Microsofts Longhorn Failure Is Linuxs Chance

Opinion: With the promises of Longhorn revealed as market-freezing trickery, Linux has its best chance ever to seize control of the desktop.

Microsofts vaporware master plan is finally broken. The wonderful wizards of Redmond are still saying, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" But even the most fanatical Microsoft supporter has to see that Longhorn has become Shorthorn.

Microsoft has often managed to freeze the market with promises that no matter how great a competitors current program is, Microsofts next program will be so much better that only a fool would settle for a bird in the hand instead of the two in the Microsoft bush. We have been such fools.

As Ive said before, Longhorn was, among other things, just another attempt to lock down the market. This time around, Microsoft was trying to freeze out the insurgent Linux and the revitalized Mac desktops.

Microsoft has managed to get away with this time after time. But now, instead of a reborn version of Windows—which I think they needed to do—Longhorn has become nothing more than just another big XP service patch.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about Microsofts decision to remove features from Longhorn in order to meet the 2006 shipping date.

And with all of the application incompatibility teething pains and minimal security benefits that XP SP2 (Service Pack 2) has brought to the table, who needs it?

No, Microsoft has finally shown that its bag of tricks is empty. Now is the time for Linux vendors to get their act together and deliver the best possible Linux desktop.

Specifically, Linux desktop distributors need to go to hardware vendors and demand that they open up their APIs so that Linux can work on all common desktop equipment. In particular, we need full support for Wi-Fi and a better ability to identify network printers over CUPS (Common Unix Printing System).

Linux vendors also need to work on building the best possible desktop applications. For example, I like Xandros a lot, but I was embarrassed to find the other day that its main help application doesnt include a way to search through its help files for something as commonplace as backup.

As a Unix/Linux guy, I know about using man pages and the like to find what I need, but you cant expect Joe User to know what I know. It takes an experienced Linux user to make sense of the confusing combination of help files, man pages and HOWTO files that now passes for desktop help. Thats not good enough. The Linux desktop needs a simple, straightforward help system.

Now is also the time for Linux companies to go to software developers and get more applications ported to Linux. I and many other users want applications such as Intuits QuickBooks and Macromedias Dreamweaver, a popular Web authoring tool, running natively on Linux.

According to Evans Data, there are more than 1.1 million open-source developers. The programmers are out there to make the Linux desktop a success.

Customers and Linux distributors need to demand that software vendors start putting those developers to work delivering Linux desktop business applications.

While Im the subject of software, Linux also needs more enterprise-level remote management tools. Were beginning to see more of them. For example, Novells ZENworks Linux Management and Shavliks HFNetChkPro for Linux 2.0 make enterprise-grade management for SuSE and Red Hat Linux, respectively, much easier. That said, we could use more remote administration and management tools.

We also need more PC vendor support for Linux. With Microsoft, the companys admission that it cant deliver a real desktop upgrade now is the time for Linux distributors to talk to PC vendors about trying Linux.

Technically, the Linux desktop is ready to go mainstream today. With the Longhorn wizard revealed to be a fraud and XP SP2 proving to be a pain, the Linux desktop has its best business chance ever. Heres hoping that the Linux vendors make the most of it. 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.

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