25 Years after MS-DOS….

Another reason why Linux will take over the world.

25 Years After DOS: Lessons Learned for Linux
by Walter V. Koenning for the Reallylinux.com OPINION/EDITORIAL section.

NOTICE: Our other recent OP/ED postings include:
Microsoft’s Approach May Isolate U.S. Permanently
Open Source VS Windows: Reality of a Better Paradigm

Microsoft Corporation is preparing a gallant pageant to celebrate 25 years of what should at the very least be considered remarkable marketing. But what can the Linux world learn from Microsoft’s past 25 years of unique experiences and domination? I think we can uncover a lot simply going back to that first fateful year when Microsoft released PC-DOS for IBM PCs (as a joint venture with IBM).

First, we must admit openly once and for all that the “best solution” is not always the “most used solution.” There are few who would be foolish enough to argue that back in 1981 PC-DOS was the best solution. There were obviously a number of choices. PC-DOS was the least robust, the most temperamental, and arguably not very compatible with the IBM hardware and BIOS it was sold to work on. Yet, somewhat like the odd but obvious dominance of the VHS over BETA, this simple, cheap OS stole the show.

With 25 years of hindsight we can now identify the three core ingredients that allowed PC-DOS to enter the race and then shockingly exceed all expectations. Indeed there were a number of OS choices, but PC-DOS was the best choice, if not the best solution. With its weak memory management capabilities, the issues with the original BIOS specifications and support, PC-DOS in any engineer’s mind was not a superior product. But it was indeed three things:

1.

It was in the right place at the right time. Yes, timing is one of the obvious reasons why PC-DOS, later to become the well known MS-DOS made its debut, and survived to become the world’s most dominant OS. The IBM compatible market skyrocketed the use of Microsoft’s OS beyond even Bill and Paul’s expectations.
2.

But wait. Timing can not possibly be the key ingredient. Sure enough there were two other ingredients essential to making the timing work out. The second was PC-DOS’s price. It was cheap, and the cheapest of the options that at least for the entry IBM PC made it’s debut. PC-DOS fit the home and small business market perfectly because it was cheap.
3.

And of course, if it was just plain cheap it still would have gone no where, unless it contained what I believe is conceivably the most important ingredient to Microsoft’s initial success with a less than superior product. PC-DOS was simple. That’s right, it was simple. I could shove that darn disk in to the drive, and so long as I knew to press the drive lock down the disk would spin and the OS would load. I could learn the basic set of commands within a few minutes. It was not just simple, but darn simple and made it possible for the genius and the technophobe to achieve the same results: operating a PC.

Yes, unquestionably Microsoft’s unique ability to be “shipped with the PC” as pre-installed OS eventually gave it another huge advantage. But, in the earliest days there was NO PRE-INSTALL. It was about ease of bootup and loadup, sticking disks in to the drive to boot.

Now, let’s start with the negative lessons learned. For one thing, I can say with every friend and colleague who has ever written software drivers, compiled kernels etc. Microsoft Windows is not a superior product. Look I say this with caution but sincerity since I began using DOS around the same time I had used UNIX and its variants, VMS, Stratus VOS and others. The initial Microsoft DOS just wasn’t superior. This was at the time most obvious to the many people who had indeed used more superior products in academia and government. Ironically, most of these people who knew of better options were not on the marketing list for IBM’s PCs.

So, the negative lesson learned: claiming Linux is a superior product often ticks people off more than it convinces them.

There are always more superior products, like when I go to the store and buy a plunger to deal with my toilet problem only to find it sucks at suction. The plumber comes over later in the day with a different plunger and within minutes he’s done what I could not. That day I stopped buying those cheap trash plungers and went driving until I found one that looked exactly like the double suction plunger the plumber used! Okay, okay I know I’m getting side tracked, but talking about DOS makes me think of other things. The lesson is obvious. No one cares if the product is superior since everyone knows there is probably an even “more superior product” somewhere else. So to the Linux fanatics, please stop declaring Linux’s superiority… it will not convince others even if you are totally right.

Now on to the positive lessons gleaned from the initial Microsoft successes of 25 years ago. Linux can indeed become the key operating system for both the enterprise and the desktop because there is currently a major vacuum.
“Linux can indeed become the key operating system for the enterprise and the desktop because it fills a major vacuum”

The vacuum was created as a result of many things. This vacuum amounts to the very same type of timing opportunity seen 25 years ago.

