I’d like to run Linux, but…

My apologies for not writing much lately; there are a few things I would like to talk about from some recent usability studies we did, but I first need to find out if I can talk about them or not. I'm not worried about getting permission to give away "secret" information of upcoming products -- Microsoft trusts its employees enough to not need such bureaucracy -- but rather I am making sure that it would not violate our privacy policy or any other agreements that participants sign to when they come into Microsoft to do studies.

It's funny; I personally don't care much about privacy issues -- I hate filling out forms and would love it if there was some Universal ID that I could brandish at anyone who wanted to know my name, address, etc. -- but many of our customers care deeply about privacy (and many governments of the countries they live in have strict laws about privacy), so it's everyone's job to be concerned about such things. Of course we also have privacy specialists who do nothing but work on privacy, but everyone needs to be aware of it. Just like security. But I digress.

And I'll digress just a little bit more to say that I hope everyone is having a good mid-winter holiday season (or mid-summer holiday season, if you're in the Southern Hemisphere). For me, the best thing about "Christmas" is that almost everyone has time off work, so it's usually the time I go back home to Australia since I know I will be able to catch up with all my friends. A good friend said the best thing about "Christmas" was that it was the one time you could be nice to everyone in your family without anybody being suspicious and thinking that you were expecting something in return. What's the best thing about this time of year for you? This year I left purchasing my tickets too late, so rather than pay US $5,000 for a flight back home, I've been shuttling people back and forth from the airport and looking after a friend's cats. I was also honoured to be invited to have Christmas dinner with my Little Brother's family, which was a lot of fun -- my family is very small, and I'd never actually been to a "big" extended family gathering before; I'd only seen such things in the movies.

But back to the subject at hand.

One thing that always gets me is when I see people (usually on Slashdot πŸ™‚ ) saying things like "I really want to run Linux, but it doesn't run <insert app here> so I can't."


This basically translates to "I want to run some system software that is designed to run other software packages, but it doesn't run the software package I want to use." Clearly, such a statement makes no sense: the purpose of the OS is to run applications. If it can't run the applications you want to use, it is no good to you. It's as simple as that.

What the person is really saying is "I like certain aspects of Linux (probably the 'free as in beer' or the 'I can pretend I'm an 31337 h4x0r' aspects) but it falls short in other areas so I feel like complaining." Well kiddo, life isn't fair and it was never meant to be easy. I'd like to eat ice cream that didn't make me fat, but it's not going to happen any time soon.

Yes, it's a simple matter of semantics versus pragmatics, but it annoys me nonetheless. Face it: If you're about to open your mouth (or put finger to keyboard) to utter those words, STOP for a moment and realise that Linux (or MacOS or BSD or even Windows) just doesn't meet your needs, and move on with your life. Better yet, if you really care deeply about it (rather than just wanting to jack up your Karma), start building a clone of <insert app here> with your own blood, sweat, and tears, and then give it away to the rest of the community that has been complaining along with you. Or lobby the vendor of <insert app here> to build and support a version that works for you. The world will be a better place.

Or, decide that <insert app here> really isn't that much of a deal-breaker for you, and make the switch. This happens a lot to us with Windows and Office -- as hard as we try to keep compatibility with older versions, sometimes it's just too darn hard. Sooner or later the benefit that someone gets from moving to the latest version of Windows or Office or Linux or whatever might outweigh the costs, but it's a very tough trade-off to make. Say you really want IRM (contrary to "popular belief," some customers actually want this stuff. It's not just about Microsoft shoving lock-in-ware down the customers' unsuspecting throats, you know... geez!) but Office 2003 breaks some of your Office 97 VBA code. What do you do? Well, you do a cost / benefit analysis and see which one wins.

Just stop whinging!

(I make it sound like I don't care about customers, and the pain we put them through when we break stuff. I do care, as does everyone else here at Microsoft. But it's just not possible to add features and fix bugs without breaking the odd thing here or there. We definitely need to try harder and do a better job of making sure the obvious things don't break on upgrades, but at the end of the day these things will happen -- especially when developers go out of their way to do funky things. And besides, this is a rant, so there!)

