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Linux is not an option

Comment Why most people will never use Linux
Tue Jan 02 2007, 11:13
CHARLIE'S BLAST AT MICROSOFT, which you can find here, justly berates the software giant for clinging, Rottweiler-like, to its daft product activation scheme, which should have been sent to the gulag years ago. Vista, he claims, will play no part in his future plans, due to the frequency with which he upgrades, tweaks and otherwise spiffs-up his PCs.

But is Mr D a typical user? The sort that make up 90 percent of the PC using public? The answer, of course, is a resounding 'no'. The vast majority of PCs spend their entire lives unopened and most of them - the home boxes, anyway - still run the operating system and apps that were installed when it was new. Normal people don't swap motherboards, processors and graphics cards. Normal people don't add extra RAM. Normal people don't upgrade hard disks. For them, a PC is a consumer item like a TV or DVD player - they use it until it breaks then throw it away and replace it with a new one.

Years ago, Intel offered a range of upgrade processors, enabling users to move from a 25MHz 486 to a mighty 75MHz. They came with simple installation instructions and everything you needed was in the box. Intel killed off the Overdrive product line for a simple reason - no one was buying them. The great unwashed public simply wasn't - and still isn't - interested in opening a PC.

Because the cost of PCs remains pretty much constant - ten years ago, you'd expect to pay around £1,500 for a high-end PC, the same as you would today - normal people don't see this as a problem at all. When their old 500MHz Celeron box running Windows 98 shuffles off this mortal coil, they pop down to PCs 'R' Us and buy a shiny new box, complete with a shiny new OS and applications and chuck the old machine in the dumpster.

The shiny new machine will not come with Linux and OpenOrifice. It will come with Vista and Office 2003 pre-installed. It will activate itself automatically as soon as it's connected to the Web. It will continue to run, unopened and unupgraded until a few years down the track, it breaks and is replaced with another one.

Product activation and licensing worries simply aren't an issue for the vast majority.

While for businesses, prepared to fund a basement full of geeks to keep their IT running, Linux is an option. For home users, it isn't. Home users rely on a bloke in the pub to pop round to kick their PC if it misbehaves and reward him with a couple of pints or, if he's lucky, a bottle of Scotch. Monetary remuneration simply doesn't enter into the equation - home users simply aren't prepared to pay for support.

I have been one of those blokes in the pub for years [Tell us something we don't know - Ed] and I can assure you that trying to talk an ordinary person through an impenetrable command line interface over the phone isn't something I'm prepared to even contemplate. By comparison, giving telephone advice to someone running Windows is a piece of cake - it requires zero technical aptitude at the far end.

So who's right? Charlie or me? Is Vista doomed to failure or will it dominate the desktop? Will users desert Microsoft in droves or stick with the devil they know?

The answer is, of course, that both of us are right. Linux will certainly make some inroads in the business space - although I don't think anyone realistically sees it threatening Microsoft's dominance any more than Apple does - but Soho and home users will remain almost entirely Windows-based.

PCs will continue to remain unopened throughout their lives, making product reactivation a complete non-issue. µ


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