Politically a vacuum was created when other countries started hating the dominance of a U.S. corporation on their computer technology future. Few governments on earth today plan to continue using Microsoft on any major systems beyond 2015 because it inherently forfeits their own sovereign control over technology. This isn’t new. If you watch the Linuxtoday.com news feeds you’ll quickly see just how many nations are getting to the point of moving on with their own destiny.

Economically, it no longer makes sense to allow Microsoft to continue to dominate when alternatives exist without the characteristic elements of control, licensing dominance, and proprietary (hidden) code. Linux is indeed free. Free is about as inexpensive as you can get and therefore offers access to everyone, across social and economic lines. The potential market base for Linux is literally the world. Money is not the holdup.

Socially, the vacuum was created by greed. People all over the world, including Microsoft certified pros, can not escape the fact that Microsoft makes money from everyone. Microsoft is the richest company getting richer. It charges millions to the U.S. federal, state and local governments, for licensing and upgrades. Yes that means Microsoft gets wealthier from tax payer dollars. Microsoft challenges school systems that may have “illegal” software, it hunts down piracy in other countries, often in the poorest regions of the world like Africa, and it keeps getting more and more wealthy. A friend of mine told me he thinks that if Microsoft released just 10% of the roughly $2 BILLION in CASH (does not include other assets) to help curb diseases and help starvation, many people could be helped. Instead the goal and mode of operation is to continue to amass wealth. People see this. People know this. It bugs them. Few talk about it, but it bugs them to watch greed so openly flaunted. Maybe it bugs me too? We like philanthropy and generosity, because it helps address fundamental human needs. Linux is perfectly poised to fill this gaping vacuum created by potential greed.

Therefore, we find that indeed Linux is showing itself true at the right time, when vacuums exist. Linux is indeed inexpensive and addresses the question of pricing and cost basis. Now finally, to the third success factor from Microsoft’s initial run. What about simple? Is Linux simple to use? The final and perhaps most vital aspect towards making Linux the number one operating system on earth has to do with user experience. Today Linux is still overwhelmed by too many options and not enough focus on simplicity.

But this is not a “shame on you” article to the community. I love the Linux community and write with confidence that within a few short months, at most a year, the easy to use interfaces, the quality device drivers, the installation enhancements will prove that Linux is also simple, straight forward, and undeniably ready for the mass consumer market. I don’t think we will wait too long, because there are already many groups of people working on this aspect.

My only question now is not if but when will Linux become the number one OS on earth? When this happens we can all give thanks for the key lessons learned from Microsoft’s 25 year life cycle.

Walter V. Koenning is a technology writer and provides insights regarding industry trends. He contributes regularly to the OPINION/EDITORIAL segments on Reallylinux.com.

When the rich do the right thing

Here’s an example of when a rich person does something for the good of humanity. Sure, he mentions in the article that he wouldn’t mind making money, but he is genuinely doing good for the planet.

Ubuntu Linux encourages sharing and copying
10 May 2005

Free operating system Ubuntu Linux has been heralded as one of the most exciting software projects ever created, writes Michael Herman.

Ask software billionaire Mark Shuttleworth why he has dedicated so much of his time and money to open-source projects since selling his business in 1999, and he is likely to tell you he wants to make the world a better place.

Already a successful ecommerce icon when in his early 20s, Shuttleworth, the first African in space, sold his South African internet certification company Thawte Consulting to United States competitor VeriSign for $NZ785 million six years ago, turning the young entrepreneur into a rand lord overnight.

Not content simply to watch his fortune grow, Shuttleworth turned his attention to improving the lives of others through technological innovation, funding several projects “that have the potential to bring about dramatic improvements to some aspect of the education system” and founding the now celebrated Linux distribution, Ubuntu.

Translated as “humanity to others”, the ancient sub-Saharan word describes a value system that has at its core the understanding that “I am what I am because of who we all are”.

In a preamble on the organisation’s website, www.ubuntulinux.org, Shuttleworth says Ubuntu Linux brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.

This difference is probably best expressed by its call to users to help spread the Ubuntu message.
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“You are legally entitled and encouraged to copy, share, and redistribute this CD, for yourself and your friends,” reads the note on Ubuntu Linux’s CD cover, which it distributes free of any charges – postage included – to any part of the world.

While commercial software developers are charged to drive up shareholder value through increased sales and enforcing licensing restrictions on users to try to limit piracy, Ubuntu has been instructed by its open-source activist philanthropist boss to do work “for the benefit of all humanity” and to charge it to his account, if it is not commercially viable.

