Why Microsoft Won, according to OSS/Unix guru Marcus Ranum

I found this article on Slashdot. It is a well written commentary on the state of Unix/Linux, although I'm anot sure how many OSS advocates would agree with the conclusions.
My evil twin particularly liked the following passage:

I installed Linux on one of my systems the other day, so I could use it as a teaching vehicle for my class on system log analysis. But first I had to Email a bunch of my friends and ask them, "what version of Linux should I use? Red Hat? Debian? Gentoo? Mandrake? Slackware? Do you think I could get away with OpenBSD or FreeBSD?" The responses I got indicated that none of my friends use the same thing but that I could be sure that if I used Flavor X some adherent of Flavor Y was going to bust my chops about it, and that someone was sure to show up with flavor Z and have trouble making things work.

Do you hear the sound of distant laughter coming from Redmond? I do.

The early days of the Linux movement was heralded with grand pronouncements of war to the death with Microsoft - war from the desktop to the data center, and a free, compatible high performance alternative to Windows. What I see now is that the open source movement is more like a 14-year-old punk standing in the street telling Mike Tyson that he had an a**-whipping coming. Not the Mike Tyson we see today, either, but the Mike Tyson who could deliver a line-straight punch and knock a hole through the side of a steel I-beam.

(The colors are the original author's). 
Quite an interesting read.  I'm sure the Slashdot crowd will have a field day with this one 🙂

Comments (7)

  1. Kaniz says:

    A week or two ago, I decided "at home, I dont run anything that really /needs/ windows any more, why not try Linux again?"

    A few years ago when I was in a ‘geek-holier-than-thou’ mindset, I ran Slackware for a year or so, and enjoyed the super-tweaking I could do, but based soley on a geek level.

    Now, I’m a ‘geek @ work’, and when I get home – I simply want things to WORK and not need to fuss with things to make them work.

    So, I downloaded one of the most user-friendly versions of Linux -> Mandrake.

    It installs with little fuss and pretty quickly, and instantly I do have a desktop that can surf the net, edit photos, do word proccessing and chat on MSN, pretty much the only things I do on my home PC these days.

    But, I am also a soulseek addict and went off to find a Linux client of my fav file-swapping app.

    There was Pyseek, although I didnt like the GUI, so I went after another one which looked a little more slick – Museek.

    I go to download it, having to compile it myself is not /that/ big of a deal. But lo and behold, "sorry, we require the libxml2 library – please install it"

    So, scratching my head I go seeking for libxml2, it is in my lib directory .. but regardless, I load up the handy RPM drake and try to install it from there, "sorry, we cant install this package due to unmet requirments (obscuresoundinglibraries here)"


    So, I dig around and try to install those "Sorry, we cant install these unless you also install these"

    I keep on back-tracking though more and more requirements, and eventually give up.

    – Why cant stuff simply /work/ ?

    So, after giving up on trying to compile, I google around to see if I can find a pre-compiled RPM of it, and I end up getting into the same ‘sorry, dont have the right packages…..’

    Windows has a nack of having things ‘Just Work’, you download a file, you run the install and pooof! you have a handy little icon on your desktop, an item added to your start-menu and things work.

    At most, you may need to download the .NET run-time, and a few years ago you may of had to download the VB6 run-time but that is pretty much a non-issue.

    Windows has a tendancy for the home user to ‘just work’ with little to no fus, and Linux is a far cry away from being able to do that.

  2. mschaef says:


    Your argument reminds me a lot of one of the classic arguments for why the Mac is more stable than Windows: with tight control over the hardware, it’s easier to get it to run well. The same thing is true here: with tight control over the operating system (and run time frameworks), it’s easier to get things to "work right" the first time. After all, all you have to do is download the .Net runtime, mfc42.dll, or whatever, if you don’t already have it.

    Now of course, the analogy isn’t perfect: Apple has retained control over "commodity" hardware; Microsoft has retained control over "value add" software. That said, who in 1975 would have ever guessed (aside from maybe Bill Gates) that computer hardare would become a $200-300/unit, basically single-platform commodity? As software trends torwards commodity status, I think it’s quite likely that the "chaos" in the Linux market y’all are complaining about might well end up being as much an advantange for Linux/OSS as was the chaos in the PC industry 20-25 years ago.

    Just some food for thought…

  3. mschaef says:

    " as was the chaos in the PC industry 20-25 years ago."

    should read…

    " as was the chaos in the PC industry 20-25 years ago for Microsoft."

  4. Chris Chapman says:

    I’m an old enough geek to remember the good old days when computing meant different hardware and software.

    Cross-platform interoperability? Feh!

    Standard file formats? Feh!

    Shared hardware peripherals? Double-Feh!

    It’s quite amusing to see how we’ve come full-circle in the hallowed Linux open source world with incompatible forks and variants.

    I agree with Kaniz: to tune and tweak is human, but to have things just #$%!@& work is divine.

    I remember telling my Linux geek friends this would happen years ago — they all har-har’ed, but guess who’s laughing now? They can all go trot off to some happy bazaar and get stuffed!

    😀 😀 😀

  5. SBC says:

    About 20 years ago, for a senior CS course I worked on XINU which is a single-user Unix-based OS. One of the projects was developing the driver and interrupt-handler for a 8" floppy-drive. All pure geek stuff but do a few of those and you get over it. The problem is that nothing much has changed in the past two decades in the Unix-like world except for a few innovations like ‘clustering’ and some clunky-GUI.

    Very soon, we’ll have Chinese & Indian versions of Linux and that’ll be in the billions.. 😉

  6. Stockers says:

    I just found this blog/forum while typing unix war on google. I am actually european and in a while European Union gonna allow software patenting on our territories.

    This will arm opensource development.

    I think it’s cool to think like : what should i use : Linux or Windows?

    The problem is that we might en up having no choice but to use Microsoft product and that’s pretty sad.

    i don’t have anything against windows as long as i’m not forced to use : it’s a very easy piece of software that allow everyone to do computering.

    However, when you’re into serious stuff, you just can’t use Windows cause it’s completely obsolete.

    Why should MS produce better and cheaper soft while, in anyway, we must use their softwares.

    Most supermarkets sell computers with AMD64 procs and with windows preinstalled. PB : windows is still 32bits so you waste your 64bits proc. Linux was ported on AMD64 a long time ago.

    The good think with Linux is that it gives the choice . The choice between stability performance and miserable easyness.

    I use both Linux and Windows.


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