Has Linux and open source definitively beaten Windows?
No, sure things are going well for Linux on servers and supercomputers, but if you look at the stats of worldwide desktop usage, Linux sits at around 3%, whereas Windows is around 77%. But that doesn’t mean open source software is a complete failure, Microsoft has actually lost in certain areas and is now forced to accommodate Linux. To tell this story we have to go back to 1960 where the operating system of the day was Unix. Unix was proprietary, containing a kernel and associated applications.
It was developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Bell Labs, and General Electric. By the 1980s Unix was being seen as a potential universal operating system, suitable for computers of all sizes. We’re talking mainframes and desktops, rather than how it actually is nowadays with smartphones to supercomputers. The alternative to Unix was DOS (Disk Operating System), an OS that was developed jointly between IBM and Microsoft, although each company sold their own version and would later split. DOS was started in 1981 and would continue on to 2000. The first version of Windows was released in 1985.
It was a 16bit multitasking shell dependant on an underlying DOS operating system. Much of the mainstream software in the 70s and 80s was proprietary paid for. Although piracy was fairly high among hobbyists. It angered Micro Soft founder Bill Gates so much that he wrote an open letter to the hobbyists. The free software movement was founded by Richard Stallman. He worked on the Unix operating system in the 1970s at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
Stallman’s view of computer software was that it should be freely available. Not necessarily free in cost, but rather the sourcecode should be available for users to modify in order to suit their system and needs. Stallman experienced a heirophany, when the AI Lab was gifted a printer from Xerox. However, despite giving them the printer, Xerox refused to share the code for the driver. Unfortunately, the driver had bugs in it. When Stallman offered to fix the bugs if they gave him their code, they refused. The experience was transformative. Stallman could no longer accept the status quo of license and non-disclosure agreements.
He set out to change the world, so he could return to an ideal society where programmers helped their neighbours. He founded the Free Software Foundation and GNU Project. GNU is a recursive acronym, standing for GNU’s Not Unix. GNU was started in 1984 as an open source operating system, an alternative to Unix. It would be like Unix, but since Unix was proprietary, GNU would have to be written from scratch. The GNU project progressed slowly with a compiler and associated applications being written. However, it was still dependant on a proprietary Unix kernel. Work began on an open source kernel called Herd in 1990, although it would never really see much of a mainstream use.
The kernel that GNU would actually end up with was started by Linus Torvalds in 1991, and was later called Linux. Linus had managed to get the Linux kernel working faster than the GNU team had managed with the Herd kernel. During the 90s the GNU/Linux Project would be somewhat confined to a small community of hobbyists and hackers. Personal computing was starting to take off with the 386 and 486 computers and there would be a battle between two companies with proprietary desktop operating systems. Microsoft with Windows, and IBM with OS/2. I don’t really believe Microsoft cared so much about piracy during this time as they pushed their Windows 3.1, 95, 98, and NT line of desktop interfaces.
As a last ditch effort in 1998 Netscape became open source. But by 2002 with the release of IE 6 and Windows XP, it was all over for Netscape. Microsoft had achieved a peak dominance of 96% web browser usage share with Internet Explorer. In fact things had gone so well for Microsoft that they disbanded most of the IE development team. In 2002 a new browser called Mozilla would pick up the opensource code from Netscape, and the Mozilla Community would continue development.
Their new browser, initially codenamed Phoenix, as a tribute to rising out of the ashes of Netscape, proved to be rather popular during its beta development phase. The formal release of Mozilla’s browser occured in 2004 and it was renamed to Firefox. In its first nine months Firefox had chalked up some 50 million downloads. Although Bill Gates was rather derisive, insisting that it’s “just another browser” and that Internet Explorer was better. He was of course wrong. Users of Firefox would enjoy a highly customisable browser, with a huge range of add ons and themes available. It was also faster than IE, and had tabbed browsing. In 2005 with Firefox gaining a 9% market share, Microsoft was forced to react and bring a more modern interface to their browser, as well as improving its speed. The first beta of IE 7 was released in July 2005, with formal release occurring in 2006.