I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that my parents still run Windows 98 and my father writes code with VB 6 (code based on MySQL that he plans to open source, no less πŸ™‚ ). I bought them a copy of Windows XP Home and Visual Studio .NET, but XP didn't work with their scanner (a $50 item these days!) so they went back to Windows 98 (and VS won't install on that OS). Only now is my father talking about getting a new PC onto which he will hopefully install VS, although of course now I'll have to get him a newer copy of VS .NET 2003.

I'm not sure what the purpose of this was ;-). I'm just sick of people complaining about not being able to switch from Windows when it's clearly the case that Windows is the only platform that meets their needs. It's ironic: I'm essentially saying "I want to read a web site dedicated to mindless anti-Microsoft rants, but I don't want to read the rants any more," which is exactly the kind of thing I'm accusing the ranters of doing.

Oh well. I'm off to feed the cats now.

Comments (19)

  1. SBC says:

    My reasons for not getting into Linux is a bit different – in the late ’80s, in grad school I had to study (dissect) XINU & BSD4.3 (http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/osbooks.html). After getting to into the bowels and other internals, just about all flavors of Unix now appear the same – Xenix, PC-Unix, Linux, Finux, Zenix, Red Hat, Black Hat, No Hat, Suse, Duse, Nuse, etc.. ad infinitum.. ad nauseum..


  2. great post Peter! I just wanted to point out that you CAN eat ice cream and not get fat… just eat a low calorie ice cream and eat small portions! I recommend Weia Lychee Frutia if you can find it! Only 350kj per serving! πŸ™‚

  3. Darren Winsper says:

    I don’t think it’s quite as simple as you make it. I could say (hypothetically) "I want to run Linux because of the flexibility of Konqueror and KDE but I can’t because I can’t use SuperDuperPackage XP". Linux may suit their needs better in some cases, but not in others. Just keeping quiet about your reasons for not going for something isn’t going to get you very far, at least somebody may listen if you pipe up. Having said that, it’s unlikely you’ll get listened to on Slashdot πŸ˜‰

  4. Peter Torr says:

    Due to problems with my blog editor, the original version of this post didn’t make much sense because it was missing the crucial "<insert app here>" text. Instead, there was a big fat nothingness. I’ve added the text back, and hopefully it makes a bit more sense now.

  5. Peter Torr says:

    Darren, you’re right, it’s not as black and white as I make out, but you even mention the "fix" yourself: change the statement to "I want to run Konqueror and KDE, but I can’t find an OS that runs those applications as well as SuperDuperPackage XP."

    Then it’s a true statement, and it makes more sense. Linux != KDE πŸ™‚

    But yeah, that’s no way to get karma on Slashdot πŸ™‚

  6. I want to drive a Farrari but I can’t because I live on a dirt road and have to cross 2 rocky streams to get to work and therefor must drive a Jeep Wrangler.

    I want to buy clothes that don’t support companies that exploit sweatshop/thirdworld labor but I can’t because I am a basketball coach.

    I want to use a Operating System that was not written by a compan that lied in Federal Court but I can’t because I am tied to it by an application.


    I think all of the above are at least semi-valid and I don’t understand what your *real* problem is.

  7. oops… forgot one…

    [transport to circa 2002]

    "I want to use OSX but I can’t because Quark is still OS 9 only."


    Note that none of the above are valid statements for myself, but I do see their points. I do not see yours, however. You seem to be saying "do not wish for that which does not exist, do hope hope for progress." Without vocal dissatifaction, change and evolution would be rare.

  8. Peter Torr says:

    Shannon, I think you miss the point of a rant — it’s not necessary to have a point! πŸ™‚ And I even note that I am being hypocritical by ranting against something I am guilty of myself.

    Your first three examples are "good" in that they express real intent. Your OSX example is not so good (it’s the same as the Linux example I give). What is it about OSX that you desire?

    But the point (if indeed I have one, which isn’t necessary πŸ™‚ ) is that the ONLY reason to use an OS is so that you can run applications. If the OS can’t run the applications you want to run, then it is a useless piece of junk for you. I don’t care how cool or secure or stable or fast it is — if it can’t run ACME Widgets Express 5.0, but your business depends on ACME Widgets Express 5.0, then it fails to meet your needs.

