If you live in the United States, you may yawn every time you hear about how the Linux desktop is coming along. Chances are you run Windows, and you find it hard to really see yourself moving to another desktop operating system.
In the world outside the West, though, its a different story. Here, we grumble about the high cost of XP Professional, Server 2003 and Licensing 6. There, they simply cant afford it.
So it is that in many countries, inexpensive Linux is being adopted as quickly as possible. It doesnt have to be a poor country thats making the Linux switch, as the Germans in Munich are proving. Any place that isnt stuck in the Microsoft mud knows a good deal when it sees it.
The folks in Redmond realize this, so now theyre offering cut-rate XP—oh, excuse me, "XP Starter Edition"—in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. After that, Microsoft will be rolling out XP with starter wheels to two of the following countries: Russia, Brazil, India or China.
What do these countries have in common? Could it be that theyre embracing Linux? Ding! Ding! Yes, thats right.
On the very same day that Microsoft started hinting off the record that XP Starter might be appearing in China, the OSDL (Open Source Development Labs)—a global consortium of technology companies dedicated to accelerating the adoption of Linux—announced that it would be setting up a new office with local staffing in Beijing. Coincidence? I think not.
The XP Starter Kit is a version of Windows thats designed to "be easier to use, easier to support, easier to sell, and to have a lower price that is appropriate for the emerging market needs," according to Will Pool, Windows client vice president at Microsoft.
Getting more to the nitty-gritty, XP Starter Kit also has lower-resolution graphics, fewer networking options and less capacity for multitasking than full XP.
Why cant we have that? XP is one massive operating system. Id welcome a lightweight, cheaper version. I can add a graphics driver, and so long as it supports TCP/IP and the NT Domain network system, I could drop it on most workers desks today.
If Microsoft can do it for some countries, why not for all? Why not for the U.S.A.?
Ill tell you why. Its because while Microsoft wants to stunt Linuxs growth, it doesnt want to cut its fat profit margins.
How many licensed copies of Windows does Microsoft sell in Thailand, anyway? I dont know the exact answer, but I know its not many. Still, for any copy it can get in place, there is one less copy of Linux.
I dont know about you, but this kind of high-handedness from Microsoft ticks me off. Its not just that Microsoft is lowballing Linux; its that the Redmond crew is delivering a cheaper Windows product that many enterprises would be happy to use right here in the States.
To me, this shows that Microsofts first concern isnt the good of its customers, nor knocking off Linux; its all about preserving its bottom line. Linux just happens to be the latest threat. Microsoft loyalists should keep that in mind as theyre shelling out money for their next Windows update.
Im reminded of the pharmaceutical companies that keep drug prices artificially raised in the United States, while the same drugs can be purchased in Canada and other countries for far less.
Red Hat has a wonderful short film about how Microsoft has gone from ignoring Linux to fighting it. Ill leave you with the moral of Red Hats story, which it borrows from Gandhi: "First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."
Were living in the day of the fight. Someday— someday soon if Microsoft keeps putting its own interests ahead of its customers— Linux will win.
eWEEK.com 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.