Sunday, February 18, 2007

On operating systems, platforms & communities

Who am I? Perhaps the most rudimentary and critical of questions, it's applicable in any community, including the computer industry. So spoken in the first person from the standpoint of Windows, OS X and Linux die-hard advocates, consider the following in pessimistic defense of the merits of each.


Microsoft
91% of the people in the world using computers can't be wrong. Being the most-used product in the market, legions of people knowing nothing about computers will use our stuff…and remain as ignorant throughout their experience with us. And we like it that way because they'll tell their friends to buy Windows, who'll tell their friends... We'll happily prey on such rubes, making a ton of money, leveraging blind faith and building a community of devout developers who like lemmings will follow us to the ends of the earth, and as quickly proceed to jump off the edge without question or hesitation if we tell them.

We've created a new microeconomy in forcing customers to buy high-end computers with components that 20 years ago could have been classified as a low-end mainframe. We've likewise fostered an entire ecosystem of third-party programs that our users quite honestly can't live without these days (e.g., anti-virus, spyware/malware, firewalls, anti-spam). And the end result of this small fortune that a person's invested will be that their machine perform at a (hopefully) tolerable level.

We've completely lost our once-firmly established footing in Web technologies, so we're going to capitalize on capitalism: we'll focus on selling operating systems, productivity suites, business applications and developer tools. And those that dare stand in the way of our mega-million marketing be damned.

For the time being, we'll tell you everything's great while you battle stability, security and scalability concerns…that is, until we release the next version of our software, announce ceased support for legacy versions and bemoan our earlier work as absolute crap to encourage you to buy an upgrade.

All in the name of progress.


Apple
We're better than anyone out there, but we're misunderstood. Our stuff costs more because it quite simply is the best there is, so don't complain about the price. And our formats, platforms and hardware are completely closed off to the rest of the world, so don't expect much in terms of interoperability. You're paying for exclusivity. Across the board, everything we put our name on is the epitome of quality and innovation - devices, software, services. We're totally convinced that we're all a higher order of user - developer, engineer, student, teacher, graphics designer, or information worker. So you can rest assured that when carrying around one of our devices or sporting our logo, you've ascended to a greater plane of existence technically, and even socially.

Yet we so often neglect to acknowledge that we almost went out of business on at least one occasion due to the esoteric nature of our handiwork. The right people get us. If you don't, it's your loss.

But there's always room for you at the table.


Linux
The world (and World Wide Web) would truly be ours if only we could get our act together. We're the quintessential walking contradiction in the Age of Information: we're the supposed superior younger brother of UNIX, we adhere to our staunch beliefs in openness and freedom, and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt we're fundamentally better than either of our commercial contemporaries. But by orders of magnitude we're more complex - completely disorganized and uber-political.

Our stuff runs great on older hardware, but has driver incompatibilities up the wazoo. We've been on the cusp of making a major dent with mainstream audiences for awhile, and this could be the year we crossover and hit it big on the desktop. If only we could downplay the geekiness that surrounds us. Yet the one thing we've got going for us is that Google likes us…they really like us.

So tragically, rather than try to achieve legitimacy by justifying our existence to the layman and addressing the various hardware compatibility issues (i.e., WiFi, graphics cards, laptop suspend/hibernate on-close, codecs, etc.) that keep us from overcoming a longstanding hump, we pick fights within our own community. We force campiness between supporters our most popular desktop environments (GNOME vs. KDE), with each calling the other's complete excrement, and labeling our cousins - the various offspring of the core kernel inferior.

How's that for circling the wagons?

Comments:
Jason,
What are your thoughts with respect to the pros and cons for each platform from a developer's perspective - focusing more on web development to tighten the scope a bit. I've had some experience developing solutions targeted for the unix platform using windows pc/java/websphere and java/weblogic. Most of my recent projects have been using .net/c#. I have done nothing on a mac related to development.
 
It depends...I know some cats who know as many as 5 different web development platforms just for the sake of saying they do, but they're not effective. If it'll make it any easier or more cost-effective to write apps with another platform or on different server architectures and not drive you crazy in the process learning a new language and framework, I say go for it.

I concentrate on the ones that benefit my company and my clients the most - .NET, Ruby on Rails and Django - and the latter two I've only picked up in the last year. It helps me stay honest and see how the other half (or third) lives.

Just do so for the right reasons...not to pad the resume or for bragging rights. I'd rather have someone whose focus is narrower and only knew PHP but kew everything about it than someone who knew a little about 5 frameworks.
 

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