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The Windows Kernel's Achilles' Heel

By Katherine Noyes
May 20, 2013 5:00 AM PT

Life is like a roller coaster, as the popular saying goes, filled with both ups and downs.

The Windows Kernel's Achilles' Heel

Here in the Linux blogosphere we've certainly experienced our share of downs in recent months -- thanks in large part to a frustrating spate of FUD -- but lately the clouds have parted and the sun is shining on Linux with full force once again.

To wit: Last week we saw our favorite operating system named the "benchmark of quality". Now, the cheerfest continues with no less than a confession from a Windows kernel developer that Linux development is better.

Could it get any better than this? Linux Girl thinks not.

'The Problem Is Social'

Linux Girl

"Windows is indeed slower than other operating systems in many scenarios, and the gap is worsening," wrote the apparent Windows developer in response to a discussion on Hacker News. "The cause of the problem is social. There's almost none of the improvement for its own sake, for the sake of glory, that you see in the Linux world."

Said comment was subsequently deleted, it appears, but the originator of the discussion -- one Marc Bevand, aka "mrb" -- says he rescued it with permission and posted it on his personal blog.

The result has been nothing short of a virtual stampede in the Linux blogosphere, as FOSS fans far and wide have rushed forth to have their say.

'Too Much Bureaucracy'

"There is nothing surprising in this," opined Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien, for example. "People do things for a reason, and it is important to understand what the incentives are.

"In Free Software it is to be seen as excellent, mostly," O'Brien added. "Microsoft is famous for having one of the most dysfunctional management structures in existence, and that would of course impact the quality of their software."

Indeed, "Microsoft development suffers from too much bureaucracy," agreed Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

'Turf Wars and Stagnation'

"Consequently you have a choice between turf wars and stagnation," he added. "If it isn't something that clearly contravenes MSDN, even if the behavior is totally inconsistent and different from earlier versions, it will be considered 'not a bug'."

Software freedom, on the other hand, "leads to better software, faster developed" because "developers get a chance to really own their work," Travers suggested. "If it is not accepted, they can still distribute and use their modified version, but the incentives are all aligned for worthy patches to be accepted."

'The Problems Are Eternal'

Windows has two problems, Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. offered.

First, "Microsoft always focused on the external look of the system, to gain users, to be friendly, etc.," he explained. Second, "they have been patching and perhaps changing it, without great improvements in safety and stability."

Meanwhile, "the safety and solidity of the system, either due to the kernel or other external parts, is the one thing users have complained all the way, since ever, in Windows," Gonzalo Velasco C. asserted.

"The blue screen of death, the virus and malware problems are eternal," he said. "I even think it has improved somehow, especially in the XP-SP2 era, perhaps in the 7 era ... but it is still the worst system in terms of safety and solidity, I know; honestly. Period."

Whether or not programmer involvement is part of the issue, "there is a seriously bad guidance," he concluded. "They focus on fools' market, not real improvements."

'Politics Dominate Microsoft'

Similarly, "the folks at the IT scene know very well how politics dominate Microsoft," Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol agreed.

"In the very interesting blog, Mini Microsoft, an insider talks about how politics drive MS down," Ebersol explained. "And it got worse with Steve Ballmer.

"Their teams compete against each other, not in quality of their work, but with politics, shady deals, under-the-table arrangements," he added. "They created this 'Microsoft way' of doing things. So, of course it's politics that drive the changes in Microsoft, not real technology advancement."

'Nothing Microsoft Can Do'

Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone had a different view.

"I find myself in the extremely odd position of having to defend Microsoft here," Stone began. "It's not that they're not falling behind. They are -- for all the reasons that Microsoft's developer notes -- but there's something else at play here too."

Namely, "even a company with resources as vast as Microsoft's can't compete with the community that is behind Linux," he told Linux Girl. "For every developer that Microsoft can put to task, the community behind Linux can find dozens.

"That's the power of open source, and there's nothing that Microsoft or any other company can do to stop it," Stone concluded. "All they can do is work as hard as possible to stay in the race, no matter how far behind they get."

'A Mix of People'

Similarly, "I think the author is mistaken about the problem," consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack suggested. "The main reason the Linux kernel does better is because you have a mix of people working on it."

Some of those people "are there to add new features, some are there because some CPU manufacturer wants the OS to run better on their chips, some are there because some mobile company wants to improve power consumption and some are there because some company has a lot of servers and wants to reduce the number they need," Mack explained. "This mix of goals keeps a well-rounded list of improvements."

Windows, on the other hand, "does not have that," Mack said. "It is only driven by its internal need for anything Microsoft's marketing division can come up with as an immediate need."

'As Inspiring as Wet Noodles'

Last but not least, blogger Robert Pogson took a long-term perspective.

"Since IBM got behind GNU/Linux more than a decade ago, the rate of development of the Linux kernel has been superior to the kernel of that other OS," Pogson told Linux Girl. "A fundamental difference has been that hardware makers have contributed device drivers and others have reverse-engineered device drivers that are included right in the kernel."

Microsoft "never inspired such centralized development," he added. "M$ never had a single benevolent tyrant like Linus directing traffic and enforcing standards."

'Evil in the Black Hole'

That individuals or employees of organizations large and small can contribute directly and indirectly "has inspired thousands to do their best work for the Linux kernel," Pogson suggested. "That the code is visible globally has inspired hardware makers, end users and tinkerers to examine the code, understand the parts that matter to them, and rely upon the code to do the job on many millions of PCs, servers, clusters and gadgets."

In short, "compared to the Linux kernel, the kernel of that other OS is as inspiring as wet noodles," Pogson concluded. "No one can trust it to work for them. After decades of BSODs, vulnerabilities by the score and sluggish behavior on fast hardware, many suspect that there is evil in the black hole."

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 and Google+.

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