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Life After Microsoft: IT Utopia or 'Apocalyptic Tailspin'?

Life After Microsoft: IT Utopia or 'Apocalyptic Tailspin'?

What if Microsoft and all its software just disappeared into the ether tomorrow and never came back? It was a question raised by Randall Kennedy last week, and it managed to generate no small amount of controversy. Would it free the world from its software shackles? Or would it usher in a new IT Dark Ages, where nothing communicates, nothing can be shared, and nothing works?

By Katherine Noyes
02/01/10 5:00 AM PT

Well, the snow continues to fall here in the Linux blogosphere, and Linux Girl is beginning to wonder if it will ever end.

Bread and milk are still in short supply at the local FOSS-y-Mart; children are getting cabin fever; and the snow drifts are getting taller than many netizens.

Down at the Broken Windows Lounge, in fact, the snow now blocks out most of the light that would be shining through, making it seem as if there are no windows there at all.

'What Would Life Be Like?'

Such, perhaps, was the inspiration behind a recent conversation that's come close to fisticuffs among bloggers determined to relieve the tedium.

"It's the thought experiment we all like to engage in," began InfoWorld's Randall Kennedy, who had clearly been staring at the snow-covered glass for a very long time. "What would life be like without Microsoft Windows?"

FOSS advocates, Kennedy asserts, would argue that the demise of Windows "would signal a kind of rebirth for information technology. Software would finally be free of the corporate shackles that have stifled innovation and dragged down the best and brightest among us," he said.

However, "such thinking is naive, at best," he hastened to add.

'An Apocalyptic Tailspin of Biblical Proportions'

"Rather than freeing IT, the demise of Microsoft would plunge the industry into an apocalyptic tailspin of biblical proportions -- no visions of hippie utopia here," Randall opined.

No indeed!

"The withdrawal of the Redmond giant's steady hand would cause today's computing landscape to tear itself apart at the seams, with application and device compatibility and interoperability devolving into the kind of Wild West chaos unseen since the days of the DOS big three: Lotus, WordPerfect and Ashton-Tate," he said.

The din of the resulting commotion came as a splash of icy water tossed over Linux Girl's slumped form, breaking the concentration she had been focusing on her next Peppermint Penguin.

'Reminds Me of a Story ... '

"I think the picture you painted is far too grim," retorted DaveLindhout in the InfoWorld comments. "Actually, you paint too rosy a picture of where Microsoft has taken us today. Much of the chaos you describe is exactly what is wrong with Microsoft today."

Even more so: "Rather than freeing you from your history of M$FT bashing, this piece serves only to cement your reputation for illogical rants that swing from one extreme to another [in] search of flames to bolster your hit rates," added Gray_Hair.

And again: "Reminds me very much of a story where the Church has to maintain the Devil or risk becoming irrelevant," chimed in jprigot.

'Very, Very Patronizing'

It didn't take long for the LXer crowd, who had been sitting a few tables away, to join in.

"If this is satirical, it's not obvious!" exclaimed tuxchick, for example.

"Randall C. Kennedy is always like this," charged phsolide. "He's always got N (N > 10) years of experience in Subject X, and gosh darn it, he's always just naturally hungered and thirsted after the Microsoft Approach To It All.

" Very, very patronizing, Big Brother Knows Best, Microsoft Is Here to Help," phsolide added.

When the rough-and-tumble crowds from Computerworld and PC World showed up, Linux Girl knew an outright brawl was imminent. She turned to her barmates for help.

'A Collection of GeoCities Pages From 1995'

"Mr. Kennedy seems to think that without Windows, the rest of the technology we currently have would immediately devolve into a collection of GeoCities pages from 1995," Slashdot blogger Mhall119 charged.

"Not only is he quite obviously unaware of the amount of cooperation and collaboration in the free software ecosystem today, he seems to be equally unaware of the capabilities of the Web standards of today -- all of which exist, I might add, not because of Windows' dominance but in spite of it," Mhall119 added.

"I can only conclude that Mr. Kennedy has spent the last decade secluded in a mountain cabin working offline with Windows 98," he told LinuxInsider.

