so I can print them from printer-friendly Windows computers. And on these PCs,
I can also surf to Web sites that use Flash.
I could go on (. . . and on). For hardcore Linux users, my gripes may
seem like bellyaching over small issues. But it's precisely these kinds of small issues that hold Linux back as a suitable desktop solution. Although on the surface, KDE and Gnome may look a bit like Windows (especially to those subterranean
command-line dwellers), when you really start to work with either for a
few weeks, the differences are telling.
And Microsoft should understand this too. That's how the company makes
it own scratch. By now, everyone reading NewsForge has read about Craig
Mundie's talk on how Open Source undermines the notion of intellectual property and, by extension, the commercial software industry. But to me, he is barking up the wrong tree. Microsoft? Intellectual property? Who is Mundie kidding? This from the company
that ripped off the Macintosh graphical interface for Windows; that did
the same to Netscape for its own Explorer Web browser; that shamelessly appropriated Real.com's RealPlayer audio jukebox concept for its own Windows Media Player.
Microsoft has never been about heavy innovation, its multibillion-dollar research and development labs notwithstanding. (Anyone remember the company's run at pen-based computing in the '90s?) Maybe Gates has always fancied himself a
mighty innovator, forging ahead with new patent and trade-secreted
technologies, but in fact his company makes its green on taking whatever has already been proven an interesting idea, and doting over improving the the user-friendliness
of the concept.
On both the desktop and, more lately, the server market, this is the thin margin Microsoft thrives on. And as long as Windows is slightly easier to use than Linux KDE, its place on most desktops is safe -- at least on the desktops of those people for whom using appliances isn't an ideological issue. Profits are only partly about
intellectual property. They're also about old fashioned consumer hand-holding. And as far as I'm concerned, that's no small achievement these days.