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I tend to think the latter. Not because I am not a Linux fan (I happily set up my Computer with Mandrake about two years ago, they are still merrily in love), but because I have not heard anything new in the past two years. It is always "my god, not another security hole in Windows 95/98/98SE/ME/2000/XP/Server 2003", "Microsoft aggressively bought company X", "Microsoft launches another way to protect their software" and "Microsoft software is too exspensive". And Linux, on the other hand, is all bliss.
Well, I think Linux is not all "bliss". Linux would be all "bliss" if we forget the slow boot-up/shutdown times, if we forget the lousy hardware support for, let's say, Ati products (Ati being the number two in graphics cards!), if we forget the "geek" image of Linux, if we forget the fact that some distributions suddenly have to be paid for, if we forget that some distributions suddenly get discontinued, if we forget the crappy way software is installed (with the exception of apt-get, or so I've heard).
You can go the same way when it comes to Windows. Windows would be all hell if we forget the ease with which it is installed, if we forget the great hardware support, if we forget the uniform look of all the programs, if we forget InstallShield and look-a-likes, if we forget the clear structure (Program Files, My Documents etc, and of course this only goes for the not-so-technical end-user), if we forget Windows Update (still beats the Distribution-specific update tools, in my opinion).
If you confront Linux addicts with the disadvantages I just named, you always get the same reaction: "When Linux becomes (more) mainstream, those problems will disappear." Well, I think you should turn that around: Linux will become (more) mainstream, when those problems are solved, or at least addressed. Your OS can be great when it comes to its inner workings, but it are the looks of the OS that really matter to the masses. Would Marylin Monroe have become as famous if she was not so darn pretty? I do not think so. I mean, consumers do not want to wait forever for their PC to boot (you can read a Donna Tart in the meantime... twice), they do not want twelve different applications for one task, they do not want to choose between six different Window Managers, even though all of them are quite good. I mean, do you line up six tv's in your living room just because they look a bit different from each other? Again, I do not think so (imagine the remote-control interference...).
What Should We Do?
So, what should happen to Linux in order to gain more marketshare at the cost of Windows? Well, a lot has been said when it comes to this particular issue.
I think the major Distributions should all "join hands" to create one version of Linux, with one desktop, a uniform look, with one update system and so on. They can still develop their own Distributions (for the fans, I do not think my Computer and Mandrake will ever divorce). By creating a standard, you will make it more accessible for the masses. Just look at the dvd recording standards now: the number of standards are really stopping people from buying a dvd recorder. They are heavily influenced by articles stating the risk of buying one: "Your standard may be unsupported in a few years".
It will be no problem if Linux XP (couldn't resist the temptation ;) , sorry) will cost something, they can spend the earned money on research. The newly developed applications can first be put in the Distributions, and, when the community is satisfied, they can be integrated into the next Linux version, Linux Longhorn (okay, this is getting silly). This way you get the best of both worlds: the knowledge, experience and diversity of the Open-Source world, combined with the easiness and clarity of standardized software. A very good example is, in my eyes, LindowsOS 4.0. I have used it for a couple of weeks now and I must say I am impressed. Despite critizism from the Open-Source commmunity ("It's too Windows", "It's not free" and "They don't supply source-code (which is a plain lie, by the way)"), I believe LindowsOS is kind of what that new standardized Linux should look like.
Of course that kind of takes away the essence of the Open-Source concept. Open-Source is all about letting everybody not only use the software, bu also letting everybody improve the software. This has led to a diversity in the available software. This is a good thing, if you are an expert willing to put time and effort into your OS, but if you are not, than Linux just isn't for you, at this moment.
But, as always, this is just my opinion. So please, do not send any suicide penguins my way...
About the author:
You could say I'm an expert user, but I think that is a bit overrated. When I think of an expert, I think of someone with programming skills. And I'm already happy if I can succesfully edit my Lilo.conf or my XF86Config-4 file! I'm a bit more experienced in Windows, since I have been using MS-DOS/Windows since 1991 (that's right, I was seven at the time!). In 2001 I bought my own computer and from that time the fun really started. I installed Mandrake, played around with BeOS, SkyOS, FreeBSD and so on. But Windows and Linux will always be my favourites.