Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface : Linux Last PC Opportunity?

The DOJ-Department of Justice when it won its Antitrust case against Microsoft  also lost it at that moment because the officials involved had not agreed on a remedy for controling Microsoft.  In the end it was $3 billion in fines and kid glove  supervision by the Bush DOJ for 5 years. However, one remedy which might have been powerfully corrective   would have been to require Microsft to make Windows and IE Open Source. Not free, just Open Source. This would have allowed hardware vendors to do what Huawei, Motorola, Samsung and other mobile vendors  do with Android – a)make fixes to OS  bugs fast and b)to add their own UI and other customizations to the OS rather than having to wait for Microsoft [or Google in the case of Android]. Like wise software vendors, with access to source,would be able to develop unique apps and development software that prevent the OS vendor from dictating unilaterally what and how software gets developed on the OS.

So What – Where Is the Linux Opportunity?

Well the opportunity is three fold. First,the Antitrust against Microsoft made Linux and Open Source popular, and they took hold. Linux in the business community for servers and Open Source in both consumer, web and business applications to an increasing degree over the past 10-12 years. People have tried  both but especially Linux in a business setting for servers with no small degree of success. But Linux and Open Source has appeared on the consumer PC in  specialized PC applications. Think 3D graphics engines and other media processing applications, engineering systems, and specific forms and data processing. None of these are huge markets but all are demanding. These server and PC successes have resulted in users finding Linux to be  robust, secure, plus feature and price competitive. True,the Linux market is  a fractured fairy tale of vendors and services but still regarded as  highly usable.

With Microsoft Surface and its  Surface Pro laptop, Redmond has provided the second “motivation”. Microsoft’s direct entry into the PC marketplace has its hardware partners none to enthusiastics even if it is referred to as “a wishful thinking reference build”. Now some will say with Xbox, Zune and Windows Phones and tablets ,Microsoft has already been competing  for the past 10 years with its hardware vendors. And that is true – but never in the PC arena has Microsoft made such a concerted and innovative foray. Hardware vendors like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo were largely in the dark about Microsoft’s move on their turf. And Microsoft has not called Surface like Google did in the case of Nexus, a reference build which Google largely honored until it bought Motorola. In sum, Microsoft’s hardware vendors can hardly be happy. They surely do not want to become like telecom carriers are to Apple, serf’s to Microsoft. In sum since June 19th hardware vendors will be looking  much more vigorously  for other OS opportunities.

With Windows 8 and its deprecation  of the Desktop UI  in favor of the the new  Metro Style UI, Microsoft has left many PC software vendors with very tough choices. Now remember, many of these vendors have had to fight against Microsoft tooth and nail for their position in the marketplace as Microsoft invaded their turf. Just ask Adobe about Metro and SilverLight, many games vendors about Xbox and PC gaming, or the BI community from Cognos to SAS about Microsoft’s giveaway of  free BI software to buoy SQL Server sales. In short, from the software vendors viewpoint, Microsoft is hardly a trusted partner. So already they would be restless.

But Windows 8 gives many software vendors reasons for militancy. First, they have to maintain two different code bases – one for their new Metro Style UI and another for their existing Desktop UI programs. For many software vendors, the Metro Style UI is simply not operable [think Oracle/Primavera Project manager, any of several AutoCad 3D design programs, or the Intuit forms based apps].  In short, for many software vendors, their Metro Style UI apps will be a step down for many users who rely on multiple panels, tabs, scroll bars and popups plus intensive keyboard controls. The software vendors will be at the mercy of Microsoft providing some equivalents in the style and space dictates that are current Metro Style Apps. In sum, for many software vendors, Metro Style apps are a loss carry forward for the next 2-3 revisions. Count on software vendors to be like hardware vendors – actively seeking  alternatives.

