Vista Gives the Linux Desktop a Chance

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-08-11

Vista Gives the Linux Desktop a Chance

My friend Mary Jo Foley wants Microsoft to come clean about what will be in Vista. I just want Microsoft to fess up to how they will make it worth having two different versions of the Windows client OS.

Click here to read Mary Jo Foleys column on Vista.

Microsoft recently said that the company was working on two different Vistas: one for everyone, which Ill call Vista Vanilla, and the other for enterprises, which Ill name Vista Pro.

The boys from Redmond are also working on two versions of Office 12, but thats a story for another day.

So why two versions? Do you get 10 percent more security in Vista Pro? From where I sit, better security is the only virtue I see left that Microsoft can put in Vista.

Theyve tossed out the new file system, WinFS; the command line, Monad; and, as Mary Jo notes, its hard to know whats really left in there anyway.

Or will Microsoft do to Vista what it did to XP: make one version, XP Home, crippleware.

For all practical purposes, the only difference between XP Home and Pro is that Home wont work and play well in NT Domain or W2K/Server 2003 Active Directory trees. That functionality was in Windows 98 and 2000, but Microsoft decided it was worth an extra $100 list to "add" it to Pro.

Thanks guys.

Can we expect more of the same in Vista? It looks like it to me.

David Coursey takes readers on a tour of Windows Vista. Click here to view the slideshow.

I actually sat down and tried to think: What could you possibly add to one version of Vista to make it worth more than another.

I couldnt think of a thing.

Next Page: Linux desktop is another story.

Page 2

Now, when it comes to the Linux desktop, I dont have any such problem.

The Linux desktop, whether its from the big guys like Novell or Red Hat or from smaller, but interesting players, like Mepis or Xandros, has areas that still clearly need improvement.

Program installation still needs to be cleaner. Linspire really does have the right idea here with its CNR (Click-N-Run) online software department store.

Linux vendors also still need to figure out a way—short of dynamite—to get hardware vendors to turn over enough of their APIs so that Linux can support Wi-Fi networking and the like out of the box.

We can also use better front ends to many of Linuxs tools.

That last is why, of all the Unix/Linux-based desktop operating systems—all desktop systems, actually—I continue to favor Mac OS X.

Click here to read how Windows Vista compares to Apples Tiger OS.

Yes, with Linux you get far greater control over exactly how your computer does its work than with any other operating system. But, on a day-to-day basis, how many users really need, or want, to tweak their TCP/IPs MTU (Maximum Transmission Unit) setting?

Im both a network and Linux geek, so I can think of lots of situations where I want to play with what my network cards are doing. Im not most people.

Most people need simple, easy interfaces. "Press a button, fix the network connection" is what folks really need. While Linux desktops are getting better that way, it could still stand improvement.

Vista though … well what I think most people want from Vista can be summed up as two things: better security and fewer failures. Oh, and one, not two, versions for a decent price.

The good research people at Gartner told me recently that just over 1 percent of enterprise users are running Linux desktops. That sounds about right.

In a separate forecast, Gartner estimated that only 3.2 percent of non-consumer users will run Linux by 2008. That sounds low to me.

"For most companies, the cost to migrate away from Microsoft Windows is simply too high and outweighs the benefits companies expect they will receive," said Michael Silver, research vice president in Gartners Client Platforms group. "Most large companies have hundreds, if not thousands, of applications, and the cost to migrate them to run on or be accessible from Linux clients is huge."

True, as far as it goes. What Gartner doesnt tell us is that many of those large companies are still running now-obsolete Windows 2000; that even those companies that are running XP Pro will almost certainly need to replace their hardware to run Vista; and that it looks likely that youll need to buy new, Vista-capable software for those new computers.

I dont know about you, but the cost to do all that sounds pretty darn huge to me.

And what exactly will you get for that? Darned if we know.

Better security? Like the three, count em, three, major IE patches Microsoft had to re-release on Wednesday?

What was that all about anyway?

Click here to read about Microsoft re-releasing three major IE patches.

Microsoft isnt saying how it ended up with corrupted files on the Microsoft Download Center. That sure doesnt make me feel all warm and fuzzy about Microsofts protection today or tomorrow.

Come on, Linux desktop guys. Theres a golden opportunity to take the wind out of Microsofts sales sails here.

All you need do is to keep making the Linux desktop better. Microsoft is already doing its part to make itself an also-ran. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at

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