Sunday, July 21, 2013

What were they called? "Microsoft"?

It seems that the numbers are in. The long, slow decline of Microsoft coincides very nicely with the rise of the internet and the numbers show that Microsoft is no longer relevant. If you're in high school and you're still planning a career on Windows, think again. Change course. Work on something that ends in "nix".

What ends in "nix"? UNIX, Linux, and there is FreeBSD, but that doesn't end in "nix". Any version of UNIX or Linux will do. Why? Because that is what runs the internet.

Every major player on the internet is running Linux or some other *nix. Google, eBay, Amazon, Godaddy, Facebook and the list goes on. The biggest web hosting service in the world, Bluehost, runs Linux.

Allow me to put this in historical perspective. I started out with a Commodore 64. A very interesting command line based computer that sold more than 16 million units during it's run. But I wanted something with a graphical user interface. The first version of Windows had been out since 1985, but I had seen that and I didn't want it.

So I got an Amiga 500 with a monitor and printer. That was my gift to myself for Christmas in 1988. It had the command line, but it also had a windowing interface that made it easy for me to run programs and create files. I used it for my accounting and word processing. It was a blast to own, behold and to use.

When Windows 95 came out and obliterated the competition with all their marketing, I still wanted choices. Microsoft, with their "take no prisoners" attitude, wiped out almost all of the choices for consumers. I didn't want to run Windows and I sure as hell didn't want to run a Mac.

But the Mac was my next computer in 1994 and that was the first computer I connected to the internet. I ran the Mac until 1997 when I bought my first Windows PC. It was a dog, but it worked. I connected it to the internet like the Mac before it. I did a lot of work on it, yet I still missed my Amiga.

In 2000 I got a new computer running Windows 2000. That was much better than Windows 95, and certainly more secure. Then in 2001, I discovered Red Hat Linux and played around with it on a spare computer. I even downloaded a few Linux boot CDs and played with them. But I had taken a college course in Linux where the instructor said that eventually, Windows would win out. As if *nix was dying. So I made a mistake and put my efforts into Windows. That was what they were running at work, so I needed to learn that.

In 2007, I rediscovered Linux, desperate for an escape from Windows and installed Ubuntu Linux on a spare computer. Eventually, that spare computer became my main computer and I never went back. I made an oath to myself that I would never use Windows in the house again. Alice, my wife, was still running Windows on her computer, but that was ok. If she wants to run Windows, I'm ok with that as long as we do no online banking with Windows.

In 2009, Alice said that when the antivirus expires, I can set her up with Linux. She don't really need Windows anymore. She just needed to do a little writing, browse the internet, check her email and chat with her friends on Yahoo. Sure enough, when the antivirus expired, I backed up her documents, wiped out Windows and installed Ubuntu for her, too. She just gets her work done and never really complains about it. She seems to like it, but she's not really a computer person like I am. She just wants it to work, and it does.

I can recall that one minor irritation of Linux was the way that my email program, Evolution, worked with my Palm Pilot based phone. I could never get it to work exactly right. When the first Android phone came out, I got the G1 as soon as I was eligible for an upgrade. That was the last link to the Windows PC for me. The G1 phone exchanges data directly with Google's servers. My contacts, calendar and emails were perfect on it. I still use an Android phone to this day. My does now, too.

There is a legend that quotes Bill Gates as follows: "The internet is a fad." It is legend because Gates actually recognized the power of the internet and wrote about that power in an email sent to every employee at Microsoft. Gates referred to that power as the "internet tidal wave". Contrast that with a very public statement that, "I see little commercial potential for the Internet for at least 10 years", in 1994, just before the release of Internet Explorer in Windows 95. Gates is such a sly dog, isn't he?

But somehow, Microsoft managed to miss that internet tidal wave. I believe I know why they missed it. The internet represents freedom. Freedom to learn, to build, to share and to earn. Microsoft doesn't represent freedom. They are fine if you use their development tools, and you don't compete with them. But if you do compete with them, your business will be ground into dust.

Linux was promoted as a free (as in freedom) alternative to proprietary operating systems. Linux is licensed under the GPL, the General Public License, a license that requires that the code be shared when improvements made to it are shared, too. It is the ultimate utility operating system. In order for Microsoft to maintain its monopoly, it has to eliminate freedom enough to prevent competitors from gaining an advantage. Microsoft fights that freedom, our freedom, every day when they fight Linux.

The numbers prove that, in the long run, Microsoft can't compete against freedom.
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