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Does Windows 8 Pose a Threat to Linux?

By Katherine Noyes
Sep 19, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Well it was a difficult week for those of us here in the Linux blogosphere last week, what with all the din emanating from the Windows territories to the south.

Does Windows 8 Pose a Threat to Linux?

Drums, cymbals and fanfare of every sort effectively drowned out every conversation we tried to have here in these parts, as did all the frantic chanting. It was a relief when the week finally wound down and we could all begin speaking at normal volumes again.

Woe betide those with noisy neighbors!

A Remarkable Resemblance

Of course, the cause of all the partying and excitement in Windows-land was none other than Windows 8, the next generation of Microsoft's widespread PC platform. In a very uncharacteristic and -- it must be noted -- Linuxy fashion, Microsoft actually debuted an early version of the software for all to see.

One would have to have been living under a proverbial rock to have missed the feverish press coverage that ensued; one would have to have had exceptionally sharp hearing, however, *not* to have missed what Linux bloggers were saying.

Will Windows 8 and its remarkably Unity-like "Metro" interface have any effect on Linux? That's what Linux Girl set out to learn.

'The Whole World Has Gone Mad'

"I feel like the whole world has gone mad," consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl.

"MS is now changing everything to chase a small but trendy part of the market, and they will be left with a ton of cruft and a bunch of pissed off Silverlight developers once the fad passes," Mack explained.

"I actually own a tablet (work provided), and I'm still not quite sure what exactly it's for or why everyone goes nuts about them," he added.

"All I'm sure about is that Ubuntu will probably grow yet another new interface soon," chimed in Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza.

'It's Too Little, Too Late'

"They better hope Nintendo doesn't sue them," warned Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site. "It's the same interface as the Wii, except with the Wii you don't get smudges on the screen."

As for whether it will affect Linux, "I don't know, but I think it's too little, too late for where it really counts: trying to give Microsoft a toe-hold on mobile devices," Hudson asserted. "Nobody's going to buy it based on, 'I want a seamless experience across all my devices' -- users have already been weaned from that.

"Windows lock-in, except on the desktop, is dead, and Windows 8 isn't going to change that," she concluded. "Linux+Android will continue to be No. 1 and Apple IOS No. 2 in mobile. The question is, can Microsoft even get enough sales to become a somewhat irrelevant No. 3?"

'They Are Changing Too Much'

Thoughts on Technology blogger and Bodhi Linux lead developer Jeff Hoogland said he hopes the user interface changes in Windows 8 "do to Windows what Unity/Gnome 3 did to their users -- send them searching for alternatives in droves," he told Linux Girl.

"Unity and Gnome 3 drove many Linux users to XFCE and Enlightenment (among other desktops); hopefully Windows 8 will drive some Windows user to finally give Linux a go," Hoogland added. "It can't hurt us, to say the least."

Indeed, "Lose '8' looks to me to be another Vista," opined blogger Robert Pogson. "They are changing too much to keep it all straight."

'Increased Complexity Always Loses'

Without compatibility with all legacy apps, "it's Phoney '7' all over again," Pogson asserted. "OEMs may be fooled, but consumers will not be. Every app on the planet for that other OS is not about to be rewritten for '8' on ARM."

Meanwhile, "Android/Linux will likely be available on x86 a year or more before '8' is released on ARM," he added. "With netbooks, M$ was able to overcome a few tens of millions of GNU/Linux installed base, but they will have no chance against hundreds of millions of Android/Linux smart thingies and x86."

All in all, then, Windows 8 "is M$ blinking, unable to decide whether 'Classic' or 'New' is the way to go," Pogson said.

"Increased complexity always loses against a lean, mean operating system," he concluded. "Folks who want to get away from XP before it crashes and burns and folks who want ARMed hardware or low-powered x86 or thin clients have no better option than GNU/Linux or Android/Linux."

'The Highest Form of Flattery'

Slashdot blogger and Windows fan hairyfeet didn't see any impact on Linux at all.

"It isn't Windows that hinders Linux adoption; it is the fact that too many in the community are in love with the CLI and refuse to wake up and smell the iPhone," hairyfeet told Linux Girl.

Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, saw it differently.

"Imitation is the highest form of flattery," Travers pointed out. "It means Microsoft is taking Linux seriously on the desktop. This is very, very good news -- for all Microsoft saying we are copying proprietary software, it is rewarding to see them copy us."

'This Will Only Help Linux'

Of course, "people don't use Linux because it has a better desktop; we use it because of the open development environment and the amazing community, and because as consultants we own our own means of production," Travers added. "We have the right to create new things using the software and thus add value without paying upstream royalties or agreeing to restrictive contracts."

So, "in the end this will only help Linux," Travers concluded, "by making it easier for us to create systems which are more familiar to Windows users."

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.

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