    It’s also a falsehood that you can’t run Linux / OSX / whatever because it won’t run application XYZ. Ever hear of dual booting? But maybe it’s just easier to complain than it is to actually try and solve the problem…

  9. Jim Ley says:

    Linux is a great operating system, Konqueror is a great a product, windows XP is an operating system, IE is a stunning product. Fortunately it’s a piece of cake to run them both on a single box sharing the same desktop with almost seamless integration. I managed it whilst backpacking around the world, so I’m sure people with an actual desk can.

    All you need is either a copy of VMWare for the linux box, or a genuine linux box on the network (I’ve often wanted two laptops taped together for this, but now I’m going for the linux box in the bag with a wifi connection.)

    Then to get all your nice linux apps on the WindowsXP desktop you just need an X session http://www.cygwin.com/ will give you everything you need for that, and then you’re away, Konqueror and IE side by side. http://jibbering.com/2003/10/butterflies.png shows it in action. Sure VMWare costs, the 2nd box might cost (it depends how regularly you upgrade and have old boxes knocking about) but if you’re paying for windows XP or that all important software then does it really matter much?

  10. mike says:


    What the person is really saying is "I like certain aspects of Linux (probably the ‘free as in beer’ or the ‘I can pretend I’m an 31337 h4x0r’ aspects) but it falls short in other areas so I feel like complaining."


    Maybe not so well put… while this attitude might be pretty common place, I think you’re really underestimating the motivations of at least some Linux users. Even more importantly, if you carry this mindset too far, I think you might be underestimating the computer-user population as a whole.

    I ran Linux full time in the 93-95 time frame, and the thing that was the most valueable was the openness of the source code and system architecture. Whereas in the Windows world, I’m limited to the (sometimes lousy) MSDN documentation, and whatever folklore I can find, linux makes it easy to drill down and solve/understand problems myself. As an example, with no documentation at all, it was pretty easy to develop GTk applications as early as the mid-90’s.

    Now, years later, working professionally in Microsoft Windows, it’s almost the opposite situation. Even with debug symbols, my stack traces are full of frames to functions that I don’t have code to, never will have code to, and depend on to make my application reliable and performant. From an administration point of view, rather than having startup and shutdown processes clearly spelled out in text files, I’m reduced to spelunking through the registry, whatever GUI tools MS has provided, and maybe some documentation (if I’m lucky) in an attempt to get stuff done. From the my perspective, this amounts to Microsoft’s distrust of its customers standing in the way of what I need to get accomplished for my work.

    Of course, it’s starting to extend even deeper into the user experience. Now that Secure Audio Path, DRM, and NGSCB are becoming more commonplace, somebody other than the owner of the computer will have the highest level of control over the user’s data and hardware. Maybe this is being alarmist, but it seems like the net effect of these changes will be to reduce the computing experience to little more than any other piece of consumer electronics hardware (DVD, PS2, XBox come to mind).

    To someone who grew up with the freedom to explore these wonderful little machines without restraint, this is a little hard to stomach; and it is Linux’s opposition to this trend that, to me, is the defining characteristic of the operating system. But, as you point out:


    If it can’t run the applications you want to use, it is no good to you. It’s as simple as that.


    Maybe you’re right. Maybe Microsoft is right. The one thing the loyal opposition can take solace in is that all of these DRM and security-related features are _not_ the features that are and will be selling Windows.

  11. Peter Torr says:

    Geeks definitly like Linux for different reasons, but I doubt the avergage person buying a cheap Lindows PC at WalMart really cares about anything other than the dollar value. (Until they get it home and find out that their favourite software won’t run on it…)

    As for DRM, whilst nobody would buy a PC just because it comes with DRM, people will buy a PC if it can access content that isn’t available any other way.

    If you think about it, nobody buys a PC just to have it sitting on their desk; they buy it to run software. Same thing with DRM.

  12. Peter Torr says:

    P.S. but it was a rant, so yeah I could have said some things a bit better πŸ™‚

  13. mike says:


    As for DRM, whilst nobody would buy a PC just because it comes with DRM, people will buy a PC if it can access content that isn’t available any other way.