Asked once whether he believed that the “services will pay for development” business model of the free-software movement would keep Ubuntu alive, Shuttleworth answered he’d like the project to be sustainable, but that he’d be “honoured to consider it a gift back to the open-source world”, which he credits with having played a critical role in creating his wealth.

“So I hope it’s commerce, though it may turn out to be philanthropy. Either way, it’s still cheaper than going back to space, or hooking up with fast planes/boats/women, which I supposed would be Plan B,” Shuttleworth told HoserHead in an email response on Slashdot, the self- proclaimed “News for nerds” website.

In his own words, the Ubuntu project “is all about creating a free, high-quality OS for everybody – home, office and data centre”.

To this end the single-install CD includes a mix of quality applications, including a Gnome desktop with the popular Firefox browser (more than 50 million downloads at the end of April), OpenOffice productivity suite, Gstreamer for multimedia, Thunderbird email client and other popular open-source programs.

Before you dismiss this free lunch, consider that Ubuntu has become the most accessed section of DistroWatch, the online touchstone for open-source operating system issues.

Attracting twice as much daily traffic “from unique IP addresses” as its nearest challenger, the website says “Ubuntu has clearly won over many users of other operating systems and has quite possibly become the fastest-growing Linux distribution of all times”.

My first 911 call

Today I made my first 911 call ever. Of course, the events leading up to this event were the most surreal of my life. As I was waiting to cross the street into the Gun Hill parking lot, a bunch of cars started passing by, as usual. We have a joke that they purposely come by only when we want to cross. Then, as if out of a Monty Python or Stephen Chow movie, a bicycle rider comes out behind the cars.

Then I thought to myself, “my he’s going very fast,” I turned to tell my fiancee the thought which had just gone through my head along with, “that’s gotta be dangerous.”

I didn’t have a chance to speak because at that moment I heard an explosion and the man on the bicycle was propelled off the bike and onto the floor where he and the bike both rolled. He must have been going at least 20 MPH if not 30! I ran to the man who was still in the middle of the street. He got up and threw himself and the bicycle onto the grass near the street. His rear while had burst – that had been the explosive sound.

“Are you ok?” I asked him. “Do you need me to call 911?” I continued. No answer – not good. “Do you need me to call 911?”

“Yes, please!”

I called 911. “Hello this is 911 what is the situation?”

“Yeah, this guy was riding bike down a huge hill. He was thrown over the front of the bike and he looks like he needs help. His shoulder is dislocated.”

“Ok, where are you?”

“On the hill near Gun Hill Apartments in Ithaca, New York.” I added the last part because I had heard that when one calls on a cellular phone they might not be talking to a local dispatcher.

“They’ll be right over. Can I collect some contact information.”

A few minutes later the police showed up, followed by the ambulance. The man had gashes on his knee, arms, and buttocks. He looked like he was in a lot of pain, but he would make it ok.

I was glad to be there when the accident happened so that I could call for help. Other than my fiancee and I, there were two other tennants there, but I was the first to reach the victim. I’m not even sure the others would have gone if I hadn’t. But I knew what I had to do. Years of emergency training as a lifeguard suddenly came back to me. I knew I had to communicate with the man and ascertain what the problem was. Otherwise, he would have just lay there until someone came and time is the most important thing in an emergency. He wouldn’t die from a dislocated shoulder if he were my age, but this was a pretty old guy. He might have other complications and I had to think quickly. But I was running down there before I even knew what I was doing. And I was glad to have a cell phone so that I could be sure to talk to the dispatchers. It was a great chance to help my fellow man.

Quotes!

“If a man owes you $1000 that’s his problem. If a man owes you $1 000 000, that’s your problem” – Anon

Confusion that only occurs with computer nerds:
Me: did tyhey teach you about “this” in java yet?
Danny: yeah
Me: it’s the neatest thing that noeone actually uses
Danny: we do sometimes
Me: that’s cuz it’s a class ;P
Danny: cause we’re a class?
Me: 😛
Me: cuz it’s not real life
Danny: oh, gotcha

Thanks again God

Well, I can’t get into too many details at this time because of professionalism, but I had been praying for certain things to happen in my future and they had occurred! I know we’re not supposed to make deals with God, but I did promise that if He delivered that I would share it with the whole world. I am VERY happy today and my life is now a little less infinite than it was a couple of weeks ago! I’m so happy I can barely contain it!

life is good

Life always good – today it was better than usual. Can’t talk about it right now because of professional reasons, but I just have to thank God for being in control and also giving me a little to chew on here and there so I don’t get too impatient.

