Why Microsoft is running scared of Linux

Microsoft is frightened. Even Ballmer is telling users that they can skip Vista, which tells you everything you need to know about Vista's failure. In the past, Microsoft wouldn't have sweated this kind of flop. "What can users do?" they'd say. "Move to Linux or Macs? Ha!" That was then. This is now.

Today, major PC vendors are selling netbooks like hotcakes on a cold Vermont morning and three out of ten of those are running Linux. As my comrade in arms, Preston Gralla observes, "Microsoft isn't just worried about ceding 30 percent of the netbook market to Linux. It's also worried that if people get used to Linux on netbooks, they'll consider buying Linux on desktop PCs. Here's what Dickie Chang, an analyst at research firm IDC in Taipei, told Bloomberg about that: 'It's a real threat to Microsoft. It gives users a chance to see and try something new, showing them there is an alternative.'"

Exactly, and that's why Microsoft is rushing out Windows 7, which is a stripped down Vista SP2, as fast as they can and jerking out features so it will run on netbooks with minimal hardware. Gralla thinks Windows 7 will kill Linux on the netbook, I don't see that.

For all the mistaken excitement about Windows 7, the earliest anyone is going to see Windows 7 is the 2009 holiday season. That's eternity in Linux terms. Linux is already better than Vista and the equal to Microsoft's best desktop operating system, Windows XP SP 3. By the time Windows 7 appears, Fedora, openSUSE and Ubuntu will have all gone through at least two more generations of upgrades.

Windows is a slow dinosaur competing with the fast-moving Linux mammals. It's not a race I expect Windows to win.

Linux is already more stable, more secure, vastly faster boot times, and it's far less expensive than Windows. With efforts afoot to make desktop Linux even more new user friendly and its much faster evolution, I'm not worried about Windows 7 sweeping Linux off the desktop. But, I can certainly see why Microsoft would worry about Linux gaining a substantial, say 30%, of the desktop market or even more if Windows 7 isn't a rip-roaring success.

The days when Microsoft ruled the desktop are numbered and Windows 7 is Microsoft's frantic attempt to forestall the inevitable.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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