The World Beyond Microsoft

[ Saturday, 28 March 2009, wiktorw ]

Some time ago I read an article on how some Microsoft developers call for some of their leaders to be replaced. Not that I actually care too much, but I started looking at the possible courses of action to happen if Microsoft vanished. What would a Microsoft-free world look like ?

The World Won’t End

First of all, its obvious that the world wouldn’t collapse in this case. Yes, there are plenty of software, either home and business dedicated, that relies 100% on Windows. Microsoft has a large market around its operating system, a market commonly driven by “sell plenty and earn even more” attitude. Such a single-crop area.

But life always would find some way. Something would have to happen – so let’s look at the possibilities, shall we?

Would diversity work ?

Not so long ago, a home computer was usually 8 bit machine, followed by 16 bit over time. I mean such traditional “consoles” like Atari, ZX Spectrum, Commodore/Amiga, and so on. Software developers, releasing a new game for instance, would prepare different versions for different hardware platforms. So it was possible back then! Well, actually, it still is – just look at game consoles like PlayStation, GameCube, DreamCast and so on – it is often possible for a game to be released for different platforms. Of course, not always and not all titles, but it happens.

The traditional model of software development (dated before Microsoft time) assumed the hardware to be a starting point, where this hardware creators were putting the operating system into and were selling applications. Look at IBM and Sun for example – still selling mainframe and server platforms. A tight ship, allowing everybody to earn decent money on each component. The only common things were OS standards (like POSIX) or communication protocols. Single crop area ? Yes, and also repeated over and over again.

In reality, PC class computers are currently the majority of hardware out there. One could say that this is Microsoft hardware, for which the named company creates its software (Windows, Office, more predominant amongst others). Microsoft Hardware ? Say, which hardware box doesn’t bear the ‘Designed for Microsoft Windows’ logo ? Only the less-known producers’ ones. As you can see, everything depends on the right attitude to customers (generating demand) and hardware developers (trade deals, certificate schemes). One must develop its market niche, create his own ‘typical approach’. This is the only way to guarantee biggest income to yourself.

What about Linux (or ) ?

It is useful to observe, which hardware platform was Linux destined to over the years. This kernel worked at first on i386 processors, and owes a great deal of work of many people all over the world (both hobbyists and man-hour jobs of various companies) that you can now find it all over the place. This however doesn’t change the fact, that the Linux kernel, and GNU software and other FLOSS components (named “Linux” for convenience) is best supported on a 32-bit x86 platform. Means – the majority of available software works there. So Linux is actually stepping into the established, single-crop territory, owned by Microsoft for more than a decade.

But that’s not everything, because, Linux is not the end of the list of contenders. There are systems, Unix, POSIX compatible, and other, self-contained too, that run on x86 hardware. These are not that popular though – less a few exceptions, like Solaris, various flavors and derivatives of BSD or Mac OS (well the last one at least officially doesn’t run on a ‘normal’ PC yet).

Let’s play fantasy

However it is too early to consider possibility of the company, that has multi-billions dollars of assets and accounts, to go bust, one could however stress their imagination and see what happens if there is no Microsoft any more.

First possibility : Mass change-over

The most obvious scenario is to change-over the operating system. Because, what’s the sense of keeping the computers running on damaged system (all kinds of Windows), that additionally wouldn’t have any prospects for development any more?

The most vulnerable here, would be the home users, and company desktops right behind them, being disappointed by Microsoft another one (and also the last) time. All those less ‘computer literate’, like gamers, multimedia apps users (kids mainly), secretaries and so-called aunties and grannies would have to choose one of three possibilities. Either to change the operating system to one similarly ‘user friendly’ (like Mac OS) and remain uneducated, or get some computer literacy and choose one of the Linux flavors (though there are really user-friendly distributions, one could even say ‘brain-dead’ ones), or give up those computers at all and get rid of the air-blowing box.

Second possibility : Support

Although it must be admitted that given the count of installed copies of Windows, the above wouldn’t actually apply, because the situation wouldn’t deteriorate that fast. Enter one company offering support, let it cash in $10 per incident even, you’ll see an avalanche of shifted responsibility and user demand. This potentially leading to a multi-million dollar business. Again, just to provide support to users still using Windows. You could be sure to see more companies cashing in on such support. For a time, this could even be a profitable business!

But only until another major player on the OS market would emerge – because nature hates empty space. By the demand-creates-supply rule. I’d bet on Apple in this case. You can see their recent moves like changeover to Intel hardware or supporting (e.g. financially) the Wine project. All in all, such a possibility – to replace Windows with MacOS globally – would really be interesting to see it happen.

Third possibility – Microsoft 2.0

But then you could be sure, that the deteriorating company would be taken over by someone else. One could then expect cheerfully the change of name to e.g. Microsoft 2.0 (being a tribute to Web 2.0 is my intention), changing the quality of their products and, moreover, change of mentality. Such a Microsoft that hears to their customers, fixes errors fast, competes with others on equal ground and holds on to open, settled standards. “Live and let live” – can you see Microsoft 2.0 that way ? But this seems too good to be true, anyway.

Fantasies away

It is hard to say, what would really happen, if Microsoft vanished. It would pose a giant problem, induce a crisis, recession maybe, maybe even deep cleansing – almost alike greek catharsis. Maybe a return to the roots, or total collapse of civilization. Or maybe the life would anyway go on ? The software creators would have to revisit their approach to work they do. There is life beyond Visual Studio, MSDN and DirectX, you know.

So far, Microsoft can give themselves a ‘good job’ gesture for (slight irony mode on): the Tahoma typeface, influencing the USB devices market and popularizing computers thanks to virtual ease of use. The highest accusation however, is the approach to software and hardware similar to a yogurt, mass produced and bought in boxes in supermarkets. Wrong taste ? Bin it and buy another one. Licensing and product placement is what matters, and how much money you make from it. Microsoft shareholders could actually care for computers as much as for yogurt factory. Doesn’t matter how, what matters is how much you make from it.

One however should not forget, that speculating on Microsoft is the topic of today, and forgetting that other corporations, e.g. IBM, the Big Blue, was “the power that be” a few decades ago. History repeats itself, also in IT. The only way forward out of this, is topping up computer users’ awareness and conscience. Like an “computer driving license” for example.. But this could actually fail too – it is a question of scale and widespread of all sorts of computers.

As always, there are people who would agree, and also those who won’t. But one thing for sure, Microsoft-free world would have to be different. Hopefully, better.

And by this positive thought, the end of this article has arrived.

This article has been originally written by Wiktor Wandachowicz

translated-by : el_es

About the Author

Wiktor Wandachowicz

Computer engineer and a long-time Linux enthusiast. On a professional level, a lecturer at Łódź Technical University.

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