Finally, to say the least, the Business Community is hardly enamored of Windows 8. First, the Metro Style UI forces a huge training load on PC shops. Second, in order to use the Metro UI and Windows 8, businesses must replace their stock of desktops with multi-touch screen  capable PCs which will sell at a premium to their existing PC stock. Third many of the new laptops and desktops will force businesses to make choices such as faster SSD drives versus higher capacity traditional hard disks, ultrathin notebooks and laptops with long battery life  but without the array of ports or CD/DVD, massive desktop screen of 23 to 32 inch diagonal  but with touchpad only operations, etc. But most worrisome of all, is that dozens of their desktop productivity apps will be enmeshed in the problems that the software vendors see.


So hardware vendors, software vendors, and the business community will all be looking for something better from an OS vendor.


What Can Linux Offer

First desktop and laptop PCs that are state of the art:

First and formost, Linux laptops and desktops have kept pace with the latest developments in PC technology. For example, Linux has had multi-touch screen operations baked into the Linux kernel since 2009 [Android depends on those multi-touch Linux kernel capabilities]. Ditto for Cloud integration , virtual memory technologyand syncing capabilities[Ubuntu and other Linux vendors offer free 5GB cloud services]. Linux vendors support the latest Wifi, Blu-ray, USB3 and other media transfer technologies. Linux is appearing on the latest ultraportables and tablets .

Second Android is built on the Linux kernel – it is Linux, just without all the bells and whistles seen in PC Linux. So literally hundreds of millions of smartphone and desktop users are thriving on Android Linux. This is important because it does two things: 1)proves that with right backing and support Linux can deliver in a big way in the consumer marketplace and 2)that Linux can extend beyond its very popular use on servers and finally 3)it proves that the open source model can work very well in providing an OS that vendors like Samsung . Motorola, Acer and Asus feel comfortable with modifying and supporting minimally or radically and the market still works.

Third,  some of the most powerful cross development tools do not just exist but thrive on Linux. Qt, Java from Eclipse and NetBeans, GNU devlopment systems, PHP, Ruby, Python, Groovy even Flash to an extent have great IDE environs on Linux. All the major relational and NOSQL databses had their origins  on Linux and/or prosper there. Web and system software, under Linux servers have prospered greatly.

Fourth, Business, the Cloud, and the Web all run  well on Linux Servers. This is important because a)Business,come the end of the year, may be seriously looking for something better than Windows 8 and b) the old complaint that Linux cant keep up or deliver will just not apply to many savvy Business shops. Finally with business es strapped for iT budget dollars, Linux and its bevy of free and  Open Source development tools will be a more welcome notion. Finally, cross platform is the name of the game for much software that runs in Linux. Programs that run in Linux must be able to communicate and integrate well with the other major OS – Windows, Mac, iOS, Androis, Sun, BSD, etc. Bottom line, Linux has accrued a lot of credibility in the business community.


So Whats Holding Linux Up ?

Like Gallia , Linux est divisa per  tres partes – Linux is divided by three parts. First, the software vendors despite being regularly abused by Microsoft and Apple remain leery of  Linux despite its splendid set of developmental tools. Second, software vendors will insist it is because consumers are Linux averse – despite the fact that Android Linux has at least 400 million smartphone and tablet users.

Third and most important, there is no major sponsor of PC Linux. Despite being abused by Apple and Microsoft of late, Google is still committed to the Cloud and ChromeOS for its consumer OS. HTML5+JavaSCript+Dart is their delivery system. No consumer software vendor is big or ambitious enough to provide the leadership. For example,  a major artistic software  vendor like Adobe or AutoCAD who also are suffering under the Apple and Microsoft yoke could establish Linux as their reference development system . And suddenly Linux would have huge credibility in the consumer space. Or IBM could use Linux sponsorship to countervail against Microsoft’s growing power in Business software and consulting?

Will any of these tooth fairy wishes for Linux come to pass? Well it depends on how much Windows 8 is a throbbing pain come the end of 2012. Stay tuned for commentary at that time. Meanwhile, here is Linus Torvalds take on the Linux Jinx on the desktop despite lowest cost, superior performance and security: