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This is one grouch's opinion. Trademarks and their ownership should be obvious.



I was recently asked by a friend if my ultimate goal is to not have anything Microsoft in my house. It's not quite that extreme, even though my frequent complaints and rants seem to point that way. My goal is to eliminate my dependence on Microsoft.

There is (or was?) a news article on the Internet (http://linuxtoday.com/stories/11437.html) reporting that a Gartner Group study warns that Microsoft's change in enterprise licensing means a 50% rise in cost for each year through 2002. If you were running a corporation with a large, wide area network wouldn't you want alternatives? If enough people and businesses felt comfortable switching to an alternative, then wouldn't Microsoft have to keep their price increases in line with comparative value? I don't run such a network or corporation, but it affects everyone.

It costs to switch software. Whether it's cost of training, data conversion time, or just the time it takes to uninstall one thing and install another. These costs provide a comfort zone for the "incumbent". There will be a reluctance to change if things are working. The level of frustration created by software that sometimes works and regularly crashes decreases that comfort zone. At some point, it becomes cheaper to switch. But only if the people who will be asked to use the new software are comfortable with it.

This is why the "grass roots movement" toward open source software is important. Consider where Micros~1 (sorry, I couldn't resist mangling their name in the same way they mangle my filenames) would be today if their software wasn't the first encountered by almost every first-time PC user. Would so many people put up with rebootathons for installing, configuring, lockups and just plain crashes? Would so many people tolerate things like "special" folders that don't act like other folders (like the Printers folder, try dragging a file into that)? I don't think people would be so willing to forgive so many of the illogical, irritating "special" features of the Windows interface. I also doubt many would put up with the long-standing feature of Windows that allows any single running program the ability to completely crash the system. People are simply used to (trained from first PC usage to expect) these annoyances.

Ronald McDonald didn't help McDonalds get so big by primarily targeting the people controlling the wallets. Get the first-timers accustomed to the product. Get the kids in the habit. Many will maintain that habit as they become the wallet-holders, and will pass it on to others for many years to come.

Unlearning a long-term habit is not easy. I'm working at learning to use new computing tools because I see a better way than the way I've done in the past. There are many very mature open source solutions to computing problems. They are just not as widely known as proprietary solutions. One of the reasons for this is that the spread of computing followed the path of ease of use. Microsoft rightly took advantage of the opportunity to market a proprietary product (Windows) that made a commodity product (the PC) easy enough for a great many people to use without programming training. (Apple may have done the same if they had not been so mired in the idea of keeping the hardware proprietary).

It is time for a commodity operating system on commodity computers. Linux has progressed to the point where it can be used widely by non-programmers. It still requires considerable familiarity with computers. But much of that, now, is due to the ingrained habits of computer users. A first-time PC user with a pre-installed Linux distribution such as RedHat or SuSE or Mandrake would quickly be very comfortable with it.

Consider the effect of this. Each person who becomes accustomed to some flavor of Linux will promote it. Because it is open source, each person who uses it is also a potential developer. All of the tools to tinker with the operating system itself are included with the distribution. That includes documentation and very mature development tools (i.e., enhanced by developers for use by developers over many years). The already rapid pace of change is accelerated by this. Every new user of a free operating system advances the system either directly through development or indirectly through feedback to developers. This advance makes the system more powerful and easier to use. Each advance makes it more attractive to users of proprietary operating systems. See the snowballing?

In the Halloween Documents  (http://www.opensource.org/halloween/), the Microsoft researcher speaks about the ineffectiveness of typical "FUD" (fear, uncertainty, doubt) tactics against open source. There are just too many people able to debunk and dispell those FUD attacks. What's the best weapon against FUD propaganda? The same as it is for any propaganda: facts, widely and freely dispersed among people.

The best way for me and you to avoid becoming victims of propaganda is to get the facts. I am seeing less and less need for a proprietary operating system for my computers as I unlearn my past habits and learn a better way. Specifically, if Micros~1 wants to hold a place on my computers in the future, they will have to provide better value in the tool(s) they want me to buy from them. I don't think they can match the value of Linux, so it might be time for them to concentrate on some tool I can't get freely.