Unix will not replace Windows any time soon

From Bilbo
Jump to: navigation, search

2006-06-17

Inspired by Linux has some growing up to do

This is an old article, so much has changed, but the underlying rant is still true, and it applies to other Unixes too. Unix will never replace Windows as an end-user desktop OS until everything just works out of the box at least 95% of the time.

I'm not saying Windows is stable, scalable, flexable, extensible, or anything else we all love about Unix. I'll never run a server on Windows or even attempt to create an automated system on it. In fact, I'll probably never use it without a Unix file server mounted as a network drive. To me, Windows is strictly a sandbox for running software that has crappy or no alternatives in Unix.

However, it's true that it's simply easier to use, and I don't think this is a coincidence. I think free software is unlikely to produce something as polished. Hear me out before you jump on me.

Workers need motivation, whether for writing software or doing other jobs. This is simply how the world works. Commercial software developers have strong motivation to write software that is easy to use; otherwise it won't sell. Free software developers usually don't have this motivation, so each developer that writes free software finds personal motivation for his endevours. For me, this motivation is that I simply need this software for my own use. This is much like why you would improve your house; you directly benefit from your own work, but even if you expect to profit from it financially, that isn't the reason you did it. Because I don't see a significant profit in selling a particular bit of software I wrote, I let others have it. Often this could represent substantial benefit to me if other developers improve what I wrote and I can use their improvements. If I can't benefit by keeping it secret, why should I prevent others from doing useful things with it, especially when they might help me make it better? Other people may have other motives, but I think this may be the most common factor in choosing whether to write program A or program B. The reasons you don't see open source developers making, for example, software for stop lights is they will never be able to use it or benefit from it. They make software they can use; kernels, windowing systems, server software, etc.

The greater the commercial motivation for a piece of software, the greater the gap will be between the free software and the commercial software. Stuff that's easy to write doesn't have a large potential for profit, since someone could easily write something cheaper. I'm not sure whether there is an office suite better (in functionality) than MS Office yet, but MS Office was way ahead for at least a decade. The reason is it's a ton of work, so it's difficult for someone to write a replacement, and there's a huge profit, so it's hard not to find a corporation willing to invest in it. Games are a perfect example of the extreme. They're very difficult to write, and they have very little generalizable value (meaning it's difficult to find a developer that has non-monetary motivation for writing a game), but they have a huge potential for profit.

The thing is, I'm okay with this. I wish there was an OS to replace Windows that wasn't so crappy, but on the other hand I prefer using an OS that isn't bogged down with hiding what really happens under a lot of glitter. I think it may be possible to have one OS that fills both niches, but I'm okay with using FreeBSD unless that happens.

I might polish this up later or write more about it, if I have motivation.  ;)