'Open Standards and Protocols'

What would life after Windows really look like, then?

"Worst case scenario, if Windows disappeared tomorrow, a few companies would hire a few developers to finish Wine's compatibility with 50 percent of existing software, the other 50 percent having already been replaced with better alternatives," Mhall119 predicted.

"Best case scenario, we would instantly live in a world where the vast majority of software supported open standards and protocols," he asserted. "I could use the software that I like best, you can use the software you like best, and we can still communicate easily and efficiently with each other."

'A Viable FUD of the Year Award Entry'

"Wow, it's January and we already have a viable FUD of the Year Award entry that will be hard to beat," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed.

"What's a more likely scenario? Not everything will be cloud-based; some things will still be local," Mack predicted. "The FOSS operating systems will copy each other's drivers and any closed source OS will use them as a reference."

If any player is dominant, meanwhile, "they will most likely demand a consistent hardware interface to work with," he added. "The world learned from the old chaotic days, and now even other platforms will take standard USB and probably even PCI addons."

'It Was Like the Tower of Babel'

Just what lessons should be learned from the past, however, isn't entirely clear.

"I came of age in the '80s (yes I'm a greybeard) and remember what it was like pre-MSFT, and it was like the tower of Babel," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told LinuxInsider. "My Commodore wouldn't talk to my Uncle's Atari, which wouldn't talk to my dad's Tandy, and nobody could share anything! Not files, not printers, not anything at all, it was a mess!"

When Microsoft and Compaq made "x86 IBM compatible PCs the standard, that made it easy for others to come along later and build upon the platform," hairyfeet explained.

'Once a Shill, Always a Shill'

Kennedy "doesn't get it," opined Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site. "Then again, once a Microsoft shill, always a Microsoft shill ..."

The arguments Kennedy presents "don't make any sense," Hudson told LinuxInsider.

On the first one, for example -- "kiss consistency goodbye" -- "Microsoft is the worst offender here," Hudson asserted. "Just look at the MS-Office ribbon. Then again, Microsoft has always had Apple Envy; they just confuse 'change' with 'trend-setting.'"

'Is There Life With Windows?'

The real question, Hudson said, is, "Is there life with Windows?"

"So many Windows PCs are zombies," she noted. "What's worse, every time Microsoft releases a new operating system, it gives people a reason to re-evaluate their choices, and more and more people are saying 'Well, if I have to buy a new computer anyway ...'"

That, in turn, "explains why Apple has more money in the bank than Microsoft," she charged.

Linux, meanwhile, "will also gain more users as time goes on," Hudson predicted. "That's pretty much inevitable given that people will not want to spend the money on hardware upgrades when their current machine becomes unusable due to bloat, bit-rot, and ever-more-resource-hogging anti-spyware/anti-virus/anti-whatever, and as applications get more platform independence, either by running in a browser, or via Java."

'A Plague of Epidemic Proportions'

Indeed, "that other OS should be considered a plague of epidemic proportions," blogger Robert Pogson agreed. "Fortunately, it is past its peak and dwindling rapidly. The latest quarterly report shows M$ has had to cut prices to sell."

Many computer users already have a great life without Windows, Pogson told LinuxInsider: "I have fewer re-re-reboots, no malware, better response, higher load capacity and the right to do what I want with hardware and software."

Ultimately, the bad news is that life without Windows "isn't going to happen anytime soon," Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider.

"Not in our lifetimes," he asserted. "Sheer inertia and a death grip on market share keeps Microsoft fat and happy for years to come."

'Mostly a Veneer'

The good news, however, is that life with Windows is "mostly a veneer these days," yagu told LinuxInsider. "Everyday computer users continue their migration from desktop-anchored applications and documents towards more mobile access and management of their digital lives."

From online photo management and documentation tools to communication channels, "they no longer need PCs to be Windows-centric -- as long as the computer has a browser, they're happy," yagu pointed out.

"An Internet tapestry of tools and repositories provide more transparency and mobility than ever," he concluded. "The notion that Windows is part of that is mostly artifact."


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