Windows 7 may be generating some positive buzz, but Jack Wallen remains sceptical. In fact, he says it's only a matter of time before Linux takes its rightful spot at the top of the OS heap.
I have an announcement: the error of Microsoft's ways is finally catching up and will cause the once-invincible juggernaut to kneel before that which is Linux. How is this? Microsoft started a tiny snowball when it released Windows Me. That snowball did nothing but gain momentum. There have been ups and downs along the way (XP being an up, for sure). But for the most part, the court of public opinion has steadily lost faith in what once was considered the heart of personal computing.
If you don't believe me, read on.
1: Inconsistent Windows releases
One of the things you can always count on from Microsoft is that you can't count on its new operating systems to be reliable. Let's take a look at the individual releases:
|> Windows 95: revolutionised personal computing.
|> Windows 98: attempted to improve on Windows 95; failed miserably.
|> Windows Me: a joke, plain and simple.
|> Windows NT: attempted to bring enterprise-level seriousness to the operating system; would have succeeded had it not taken Steven Hawking-like intelligence to get it working.
|> Windows XP: brought life back to the failing Windows operating system. It hadn't been since Windows 95 that the operating system was this simple.
|> Windows Vista: see Windows Me.
With this in mind, what do we expect from Windows 7? Myself, not much.
2: Consistent Linux releases
Converse to number 1, you have the far more consistent releases of the various Linux distributions. Yes, there have been a few dips along the way (Fedora 9 being one of them). But for the most part, the climb for Linux has been steadily upward. Nearly every Linux distribution has improved with age. And this improvement isn't limited to the kernel. Look at how desktops, end-user software, servers, security, admin tools, etc, have all improved over time. One could easily argue that KDE 4 is an example of a sharp decrease in improvement. However, if you look at how quickly KDE 4 has improved from 4.0 to 4.3 you can see nothing but gains. This holds true with applications and systems across the board with Linux.
3. Continuing Windows price hikes
Recently, I have had a number of long-time Microsoft administrators asking my advice on solid replacements for Exchange. The reason? Microsoft changed its licensing for Exchange to a per-user seat. Now anyone who logs on to an Exchange server must have a licence. You have 100 employees (including administrators) who need to log on to Exchange? Pony up! This gets serious when your company starts having to cough up the money for 500+ Exchange licences. The very idea that Microsoft would make such a bold change to licences is made even more ridiculous considering the current state of the economy. Companies worldwide are having to scale back. And like Exxon Mobile celebrating record profits amid the catastrophe known as Hurricane Katrina, Microsoft creating such a cost barrier while the globe is facing serious recession is irresponsible and reprehensible.
4. Stable Linux "prices"
Converse to number 3, the prices of open-source software licences have remained the same -- $0.00. When those administrators come to me asking for open source replacements for Exchange I point them to eGroupware and Open-X-Change. Both are outstanding groupware tools that offer an even larger feature set than their Microsoft equivalent. Both are reliable, scalable, secure and free. The only cost you will have with either is the hardware they are installed upon. And with both packages, there is no limit to the amount of users that can be set up. One user, 1,000 users -- it's all good with open source software.
5: Windows hardware incompatibility
Microsoft Vista was a nightmare when it came to hardware compatibility. Not only was Vista incompatible with numerous peripherals, it took supercomputer-level iron to run the operating system! Sure this was a boon to Intel, which stood to make a pretty shiny penny. Intel knew a good amount of the public would be shelling out for new hardware, and the new hardware would cost more because it had to be faster to run Vista in all its Aero glory. But even hardware that would run nearly any other OS with lightening-fast speed was brought to a slow, grinding halt with Vista.
6: Linux hardware compatibility
Converse to number 5, Linux continues to advance in the category of hardware compatibility. Take Xorg, for example. Recent developments with the star of Linux' graphical desktops have the X Windows server running sans xorg.conf. This was done primarily because the system had grown so good at detecting hardware. And so long as there wasn't a cheap KVM between your monitor and your PC, Xorg would easily find the mode for your display and run X properly. With new distributions (such as Fedora 10), X configuration is becoming a thing of the past. Most other pieces of hardware are finding the same level of recognition.
7: Windows promises
I wanted to save this for last, but seeing as how it is number 7... We've all heard the pundits proclaiming Windows 7 will be the resurrection of the Microsoft operating system. But I recall this same proclamation with nearly every release from Redmond. Windows Vista was going to revolutionise the way the user interfaced with the computer. Vista was going to be the operating system you would never notice. Instead, Vista refused to NOT let you notice. And Windows Me was going to take Windows 98 and make it far more simple for the average user. What did it really do? Remove nearly every actual functioning system in the operating system, leaving little more than a browser and an email client.
Everyone is always fond of saying the next Windows release will redefine the personal computer. But the public has finally reached such a point of apathy for Microsoft's up and coming, the majority doesn't even realise something new is coming out. The media can continue to push Windows 7, but the public will continue using XP until Microsoft pries it from its cold, dead fingers. And, of course, no one really knows when Windows 7 will land. How many dates Microsoft announces vs. how many dates change will probably be a 1:1 ratio.
8: Linux transparency
Converse to 7... The next release of any Linux distribution is never shrouded in mystery. Because of the nature of open source, the release candidates are always available to the public (and not on a limited basis), and the timeline is always made available. Any user can know exactly when a feature-freeze happens for a release of any distribution. And all Linux distributions work under the "full disclosure" model. Because of this, there is little false advertising going on with Linux. And unlike with Microsoft, you will never hear of a distribution claiming that its next release will revolutionise computing. If you go to the Fedora Project Wiki, you can view all the proposed and accepted features that will be included in the next release. You can also view the completed release schedule, where you will see that Fedora 11 has set an alpha release of 3 February 2009, a beta release of 24 March 2009, and a final release of 26 May 2009. These dates are fairly firm and almost always on target.
9: Feature comparison
Let's compare the feature lists of Windows 7 and Fedora 11.
|> Windows 7: OS X-like Doc, multi-touch screen, mapping application similar to Google Earth, Hyper-Visor virtualisation, location-aware apps, User Access Control improvements, Sidebar removal.
|> Fedora 11: 20-second boot time, btrfs file system, Better C++ support, Cups PolicyKit integration, DNS Security (DNS SECurity), ext4 default file system, fingerprint reader integration, IBUS input method replaces SCIM (to overcome limitations), GNOME 2.26, KDE 4.2, Windows cross-compiler inclusion.
If you look at those features in and of themselves, you could easily argue that either one could be the more impressive list (depends upon your bias). But understand that the Fedora 11 features are added on an already outstanding operating system, whereas the Windows 7 features are being added to a lesser operating system. And what Microsoft is proclaiming to be the biggest improvement (multi-touch) doesn't actually improve the operating system and also requires, surprise, new hardware! To get the most out of Fedora 11, you'll be good to go with what you already have.
10: Hardware requirements
Vista-lite? Out of the mouths of Microsoft comes the proclamation that Windows 7 will run on any hardware that would run Vista and even slightly less powerful hardware. Slightly less powerful? What exactly does that mean? Well for one, Windows 7 will have no luck in the netbook market. And since XP is dying, the netbook market will be owned by Linux. Netbooks are not gaining enough power to run anything from Windows but the watered-down version of XP. Netbooks are not going anywhere, and consumers (both home and corporate) have their limits on how many hardware upgrades they will make to fulfil an operating systems' needs. As of Fedora 10, the minimum system requirements look like something out of the mid '90s.