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Could the Windows Comparison Game Hurt Linux?

By Katherine Noyes
Nov 18, 2010 5:00 AM PT

It's a rare thing indeed to hear Linux discussed without some comparison to Windows.

Could the Windows Comparison Game Hurt Linux?

That may not be surprising, given Redmond's effective monopoly in the operating system arena -- but is it harming Linux?

That was the question being mulled over here in the Linux blogosphere in recent days, even as the rest of the world had its sights set obsessively on all things Facebook.

'Like Comparing Apples to Oranges'

"I've grown to dislike the idea of comparing Windows and Linux as I feel that it's a lot like comparing apples to oranges," wrote Matt Hartley on Datamation, where the conversation began. "Both run software and each of them has its strengths and weaknesses. Trying to trump one over the other is time wasted in my opinion and leaves you with no benefit."

Such comparisons could, in fact, ultimately hurt Linux, Hartley added.

"With some Linux distributions trying so hard to compete with proprietary operating systems, we'll likely end up with more of those users who expect an idiot-proof experience than those who are willing to invest a little time learning about how their computer works," he asserted. "I think it could be hurting Linux adoption as we end up with a group of individuals who are all too willing to drop Linux the first time something doesn't go according to plan."

Well nigh 50 comments had appeared on the Datamation site by Wednesday, and that was on top of the 600-plus outbursts on Slashdot and more beyond.

'Slavish Imitation and Dumbing Down'

"I say more power to Ubuntu with their efforts to make Linux more accessible to more computer users," wrote mcorn in the Datamation comments, for example. "The beauty of Linux is still in the choices."

Then again: "The problem is not in comparison, it is in slavish imitation and dumbing down," opined twitter. "Slavish imitation is a mistake because Windows is a poor model and Microsoft just moves the goal posts."

In fact, "direct comparison of Windows to GNU/Linux is almost always favorable to GNU/Linux, both raw performance and features," twitter added. "There's no way to convince me to go back to that buggy, single screen, DRM laced nasty."

Was there any shortage of other opinions on the topic? You bet your DRM-laced nasties there wasn't. Linux Girl took to the streets of the blogosphere to learn more.

'Being Competitive Matters a Lot'

"Ah yes, the old old, OLD story," Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza began. "This argument has only been going on since Linux has been suitable for real work and will probably keep going so long as people are paying for both of them.

"It matters if you're trying to sell Linux in a world dominated by Microsoft," Espinoza added. "Otherwise, not so much."

On the other hand, "I think being competitive with Windows matters a lot, but I also wouldn't want to lose what makes Linux great in the process," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined. "In other words: Make nifty GUIs for everything but still leave me the option of digging into the config files with a text editor if need be."

'That Sad Imitation of an OS'

Competition is good, blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl.

"If we cannot out-perform that sad imitation of an OS that M$ produces, GNU/Linux should be shut down," Pogson asserted. "In my experience, GNU/Linux has out-performed M$ since 2000 because GNU/Linux did not crash and was much easier to manage and cost less."

Of course, "we should check our rear-view mirrors occasionally to see what the competition is doing," he added. "I don't see MacOS as much competition since it does not run on the same hardware by decree, so there is no proper way to compare."

'The Home Field Advantage'

Using Windows as the standard to compare against is "ceding the 'home field advantage' to Windows rather than playing to linux's strengths," suggested Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

Then, too, there's the fact that "it's not a straight swap -- there is a learning curve," she added.

As a result, "positioning linux as a 'Windows substitute' -- free or otherwise -- is not going to happen," Hudson opined.

'Advantages That Users Can Understand'

Linux has myriad advantages, including "a repository system for one-stop installs and updates, and no need for an anti-virus," Hudson pointed out. "These are advantages that users can understand. The question is, are these enough to get people to give it a try?"

The realistic answer, she asserted, is, "not until they're motivated, which only happens when their Windows box gets p0wned or so infected that it needs to be re-formatted anyway.

"It's only at that point they're more open to looking at something that's NOT Windows," Hudson concluded. "Even then, with new computers so cheap, most will just buy another computer with enough extra cpu to run the next generation of malware in the background."

'People Want Hand-Holding'

The bigger question is how much the community wants Linux to compete with Windows, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told Linux Girl.

"If you do, there are some hard facts the Linux community is gonna have to accept, like the CLI has to die and die hard," hairyfeet asserted. "Think iOS. People want simple, they want hand-holding and wizards, they want 'clicky clicky' easy."

For example, "Linux should automatically find and install drivers during install, even if it has to call the repos and make its own kernel module, and ideally it should tell you before even starting if there is a SINGLE device that isn't compatible," hairyfeet said.

In short, "if you want the world you have to give the world what *it* wants, not what you think it should have," hairyfeet concluded.

'We Must Continue to Struggle'

Speaking of the world, "what we should care intensely about is the usage of GNU/Linux globally," Pogson pointed out.

"The monopoly is still holding usage back," he explained. "Retailers and OEMs have successfully sold GNU/Linux (e.g. netbooks) and in many parts of the world continue to do so, but the monopoly has persuaded many OEMs and retailers not to sell GNU/Linux in M$'s back yard.

"That must end, and we must continue to struggle against that," Pogson asserted. "Pester retailers. Pester OEMs. Remind them of M$'s tax on their businesses. Remind them of Vista -- how much were their brands harmed by that stuff? Remind them of how well Android sells."

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It has opened up valuable new channels for civil discourse.
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