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Will Windows Open?
Jayakishore Bayadi
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
“I don’t need Windows to be installed in my PC. I get it installed from my friend,” chuckled Dileep K Bhat, a techie working at a leading IT company who was buying a PC from a leading showroom in Bangalore. It saved him a good sum of money, which otherwise might have gone for buying a Windows operating system (OS).

Abhishek Desai, a student of Computer Science and Engineering at BMS College of Engineering says that he is happy with the free Linux operating system. Grippingly, his friend Jagadish Kamath, an Information Technology student at PES Institute of Technology, bought a brand new MacBook sold by Apple exclusively for students.

There was a time when only Windows OS was available, bundled with the PC or laptop you bought. It was the era of Microsoft’s monopoly. Even though the giant still rules the OS market, at least the upper crest of the PC consumer market has started saying NO to Windows in many ways. Many are simply not interested to invest for original Windows when its pirated version is available at a throw away price. Others are joining hands with the open source movement or Mac revolution, which is catching up in India as well. Well, it may not always be that rosy, but people are clearly growing more comfortable using Linux or Mac. Both Linux and Apple are gaining a desktop market share, but the two operating systems have a long way to go to challenge Windows’ supremacy.

Normally, vendors sell computers with operating systems, most often Microsoft Windows. But due to the stiff competition around, the prevalent inclination towards open source among the techie types, and the launching of used computers sale alongside new models by the Web stores like Amazon have made computer stores to sell PCs without operating systems installed in them. A computer dealer at Barton Center in Bangalore says, “We decided to sell the computers without an operating system so that those customers who don’t want Windows could load the OS of their choice. Another attractive element in not offering an operating system is that eliminating Windows considerably drops the cost of PCs.”

Nowadays PC vendors may be flaunting the message that they ‘recommend Windows Vista’ for optimal performance. But there are quite few vendors who display this line just for the sake of it. “Sometimes vendors only help us to install the pirated Windows,” says Dileep. And most interestingly, those who go for the pirated one still prefer XP to Vista.In fact, selling PCs without OS preloaded in it has become a common phenomenon now. Dell has dedicated a website to brainstorm for an effort to build a Windows-less product in its new IdeaStorm site that solicits consumer opinions.

A computer dealer at KBM’s Computer World observes, “It has begun as a stab at attracting more technology-savvy customers by selling PCs that don’t come with an operating system already preloaded. Now, many customers don’t want the OS preloaded in their PCs and laptops.” However, says Diptarup Chakraborti, Principal Research Analyst, Gartner, “India’s consumer behavior is a bit peculiar. Here, a person may buy laptops with original Windows. However, the same person will buy a pirated Windows for his desktop.”

Despite these, Windows is still the king. More than 80 percent of the consumer segment still uses Windows. Globally, Microsoft’s share of the PC OS market hovers above 90 percent, while Linux and Apple each account for about 10 percent of shipments.

According to the Forrester estimate, globally, Windows’ enterprise adoption declined by 3.7 percent, going down from 98.6 percent in January 2007 to 94.9 percent in December. Mac OS gained 3 percent, going up from 1.2 to 4.2 percent in the same time frame, while Linux gained 0.5 percent. Adoption of Windows XP held fairly steady, hovering around 90 percent of enterprises. Windows Vista ended the year at 6.3 percent. While Windows’ usage declined, “Microsoft’s monopoly remains undisputed,” wrote Forrester analyst Thomas Mendel. In India also the situation is no different. Chakraborti says, “Though there are plenty of operating systems available today, Windows still rules the consumer PC segment as well as the enterprise market in India.”

