In another sign that Microsoft can no longer simply dictate the future of the personal computer desktop, it appears as if maybe, just maybe, at least some customers wont have to wait until Longhorn shows up in 2006 … or 2007 … or …
You see, as Mary Jo Foley reports in Microsoft Watch, in Thailand, financial pressure from Linux desktops forced Microsoft to first cut its prices, and then, and this is the interesting bit, start releasing what the Bangkok Post, Thailands leading newspaper, calls “Windows XP Lite.” This is a stripped-down version of Windows Home for the Thai market.
Microsofts corporate spokesman Mark Martin denies that this is the start of some kind of interim version of Windows, but at the same time, Microsoft is keeping a close eye on how well “XP Lite” does.
Microsoft would be wise to do so. The Linux desktop is starting to look a lot better to both home and business users.
First, its cheap. American corporate IT buyers have more cash than their Thai counterparts, but XP Pro—since Home with its inability to use NT Domain or Windows 2000/2003 Active Directory networking renders itself essentially useless for most business desktops—is expensive. After a price search, the lowest reseller price I could find for XP Pro was $128. The highest price I could find for SuSE Linux 9 was $74, with an average price of $64. You do the math.
You can also run desktop Linux on 100MHz Pentiums with 128MB of RAM and have a perfectly decent user experience. An XP user on a similar old PC might put out his eyes waiting for XP to boot. If Microsoft really wants its 98SE and ME users to switch to another Microsoft operating system, it should take a page from Linux, and its own Thai experience, and deliver a stripped-down Windows XP that can run on legacy hardware.
Most Linux distributions also come with a variety of office productivity tools such as OpenOffice, an office desktop suite and GIMP, the open-source answer to Adobe PhotoShop. When you buy a business Linux desktop, you get a business platform, not just an operating system. I cant see Microsoft making this move. Microsoft still makes a ton of money from Office suite sales.
Linux, unlike Windows, can be customized to the nth degree. While this can be a disadvantage as well—too many choices paralyze some IT buyers—if your office wants to set up its desktop operating system to make the most of your AMD processors while running a minimum of system services, Linux is clearly your better choice.
Now, Microsoft knows that some customers want that kind of control already, since Longhorn will eventually be available as components. OEMs will then be able to mix and match components to build customized boxes. With Linux, though, you can already do that whether youre a computer manufacturer or accountings system administrator.
As for security on the desktop, I only have three words for you: MyDoom, Blaster and SoBig. Nuff said.
Longhorn will, so the theory goes, be much more secure than any of its predecessors, but then so was Server 2003. And, as we all know, Server 2003 has proven to be almost as vulnerable as the rest of the NT/W2K family to attacks. Besides, Longhorn is a long way off.
As I look at the sudden flood of business Linux desktops from both big companies—Sun, Novell/SuSE and Red Hat—and small ones—Lindows and Xandros and open-source community based, like Bruce Perens Desktop Linux Consortium—I realize I was wrong when I said recently that 2004 wouldnt be the year of the Linux desktop. With prices, Windows virus problems and the rapid advance of the Linux desktop, this will be Linuxs year.
I think Microsoft knows that too. So, I, for one, wont be surprised if by years end we dont see an XP Lite that will run on older hardware, incorporate the best of Microsofts security work and, last but never least, cost less than a $100. If the Linux desktop grows the way I think it will this year, I dont see that Microsoft will have any choice in the matter.
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eWEEK.com Linux & Open Source Center 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. Be sure to check out eWEEK.coms Linux and Open Source Center for the latest Linux news, views and analysis.