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The Time Has Come

Week of February 10, 2004

The time has come.
  - P Garrett, R Hirst, J Moginie

Morse code - who could have guessed? The only way Bill Pullman could repel the insect invaders was with Morse code. That, and the ingenious 'cold' Jeff Goldblum gave their mother ship, off a Macintosh. The world was doomed, but a bit of an opening came along, as it always does in Hollywood blockbusters.

Once the opening, the colossus falls. Weaknesses protrude from within. Luke Skywalker gets his shot, makes it, and the Death Star explodes into cosmic rubble.

Any which way you look at it, the enemy of the people always falls. It happens more grandiosely in the cinematic epic, but it happens right as rain in the real world too.

The other day saw the release of KDE 3.2. KDE is the 'K Desktop Environment' for Linux. It's put on top of the Linux kernel which is downloaded elsewhere.

Version 3.2 surely represents any number of advancements, such as better web browsing thanks to the input from the Apple Safari team, but the first impression is not one of features or quality, but of look.

Like all Linux desktops, KDE is a copycat look-alike, and unfortunately the graphically impoverished open source programmers on this front have traditionally chosen to ape Microsoft Windows, even going so far as to borrow system icons from that environment.

And KDE 3.2 is little better in that regard, and yet it looks like something else today: KDE now looks better than Windows itself.

Not that Windows is any great graphical experience; on the contrary: its Teletubbies approach is not only ugly, it's a downright insult. But getting something which is more tasteful, and at the same time more consistent, than the efforts made by the Beast is a gigantic step forward.

The Beast waste a lot of money on professional graphics designers; open source projects such as KDE don't have that option, but must rely on the contributions of outsiders.

Harry Homeowner and Sally Secretary don't understand much about quality and features anyway. They don't know how to compare programming environments, or programming languages, or system architectures. They know only what they see, and if they like it.

With KDE 3.2, it's hard, if not impossible, to envision Harry and Sally not liking what they see. And so the only question that remains is whether Harry and Sally will now take the plunge.

Linux installers are notorious hair-pullers, as if the architects behind the distros 'just didn't get it'. Hardware detection has been at a minimum, as have other aspects of this at time grueling process, and it's been obvious to almost everyone except the distros themselves that the key to wide acceptance is in improving the install process.

For Harry and Sally can't be bothered by snags. Very literally they cannot. For they know not how to deal with them. Installs have to go cleanly, painlessly, and without hitch. That is how you get Harry and Sally to abandon Windows - no other way.

Andrew took the time to make a test run just to see how things stand today in the open source community. He reports:

OK, I just installed Lindows on my old Dell box (game machine for my 14yo, with Windows ME installed on it - an easy sacrificial lamb).

It was a breeze. I answered two questions: 'take over the disk' or 'advanced install'; and 'choose a password'.

'Advanced install' required me to create a new partition myself, to install Lindows into; Lindows wouldn't do the partitioning.

But hey, that's the _advanced_ installation.

'Choose a password' was actually optional! Lindows kindly suggested that I could leave the password blank, which I did.

You can't get much easier than that, and any Windows user who's done the OS installs from Microsoft should bravely admit that they're most often a lot tougher.

Further comments by A:

I rebooted, and found a nice, simplified KDE 3.1 desktop. Everything was just about idiot-proof. It auto-configured all of my hardware correctly, except for my sound card, which is ancient (an old generic ISA thing).

Unfortunately the machine isn't networked, so I couldn't test whether it would automatically set up a DHCP connection - but I've read that it does, and I would expect it to.

'Really, this is easy.' 

Really, this is easy. My dad could do it and be up and running in half an hour. Some people have made a stink about Lindows' passwordless root login, but the targets of this distro have probably been running Windows 98, so there's no difference there to start. Many of those are single-user machines, anyway.

And once you get to the desktop for the first time, you can choose 'Advanced options' and set up more user accounts. Then a tutorial is offered.

'This is good stuff.' 

This is good stuff. It works smoothly, it looks great, and it has all of the basic productivity tools ready to go right after installation.

And they often run deals: for a while you could pay $100 and get a lifetime subscription to all present and future versions of Lindows, plus lifetime membership to Click 'n Run, the online software library.

'Windows... who?' 

That's right: $100 for your OS and all of your apps, and never pay for upgrades ever again.

And Windows XP costs... how much? Windows... who?

Greed of the Beast

The greed of the Beast is turning on its master. Windows today is a system that scares the life out of conscientious system administrators; it's perceived as an unfriendly nag by Harry Homeowner and Sally Secretary alike; people using it are doing so because they've been locked into it, not because they prefer it over something else.

Corporations and homes alike have a legacy of x86 machines they're not going to get rid of just to upgrade to something better, and yet the costs of Microsoft products are today prohibitive, and given any viable alternative, neither Harry nor Sally are going to hesitate.

'The greed of the Beast is turning on its master.' 

It's a bit of a lock-in from both sides for the moment. Offices are reluctant to leave Microsoft behind, worrying about compatibility and adjustment to new tools which are not familiar. Home users have not really understood before now that there are very sensible alternatives to the rot they've become accustomed to.

But it takes but one family in the neighbourhood to make the move, and everyone else will follow. When the Smiths learn that the Joneses are running Linux and having a ball at it, they won't wait any longer.

For the Linux alternative takes away so many bad features without - as long as it looks good and the install is painless - adding any of its own.

There's no vulnerabilities like before. No crashes, no BSODs. No email viruses and worms. No trojans and no skiddies turning on your web cam in the middle of the night to spy on you.

There's more power too: Linux - with KDE 3.2 - will run on a fraction of the CPU horsepower required to get the poorly written Windows XP out of neutral and into first gear.

The general reflection will be one of 'why didn't we do this sooner' along with a sigh of relief.

No one likes Windows, and no one loves Bill Gates. They're both hated. But up until now, the possibility of choice has not been clear.

With KDE 3.2, it suddenly is.

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