    And maybe that’s the problem: DRM will be sold to customers surreptitiously as the road to new media choices. They’ll be blind to the rights they’ve given up until some point later on, when they want to do someting that’s been disallowed, even if it is completely legal.

    Economists talk about two kinds of errors: Type I and Type II. A Type II error is the case that our judicial system fails to convict someone that has committed a crime. A Type I error is the case that we do convict someone that has not committed a crime. From a cultural perspective, we’ve believed for hundreds of years that Type II errors are more desirable than Type I, and our legal system has been predicated on the basis of "Innocent until _proven_ guilty". The opposite mentality is the mentality of thugs and dictators.

    Of course, filling a PC with DRM hardware, putting copy protection into DAT decks, copy protecting software, restricting how the unencrypted video stream can be used in DVD players; all of these actions have one thing in common: they are antiethical to this fundamental value of our society. They presume guilt and require the user/customer to prove innocence.

    And for what: the protection of the interests if the _entertainment_ industry? For some reason the entertainment industry, despite the fact it’s so much smaller than information technology, and so much less able to drive growth is getting its values promulgated in current rounds of technology.

    And before you start to believe that this is just the idealistic rant of someone completely isolated from the financial issues, I do have skin in the game. I sell shareware software, and I could very much benefit from some DRM-style absolute enforcement of my license terms. However, despite how I could personally benefit, this really seems like the wrong way for the industry to proceed.

    I grew up programming on Apple II’s and Commodore 64’s. Maybe it’s just that I’m top used to being able to explore my technology products, but I’d like for people growing up in the 21st century to have the same opportunities that I did as a child, and not the some grossly restricted subset, defined based on the assumption that we’re all crooks and out to steal content. (If this assumption does happen to be true, then our culture has far more severe problems than the DRM technology built into our information products.)

  14. Peter Torr says:

    Colen, what problems are you having with .TEXT?

  15. As many have kindly pointed out before me, your points are flawed right down to a very basic level. You said there is no merit in the claim "I want to run Linux but it doesn’t support X application."

    If I want to do something, I want to do something. My reasons are none of your goddamn business. I’d like to run Linux full time but I can’t because it doesn’t support many games. Are you going to sit there and tell me that I’m wrong, that I don’t actually want to run Linux? Because if so, you are full of shit. I run Debian GNU/Linux for almost all of my needs. When I want to game, I reboot to Windows. So what you are saying to me is that even though Linux does 95% of what I need and Windows does 75% of what I need, that my claims of wanting to run Linux are false and that Windows would work better for me because it supports the games that I want.

    You, sir, are full of crap.

  16. Preston says:

    By the way, I realize you have admitted there are exceptions to your "rule" and that it was just a rant. That doesn’t mean it was right of you to generalize so much. You saying people use Linux because they want to become "1337 h4x0rz" is like me saying people use Windows because they want to be cool (you know, because only the geeks use Linux, and so using what everyone else uses makes you cool).

    Truth is, most people use Windows because it comes on the PCs. Most people I know who use Linux (thats right, USE Linux, not download it and make a lame attempt at installing it to brag about being a script kiddie) do so because it does something that Windows doesn’t. What, you ask? Well, the list could go on for a long time. I’m no Linux zealot saying that Windows is crap and long live the penguin. I’d never suggest Linux to aunt tillie, or my grandmother. The facts are in, though, and Linux does stuff Windows can’t do (and or won’t do unless you pay assloads of money). Yes, Windows does stuff Linux doesn’t do, so don’t go down that road with me, I never denied it (actually, I strongly favored it with my games comment).

    And so ends my own little rant. You can have yours, so there, I’ve had mine.

  17. Peter Torr says:

    Not a problem. Rants are for everyone πŸ˜‰

    And if you note… I did mention dual-booting as a "solution" to this problem in an earlier comment — so we agree with each other! πŸ™‚

  18. Preston says:

    Sort of πŸ™‚

    I just don’t agree with the fact that you used absolutes when saying it. I think it would have been more appropriate to say something like:

    "I’m sick of people who say they want to run Linux just because its Linux, when really Windows suits them much better."

    In that case, yes, I completely agree with you.

    By the way, sorry about the swearing.

  19. The annonymous one says:

    lol….its funny, cos this page is powered by a microsoft program!

Skip to main content