Pondering Windows’ Bloated Demise

Well, it was a relatively quiet week on the Linux blogs, and we can only speculate that everyone out there was feverishly working on their taxes.

Yes indeed. Taxes, as we know all too well, are one of the few certainties in this world — along with death, as our good friend Mr. Franklin so aptly noted.

It seemed fitting, then, that in this month of financial reckoning, so much of the conversation that was out there on the Linux blogs was focused on a reckoning of the other kind. A final reckoning, that is, and it relates to a technology we all know too well — one, however, whose demise is unlikely to elicit many tears in the Linux community.

Final Collapse?

Yes, folks, we’re talking about Windows. At a Las Vegas conference sponsored by Gartner last week, analysts Michael Silver and Neil MacDonald described Windows as “collapsing” and called the technology’s current situation “untenable.”

They also said that if the operating system is to survive, Microsoft will have to make some big changes.

Now, if anything could rouse the Linux community out of its tax-induced doldrums, it would be a whiff of Redmond blood. Not surprising, then, that the topic was widely discussed across the Linux blogs.

Nails in the Coffin

The story was picked up on LXer as well as on Slashdot, where more than 500 comments had followed by Friday — even as a separate conversation on the site pondered a report predicting that almost all businesses will have switched to Linux within the next few years.

Bloggers were practically tripping over each other in their haste to add their own nails to Windows’ virtual coffin.

“What exactly does Vista bring to the table?” asked geekoid, for example. “Nothing. All the features that would have made this OS an actual improved new OS were stripped out. So now we have a bloated OS that has no value add and can’t justify the expense of a roll out.”

‘Just Another Choice’

“It used to be that Microsoft was the only player that could provide value in the operating system world, but now we’re seeing that both Apple and Linux are able to provide just as much value, if not more,” Foogazi blogger Adam Kane told LinuxInsider. “I definitely don’t think that Microsoft as a company will slowly collapse, but the Windows operating system is indeed becoming just another choice, instead of a needed commodity.”

One of the big problems with Windows stems from the fact that it was designed in an era when computers were “in a much friendlier environment,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. “There was usually one person using a computer, and if someone messed with it you knew who to physically strangle.”

Today, computers are more often shared, they’re connected to a giant network, and software comes from “an order of magnitude more places, and those places all tend to be less traceable,” he noted.

‘No Upside to the Pain’

“Microsoft has made a critical mistake: Vista is slower and offers nothing new for the customer, so there is no upside to the pain,” Mack added. “Who would rewrite their app so it runs better on a slower OS that no one is likely to use?”

The other key problem Microsoft has is that third parties are allowed to make drivers, he noted. “Driver writers are often not careful with their code, resulting in much of Windows’ reputation for instability,” he explained. “Drivers are also often not updated in a timely fashion, so they have to keep compatibility with old drivers — unlike the Linux world, where they can just change API.

Is the current pain enough to force Microsoft to make major changes?

“I don’t know,” Mack said. But “I can tell you that more of my Windows-centric clients are asking about Linux, and several Microsoft-only shops here in Montreal have switched to Open Office and dropped MS Office. What that holds for the future, I don’t know.”

A Firm Hold

Of course, not everyone bought into Gartner’s argument.

“Yes, Vista has been slow on the uptake and an embarrassment to Microsoft,” Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. “Yes, more people have looked at Linux. Yes, Apple’s ads are cute. But the bottom line remains that Microsoft still firmly holds the reins and show no signs of handing them over any time soon.”

There are signs of shifts in the market, but nothing close to the seismic event predicted by Gartner, yagu asserted. “Gartner has mispredicted many times over the years, and wishing this prediction were true doesn’t make it so,” he said. “Microsoft will land on its feet squarely in the backs of its competitors.”

‘The Desktop OS Is Dead’

Indeed, Microsoft has realized what GNU/Linux users have failed to understand for a long time, which is that the desktop operating system is dead, Monochrome Mentality blogger Kevin Dean told LinuxInsider.

“Take a look at Microsoft’s business plan,” he said. “In 1997 they had one killer product: Windows. Today, in 2008, Microsoft has a line of products.

“Vista failed to be the amazing product that Microsoft claimed it would be, but that’s fine for them because their ‘Windows Home Media’ spin sells well. Their home storage server sells well. Xbox 360 sells well. Xbox Live is held as an example of tightly integrated gaming. The Windows Mobile platform is doing well. Yet Vista struggles along.”

Are 14,000 Pages Enough?

Ironically, Microsoft also made big news this week when it announced that it was releasing 14,000 pages of technical specifications covering several of its applications.

“It’s hard to say how releasing this documentation really plays out,” yagu said. “Microsoft is releasing this information under duress, and they’ve been backed into this corner before. They even admit the level and quality of this documentation is uneven, but promise they will iterate on it over time, bringing it up to high quality.”

Will that really happen? “They’ve never done this in the past, and they’re unlikely to do it now,” he added.

Motivated by Growth

Ultimately, the desire for growth may motivate Microsoft to make some changes, Dean asserted.

“With 90 percent of the world’s computers running Windows, the only way that they can truly grow is to begin appealing to the other 10 percent, including the GNU/Linux user,” he explained. “Microsoft’s hackers, if not their management, understand very well that the only way to do this is to ‘meet in the middle’.

“Perhaps they can’t convince millions of GNU/Linux users that Windows is superior,” he concluded. “But they MAY be able to convince those users that some of their other offerings are.”

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