This is the second of five predictions for 2008, expanded from the short form generated on short notice as described here.

Prediction · The short version:

The strain due to the fact that most business desktops are locked into the Microsoft platform, at a time when both the Apple and GNU/Linux alternatives are qualitatively safer, better, and cheaper to operate, will start to become impossible to ignore.

Experience · Around our house, we have screens connected to Windows XP, OS X, and Ubuntu GNU/Linux. Ubuntu and OS X are easier to install, less trouble to maintain, and more pleasant to use. If we were tracking the time we spend maintaining these things, I’m willing to bet that Windows takes more care & feeding than the other two put together. Down the road we’ll have Windows only for games, I think.

We also provide tech support for our mothers, a local Pilates studio, and various random friends, local and remote. Wherever we can, we’re steering them to OS X just because they’ll experience less pain and be more productive.

Pain · These days, when you live mostly on OS X & Ubuntu, XP is just incredibly irritating. There’s always something pestering you to update it: Adobe, Java, Norton, whatever. Plus random other whining from the bottom right corner of the screen, about unused icons and firewall security and so on.

As for my family & friends who aren’t pros, and who haven’t been under the tutelage of one either, their Windows boxes are mostly smoking, diseased, quivering heaps of goo. Who’s got the time to deal with that shit?

Why I Might Be Wrong · I haven’t spent any time with Vista. Possibly, after a couple of releases, it’ll make Windows competitive again.

From the Business Point of View · I talk to the individuals and small businesses who are still running Windows, and I compare them to those who’ve escaped, and it’s just not close. Recently I was helping Mairin get her system set up—a Mac mini, which BTW is a fabulous computer for a small business—and was showing her how to do something and she said “But that’s so easy? Why?” and I said “Well, that’s how things work on this system” and she said “Well, why are people still using Windows then?”

The Future · Microsoft’s continuing extraction of monopoly rents is dependent, near as I can tell, on just two things:

  1. MS Office staying good enough that people don’t mind paying the fearful Windows tax that goes with it. Except for, Office runs better on OS X than on Windows.

  2. The Exchange/Outlook lock-in. This seems the big one to me.

Like I Said · This problem is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore. Especially now that nearly everyone has someone in the family with a Mac.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Justin Rudd (Jan 02 2008, at 22:36)

I ran Ubuntu for awhile. It is a really nice OS, but I used to get asked by the update manager at least every other week to install some update. And then some of the updates would still show up even though I installed them.

And then the nagging I got from the update manager over installing a codec for playing Windows Media Files. I really don't need my OS to nag at me about Open Source.


From: James Snell (Jan 02 2008, at 22:40)

FWIW, I think you're spot on. We've been running Ubuntu exclusively on the four systems we use here at home since Oct 2005. I just installed Ubuntu on one of my Tae Soo Do instructors new laptops. I just about have my in-laws and parents convinced to switch. The bottom line is that there simply aren't any good reasons for even the most novice users to stay on Windows.


From: Peter Krantz (Jan 03 2008, at 00:51)

Re the Exchange/Outlook lock-in: I couple of years ago I blogged about a simple ruby script to synchronize Exchange server appointments with iCal over HTTP. Today, I still get loads of visitors to that article and a couple of emails per week with questions on integrating iCal with corporate Exchange.

Seems lika a lot of people want to get that bird flying to be able to run OSX on the client.


From: Neil (Jan 03 2008, at 00:54)

Office runs better on OS X than on Windows: using both versions, Office on Windows overtook office on the Mac quite a while back - but iWork seems to be well on the way to becoming a viable alternative - rather than upgrade to the latest Office on Vista, I would recommend iWork - the learning curve is probably less than getting used to the annoying button bars in Vista Office. Oh and it costs significantly less.


From: Jonno Downes (Jan 03 2008, at 01:09)

What about the "enterprise app" factor? i.e. all the hokey Visual Basic and .Net apps that businesses have accreted over the last 2 decades.


From: Bernd (Jan 03 2008, at 03:25)

While it's true that Windows is incredibly annoying, I've seen the Quality of Mac OS X and the hardware and other software see monotonously go down since I got my first Mac on 10.3. Maybe it's just me, but if they continue adding diminishingly useful features and reducing stability for it, I'm not sure how much will be won on that front.

On the other hand, Vista is so incredibly unusable that the distance between them stays at least constant.

As for Linux, I just don't see it taking over. It's been the Year of Desktop Linux[TM] for at least five years now, without much actually happening, apart from with techies and their families.