OEMs On the Way

Well, market data may depict Windows’ supremacy. However, we can recognize clearly that there are efforts by several organizations to come out of Windows’ shadows. Perhaps, Steve Jobs has shown a whole new roadmap for the industry. In fact, his statement, “They make third-rate products” was very popular among the open source community. After Apple’s success in launching Windows-less products, many PC makers and OEMs have begun following suite. The latest example is the announcement of the Linux version of HP Mini 1000. HP will sell this mini PC for $379 when it arrives in January 2009. When the company releases the product in the U.S. next January, it will become the first major computer maker this decade (besides Apple, of course) to push a non-Windows PC into the market. This won’t sink Microsoft. However, this sends the clear signal of how PC companies have started relying less on Windows and doing more software themselves.

As we all know, a decade ago, OEMs normally bowed to Microsoft’s demands and Microsoft executives mused openly about a world with Windows everywhere — in cars, clothes, kitchens, and living rooms. Says an analyst, “Microsoft had absolute control. When some OEMs tried to do some unique things, they had been slapped down.” But today the situation has changed. Now, the whole industry is chanting the name of Steve Jobs and his company’s audacious move to take on this giant. Apple may be small, but it has shown the computing world the way to have happier customers. Now it’s the turn of HP and others to join the league.
Clearly, evidence is mounting that Microsoft’s dominance in computing isn’t what it used to be before. It’s not just the Windows Vista flop and those damning commercials, either. Apple’s Mac OS is gradually taking share from Windows; and HP and Dell, the world’s largest PC makers, are investing in bigger homegrown software teams to do the work on building highly visible non-Windows products. Look at the high-growth computing markets for smartphones and low-cost mini-laptops, and the shift is even more striking; the most popular smartphones from Research in Motion and Apple of course don’t run Windows, and globally, more than 35 percent of today’s mini-laptops run a non-Windows operating system.

Interestingly, upcoming HP Mini 1000 is no threat to Windows. According to a HP press release, it plans to price this just $20 below the Windows XP version, which isn’t very cost effective and sufficient to make it worth giving up compatibility with Windows programs. An analyst opines, “Perhaps more significant is the signal the product sends — that HP doesn’t need Microsoft quite so much anymore.” However, he is quick to point out that HP’s embrace of Linux shouldn’t be interpreted as a slap at Windows. “It is HP’s effort to put the focus on the HP brand, not the processor and not the operating system,” he explains.

Windows Gets Company

So now, the lonely king is getting some company. Till date computer owners have never enjoyed a better selection of operating systems. It was very tough before to find a driver for an open source OS. Now you just throw in a CD, and you can get an OS like Linux installed and it will be up and running. Today, consumers can find a lot to like from the open source camp. Now you can run Windows office suite on your Mac. You can also run two operating systems on it. Apple recently rolled out an update of Mac OS X, code-named Tiger, now Leopard, which offer some great refinements to the already polished operating system. Its new, integrated desktop search tool, called Spotlight, adds instant system search, while the Safari 2.0 Web browser adds support for RSS and Atom feeds, which are used by many blogs. “So, why one should go for Windows when something better is available?” asks Jagdish.

Enterprises are ‘Open’ too

Also, since Linux is an open-source operating system, different companies, organizations, and individuals are free to craft their own versions. These different Linux flavors, which are tweaked and extended by the authors are called distributions. Today there are hundreds of such operating systems available to choose from, like Xandros Desktop, Red Hat Desktop, Novell Linux Desktop, Fedora Core, Mandriva, Debian, Slackware, and Gentoo, to name a few.

So, the movement getting further fuelled by the support of the IT biggies such as IBM, Oracle, and Hewlett-Packard, which have devoted many of their engineers to work with the open source movement, enterprises are now showing confidence in adopting Linux. It’s no more just about getting your software free — in India the dominating Linux brands are Red Hat and Suse from Novell.

‘Open source’ does not only mean getting your software free. Remarkably, it is also about software that is secure and robust. It’s about a system on which the applications will run well In fact, companies are ready to pay for the software,” says Manojit Majumdar, Country Leader and Country Manager, Developer Works and Academia, at IBM in a recent media interview.

