The unfair race
Why would Linux loose trying to provide the same user experience as Windows, but at lower cost?
First of all, you can't copy the thing you've never seen. Microsoft's plans are changing all the time, some features are found only at release time, so they would hardly find their way into Linux UI in short term. And if they are technically not so easy to implement, they would be always outdated, just like Mono, which being sponsored by Novell is still a .NET 1.x implementation, having incomplete 2.0 support in development branch, while some of current software depend on .NET 3.0!
The reader could object me that any new feature needs to be adopted before it is used, so this time of adoption will be used by developers to release the new feature right when users would start using it. So true, but the way the destiny of the feature is largely dependent on the developer of the very first version.
The second reason for Linux to loose is that the work needed to provide this kind on Windows-on-top-of-UNIX is close to literally developing two operating systems with different userland. And the further we go, the more trickier the system gets. SysV- and BSD-styled init scripts are being replaced with event-based system in Ubuntu, different other over complicated projects are developed to make the UNIX-like Linux base system resemble Windows.
The amount of work rises, the level of overcomplication rises, the number of layers between user and hardware rises... You don't need to be a programmer to understand, the more code you have, the less easy it is to maintain it, to update it, to modify it. While no complexity barrier being seen this time, we are still to reach it some day.
The third reason is the user base of Linux. Until some very recent time the most part of Linux userspace developers were working to make some software they needed for their own systems. And they didn't think about the ease of use for Windows users, about Windows-like interfaces and so on. They were just making the tools for their means in their operating system, which was still UNIX those days.
Now they are getting out of touch. They stop updating their Linux boxes or even migrate to less Windows-ish flavours of BSD. Many of really smart projects that are really needed in UNIX system Linux might be stopped updating. The short term tactical victory of Linux still makes the loss of UNIXes evident.
Nothing could be stopped now. Microsoft promised not to sue Novel's clients, and surely it won't, because the more Novell relays on this promise, the further it goes to the Microsoft territory, where no one but Microsoft has the chance. On seeing all of this Novell entered the deal, preferring to gain the short term outcome. The vendors have all decided for us.
So, what is coming next?
First of all, the Linux distributions will split in two groups: those relaying on UI and Windows-ish tools and others relaying on UNIX way utilities and command-line interface (which is actually the most powerful interface in most cases). The first group being supported by commercial vendors will continue improving WYSIWYG abilities of Linux, while the second group will instinct, the users will switch to flavours of BSD, Hurd, Plan9 or whatever.
After some time the Linux development will turn too expensive for Linux vendors be competing with Windows. Some of vendors (Oracle for example) will be forced to leave the system software market, some may be die out, the rest will switch to some alternatives (ReactOS has very strong chances to replace Linux).
By this time the small amount of pure UNIX open source systems will occupy some very slow share of OS market, being supported by classic UNIX hackers, geeky communities and FSF. They will take the place of Linux of the early 200x.
This was the optimistic vision, and here we go with pessimistic one:
Windows Vista will appear to be the failure the Microsoft won't overcome. The Linux quickly becomes the main platform for all sort of commercial software.
After a period of time there would appear different closed source superior substitutes for some of subsystems. Being not too innovative but still incompatible, they would be adopted by different vendors in random order, making the market as divided as it was at the Microsoft time.
Without any valid competition the market will keep stagnant until some new Microsoft-like player won't defeat the weak Linux vendors one by one and occupy the Microsoft's place.
Any way, no good news to come from Linux any more.
About the Author:
Dmitrij D. Czarkoff is a Russian intellectual property and insurance lawyer, spending his free time on free software advocacy and UNIXes promotion. OpenBSD user, if you would like to know.
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