From: James Vornov (Jan 03 2008, at 03:53)

There are many other Windows lock-ins on the corporate side besides Office and Exchange/Outlook. These are rooted in the Windows-centric world of IT of the last decade. It will take some time for these legacy applications to free corporate users.

The company I work for uses a virtual network service that includes the VPN from a major multinational that only has a Windows client. I've had many other examples where data is inside the firewall and you need a Windows client (Visual Basic, etc).

I think it's software as a service that breaks Windows eventually. Once wireless availability becomes as cheap and ubiquitous as cell phone service and IT departments feel comfortable exposing data to the web, then the Windows data clients of the last decade will cede to the web browser.


From: Bob Aman (Jan 03 2008, at 05:38)

"Possibly, after a couple of releases, it’ll make Windows competitive again."

No chance. Every time I see someone with a Vista computer, I ask them what they think of it. Thus far, without exception, I have gotten a strongly negative response. Nobody likes Vista. People use it because it's what was installed on their computer when they got it. That's the most compelling reason to use Vista right now: the computer came with it pre-installed.


From: J. B. (Jan 03 2008, at 06:39)

<i>Except for, Office runs better on OS X than on Windows.</i>

True enough if you don't rely heavily on VBA and other Office-based app-building technologies, but in my experience, a shocking amount of (large) businesses do. As is their custom, Microsoft seems to have found another place where they can own a critical API in a big ecosystem. The new OS X version of Office doesn't even support VBA. There is seriously huge amounts of user-facing code in the business world that is built on top of Windows Office. In a lot of places, Office is more like an SDK than an application, especially Excel and Access. Wall Street, for example, who were pretty much the only guys to get involved in a big business way with NextStep, are never going to deploy a platform than doesn't robustly support legacy Windows Excel code.

The other thing I wonder about, particularly with regards to businesses, is whether the single-vendor hardware situation could work to Microsoft's advantage. I can't imagine all those businesses are really going to be excited about going back to the bad old days of being completely at the mercy of the vendor who sold you your software (OS/360, HP-UX, Solaris) to sell you your hardware. I could see the MSFT FUD engine having a field day with this issue, and they wouldn't even be wrong. Even the people who've been large mac users historically (graphic design shops, schools) were burned by this for years and still seem to have a love/hate relationship with Apple, and Microsoft has played this card with some success in the past (cf. every school that used to have a sunlab that now has a junk-pc lab).

For the small business, though, the existence of stuff like Parallels and VMWare is potentially game-changing w/r/t Exchange lock-in. I know some developers at small shops who were able to switch to OS X, because the only thing holding them back was Exchange/Outlook, and they got it to work fine in Parallels. I've also heard tales of guys dual-booting Ubuntu and Windows, and loading up Windows in the morning to check mail, calendars, etc., shutting down, booting into Ubuntu to do work all day, then going back to Windows for a last Outlook check-in.

Speaking of VMWare, my 2008 prediction is that people become more interested in which virtual machines you run (on) than which machines you run (on).


From: Mark (Jan 03 2008, at 06:55)

My parents run KUbuntu Linux now. Firefox + Thunderbird (yeah, I know) + Amarok + Picasa + + gnome-games. Ironically, they switched in part because my father was annoyed about how difficult it was to use his iPod Shuffle without a music collection. I filled it with new music from my Amarok collection, and then he plugged it into his Mac to charge it and iTunes "helpfully" wiped everything and replaced it with the few measly songs from his collection. (He had neither the disk space nor the inclination to rip his entire collection, and he liked my music better anyway.) I know there are ways to make it stop doing that, but this was his first impression of the iPod Shuffle (actually his second -- his first one was DOA), and it was just the last in a long line of bad experiences he had had recently with Apple software and hardware. (Other problems included an Airport Express that needed to be rebooted once a week, a laptop that needed a new (proprietary) battery, a (proprietary) power cable that needed to be replaced, iPhoto losing track of his albums for no reason, random freezes in MS Office (not Apple's fault, I know), and the constant drumbeat of iTunes "upgrades" -- each with a new EULA to agree to.)

So yeah, my father switched to Linux because -- among other reasons -- it worked better with his iPod.


From: Chad Myers (Jan 03 2008, at 06:59)

Aside from OS security issues (aside: I'm not sure that XP is that drastically less secure than Linux these days, Linux's secvul numbers have been rising steadily in the last few years), everything else you mentioned had to do with brain-dead applications from some of the worst companies: Adobe, Sun, and Symantec.

