Opinion: Longhorn Vs. Linux… Again

By the time Longhorn comes out I’m sure everyone will be sick of the subject “windows vs linux.” Will longhorn finally destroy that pesky linux and mark another decade of Microsoft’s monopoly, or will the underdog come out with a stunning upset and send a multi billion dollar company to it’s grave?Although both those views are pretty far from reality, at least in my opinion, that’s what you’ll hear a lot of. But this article isn’t about that, it’s about one side effect of longhorn which I don’t think has been considered enough…

In the countless articles and reviews of the longhorn builds I’ve noticed one thing people complain about. It’s that side bar. Nobody seems to like it. It’s a practical idea, but it’s said that it takes up too much screen real estate, that it’s an eyesore, and frankly you just don’t need it. Microsoft fires back with the argument that by the time longhorn rolls around everyone will have thirty five inch widescreen LCD monitors, and it won’t be an issue then.

Another issue is the system requirements. I read on one review that they were running a 3.2 gHz processor and it was still a bit sluggish with all the bells and whistles enabled. Generally progress should mean that not only does something look better, the performance is snappier as well. Although I realize it is a very early build with debug symbols in it, and that the screws will be tightened and the lines will be trimmed, it will still take a bit of computer to run.

Saying “a bit of computer” isn’t very objective though. So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Longhorn will run comfortably on a 3.0 gHz processor and somewhat uncomfortably on a 2.5 or 2.7. This is just for the sake of argument, mind you, a complete ballpark figure, with absolutely no evidence to back it up.

In any case the point is simply this: to run longhorn it will require new hardware. Which might not be that big of a deal for a home user who upgrades every couple of years anyway, just another box and a shiny new LCD monitor. But for any kind of business it’s a bit more of a problem.

Working as a tech for a small computer shop, which has quite a few small business clients, I have a good view of how small bussinesses buy computers. The fact is, if they don’t absolutely need to, they usually don’t. I know of businesses still running 233’s and 366’s on desktops, with 64 megs of ram, and windows 98 as their operating system. Yet they probably won’t replace those computers until the processors finally fizzle out. It’s just smart business; why pay more for something new when what you have does everything you need?

And so we come to Longhorn, an operating system that, if you wish to buy it, you must either already have a nice computer, or you must be willing to pay for a new one. Which is, needless to say, something that many businesses (not just small ones, but enterprises as well I believe, and of course universities and government insitutions) will not be willing to do. What is to be done?

So far I’ve talked a lot about Longhorn and really nothing about Linux. This is where Linux comes in. By the time Longhorn comes out Windows 98 (the latest Microsoft operating system that will run on sub 600 mHz machines comfotably) will be almost a decade old. And will have no longer been supported by Microsoft for a quarter of that time. If a company wants these computers to be anything more than junk, they will have to look for an OS that will run on it, and in that search they will find an obvious answer: Linux.

There has always been a little bit of emphasis in Linux on supporting old hardware. Call it nostalgia, call it being cheap, or, as I prefer, call it good business. Whatever you call it, the point is that you can have a modern operating system on top of outdated hardware and still have a machine that will do exactly what you want, and not be prey to all the viruses and worms that are sure to crop up on an OS which is never patched again.

Some of my very first experiences with Linux were on a Pentium II 166, with 64 megs of RAM. It didn’t run KDE great, but with XFCE, firebird, and abiword I could do everything I need for school no problem.

I’ll admit, when I write I get caught up in the subject matter and sometimes forget to make points, so I’m going to sum it all up for you. Businesses don’t like to spend money. New computers cost money. Therefore it makes sense to try and make the computers you have work. Using ten year old software simply won’t cut, in terms of interoperability and just plain productivity. Therefore you must find software which is modern, will work with the newest software, is cheap enough to warrant not just buying a new computer, and yet will still run on your AMD 333s. The obvious answer to that is linux. With a light window manager and good software it will more than suffice. Especially since by the time Longhorn comes around windows emulation should be much better supported in linux, but mainly, much easier, so you’ll still be able to run that old proprietary software which your company relies on, just in a much better environment.

So who will win? Longhorn or Linux? The answer is neither, there is a place for everything. I can’t predict the future. Maybe a huge hardware breakthrough will happen and a new computer (including monitor) will cost twenty bucks. Maybe when people start putting linux on their old computers they’ll love it so much they’ll become addicted and forget all about windows. And maybe scallops are flyin’ outa me pants.

As is usually the case in this type of article, the author is obligated to give either the Linux community or Microsoft some advice on how to conquer the world. And so in keeping with tradition I’ll dispense the advice presently. For Linux to gain desktop space they have but one obstacle in my mind: make it easy. If you can get Linux installed and everything working absolutely properly it’s great, and I actually prefer using it. However, that is not such an easy thing right now. I think projects like Ark Linux are heading in the right direction, although perhaps taking things to a bit of an extreme. Perhaps the best installer is just a Live CD, like knoppix, with merely the option of copying it to your hard drive. So I don’t actually have any advice I guess, just keep up the good work, and be sure you’re ready when your chance comes.

To Microsoft… I have no advice. If they want advice, they can definitely afford it, and that fact means that they probably don’t need any of mine since they’re doing okay right now.

I don’t expect either OS to “kill” the other, really. In a month and a half I’m leaving on a mission for my church; I’ll be gone for two years with almost no updates on how they computer world is doing, but when I get back, I expect things will be quite different.

About the Author:
Joshua Boyles is a 19 year old computer tech, with intermediate linux skills and a lot of windows experience, who lives in the USA. He’s dabbled with Linux for a couple of years, and hasn’t destroyed anything, so he still likes it. He’s dabbled in windows for about seven or eight years, and has
destroyed some things, but he gets paid for it, so he still likes it.


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