Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why Linux will take over from Windows

Oh no, not another one of these "Linux ruls, Windoze sucks and must die!!1!1" posts. Thank god, therefore, that I am not writing one. No, this is a long term prediction based on the two very different development methodologies employed in Windows vs Linux development.

To sum it up briefly, Linux's open source, distributed development by a group of passionate developers has a far greater longevity than Microsoft's hierarchical, closed-source development driven by money. But why does this make such a big difference? First lets look at the two groups drivers and what makes them do what they do.

Microsoft develops Windows as a closed-source proprietary and, most importantly, commercial product. Microsoft is a corporation and therefore needs to answer to share-holders, governments, anti-trust law makers, and other businesses. The biggest reason Microsoft develops Windows is to generate revenue. They employ developers to work on the project, and so monetary cost affects the skills and numbers of developers they can acquire. who are instructed as to what they should develop with Microsoft management guiding the direction and mission (in a holistic sense) of the design and development. They are under pressure to develop products with strict timelines in place and investors to satisfy.

Linux is developed by an organisation of non-profit developers. The developers who work on the project volunteer (for the most part) and so are driven not by the pay-check but by a passion for what they do. Generally speaking, people can select what they want to work on and what best fits their own skill sets. In addition, being open-source, anyone can get involved, and in fact they have their entire user-base available as potential contributors. Naturally not all can be developers but contributions can be made many ways. Linux does not need to answer to shareholders to justify its releases. Goals for a specific distributions release are decided upon communally so features get completed that the users actually want. Linux does not want to make money from sales of the operating system so there are no problems with anti-trust. Commercial backing, while helpful, is not necessary so Linux cannot go bankrupt or suffer cashflow problems (very applicable in the current uncertain economy) .

Its pretty much because of these differences that Linux distributions have an edge over their commercial counterparts. Microsoft, because of its reliance on being commercial, could go bang at any time. We don't know what goes on behind the closed doors of the Redmond giant. Who knows if Microsoft will be the next Exxon? Perhaps the money troubles at Microsoft are larger than they let on? Or it is possible that some new form of anti-monopoly legislation shoots them in the foot and makes it difficult for them to continue developing Windows the way they are. Who knows? We can't tell because everything at Microsoft is closed off to us and they rely on dollars, not contributors, to keep ticking. If Microsoft suddenly shut its doors, all those Windows users would be left high and dry because Windows is closed source. No one can pick it up and carry on.

Even if the financial world collapses totally, Linux wouldn't die. Being developed by passionate contributors they do not rely on a pay check to keep working. Even if a single Linux distribution nabbed 90% market share, anti-trust is not an issue because it is open-source and freely available, there isn't any direct income generated from sales of the distribution. And because of its open source nature, even if every single core developer for a Linux distribution left the project, the community behind can still keep developing it. Anyone can pick up the source code and continue development. Users wouldn't be shafted!

A timeline? I have no idea. Like I said, this is a long term prediction. It may take 2 years, may take 10. But eventually the time will come where Microsoft can no longer compete development-wise and the crown will start slipping, perhaps dramatically, perhaps over a slow, accretionary process of user disgust. Only time will tell.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Microsoft's new babies don't play well together

Microsoft has released Windows 7 as a Release Candidate. In other words this is pretty much what we can expect to hit shelves in October of this year, bar a few bug fixes and maybe a small interface fix here and there. Microsoft also released their new search engine, Bing, aimed at competing head on with the giant Google. But, however, it seems Bing doesn't like Windows 7.

I have Windows 7 installed on my home machine and have been giving the RC a spin over the last few months (before that the Beta as well). And when I attempted to use Bing on Firefox in Windows 7, I noticed that most of its flash (literally) and pizaz were missing. I didn't get the little mouse-over effects on the Bing homepage nor did I get a link to search for Video in the options. Thinking that this was probably a quirk of Firefox on the Windows 7 RC, I opened Internet Explorer 8. Low and behold, I had the same problem.

My next port of call was the Adobe Flash plugin, as Bing seems to use that for its homepage effects as well as for the video search pages. I checked and the plugin was actually installed both on Firefox and IE 8. To make sure that I hadn't missed something obvious I uninstalled the plugins for both browsers and reinstalled. Still no joy. It seems that Bing is unable to detect that IE 8 or Firefox on Windows 7 actually have Flash installed. Either that, or it checks for a supported operating system and Bing just hasn't got Windows 7 on the list yet.

Microsoft's newest baby Bing, seems to not play well with its other baby, Windows 7. So they cannot even make sure their own products work well together.

One consolation. I have been using Bing on Kubuntu 9.04 with Firefox 3.0 with absolutely no problem. At least they are supporting the rival OS......

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Microsoft's Bing is cool but....

After reading a lot about Microsoft's attempt at improving search and trying to steal market share I decided to try it myself. No, this is not a bashing post about a monopoly trying to monopolise. Microsoft do not have a monopoly on search, Google do, and any decent competition in search would be a good thing as it would drive improvements in the field including at Google if Microsoft were successful in pulling a large enough market share. In fact, Microsoft are now so confident in Bing as a search portal that they have made it the default search engine for Internet Explorer 6 (whethere you want that or not).

Bing is actually really good. It eschews Google's philosophy of simple and clean by making the search interface more attractive. It keeps a search history so you can always refer back to what you searched for before which in itself attracts me as I constantly need to re-search for things. One of its greatest features is the mini-preview of a site you can get by hovering on a link to the right of the search result which gives you a quick run down of what that page is about and relevant links on that page that may be useful too making getting to what you want on that site relatively easy. See the pic showing the search results for Synaq and the preview of the first result.

So why the but in the title? Bing will probably get blocked at pretty much any organisations firewall level, perhaps even at home. The simple reason for this is because Bing also allows you to preview video results by just hovering over a video thumbnail. The video itself actually plays in the search results window as you hover over it, which is a great way to preview video but can allow people to bypass firewall settings that are supposed to block things like porn.

Techcrunch have already written about this and it can mean bad things for Microsoft's goal to grab market share. Hard to do that if schools, corporations and any other organisation providing people Internet access over its network block access to Bing. The problem is because most organisations filter on a per site basis. Bing circumvents that with its video preview feature acting as a kind of proxy to these not-so-safe sites. The feature is great and makes finding that video you are after even easier, but human nature will abuse it and already has started doing so.

Sure there are other ways to filter at a firewall like if the url contained certain search strings. But then someone has to maintain a growing list of potential search terms that people can use to try and get results from Bing to satisfy their craving for the hardcore. Its a lot easier to just add to a block list and will probably end up being the norm unless Microsoft can come up with a better way to do this.

Bing does have a safe search setting, like Google, but its a matter of two clicks to disable it. One way Microsoft can help alleviate this issue is to include the safe search setting (full, moderate, off) into the url as well with each web request. A firewall can then filter based on that, allowing people onto Bing if their safe search setting is on full.

Who knows though what the big Redmond will end up doing. I'd actually hate to have that video preview ability removed because it is really useful, especially in a place like South Africa where bandwidth is still at a premium and being able to preview a video quickly for a few seconds before loading up the entire host site is advantageous to the bottom line.