Google Alerts brought my attention to an article on PCWorld talking about which UNIX or UNIX-like desktop contender is set to take over Windows 7, the next release of Microsoft Windows. As mentioned in the article, they are radical possibilities, so there is only a marginal chance that any will be able to take over Windows in such a short amount of time. In spite of several points that I agree with, there are several that I do not, and will respond to here.
The article, written by Randall Kennedy of the Enterprise Desktop blog on PCWorld, shows that there is roughly 12 to 18 months between now and the next release of Windows. That leaves ample development time for the competition to catch up and even advance beyond what Microsoft can offer.
The article details the three top contenders for the taking over of Windows: Ubuntu, OpenSolaris, and Mac OS X. The Ubuntu section is what really caught my attention:
Ubuntu: Once the poster child for Windows-to-Linux defectors, Ubuntu has lost some of its coolness factor. Consecutive lackluster releases, plus a “pass the buck” mentality toward lingering kernel issues, have tarnished Canonical’s once unassailable reputation. Add to this Mr. Shuttleworth’s obsession with the emerging ultra-low-cost PC segment and you have a recipe for disaster.
There’s still time for the company to come to its senses — to take responsibility for more than just the packaging of its distro. With two or three major releases between now and Windows 7’s earliest, most optimistic delivery target, Canonical has an opportunity to shore up its position as desktop Linux torch bearer by dumping Gnome, embracing KDE 4.x, and doing whatever it takes to improve reliability across a greater range of hardware configurations. Do that, and it might have a shot at securing some of the more open-minded XP defectors.”
I’ll start with the first paragraph. Note that he says “Once the poster child…,” which insinuates that Ubuntu was the poster child for Linux, but it is no more. Strange really, for the largest and most popular Linux distribution available. It’s one of the fastest growing distributions available as well, so the not-so-popular distribution title does not really fit the Ubuntu name. He (Mr. Kennedy) says that Ubuntu is no longer the poster child for Linux due to lackluster releases. If any release of Ubuntu was lackluster, it would be 6.10, because there was only 4 months of time to develop the system after Ubuntu 6.06 was released two months behind schedule for extended testing. Ubuntu 8.04 is one of the most successful releases ever, with thousands of downloads, positive reviews, and new features that surpass that of previous releases. Each release gets better. Remember, that while 8.04 did not have as many new features, it was meant for stability, so the focus was on better development, rather than radical new features. In spite of fewer new features, the release has proved successful, and has been a big hit at local Linux installfests and with Windows to Linux converts.
This “obsession” with netbooks that Mr. Kennedy mentions about Mr. Shuttleworth, the CEO of Canonical, also seems to be short-sighted, as the netbook/ultra-small pcs segment has been seeing explosive growth, and many seem to waiting for the new netbooks available with Ubuntu preinstalled. Dell is also taking further acceptance of Ubuntu by offering it as an option on their soon to be released Dell E mini notebooks.
In the second paragraph, he notes that Ubuntu (and Canonical) can make a change for the good, primarily by dropping GNOME, the default interface for Ubuntu and using KDE 4. If you want KDE 4, use Kubuntu. Seriously though, using KDE 4 as the default desktop is a possibility in the future, which has been noted in many interviews with Mark Shuttleworth. At this point however, using KDE 4 would not be a wise decision, as it is not yet feature complete and professional enough to be considered for basic users. One day, I think it will, but GNOME is also a good desktop environment no matter how much pro-KDE bias one has. Both are good desktop environments, with one that is built for stability and ease of use, and the other with a fast-pace development cycle with radical new features.
Now, on to the second section, on OpenSolaris:
OpenSolaris: A true dark horse candidate, OpenSolaris has the pedigree to be a real challenger to Windows, at least in the enterprise. Sporting a clean, battle-hardened kernel architecture, OpenSolaris is what Linux wants to be when it grows up: mature, robust, and confident. Unfortunately, all of the FOSS folks are too busy playing with their GNU tinker toy to be bothered with supporting a platform that may or may not be compatible with their “free as in air” ideology.
And this means that OpenSolaris remains a few revisions behind the times, as evidenced by the down-level iterations of Gnome and related utilities in the 2008.5 release. Still, if Sun ever decides to get serious about OpenSolaris, it could make a run at the title.
The Solaris-derived foundation is solid. What it needs is expanded device support and a concerted effort to port the best of FOSS to its currently anemic repositories. As Microsoft continues tripping over its own consumer/media aspirations with each new Windows release, the time may soon be ripe for the reemergence of a more “responsible” solutions from the Unix standard bearer.
I agree for the most part about this part of the article, as OpenSolaris is an interesting development. It also has local teams, much like Ubuntu’s own LoCo teams. However, OpenSolaris has yet to gain much traction, and also has limited packages. If Sun really wanted to make something of it, OpenSolaris could really be a good system.
The one part I disagree with is the “OpenSolaris is what Linux wants to be when it grows up.” statement. If it was a better system, one would think that there would be more Solaris-based operating systems rather than the multitude of Linux based ones.
Now for the Mac section:
Mac OS X (or XI): Lately, it seems as if Apple can do no wrong. The iPhone is a hit, its laptops are trendsetters, and OS X is held up as the perfect marriage of form and function.
Yet, despite all this success, the company continues to cut itself off at the knees by refusing to license OS X outside of its own hardware. I’m convinced this is partly out of fear; Apple knows that if/when it releases OS X to the masses, it’ll have to support it on the same hodge-podge hardware environment that makes Microsoft look so bad. And tarnishing the image of the revered OS X is not a possibility Apple wants to entertain.
Which is too bad because, given enough hardware support, a platform-agnostic OS X could put a major dent in Microsoft’s installed base over the next year and a half. However, such a move requires vision, not to mention a modicum of courage — both of which seem to be in short supply over at 1 Infinite Loop.
Note that I’m not listing Windows XP here since I believe that, post-2009, hanging on to this rapidly aging platform makes little sense. If you’re going to reject Microsoft’s upgrade path, then do yourself a favor and go all the way. Try one of these emerging competitors. Chances are, given another 12 to 18 months of development, more than one of them will begin to rival Windows XP as the best alternative to Windows 7 — a.k.a. Vista Reloaded.
Agreed! Mac has potential, as everyone’s talking about it, but if they were to take a major chunk out of Windows market share, they would need to license their software to other computer maker, causing the not-so-bright parts of Mac OS X to show. Eventually, if Apple did take over the market place, antitrust courts would be likely to make Apple open their system to other companies. Imagine the bloatware installed on Mac OS X system coming from a PC company like HP!
In all respect, Mr. Kennedy wrote an article that had several things right. However, there were several things that I thought were wrong. This kind of dialog is the benefit of the internet, and discussion over topics that are of the interest of both parties leads to better knowledge of systems and their potential.