Also, later today, the big slope day expose. Tune in for nudity, Snoop Dogg, and more drunken college students than you can shake a stick at.

a short one today

I’m really busy trying to wrap up classes so that I can enjoy the last few weeks before graduating and being thrust into the “real world” so today’s post is just a minor observation. Of course, any of my long-time readers will know that as soon as I say that I’m too busy to post, I explode with a bunch of posts. Well, not for now, but who knows what tomorrow holds.

There is a tradeoff involved in using different systems and computer programs is in how ingrained certain tasks become. For example, it should be second nature for most of you to hit control-S to save a document. You don’t even think about it. When you want to save you just hit those keys almost before your conscious has a minute to see what you’re doing. I’ve recently been doing some work on Emacs, a Linux text program. To save on there the command is control-x control-s, control-s by itself is search. Now I went back to my Windows machine as it’s in a more comfortable location for me to type up a report. I almost hit control-x control-s in Word. Yeah….

Linux never ceases to amaze…

You may or may not know this, depending upon how technologically inclined you are, but you can buy ROMs of the old classic arcade games like Ms Pacman, Arkanoid, Spaced Invader, and much more. (You can also download them off of limewire or kazaa, but that’s illegal if you don’t own the arcade machines) Then there is a group which has developed a program known as the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) which you can use to play these old games. “So?” you may be thinking, “I can find shareware versions of all of those games.” Yes, but this is the actual original version of the game pulled right off the arcade machine without any changes to it whatsoever! What could you do with this? You could do what thousands (or at least hundreds) have already done: build your own arcade machine! There are a few webpages and books on the subject, I know there is one really good book on the subject available at Borders, I can’t remember the title, but it’s fairly obvious. Something like, “Build Your Own Arcade Machine.”

The basics involve building a replica of an arcade cabinet and then sticking a computer inside instead of an actual arcade computer. This allows you to play all the games you have bought (or downloaded) instead of just one game in the cabinet. You can even buy authentic arcade controls online from specialty shops dedicated to making authentic arcade controls. Then you could invite some budddies over and play those arcade games like in the old days. I, myself, plan to do this for myself and my father-in-law who is an arcade-game-junkie. He plays those Nintendo Atari re-releases whenever he’s got a chance.

“Wow, Eric, I’m just as excited as you, but what does this have to do with Linux??” Glad you asked, because I’m ready to divulge that. The BEST part of constructing your own arcade machine is that you can use whatever OS and computer you want. Also, MAME is available for FREE! Linux is free too! So your only cost is hardware and the ROMs.

But the reason why Linux amazed me today is that I finally got MAME working on my Linux laptop. I almost felt this was a lost cause because on my 1.5GHz 1GB RAM Windows XP desktop, the games ran rather poorly. The sound was way off and the characters didn’t quite move around correctly. Boy was I surprised! I loaded up the game in my 500MHz 128 MB RAM Fedora Core 3 GNU/Linux computer and it was blazing! The sound was perfect, the movement of the characters was awesome. I mean, this is how is SHOULD be these arcade games run on a crappier computer than my cellular phone, so it should have been no problem for my desktop. That’s why I was very pleased with how well it worked on my Linux computer. Also, I ran it from the command line so I could see that it was performing all sorts of optimizations which the Windows port doesn’t do.

So long and thanks for all the fish

Friday I went to go see Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as you may recall. I was quite excited about seeing it as I had read one of the five books and watched the old BBC adaptation. The movie certainly started off very well with an entertaining opening sequence, but I was left quite dissapointed. Why? At first I couldn’t really articulate what it was about the movie that was lacking. There wasn’t anything specifically wrong with it, but then more and more things came to mind and I realized why I didn’t like it.

First of all, they got rid of a lot of entries from the Hitchhiker’s Guide. I consider the book to be, in a sense, the book’s main character. To leave out so many entries was akin to leaving out Arthur Dent, in my opinion. Additionally, to me it was the entries from the Guide that really made the book so fun for me. The story was pretty neat, but the hilarious entries were what I loved. Some of the entries I truly missed were (in summary):

-the entry about how the Babel fish disproves the existence of God
-the entry about the girl who had just figured out the key to happiness before the Earth was distroyed
-the entry about teenagers in the universe who would mess with Earth yokels as a prank
-the entry explaining the reasons for buying planets and why the earth-building planet had to be blown up
-the entry about Arthur screaming something which started an intergallactic war
and a few others.

While they would have added some length to the movie, it would have totalled to maybe an extra 15 minutes, if that! I was really dissapointed by that.

