Well, well, well. Microsoft has decided to offer a thin desktop operating system in the United States after all. Could it be that the Linux desktop, with some help from the low-cost Mac Mini, is finally making the boys from Redmond sweat?
Eiger, an anorexic version of Windows XP Pro, is meant for PC users whose machines are still running Windows 98, ME, NT Workstation or 2000. Microsoft has already stopped mainstream support for the first three, and W2Ks day of no-support reckoning comes on June 30.
For those of you without a scorecard, Microsoft swore up and down that it wouldnt bring a cut-rate XP Starter Edition to the U.S. market.
XP Starter Edition was meant to slow down Linux acceptance in countries like Thailand and Brazil, where the Linux desktop was really getting traction. Can there be any doubt that at least part of the reason why Eiger has appeared out of nowhere is that Microsoft fears the same thing could happen here?
Im sure there are other factors. Longhorn, even stripped of features—should I say Shorthorn?—may not show up until 2007. And, no matter when it shows up, its system requirements—an absolute minimum of a 800MHz Pentium, 256MBs of RAM, and a GPU (Graphics Processor Unit)—will put it out of the reach of the remaining NT Workstation, Windows 98 and some W2K users.
No, Microsoft really needed to issue a new, low-end Windows. They may not be calling it that, but thats what Eiger really is.
Now, I actually think this is a good move on Microsofts part. Microsoft had made it clear that it was not going to be back porting its XP SP2 security fixes to even W2K. With Eiger, users with old Pentium machines, at least, will have a real security upgrade path.
At the same time, though, Longhorns delay is the Linux desktops chance.
Today, there is no Eiger, no Longhorn, but there are low-end Linux operating systems that can do anything a Windows desktop can do for less upfront cost and with far better security.
If youre getting sick of endless Windows viruses and critical patches, try one of these Linux desktops. Ive used them all, and any of them makes a fine Windows desktop replacement.
SimplyMEPIS 3.3.1 is the best beginner Linux. This Debian-based distribution can either be installed on your system, or you can run it off a CD to get a feel for it while leaving your existing Windows system intact.
If youre reluctant about giving it a try, theres always a great book by Robin Miller, "Point & Click Linux!," which can get anyone—and I mean anyone—up and running with SimplyMEPIS.
Finally, SimplyMEPIS will run on almost any hardware. I run it myself on a white box with only 128MBs of RAM and a Via 700MHz Cyrix III processor. You dont even want to know what happened when I tried putting XP Home on that box.
My personal day-to-day Linux is Xandros 3.0. For my money, this is the best Linux desktop for a Windows replacement.
Any Windows user should get up to speed quickly on this box. Besides, with CrossOver Office bundled in the advanced versions of the operating system, you wont have to give up your favorite Windows applications like Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop or Intuit Quicken.
Last, but never least, for a lightweight corporate desktop—one of Eigers target markets—Novell Linux Desktop works well. Unlike the other distributions Ive mentioned, you can also manage and update it remotely with Ximians Red Carpet management tools.
So, yes, its a good thing that Microsoft will be giving its low-end users, some day, an operating system that will make them a bit more secure. But, isnt it even better that we already have inexpensive and more secure Linux desktops?
I think so.
Ziff Davis Internet Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.