And I guarantee you that if we all start moving to Linux or OSX, these companies will start souring those OS's with their shoddy, annoying, anti-user software just as bad and people will keep buying it.

I'll give you that the OSX user experience, over all, is much better than XP, but without all the extraneous apps from Adobe, et al, XP isn't quite so bad. The real problem is app and driver vendors. Whichever OS takes the lead will have to deal with these app and driver vendors and it will be a nightmare on that platform just like it is on Windows.


From: Bob (Jan 03 2008, at 07:05)

wrong, wrong, wrong. Why is it that so many IT guys act as if migrating to Linux is such a simple experience that every novice user should/could do it? The average non-IT Windows user runs it because (a) it comes pre-installed (b) their favorite (pronounced "the one their friends or the sales guy recommended") app "x" was readily available, and (c) it closely matches that computer at work so that the daily mind shift is minimal.

Until inroads are made in all 3 of these areas, the market penetration for home users will continue to be minimal.


From: David Megginson (Jan 03 2008, at 07:07)

At XML 2007, almost every A/V problem we had at a presentation was with a Mac notebook sending no external video output (not just a resolution problem, but no output at all until after a reboot or two).

That's a big change from the past, when Linux notebooks were the ones that usually caused problems and delays at presentations. The Linux distros have done a great job over the last couple of years making things like external video and WiFi just work on most notebooks (TODO: suspend/resume).


From: Brent Rockwood (Jan 03 2008, at 09:20)

Speaking of lock in, don't forget Active Directory. Ironically, this is one of the most interoperable pillars of the Windows castle, but still, most IT departments find it much easier to plug it in and have it go, than try to deal with the vagaries of Kerberos, IPSec interop, and what have you.

P.S. I met you at your CanHEIT talk last year. As one of the few developers in the audience, I quite enjoyed it. Happy new year. :)


From: Lennon (Jan 03 2008, at 11:50)

Working in academia, I have to admit that we're constantly being pushed in the direction of putting more Windows boxes in our machine room. Personal machines are about 75% Mac OS around here, and our back-end systems are about 90% Debian, with a smattering of Red Hat, OS X Server, and Solaris boxes thrown in for variety.

Every bit of 3rd-party "enterprise" software, though, seems to interop happily with Active Directory and Exchange, with the "pure" Kerberos, LDAP, and IMAP stack being far less well-supported.

That being said, we trade our own brain cycles for Microsoft's, and continue to use a lot of troubleshooting, config tweaks, and glue code to keep our MIT Kerberos + OpenLDAP + Cyrus IMAP stack looking and acting enough like the AD/Exchange combo to keep various clients and users happy.

We still need a calendaring solution, though. Apple's CalDAV server *may* be an option, once it starts building a bit more cleanly on Linux.


From: Aristotle Pagaltzis (Jan 03 2008, at 14:03)

> Linux's secvul numbers have been rising steadily in the last few years

The difference is that Windows users work with full Administrator rights by default. No one works permanently logged in as root on Linux.


From: Michael Kenney (Jan 03 2008, at 14:56)

I agree wholeheartedy. As a user of Unix and Linux for the past 20+ years, I have never been a big fan of Windows. I reluctantly ran XP for years on one of our home systems support the kids' game addiction.

It was always much more work to support XP than it was to support Linux or OSX. A few months back I had to do a full XP reinstall (plus Service Packs) after a spyware infestation and swore I would never do that again. About a month ago, the hard disk in the XP system started to fail so I replaced XP with Ubuntu and haven't looked back. Most of the kids games run fine under Wine and the rest they can live without.

Now I just need to convice Mom to get a Mac when she upgrades her home computer ;-).


From: Ken Horn (Jan 03 2008, at 15:48)

Outlook / Exchange -- gmail gives everything you need, iCal, imap, and since 95% of business should be able to trust google little else is needed. If you *really* think you want to host email, Zimbra has a compelling combination of about half the open source world providing most of what you need, including working with Outlook (and has great email search as a nice side effect).


From: ju (Jan 03 2008, at 18:19)

"Microsoft’s continuing extraction of monopoly rents is dependent, near as I can tell, on just two things"

Hi. I keep hearing this all the time so I thought now is the time to share my completely different experience. To me, it's utterly not about the stuff MS produces for its OS; it's about the stuff another companies produce which runs on MS only.

