So, I’ve been sitting at my laptop for a while now doing a couple of things. A few geeky things plus checking out whats happening at the Paris Auto Show (officially known as the Salon de l’Automobile). That Lamborghini (Sixth Element) is too ballistic! Of course, this is pretty unremarkable except for one thing – I decided to switch to Linux for my personal computing a few days ago. So I’ve been doing all the stuff mentioned above using Ubuntu 10.04. And after some hours of use, I now totally agree with the many people that see nothing but trouble ahead for Microsoft. Let me explain.
I have never really had a problem with Windows or indeed with any Microsoft software. Sure, Internet Explorer is at the bottom of my list of preferred browsers (mainly because the damn browser simply cant save a web page in the background, an annoying quirk that they’ve carried over to IE9) but that is it. I’ve always loved the ease of use of Windows and the ease with which one can throw together applications for the platform. Somehow, up to this point, Linux for me was strictly for server side purposes. And I somehow had never managed to disassociate it with the dreaded command line interface. Actually, as a techie, I don’t have much of a problem with the command line. Its just that I don’t believe I should be subjected to it while doing the simplest of tasks. Like editing a text file for instance. Or accessing the contents of a CD. Given that I was introduced to computing on Microsoft OSes (Windows 3.1, 95 and then NT), I really didn’t see the need to switch. Especially when I started serious coding and discovered Delphi (Windows only unless you had Kylix) and decided it would be my tool of choice. That decision was quite easy given that my target market was all addicted to Windows.
Mind you, I did keep an eye on the progress of Linux and the other consumer OSes out there (MacOS) and would periodically try out different distros. However, I was just too comfortable with Windows and the comfort was enhanced by the fact that I practically never experienced the problems everyone else suffers (viruses, blue screens etc) apart from a few isolated incidents at my work place. Home – nop. But my trial sessions always ended with me concluding Windows was just too nice to abandon. Remember, this was the time Windows started shipping with all manner of drivers pre-installed and yet we still had to mount drives on Linux.
Fast forward a few years and what do I see now? First of all, the Ubuntu installer is small enough to fit on a normal CD (700MB). Which means you can comfortably download it over a lousy link. Then the installation process is such a breeze – wow! And the PC I’m using (a humble HP Compaq) is noticeably faster than when it was running Win 7. Actually, make that MUCH faster! And guess what? No mounting anything! I plugged my USB pen drive into the machine, grabbed a pdf and sent it as an attachment using a wifi link that I simply connected to without having to ‘man’ anything. But the biggest reason why I think the Windows ecosystem is in serious trouble is what I realised after using the laptop for a few hours. Most of the stuff I was doing was web based using the excellent Firefox that ships with the OS. And I rarely found myself doing things that I’d be doing differently on Windows. So, the average computer user out there would find very little different to what they are accustomed to on Windows. Interestingly for a developer like myself, it appears it is now officially easier to install the tools I need on Linux (Ubuntu) than it would be on Windows. Of course, I can’t do my Delphi development. But installing stuff like IDEs (NetBeans, Eclipse etc), databases (MySQL, Postgres), application and webservers (Tomcat, Apache) is so much easier! And all this is free. How much longer can Microsoft go on charging for their OS when Linux distros have reached this level of sophistication and ease-of-use? Note that I haven’t even mentioned the security angle.
As far as I can see, people are going to start waking up and smelling the coffee. For people like me who are tied to Windows by virtue of the fact that our target market dictates thus, what happens when they start demanding that their apps be availed on the Linux platform? Guess that will be the end of our Microsoft love affair then. Of course, I don’t think Microsoft will collapse – the company is too rich and has too many smart people in its employment. However, I’m sure they know the future will be very different to the past 30 years. In the meantime, let me enjoy Ubuntu even more (when I can).