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Watership Desktop

Week of September 19, 2002
No outsider can ever find the open source scene attractive.

The dominating and most important operating system in the world is Unix, the only other significant operating system coming from Microsoft; yet KDE and Gnome each account for only 1% of the desktops in the world, with Apple at only 5% - and Apple users have still not all migrated to 'Jag-WIRE'.

Which leaves a walloping 93% for Windows.

There are a lot of people who are more than fed up with Microsoft, who realise that for every hesitation they get screwed even worse, but the number that actively put their money where their mouth is remains very small.

The alternatives have been there for years, and they are not attracting the numbers. Open source projects are clearly not the answer.

Dan Robbins, creator of the new Gentoo Linux and formerly of IBM, has done major stuff with Linus and the 'core' people, and yet is today literally begging for work. Gentoo isn't paying his bills: the few who pay for or donate to his distro (or others) are an infinitesimal minority.

The result is obvious. Look at the number of projects listed at Sourceforge or Freshmeat, then look at the number of them being actively worked on. Most are in a state of shattered disarray, an impressive collection of unfinished programs - not exactly what the average desktop user wants or needs to 'get the job done'.

Programmers need to pay bills; open sourcers pay bills by being legitimately employed to work on something entirely apart. The time they have left for their open source projects is severely limited.

The time available to open source projects is also severely fragmented. With only a few hours available now and then, the open sourcers are collectively slow moving monoliths incapable of fast results.

They can't make fast turns either. If someone should suddenly realise their project needs to venture off in a new direction, the open sourcers will never muster a consensus in any reasonable period of time. They'll waste twice the time ordinarily needed to mobilise just arguing about it.

It is true that open sourcers have been very good at fixing bugs, far better than Microsoft, but these open sourcers are often a very few, a small clique, who are responsible for projects, and thus are able to avert the bureaucracy found in commercial organisations.

When it comes to marketing push, open sourcers have nothing. They have their websites where you can download their products for free, but for all this very attractive availability they have up to now garnered only one fiftieth of the desktop market.

Open sourcers are often more political than industrial. They love to break off into factions and yell appropriately derogatory phrases at one other across the void of discussion forums; about the only thing they consistently agree on is that they all hate Microsoft; when the need arises to do something constructive as a group, they walk away, go back to their day jobs.

There are very few people in the open source movement who are actually productive. Most 'members' are pure users with too many opinions and too few credentials.

No outsider can ever find the open source scene attractive.

Open sourcers seem to feel attracted to their schtick for its own sake, and not for a practical reason such as getting a computer to boot and connect to the Internet. New groups are presenting an open source alternative to Apple's OS X for the PowerPC - why any Apple user would opt to not use the operating system already on disk is a mystery. Apple has the immense advantage of having one hardware platform and one operating system, and being able to integrate these two in a way no other vendors anywhere can. For an open sourcer to, under these circumstances, stay awake at night to create a wobbly alternative which no one will want anyway is sheer lunacy - and very typical of the 'movement'.

There are tons of Linux and BSD distros out there. Slackware, Debian, SuSE, Red Hat, Mandrake - the website fuckmicrosoft.com lists 104 free distros and over a dozen commercial ones. Yet taken together these distros account for only one fiftieth of the desktops in the world, averaging to 0.02% or one desktop in five thousand.

Not encouraging.

Nothing is going to happen until major players start to back the fight against Microsoft. To win acceptance in the marketplace, an operating system needs more than to be available: it needs a market push and that push needs money and full-time work, neither of which the open sourcers can provide.

Having source code available is one thing; getting Microsoft out of town is entirely another.

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