See, the developers have their lives quite easy (in this particular scenario). What do they need in order to get their job done? Emacs, Vim, Apache, Eclipse, Netbeans, Java, Ruby, SQLite, ..? what else? Everything they need they can easily run on their favorite OS.

However, the people I meet in my part of the world are in quite different position. Architects, designers, photographers, sound engineers, movie makers, ... (Btw., what is the term which describes all the above professions? Are those "content creators"?) simply don't have the tools to run under any free OS. There is no Autocad, nor AllPlan. No Rhinoceros, no AliasStudio. No Indesign, Photoshop (no, GIMP, doesn't count), Freehand (no, Inkscape doesn't count), Quark, Flash, Acrobat (not Reader). FontLab. Avid. Combustion. ProTools. Vegas. Capture One. And Lightroom (

To sum it up, Windows may look bad but its applications look superb.

PS: And before anyone points out /some/ of the above apps can be run on Mac, well, lock-in as lock-in...


From: Jeff Carroll (Jan 03 2008, at 18:41)

The only serious encounters I have with Windows any more are when my mother has trouble with her computer. She just bought a laptop with Vista, and not only is she completely at sea with it, so am I. I wouldn't be looking for Vista to rescue the desktop for Microsoft.

Unfortunately, there are entire metro areas in the US where the overwhelming majority of new development is .NET, including some places where Java was very strong until very recently. Microsoft will be sustained on the client side for quite some time by their growing presence on the server side.


From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Jan 03 2008, at 19:54)

Reasons Windows stays around in the state government office I work in (thankfully my <b>real</b> work is done in z/OS):

1. Inertia: it's hard to get consensus for change on 6,000 desktops you've spent years standardizing - and don't rant about "IT Nazis" and standardization: if you've ever had to support 6,000 people standardization helps. A lot.

2. Money - M$ can give very very aggressive pricing when it wants to.

3 (and possibly most important): Visual Source Studio. Our development group hired a bunch of people (in-house and consultant) who just love VSS (and attendant things like ASP.NET). As long as the development tools let people be the kind of "developers" where they just plug components together, that's how the apps get built. And since they build them to run on the M$ platform...

A "proof of concept" using Linux on our z/series box with Apache, Tomcat, and Mono may ameliorate this somewhat.


From: Philip (Jan 03 2008, at 20:30)

As Microsoft O/S customer since DOS 2.0 I simply refuse to downgrade to Vista. Replacing decades of investment in PC technology by migrating to Mac's is also less than palatable.

I had "moment of clarity" after installing a new Ubuntu Compiz / Beryl install into my home network. Using the 3D cube desktop I can simultaneously remote desktop into a XP & Windows server 2003 as well as maintaining an Xterm to my Solaris box. So is there a future for Windows. The best of all worlds. So is there a future for Windows, I think yes, but as a remote desktop application from Compiz!

The 2.5M views on youtube would suggest there maybe something in this view.


From: Jeremy Dunck (Jan 03 2008, at 21:04)

Tim, I think you're forgetting Sharepoint as well as IE-specific internal apps. Lots of critical business stuff requires IE, alas.


From: Zsombor (Jan 04 2008, at 10:37)

If anything can save Windows is inertia, for years I was forced to use it. This applied at various employments and also way back in uni.

From 2005 I'm windows free and the difference becomes apparent only when booting up a VM with windows to test MS bugs. Every time I'm greeted with a shipload of distracting messages and security upgrades and I need to endure the extremely poor interaction. The last one alone gives me enough reason to see windows sinking.


From: Warren Henning (Jan 04 2008, at 22:35)

"Office runs better on OS X than on Windows."

I don't use OS X, but doesn't Office 2007 on Mac not support VBA? (

That is an instant dealbreaker for editors who use Word and heavy Excel users. AFAIK, investment/finance people live by their macros.


From: Stephane Rodriguez (Jan 12 2008, at 02:05)

It might be useful to also view the virtualization of computers one of the biggest threat in the enterprise for Microsoft. I mean by that, VMWare and others make it possible for anyone to run whatever older version of Windows if you like to do so. This is a big change compared to Microsoft forcing anyone to upgrade to newer versions (PC bundling, early retiring of popular OSes, security threat scams, ...)


From: James (Jan 15 2008, at 07:37)

For games, wine is pretty decent these days, although maintaining it combines the worst of Linux and Windows configuration. Performance is also quite a bit worse, but with today's overpowered video cards this isn't so much of a problem. Plus there's a few more native Linux versions of games these days.


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