Windows 7 Prepares to Face Off With Newly Popular Desktop Linux

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted May 5, 2009


What with a global recession and all that, you'd imagine that anyone trying to sell computers and software would be having a bit of a hard time right now. OS Roundup: Desktop Linux deployments now exceed 1 percent. With Windows 7 on the horizon, will it continue to expand, or will the OS hit the wall because it just isn't Windows?

But actually it's not as simple as that. Look at Sun CEO Jonathan Schwarz, who has been spectacularly successful at selling $7 billion worth of Sun enterprise operating system, database and other software, not to mention the entire line of Sun hardware. Alright, he probably doesn't count because you can sell anything in a recession if you are prepared to virtually give it away.

So let's look at Microsoft. Profits for the quarter ended March 31, 2009 plummeted 32 percent to $2.98 billion. The company's end-user operating system business was hit particularly hard, server software was weak, while overall revenue from enterprise customers was stable. In other words, people are still buying enterprise software licenses, but sales of Vista have dried up as consumers switch to netbooks or wait for the new Windows 7.

It's quite a stark contrast with Apple, which enjoyed profits that were up 15 percent to $1.21 billion during its recently ended quarter. But all is not as it seems: Much of that profit increase comes from sales of Apple's consumer electronics — iPhones and iPods, which consumers are apparently still feeling rich enough to buy in droves. When it comes to computers, Mac sales actually dropped 3 percent during the quarter because sales to schools and its few business customers dried up. Unlike Microsoft, Apple has the consumer to thank for the sales that it did make.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

These trading conditions are reflected in Net Applications' latest client OS market share figures. Windows is down 0.2 percentage points to 87.9 percent, and OS X is down a fraction from 9.77 percent to 9.73 percent.

And who's that breaking in to single digit market share figures for the first time? Why Linux, making it up from 0.9 percent to 1.02 percent! It's hard to know what to make of this: Are consumers buying Linux-powered netbooks? Or installing Linux on old machines instead of treating themselves to new ones? Are businesses finally getting into open source desktops?

Perhaps. But more likely it's just one of those statistical aberrations, although Linux's market share has been drifting up over time. In any case, 1 percent isn't a big figure, but Linux aficionados will be pleased and hoping it continues to increase.

The chances are though, that it won't. Linux writer Keir Thomas explains over at IT World that the reason why boils down to seven key complaints made by users who switch from Windows to Linux:

  1. Linux doesn't run a program I use.
  2. I installed Linux but some element of my hardware didn't work.
  3. I tried Linux but I had to type commands.
  4. I did *this* and *this* happened. That doesn't happen with Windows.
  5. I posted a message on a forum, but Linux people were mean to me.
  6. I just don't like it.
  7. I installed Linux and things went honey-nut-loops crazy.

Essentially what Thomas is reiterating is the old story when it comes to Linux in the enterprise: Its biggest problem is that it simply isn't Windows.

To make matters worse, the new Windows 7 will be along at any moment. Microsoft made the release candidate available for download today, and unconfirmed reports suggest that October 23 has been chosen as the final release date.

Still, 1 percent is significantly higher than 0.2 percent, which — according to Net Applications — is the combined market share of FreeBSD, OpenBSD and NetBSD. But they made the news anyway — all three were upgraded last week: OpenBSD to 4.5, NetBSD to 5.0 and FreeBSD to 7.2.

Net Applications' figures tell us little about the server side of the market, although there has been plenty going on, especially over at Microsoft. After months of silence on the storage front, last week the company announced Windows Storage Server 2008, a successor to Storage Server 2003 based on Windows Server 2008. The software is targeted at OEMs for use in NAS and other storage devices.

Perhaps of more general interest, the company is also making available its release candidate of Windows Server 2008 R2 imminently. This is actually quite a significant advance on Server 2008 and includes some major new features, such as Hyper-V 2.0, which has Microsoft's Live Migration feature, the company's answer to VMware's vMotion. It also has a slew of other features, including Microsoft's VPN-busting Direct Access, which can be used only in conjunction with client systems running Windows 7.

In many ways you can argue that just as Server 2008 should have been called Vista Server, Server 2008 R2 should really be called 7 Server. But then you could go on to argue that Storage Server 2008 should be called Vista Storage Server, and Windows 7 should be Windows 6.1. That would only confuse potential customers, and in difficult times like these that's precisely what Microsoft, Apple and everyone else in the systems software space will be trying to avoid.

Paul Rubens is an IT consultant and journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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