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Mark Taylor

Written by staff at Sirius Corporation, the Open Source services group, this blog seeks to dispel any FUD around the use of Open Source software in the Enterprise and provide perspectives on business, economics, politics, philosophy and the environment.

Linux feels the need for speed

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I've been musing on the question of speed and the end of a relationship. Since this is IT we are talking about, let's ask a simple question but on that is difficult to answer: "How do you get folk who are perfectly happy with Windows XP to change to something else?"

In a previous post I suggested that to a whole generation, a Windows XP desktop was for them a finished work, the culmination of a succession of exciting upgrades of hardware and software.

In the Open Source world at one time, fairly recently actually, it was received wisdom that although technical superiority would win out in the server market getting ordinary users to change to unfamiliar desktops was a step too far.

I am happy to say Microsoft has run square into the self same unfamiliarity problem with Vista and Office 2007. They are a bit too different to the 'finished work' without offering any must-have extras.

It gets even harder for Microsoft when even official Governmental bodies like BECTA advise the public sector procurers not to change. Ironically this stricture appears not to apply to other Government organisations in education such as the QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) who have clearly more money than sense.

Microsoft though has enough clout to follow alternative strategies for persuading its customers to change when they show signs of dragging their feet. The most obvious is by not allowing vendors to install XP on new machines and making sure lots of stuff, bit by bit, won't work on the old machines (allegedly).

The Open Source world in contrast with its plethora of cool Linux distributions and manifest lack of clout (on the desktop) only has the 'hey that's a cool desktop - I must change' strategy to fall back on and that's a pretty weak opener in the desktop wars.

Why indeed would one now change desktops, why in the past were we so willing, eager even, to do just that and now are so reluctant?

Reasons to Upgrade

Readers of a certain vintage will remember the Intel hardware upgrades from the 286 to 386 to 486 to 586 Pentium processors, running parallel, Microsoft's OS went from Windows 3 to 3.2 to 95 to 98 and 2000 and Word went from Word 2 (very good it was too) through 6 to 97 and 2000. The amount of RAM fitted to a PC went up during this time from 16mb to 1gb. We all handed over our cash as soon as we could to experience the latest thing.

Of course power consumption went through the roof at the same time but we did not care much back then... No, what we did care about was speed. 486 owners were lightning fast when running Word 2 when compared to lowly mortals who only had a 286. I really coveted the next upgrade, I really did.

Unfortunately but seemingly inevitably, what was also happening during this period was the emergence of 'bloat ware'. Software got more features and more code to take advantage of the new hardware power until things became absurdly bloated.

The tale is told that even Microsoft's own engineers struggled mightily to upgrade the highly evolved XP to Vista's extra feature list but were defeated by the mighty code base and effectively started again using the simpler 2003 Server code. If true, this story provides an exemplar in what the Science Philosophers call 'paradigm elaboration'. Ultimately the accretion of ad-hoc modifications causes the edifice to collapse.

To cut a long tale short - as a result of bloated software, most computers are no longer fast, period. They are dog slow. MS Office 2007 is huge, so is Open Office (sorry guys). Running say Office 2007 or Open Office 2.4 on a budget laptop with Vista Home Premium is a dismally slow experience compared to the same machine running XPpro and Word 97/2000. Don't try this at home kids.

All good things come to an end however and this applies to this particular upgrade cycle. The emergence of new technologies may complement the status quo but sometimes they disrupt it. Those described below fall into the later category and have occurred at a time of hiatus in the prevailing paradigm.

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