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Linux and Microsoft Windows Future

I work with both Linux and Windows XP. The latter software, in a Microsoft software based organization.

On the Linux based forum web sites that I visit, the subscribers cheer every time a Linux system displaces a major Microsoft one. The converse is true in the Microsoft camps, because of the argument "How can you make money with free software?" In the minds of these Linux forum subscribers, Microsoft is the enemy.

Then we read about Microsoft's reactions. Linux is the enemy. To combat the enemy, Microsoft will give schools free Microsoft software with the objective of catching the student when he is young, let him learn your software and he will be your proponent for life. Though not part of this discussion, we also have the Apple MAC which is a third party in the competition for your addiction.

From my perspective, Microsoft will soon little care if you run Linux, Mac, Vista or Windows 7. Microsoft has a strategy titled "software plus", directed at the corporate world. With this strategy MS is expanding their application portfolio well beyond the desktop. Microsoft is developing and marketing software that ties you to their graphics and function libraries, (.NET, SharePoint) their canned business applications such as Microsoft Dynamics, VoIP and their "cloud computing". Your application will be required to be Open Data Base Connectivity (ODBC) capable, web-browser based, have Silverlight and more. Aside from providing links to SQL Server, SharePoint interfaces, and Office 2007, or whatever later version is marketed, Microsoft will be there with their products for the corporate world. While Microsoft will prefer you to use their desktop platforms, all the way, because of the web browser, they will accommodate others.

For large corporations I predict a desktop world that is Microsoft based, while for the smaller business and home market, a competing and compelling alternate environment based on Linux. Here is why I think as I do.

Costs

Linux is replacing UNIX because there are Linux has licensing costs, though the support costs remain about the same or are closer to zero. Linux provides the cost effective way corporations are moving away from UNIX. Because the UNIX support costs are not competitive, the UNIX market is shrinking. Already we know Sun Corp has an open source Linux product available for free download and use. Operating System and hardware support is on a maintenance contract. Oracle provides a complete hardware – database solution based on hardware supported by their Linux, a Linux that was derived (forked) from Red Hat.

Linux is certainly cost competitive once it is installed. Since it is not as well known or as widespread as Windows, few people know it well. Thus, the concern from Microsoft shops is the fear of the conversion costs. Nevertheless, because Linux is easy to install, and once installed, is known to need far less support then does Windows, it is attractive to new businesses, to governments and similar institutions. In developing countries and outside of North America, conserving the dollar is extremely important. These countries find the Microsoft licensing costly, and also find that once in bed with MS, they have high costs if they want to leave. The problem then is not so much cost as it is fear.

Fear

Many older employees have a fear of learning something different. I guess the same fear is with governments and institutions that have to survive with past forms/versions of electronic data and future ones. That fear is based on the likely inability to read archived data that was stored forty to fifty years ago and the fear that documents produced today with Microsoft Office Software will not be readable twenty years from now. What if we want to read older documents where the software and hardware used to create them is obsolete, will the problem will be costly? Eventually there will be a future cost of having to convert documents from the original format to a universal timeless format - XML. This requirement takes them away from the Microsoft Office suite to Open Office, a freeware product that is essentially Microsoft Office compatible, and is able to read and create files created in XML, an ISO standard file ASCII (text) definition. Microsoft has been vehemently opposed to XML due to the fact that by producing XML output, competing products will invade its product's territory. This fear was so great, that Microsoft loaded the ISO committee for review of OOXML and with a constitutional process known as fast approval, had it standardized. MS got its version rammed through and resulted in uproars around the world. Fear of losing a market is a great fear, justified by a must win by all costs approach.

Technology

The Net Laptop is the new hardware that runs Linux. Prices start from about $200. Rumor has it that in 2009, a $99 version will be available to the public. It is bound to eat into Microsoft profits as surveys show that most home wont pay $50 for an XP license when the laptop cost is that low. The net Laptop will be used mainly to surf the web, use the webcam for real-time conversations, use for videos or MP3 files or for email applications.

Most of you who will be reading this will probably be XP or Linux Gurus. Since Microsoft is extending its reaches beyond the desktop, one of the ways that Linux could cross over to corporate business would be for Free and Open Source (FOSS) business systems to provide competitive alternate SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) functionalities with costs solely based on optional maintenance. The low-cost and highly functional applications that are alternatives to Microsoft offerings, such as Compiere ERP, Business Intelligence applications, Postgress SQL, MySQL etc. are beginning to appear. Surprisingly, many have almost the same or equivalent business functionality. By 2010, some software on the Linux platforms will have functionality above that offered by the alternative vendors.
For more information about FOSS applications, search the web for Open Source ERP, Open Source Accounting, Open Source Web Servers, etc.

Application Quality.