Also, perhaps it was just that we watched the movie in a crappy movie theatre, but I found it hard to sometimes hear what the characters were saying. This took away from the film since I had to be straining to hear what they were saying a majority of the time.

If I had to sum it up I would say that the book was overly complex – the genius of Douglas Adams and his cheeky humor. However, the movie was considerably less complex. The fans would have been done a better service had the movie done a much better job of potraying this complexity. Doubtless some people will be so fanatically dedicated to the series that they will find no fault with the movie. I, however, would probably give it a B- or worse. One thing is for sure, if they bring out the sequels, I will have to go by myself or with my brothers for my fiancee found the movie dreadful.

Time compression continues…

For the past few days I have been wondering why there is still a Newsweek or Time magazine. Whereas newspapers come out once a day, these magazines come out once a week. I have already complained that I find newspapers woefully out of date when compared to news on the Internet. Why then do people still buy magazines containing news a week old? At today’s pace this is practically ancient history by the time one read’s it. Yet, today my fiancee’s actions changed the focus of my post.

We had been following the case of the Willbanks missing bride on television since we watch the news fairly often. This morning we were watching the news when the reporter said, “We have surprising news on the missing bride. Stay tuned and we’ll tell you after the commercial.”

With that my fiancee jumped up and said, “Forget that! I’m not waiting until the commercial is over!” and ran out of the room. At first I thought she was going to the bathroom or something until I heard the clicking of keys on a keyboard. She was actually looking on CNN.com to see what they said about her. Before the commercial break was over we knew that she had run away with cold feet, was in New Mexico, and that the police were not pressing charges at this time. The only thing we got extra from the television news was an interview with an FBI correspondent and from the family pastor. Television is really going to have to work hard if they are going to add value over the Internet.

I was proud of my fiancee who, a few years ago didn’t know much about technology, but I was extremely amazed at how fast paced our world had become. Even a two minute commercial break was an intolerable amount of time to wait for a news story. Yet, a few years ago one simply had to wait two minutes. This is no longer the case as the Internet has empowered us as never before to be able to find information instantaneously. Since most locations with a television also have Internet access, it remains to be seen what solution news agencies have. Not only were we not watching their commercials, the way they pay the bills, but we were getting the news before they even reported it. As technology progresses, it will be interesting to see where this leads.

Today’s Wikipedia entry….

Fanservice (or fan service) is a vaguely defined term used in visual media, particularly in the anime fandom (in Japanese, it is simply spoken as “service (saabisu)”), to refer to elements in a story that while potentially superfluous to a storyline, are designed to amuse or excite the audience. It is sometimes used in a derogatory manner when presented in a clumsy, pandering fashion or is the only thing notable about a series. Since it is extremely subjective, the most common uses are listed.

continue the article at the Wikipedia site…

One more day!

Just one more day until two key things occur:

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy comes out and Daniel’s girlfriend comes up to Ithaca.

I’m really excited about the movie because it’s been getting some awesome reviews and I think that it is a wonderful and smartly funny story. Douglas Adams is awesome.

I’m happy that Ash is coming up because that makes my brother so happy. Anything that makes my family happy is awesome. I know he misses her a lot so I hope she arrives on time and they have have a good week together.

Two down….three to go

Today I finished up yet another class. The first one I finished up was a project where I was conducted a study for the School of Electrical Engineering to switch over to Linux and open source alternatives. I also published my study as my first publication at Lulu.com. It was great to have one class out of the way, especially one which was such a joy to participate in.

Today I wrapped up another favorite class, microcontroller design. As my faithful readers know, I’ve been providing the source code to each of the labs we completed during the semester. Well, today my group demoed our final project to our professor and TA. They were quite impressed with the progress we had made on the code, despite its limitations. Our final project, a web server on a microcontroller, was a lot of fun to work on. There were a lot of frustrating times, but it’s the good kind of frustration that motivates one to try as hard as they can to get around the problem. One of my favorite taks is to participate in design and debugging, trying to get my design to work because I know it *should* be working, so what did I forget? Was it simply a semi-colon? Was it something more significant, some kind of oversight? It was hard sticking to the project and keeping Rich from rewriting it from scratch, but I think we had a much better product because we sat through all of our problems and figured out what the original author of the source code we were basing it off of had done. After all, in a real work environment you have to figure what the previous guy did. There is no time to rewrite the code, no matter how awesome you are at coding. I will be posting the code and my report soon, probably over the next few days. I invite and challenge anyone out there to work on the code and make it more robust and reliable, there is PLENTY of room for that. You just need an Atmel Mega32 and STK500 development board. (As well as the computer on which one does the programming)