But it didn’t stop Firefox, their market share continued to rise, peaking in 2008 at 33%, overtaking IE7, but not IE as a whole. The browser that would eventually take down Microsoft’s dominance would come from Google. Chrome began life in 2008, and thanks to the advertising on Google’s search page, meant it quickly gained a large market share. It was also the fastest browser at the time, although not quite as customisable as Firefox. The dominance of Chrome and Firefox forced Microsoft to comply with the W3C standards. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets out the standards of how browsers are to interpret HTML and Styling elements, so that websites only need to be coded to one set of standards and will look the same on every browser. Prior to IE9 Microsoft had been trying to force their own standards. But it was still not enough, Internet Explorer was continuing to lose market share. The change to Edge, and Microsoft’s bizarre advertising campaign to stop people from using IE has not been enough. In 2018 Microsoft made the rather surprising announcement that Edge would be moving to the Chromium Engine.
So come 2019 it has all swung around to there really only being two browsers… Well browser engines. Chromium – an open source engine primarily developed by Google. And Quantum / Gecko – an open source engine primarily developed by the Mozilla foundation. So it’s Firefox once again being the plucky alternative browser. Between 1998 and 2019 we have seen Microsoft go from a 96% market share with their browser, to then dropping right down to around 4%. Google could be credited for crippling the dominance of IE, but I wonder if Firefox would have achieved victory on its own? Either way, Google can certainly be considered as a catalyst in bringing down Microsoft’s dominance in the browser war. Going back to 2001 Linux and GNU had evidently been growing, as at the time of Windows XP being released, Linux was beginning to represent a thorn in the side of Microsoft.
So much so that the then CEO Steve Ballmer declared Linux to be a cancer. The lightness of Linux and its ease of running on Netbooks forced Microsoft to support Windows XP for far longer, due to Windows Vista being too bloated and slow. Sure they rectified the situation with Windows 7, but they have really had to up their game. Windows 10 has a much faster boot speed thanks to a form of hibernation. Although that “Warm boot” hibernation is still only about as fast a full blown “cold boot” from Linux.
But let’s move to 2009 where in the next example for open source victory over proprietary software, Google was much more than a catalyst. In 2009 Windows Mobile was competing with Apple, Blackberry, and Nokia, as well as a niche OS called Android. Microsoft were dismissive of Android saying that they knew how to make smart phones. Other companies were likely more concerned since it had the backing of Google. Perhaps the push for Android came out of the need to keep Google search prominent on smartphones.
In 2005 few companies besides the carriers and the phone makers were writing software for phones, and what existed was terrible. Wireless bandwidth would improve and phone chips would get more powerful; but back then it looked as if the carriers and phone makers would control it all. Google had managed to do a deal with Vodafone to get Google search on their phones, but it was far from a good deal The reason few developers built software for mobile phones was because anytime they tried, they lost money.
There was no standardization in the industry. Virtually every phone ran its own software and set of applications Microsoft was still the richest and most powerful technology company in the world, and it was finally getting traction with its Windows CE mobile phones and software. Windows CE smartphones were still a niche market, but if consumers took to the platform en masse as they did later with the iPhone, Google’s entire business could be in jeopardy. Google executives were convinced that if Windows on mobile devices caught on, Microsoft would interfere with users’ access to Google search on those devices in favor of its own search engine. If Microsoft made it hard enough to use Google search on its mobile devices and easy enough to use Microsoft search, many users would just switch search engines. By 2017 it was over for Windows mobile. Having shrunk to less than 0.1% of smartphone OS market share, Microsoft announced there would be no new features and no more hardware.
Mobile was no longer a focus and they were effectively pulling out of the market. The huge number of Android devices actually means that there are more systems running Linux than there are Windows. So that brings us neatly back to the desktop OS and where we are now with Windows 10. Microsoft has implemented several features from Linux desktop into Windows 10, such as Multiple desktops (aka workspaces), Task view, the Desktop plus online search from Unity, borderless windows and flat icons, convergence, and a package manager.
Powershell has gained the ability to use OpenSSH (a preferred method of communication to Linux servers). Windows subsystem Linux now allows a Linux OS to be run inside of Windows 10. Microsoft have made an open source version of Powershell for Linux. They have called a truce on patent wars. Although to be fair one of the most profitable ones for FAT32 which was used against Android was coming up to expiring. They have contributed code to the Linux kernel, but maybe that was more in an effort to get Linux to work with Hyper V virtualisation.
Certainly is important since it’s Linux that dominates in Microsoft’s Azure cloud service. Microsoft have learned the hard way that they have to live alongside Linux and open source software. Open source software can’t be crushed. Even if a project comes to a natural end, there quite often seems to be someone willing to fork it and continue development.
The same can’t be said for proprietary paid for software. If it loses too many customers, then the product becomes unviable to support. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you all later .
As found on Youtube