I just read an interesting blog post about Montenegro . Apparently a key to the process of becoming a country was acting like it was inevitable.
It seems that this method can be applied to many areas, one of which is the contest between Linux and some proprietary OSs.
For many years monopolists have convinced people that it was inevitable that they would monopolise all areas of software development. Why use any other software (even if it is more reliable, faster, has more features, and is cheaper) if a monopolist is about to dominate the market? The monopolist changes sometimes, the monopolist from ~1990 to now is different from the monopolist of the 1970’s, but the tactics of a computer monopolist remain the same.
The way to beat this is largely to just ignore them. There is an ongoing debate in some circles about when Linux will be “ready for the desktop“. I’ve been running Linux as my primary desktop environment since about July 1998, it’s almost 10 years of having Linux as my primary desktop environment. It seems inevitable that the Linux will take over the desktop – it’s far better for desktop use than it was 10 years ago when I switched.
Some people claim that Linux lacks driver support. Every piece of hardware that I’ve wanted to use over the last 10 years has had adequate support. Often second-hand hardware works best with Linux, hardware vendors have no reason to continue to support their old products on newer operating systems (they make more money if you buy new hardware to run the new OS). Not only is hardware support for Linux adequate, but long-term support is far superior (and I often get to use cheap second-hand hardware). Now that an increasing number of hardware vendors are supporting Linux for their new hardware (Intel, AMD, and most laptop vendors are doing some good work in this regard). It seems that everyone who has tried both says that writing drivers for Linux is easier than writing drivers for proprietary OSs, so it seems inevitable that Linux will end up with better driver support by all metrics.
Linux is designed for users. DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) is not something that interests Linux developers. Run Linux and your computer will obey you and give full quality audio and video. It seems inevitable that Linux will dominate the AV section of the market (it already dominates the computer work involved with creating movies).
Free software (of which Linux is merely the most famous and popular example) is based on the principles of open design and open standards. When you use a free software program to save a file then you can be reasonably sure that you will be able to read it back again in a few decades. Most free software uses file formats that are well documented and standardised. Sometimes there are bugs in programs and new versions will use files in a different way, this is sometimes a case when you rely on a bug in an old version. Using the older version of the software is sometimes required to properly access old data. Fortunately when you have the source to the older programs they can be compiled on new systems (so different types of CPU won’t matter). Also the lack of DRM means that an OS image can be virtualised. One thing that is on my todo list is to create a set of virtual machine images of some of the most commonly used distributions of Linux so I can easily compare distributions of 10 years ago with modern distributions – it’s not technically challenging and there is no particular technical or legal obstacle to doing this. This would also mean that if someone gave me a file in some strange format from 10 years ago I would have a better chance of reading it. It seems inevitable that as the value of data increases the desire to avoid OSs that prevent people from accessing their own data will also increase, and that will eventually squeeze out most closed software from the market. This doesn’t mean the end of proprietary software, merely the end of software that holds user’s data hostage.
The majority of the world’s population does not use computers. The computers that they end up using will be cheap because they can’t afford to waste so much money on new hardware. To make cheap machines means that there will be limited resources in terms of RAM, mass storage, and CPU power which require more efficient software. Also to properly take advantage of machines with small screens and other limitations changes to the design of the software will be required. It seems inevitable that the most open software will be adapted to such environments more readily than proprietary software.
Now this doesn’t mean that we can take a break from development. In the free software community there are usually many different programs to perform a particular task with competition between the developers of the various projects. The fact that a monopolist is inevitably going to lose it’s position is of little relevance to the competition between the various free alternatives.