Sunday, December 24, 2006

World Domination 201

Don't know when this was actually written, but I just got the link from Slashdot. Good analysis all in all...

Good News:
Just as Windows 3.1 (and even Windows 95) ran for years with 16 bit device drivers dating back to DOS, native 64 bit drivers for Windows-64 will be few and far between for years to come.

MacOS X is intentionally restricted to a limited set of hardware even on 32-bit systems, because Apple can't support anything close to the full range of PC hardware either. Tackling generic PC hardware is a step they've explicitly avoided taking, precisely to avoid the hardware support issue.

On the other hand, the Linux community has spent fifteen years expanding our support for PC hardware, and our insistence on open source drivers means that the vast majority of the hardware we support is approximately as well supported on x86-64 as on x86-32. Our platform-specific problems are minor tuning issues, not sealed black boxes that stop working without explanation. Our hardware support isn't perfect, but it's manageable. For the other two platforms, this issue is their Achilles heel.

and listed under "Bad News" for some reason:
More recently, Intel decided to be a good guy, releasing an open source the driver for their newest graphics chipset before the hardware even shipped. Intel proved it was serious by hiring Keith Packard and Dirk Hohndel to shephard the new driver into and Mesa

And under "What Linux needs to win", an item Steve Jobs seems clueless about:
Linux needs a Wine 1.0 release, installed and preconfigured on desktop distributions. The two most important features of Wine 1.0 have to be that (a) it runs legacy Windows-32 binaries correctly, and (b) it does not emulate Windows-64, its direct competitor!

If that second "feature" seems odd, heed the lesson of OS/2. That operating system bundled a Windows emulator that worked sufficiently well for independent software vendors to ignore native OS/2 support. Vendors wrote for Windows, trusting that the emulator would cover their OS/2 customers.[28] As a result, OS/2 was starved of even the Macintosh's also-ran level of native application support, and eventually withered on the vine. This is not the fate we want for Linux.

Under "Surviving the Killer App" the paper wades into my favorite prediction:
So the good news is actually the possibility that in a Webbed world the operating-system-specific killer app may be a thing of the past. It would be unwise to count on this, however, so it's worth asking what we can do if yet another killer app wades ashore with a case of nuclear halitosis and a yen to destroy Tokyo.

Under "Enabling Pre Installs":
We in the open-source community persist in screwing this up. Preinstalled systems come with defaults for everything, even user accounts. Knoppix can boot from CD straight to the desktop. But modern installers still play 20 questions because we can't imagine them not doing so.[31]

We also persist in designing in the most obnoxious thing an installer can do, which is to spend several minutes processing or copying files and then ask more questions afterwards. This forces the user to babysit the entire install, which is annoying.

AMEN to that!

But I've noticed Debian getting better, and I suspect the others are too. Meanwhile, the last few times I installed Windows (which was in the Windows 2000 era) it had actually gotten harder to install, often hanging on something as simple as mouse or modem detection. Since then I've helped novices over the phone who were also stuck on something that should have been simple to deal with but was not due to the sheer arrogance of Microsoft's attitude toward users.

The most aggravating thing for me about many Linux installers (but particularly Debian) is that there seems to be only about two video card in the universe that they can detect and produce a working "X" configuration file for without some manual tinkering. I get so pissed when I am asked several questions about screen resolution and fonts, only to have to go edit the file manually, and then, to find that even my answers to the questions haven't been incorporated into the file. Clearly, people have been turning in their homework unfinished, but how does this slop get into the final release? It would be much better, and certainly more honest to have a message pop up:

This Installer doesn't have a clue what to do about your video configuration. Here is the file you need to go edit:..... Best of luck!

It could even pop you into an edit session right then and there where at least I've now pretty much memorized the dozen or so characters I need to type to get it all working.

But then, as I mentioned I've had Windows botch my video settings from time to time too. Unfortunately for us Linux proponents, Windows gets it right most of the time if only by using some generic VESA settings and leaving you in some not-so-hot graphics mode that will at least work until you get the right driver installed, etc.

Why Linux can't do likewise I don't know.

The way to get Linux preinstalls starts with this: bypass the vendors Microsoft has under its thumb, and buy from the vendors that specialize in Linux. If only small vendors are willing to do this, they will become large vendors when they get enough sales volume. Establish that there is a market for preinstalled Linux systems, and that some companies can be successful selling them (not just as a Wal-mart style sideline but as their core business), and larger vendors will take notice.

Which is just what I've done. I have a Samsung printer (under $100) that works beautifully, ditto Canon scanner, Olympus and Pentax cameras, external USB devices of several kinds that all "just work"and I sneer and my Windows-using friends who still plug USB devices into their machines with their eyes closed (and with good reason).

The rest of the document is good... no silver bullet answers though. I'm cautiously optimistic, thinking that while things aren't rosy for Linux, they certainly aren't shoe-in victories for Microsoft or Apple either.

Comoditization remains our best friend. As we age, we are less likely to crave the latest car, the greatest stereo system, the widest screen TV. Even us "geeks" get to a point of just wanting something basic that works, and there are more and more such people out there every day. Furthermore, us unwashed masses are not Microsoft's target market, and certainly not Apple's. If Google doesn't take over the world, there is plenty of room for a basic desktop system that will. As long as it comes in around $300.

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