Interestingly, Linux-based courses are increasing, governments around the world are pushing for Linux, and more and more tech companies are modifying their solutions to run on Linux. It’s a movement that’s sweeping the backend operations, but one is unlikely to notice it since the desktop is still dominated by Microsoft Windows. But chances are that many servers right in your own office may be running on Linux but you are unaware of it.

“We now see Linux moving to mission-critical applications — we see a lot of adoption in sectors such as banking, financial services, government, and large corporations,” says a senior official at Red Hat, the leading Linux distributor in India. Major Institutions like LIC, UTI, Central Bank of India, Canara Bank, and Airtel are adopting Linux in large scale to bring down technology costs. Also, the state governments in Kerala, Chhatisgarh, and West Bengal are planning to join the open source bandwagon soon. Will Linux make inroads in India? A research by IDC shows that in terms of server shipments Linux had a market share of 19 percent in 2005, 21 percent in 2006, and this is expected to increase to 26 percent in 2010. That’s impressive, but even more so when you realize that all estimates of Linux are actually conservative because many organizations use free downloads that can’t be tracked and added to the statistics.

The Linux action in the enterprise segment is spinning off some new trends in the education space too. IT training institutions such as Aptech and New Horizons too report increased number of students for their Linux courses. “The reason is that companies like Oracle and IBM are putting more and more applications on Linux,” says Ajay Sharma, president, New Horizons India. And since a large number of organizations are adopting Linux, the requirement for professionals is also increasing accordingly. “Overall, I see the demand for Linux professionals to be around 18 percent at the present and the same will grow in the near future,” says, Manish Bahl, Senior Analyst, Springboard Research.

Exhilarating Era of Computing

Therefore, will proprietary and open source coexist? “We believe it will always be a mixed environment where multiple platforms will co-exist and multiple ways of accessing will exist,” says Tarun Gulati, General Manager, Business Strategy, Marketing and Operations, Microsoft India. Even Chakraborti agrees with this. “Definitely; because they have their own unique specialties,” he says..Also, there are some areas such as Web workload, firewalls, and high performance computing, where Linux has a strong presence. Windows, on the other hand has a sound position in business processing, CRM (customer relations management), messaging, and collaborating.

But industry pundits have different opinions on this. In the case of high performance computing or HPC, the world’s top 500 computers run on Linux. Normally, high performance computing is done by extremely technology savvy people, who aren’t going to work on proprietary operating systems. And it will be intriguing to see what Microsoft would do to address this situation.

Uniqueness of Linux is due to its security and robustness. In the case of Linux, the source code is open and there are thousands of developers around the world working on it. Any vulnerability is resolved immediately, and this is not the case with Windows; which is why Microsoft is frequently putting out security updates, while in the case of Linux updates are not quite as frequent. But that doesn’t mean that Linux doesn’t have any challenges. For instance, though a company like IBM has thousands of its workforce devoted to Linux, all its software do not run on Linux yet — it’s high-end enterprise version database solution called DB2, for instance, as well as its WebSphere Application Server.

But Microsoft is at an advantage here. It can boast of an ecosystem that comprises of applications, software developers trained on its software, and training programs that the Linux vendors cannot hope to match yet. “But in terms of scalability, Linux would no doubt be a more cost-effective proposition,” opine experts.

Meanwhile, Microsoft researchers are developing a new operating system that’s designed from the ground up to support Internet-based computing and multicore architectures, which one-day could replace the company’s storied Windows franchise. It’s possible that Midori is being designed for use in cloud computing scenarios, in which business applications reside on centralized servers and are accessed through the Web. Midori would possibly run as a virtual OS supported by Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization platform as well. Also, today Microsoft is collaborating with Novell as many of Microsoft’s clients have servers running on different operating systems. This is critical for Microsoft, with virtualization becoming a big trend in tech adoption.

The vibrant technology arena is changing fast. Geeks, welcome to the new exhilarating era of computing!

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