The Free Software (GNU) movement and the Open Source(OSI) development model have slowly been gaining momentum over the past decade. Formerly the realm of Uber Geeks, UNIX and it’s various derivatives (Linux, BSD’s, etc.) are finally being seen by the consumer market as an alternative to the best known proprietary products. One of the biggest barriers that I’ve seen though is the cost model associated with the GNU or OSI environments. This is obviously not to say that GNU or OSI is more expensive than proprietary products, but in the United States, at least, it’s ingrained in our culture that you get what you pay for. Comparing the price of a GNU/Linux distribution v. Microsoft Windows is a good example. Thanks to good timing, shrewd (cut-throat) business practices, and the multi-million dollar marketing blitz, Windows has become the dominant operating system in the market.
For over 20 years, consumers have been drawn to, what they believed, was the only game in town. It’s human nature to have the belief that what we do or use is superior to that of others who do not do the same. So it has been with computers and operating systems. Even back in 1989 when a 486 with 1 Mb of RAM and a 40 Mb hard drive cost over $1500.00 (USD), there was much clamoring of superiority between the Apple and PC users. Anyone in our industry knows that Apple/Mac has been the de facto standard in the graphics and publishing industry while PC’s have held the domain of business, large and small – both are a case of the right tool for the right job. As the tech savvy younger generations come of age, so does the awareness of a world outside of Microsoft.
While the lineage of Microsoft code dates to the early 80′s the lineage of modern GNU and OSI operating systems can be traced to the 60′s. It’s taken 20 years for consumers to begin to realize that money thrown at advertising and public relations isn’t what makes a product better than any other. If I had $10,000.00 a month to pay for a premier advert on Techcrunch, (no disrespect intended Mr. Arrington), I’d get a boatload of traffic and the clickthroughs that go with it. To sustain user loyalty though, I need to have good content, otherwise, I’ll just have to keep throwing money at it to generate more traffic. Now, I’d like to think that the content on this site is at least, respectable, but if it were garbage, enough money for marketing would keep it afloat for quite awhile. When there is no mainstream competition from which to draw comparisons, there is no way to distinguish between what is good and what is garbage.
Microsoft has held a captive audience for years – but now the tide is beginning to turn as more and more people see that the traditional proprietary software model is not the only way to do things, and consequently, that proprietary software is not the only option. Apple has done a great “job(s) of showing consumers that there are alternatives to these “tried and true” products. Their model, while not Free Software and Open Source, is a modeled on mix of GNU, Open Source, and proprietary. In the interest of not propagating mis-information, the following has be removed from this post:
any GNU/Linux user would immediately recognize xfce as the window manager that the more recent releases of the Mac OS were modeled after. It’s all been done out in the open though so there is no complaining that the gui was stolen.xfce, I am told, has in fact been, to some extent, modeled on OS X. Thank’s to Vincent at xubuntublog.wordpress.com for setting the record straight. Dell, the worlds second largest seller of PC’s, is offering several GNU/Linux options for both business and personal computers, with plans to expand this line of systems. GNU/Linux and Open Source are beginning to see some mainstream exposure. Wal-Mart also sells GNU/Linux PC’s in some markets. I don’t expect Microsoft to fold in the coming years but I do see a significant decline in their dominance of the software market – much like IBM’s decline in the PC market after decades of being number one.
Google’s recent proposal(pdf) to the FCC that the 700MHz band be open to the choices of consumers and not service providers will finally put these service providers at the mercy of the customer instead of it being the other way around. The Free Software movement and the Open Source development model are poised to transform the PC market in the same way. Get ready for a new day, Redmond!
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