What about the quality of FOSS software? Thus far, quality has been above average, at a superb level. This statement is based on the concepts of FOSS. Around the world, there are a vast number of skilled developers who program for joy, and who do it for mental/technical gratification. (There is absolutely nothing wrong with this type of gratification). Anyone can join a product user group and subscribe to their forums. With a chief development core of users, end-users and people who may have never met face to face, and with testers from around the world, a product launch or upgrade is generally with fewer bugs per thousand lines of code, then any commercial package. Open Source pre-releases and post releases are scrutinized and tested by ten thousand eyes, before upgrades or patches are transferred from testing to release version. Microsoft also has its world of testers, and these are mainly internal employees.

What about closed source software. How is quality to be maintained at a competitive cost? Well, one way is to do what IBM did in the old days, and that was to distribute software on Microfiche. Each fiche, about the size of a punch card (do you know about those), held 80 pages of source. The beauty of fiche is that it is open source, but difficult to pirate. And in fact, it is there for the holders of the software licenses for which their fiche was created. The Microfiche may also solve the dilemma about how to read some documents that were electronically produced some 5 or 6 generations ago on software that is no longer supported and on hardware that no longer is manufactured.

Virus Immunity - Security

The file system and architecture of Linux are such that virus impregnation is virtually impossible. This immunity is valid for the most part, except when individuals determine how to dupe software that has two modes of operation. In Linux, two types of security are available and implemented. One system has to do with file permissions, and the other has to do with white-listing/program permissions. A file may have properties of being readable, writeable and executable, as determined by the owner, the group to which he belongs and by others. White-listing permissions are rules that indicate what that program is allowed and not allowed to do. For example, with white-listing, a video display codec is not allowed to execute other programs or write to a file. It cannot transfer rights. This feature in Linux is not available with Vista or XP. Anti-virus programs do exist in Linux, but these are to protect recipients when mail that is received is forwarded to non-Linux systems.

CPU Hardware

The ubiquitous CPU that all vendors create generally is tested fully via simulators. However, the early production units normally have flaws in some instructions. CPU vendors know about this, and in order to prevent massive recalls, provide a means of patching the microcode. The patching is, of course, to make the CPU meet the design functions. It is not certain that a virus can use the CPU microcode update facility to add new instructions, instructions that could provide unlimited access to the system to a virus. This method of attack has not been explored and its risk is for security is unknown. The potential weakness is the same for all operating systems.

Open Source and Patents

Microsoft is a closed shop. Microsoft owns the code and it is confidential and proprietary. Some of their codes are patented business routines. Linux only uses public domain open source code without patents. (Actually, there is a big discussion before the courts in the United States concerning software patents. – Are ideas or mathematical algorithms patent-able because the algorithm is implemented on a computer?) Microsoft does Quality Control, with test system drivers, and with beta test sites. Yes, Microsoft code is functional, but we see the results with the numerous issues of service packs. Microsoft and other vendors are moving to a form of open source; closed to public but open to licensees. As an aside, IBM did this as far back as the 1950's, with optional microfiche as the delivery vehicle. IBM promotes Linux. Microsoft has indicated that by 2012, many of their new applications will be open source. This welcome news will bring competition to the market place. Also mean that there is more to learn.

Applications

Cloud computing, ODBC to databases (MySQL/Postgress), Web servers (Apache), Telephone PBXs (Asterisk), and a large quantity of excellent FOSS software for the enterprise is available to Linux. Microsoft developed the .net architecture, and Linux matches it with "mono". IBM is a Linux shop, and has made the SharePoint alternative -- Lotus notes application, free and open. As well as Google with its cloud computing products is in the process of eroding the Microsoft install base. Whatever major business application is available in the Microsoft environment is also available in Linux. Nevertheless, Microsoft is king of business applications, with most of them purchased from third parties. There is no SOA to mix and match or use best of breed.

Conclusion

In closing, I foresee two or three business streams. Linux will continue to grow as one stream, capturing small businesses, government and public organizations, and Microsoft will continue to extend and embrace corporations, and provide the business applications they require. From my experience in ERP and corporate software, my view is that for corporations, the move is to cloud computing, otherwise known as Software as a Service (SaaS). For the proponents of one operating system or another, the future interfaces will be the browser, the mobile, Flash and Silverlight. It is quite feasible that databases may be distributed with part on Linux, and part on an MS platform. Time will tell.

As Microsoft operating systems continue to shrink in number, being displaced by alternatives, Microsoft's initiatives in expanding business applications outside the desktop arena will allow their revenue stream to remain comfortable.

Am I right? There a win-win for both camps?

Leslie Satenstein

Overall a good write-up

Overall a good write-up Leslie!

"Linux is replacing UNIX because there are Linux has licensing costs, "

I did not understand this sentence, typo?

Interesting concept about "Software plus" from MS. Will have to look into this.

Yes were seeing more people moving to Linux desktops but its still needs much improvement. In my opinion Ubuntu is the only one right now that can achieve any kind of major Desktop move from MS.