Sticking with What Works

Some of the mail I received after last editorial questioned whether interoperability is something to shoot for at all—whether it wouldn’t be better to just scrap Windows and use Linux exclusively. If Linux applications fulfill your needs better than the Windows applications you’re running today—if they’re better built, or have features you need that the Windows versions don’t have—then sure, using Linux applications is a good plan. But if that’s not the case, let’s hold onto Windows until an alternative is ready, okay?

Think of OSs as a means of transportation. I lived in the Washington, DC area for about 10 years. Traffic conditions in the DC metro area stink, to put it politely. People waste hours every day commuting, the pollution from exhaust fumes is dreadful, parking fees in the city are high, and accidents kill or injure countless people every year. Clearly, driving is an imperfect means of getting around. But the trouble is, there aren’t many viable alternatives. There’s a commuter train, but that’s already crowded as it is, and most people live too far from work to make biking or walking practical. Before they throw out driving as a means of transportation, the people of the DC metro area need an alternative that can take over the role that the imperfect option of driving is currently filling.

Even if Windows were the OS equivalent of DC traffic (and that constitutes a vast overstatement), we’d be dumb to throw it out when the alternatives can’t yet keep up with users' needs. Before rooting for Linux to take the place of Windows, ask yourself this: Is Linux ready to become the OS of choice?

Nothing says that Linux applications are inherently better than Windows applications. Right now, enthusiasts—people who are eager to make Linux perform as well as it can—build Linux’s applications and drivers. What happens when the development pool expands to include people who have less personal interest in the success of the OS? And can the existing applications keep up with the needs of the current user base? Can Linux do everything that people count on Windows NT and Windows 9x to do, however imperfectly?

I’m not saying that Linux is inferior to Windows. In some environments, it’s the better choice because of its mutable nature and lower hardware requirements. Nor am I saying that Linux supporters shouldn’t work to improve the OS. I’d love to see Linux become a viable option to NT, if for no other reason than the fact that NT would benefit from a little healthy competition. But no matter how much of a Linux supporter you are, I think you’ll agree that the benefits of the interoperability of thin-client computing are obvious. People count on their applications, whether those applications run under NT or another OS. Any option such as thin-client computing that doesn’t tie you to one OS and doesn’t penalize you for using more than one OS (as with terminal emulation, for example) is a Good Thing in my book.

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