I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’ve seen articles asking whether Desktop Linux missed a great opportunity by failing to capitalise on Microsoft’s desert years. Windows 7 could be a roaring success. All the manufacturers could lose interest in Linux. Incipient hardware driver support could fade and the community could dwindle. The Linux community could end up weaker than it was 5 years ago. All these things could happen.
The first one probably will. Windows 7 follows such an ancient predecessor in XP that most people will be forced to move on soon. Vista is the predecessor you think? No. Vista was little more than an arrogant experiment in customer exploitation. The vast majority of Windows users will move from XP to Windows 7. A few will move sideways to MacosX and some will move further sideways to Linux. Vista is gone and it will soon be forgotten.
Yet something extraordinary happened in those desert years. Ordinary people started using Linux. No. I don’t mean netbook users. I mean people like me. Ordinary people who couldn’t run Vista even if we wanted to because we couldn’t afford to replace several existing computers with sufficiently powerful hardware to run Vista properly, let alone all the upgrade costs. It might surprise the technocrats, but we don’t count a slower system as an upgrade no matter how often we’re told it is. So we tried Linux instead and it was fast. It really was an upgrade.
This move to Linux didn’t make us geeks, because we’re not smart enough and It didn’t make us gadget freaks because we’re not rich enough, but It did make us sceptical. It made us very sceptical. For the first time we understood how the commercial technology industry works and more importantly how it doesn’t work for us. It’s hard to put into words, but for an ordinary computer user, moving full time to using Linux is a real eye opener.
That’s why I think this new extended user base, while nothing like as technical as the old guard, will be every bit as resilient and this idea that we’ll all come back into the fold now there’s a decent Windows system to use, is completely unrealistic. The best Microsoft can hope for is that we’ll become pluralists, using different systems for different purposes. This makes good sense. Maybe we’ll play games on Windows and do our banking on Linux.
Linux won’t go away. We’ll persuade friends and family to use Linux, successfully, because we’re not geeks. If we can use it, they know they’ll be able to. The fear is gone. The only person now who’s scared of Linux now is Steve Ballmer.