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On December 26 Peter Gutmann posted a very fascinating and highlydepressing document called A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection.

I posted some comments to my Symposium mail list and the following exchange occured between Fred Goldstein and Doc Searls.

Fred: The Gutmann article was the topic of two Slashdot front page posts this past week, and was also picked up by The Inquirer, so it’s getting good circulation. Which is very good news, since Vista turns out to be such bad news. It may have inspired me to run out and get a new WinXP laptop today, with a big enough disk to try Linux on it too. The press suggested that some consumers are holding out for Vista preinstalls, and thus the vendors are a little bit hungry now. That maybe so, given the prices in the stores.

Yes, I know Slashdot is a bit childish, especially the discussion postings. It is a major example of the old joke, “The trouble with Linux is that 98% of the users make the other 2% look bad.” (No, Doc, I don’t mean you or your crew!) But they do usually pick up on the big leads. A couple of days ago, Eric S. Raymond, a leader of the “Open Source” movement (not to be confused with Stallman’s “Free Software” movement; ESR and RMS do not like each other) posted an article, dutifully picked up by Slashdot, about what it would take for Linux to achieve “world domination” of the 64-bit desktop in 2008.
Linus Torvalds once made a joke about world domination and ESR may have taken it a bit seriously…

Doc It was a joke, but it also wasn’t. For years all of us in the Linux community have savored the irony of it. Still do.

Fred But his article was quite good about pointing out what Linux needed before it can succeed on the desktop. Of course many of the Slashdotters commented that this was silly; the liked it already and don’t care if the non-nerds use it….

Doc A small but vocal wedge. Not significant, though. And Slashdot has been declinng for years in its influence, as Digg, et. al. have grown.

Fred Desktop anything-but-Windows-or-Mac has a few big hurdles to overcome. One is the Linux contributor attitude. It reminds me of what made DEC a success and what made DEC fail — engineers building products for engineers. It works when there are enough engineer buyers to sustain your sales targets; it fails when you try to cross over into other markets.

Doc Don’t blame the contributors. They’re just scratching their own itches. Blame the noncontributors who *could* contribute but don’t.

Here’s betting that many will, now that Microsoft has shown how the garden path to Vista’s future is paved with DRM. A great heaving “feh” will move many who can code to coding for the non-Vista desktop. And laptop, which matters more.

More context. Linux was never, and never will be, a product. It’s more like a species. Here is another example.

… and the Vista roadmap is something clear to which developers will adapt. Thank you, Microsoft. Well done.

Fred It also needs multimedia codecs and drivers. ESR points out that under its settlement with Microsoft, Lindows has rights to distribute MS codecs (like WMA), so they could and may plan to sell a distribution-agnostic “codex” disk with licensed non-free codec blobs. ESR explicitly accepts blobs (binary drivers), while RMS demands sources for everything, which doesn’t work with some licensed or patented products. (Yeah, software patents are a problem in the US, which is why some distros rely on non-US mirrors like the Penguin Liberation Front.)

Doc Right. But drivers for Linux aren’t hard to write. And there are a lot more of them now than ever before. And they load right into the kernel. Easy to install. Easy to manage. Less or no need for BS wizards and CDs loaded with trapware. Had a great conversation a few months back with an HP techie who explained how the printer drivers for Linux, Mac and Windows were essentially the same, but that the Linux install was so much easier because it came completely without the huge pile of marketing BS that afflicted the Windows and Mac versions of the same thing… crap that put icons on your desktop and into your Dock, for example.

In the long run even users will tire of the marketing BS.

Fred But perhaps the biggest problem is Microsoft itself. It wields its OEM contracts to prevent its licensees from installing anything else. They’ve managed to do this for years, and haven’t been stopped yet. So unless Vista really offends enough people to get some oems to jump ship, it’ll be a hard sell to get Linux preinstalled, and that’s the way most people want their systems delivered.

Doc Vista obviously will have some nice bells and whistles, and may offer relief from some of the worst problems that afflict earlier Windows versions — malware, viruses, etc. But Vista also comes with some huge value-subtracts, as everybody is noting now, all over the place. They remind me of what IBM tried to do with Microchannel and OS/2 back in the day. And remember that IBM controlled the desktop in many ways back then. There were clones, but IBM’s PC was still the standard. Yet both Microchannel and OS/2 failed. Partly this was due to the obvious restrictions imposed by the silo-ing agenda behind Microchannel. Partly it was the much higher cost of Microschannel hardware. And partly it was due to IBM’s own relatively lame and slow leadership, especially compared to the much hungrier and smarter Microsoft, which wisely decided to hedge with Windows, and then push Windows aggressively while bailing on OS/2. IMHO, anyway.

But never mind that. Just consider the Microchannel analogy. These days Microsoft is the new IBM. They have similar market power. But they aren’t the same lean and hungry company they were back then. Will they get *all* the OEMs to make *only* Vista-dedicated hardware? I don’t think so. I think the opening is freaking huge. Just like it was way back when.

But maybe I’m wrong.

I was right about Microchannel, though. When it came out I predicted total death for it. I don’t predict that for Vista. But I do predict that it will, um, fail to live up to Microsoft’s aspirations for it. And that the hardware silo game they’re playing will fail to corral the whole OEM community. And will highlight the difference between open and closed like never before.

Fred Personally, I’ve installed various Linux distros on various systems, and it’s still a hit-or-miss proposition. Hardware vendors often don’t cooperate, so it can take a long time to properly reverse-engineer the necessary drivers.

Doc It’s a bitch. If you’re not that technical (and I’m not, really), it’s a PITA. ESR nails it in his piece.

But that doesn’t mean *somebody* won’t make it easy.

Cook’s Edge: Microsoft is trying to impose the worst of John Waclawsky’s properly mocked system standards on us all. Knowledgable folk will boycott Vista.

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