You don’t have to read this, but I do have to write it.
Some of you, dear Readers, are sympathetic to my ranting about the virtues of switching from Windows to Linux. The recent big wave of ransom-ware commonly known as “WannaCrypt” (AKA WannaCry) has raised the consciousness of the very real danger of the near monopoly of Microsoft.
Basic truth: With Microsoft, the user is the product. Users are captivated and delivered over for all kinds of exploitation, both by Microsoft and their partners.
The basic problem is that Microsoft won’t give the customer what they want. It’s not profitable. There’s a certain degree of appearing to serve the user, but a big part of that is convincing the user they have been served by manipulating the market and the user. It’s not a question of whether Windows works well enough; it works too well. That is, what Microsoft has done to improve Windows just enough to make the users willing to keep using has seen people resisting upgrades to the next version. Once people got used to the new technology, MS could have stopped changing the user experience a long time ago. But as the technology advanced, there was a great deal of change to Windows that was not driven by demand, but by commercial necessity. That is, MS realized how profitable it was to assert more control over user choice. Once everyone was using Windows, they had a captive audience that could be herded into just about any pen they could build.
In terms of consumer demand, MS could have stopped with XP. The problem for MS was that XP was no longer profitable enough. You cannot pin this down to merely one single driving factor in the market. Simplistic microeconomics will not explain manipulation on that scale. There is this huge wad of propaganda lies about security and new-n-better technology, but so far as consumers actually experienced it, XP was fine, and could be for a long time to come.
No, I’m not promoting resurrecting that pile of steaming crap for an OS. I’m just noting how the user experienced it. Consumers tend to operate as if nothing significant will change during their lives. But MS wasn’t moved so much by the security problems, because the have yet to fix the underlying security design flaws in any of their most recent versions; it’s still Windows. Rather, MS is using the security issues as an excuse for seizing more and more control from the user. Look up “Windows 10 S” and try to understand how this closed, walled garden approach where you can’t install third party software is exactly where it’s all headed. (It’s somewhat like Google’s Chromebooks.)
The great thing about Linux (and other Open Source software) is that users have total control. There’s no profit motive involved in the design. Until recently, the greatest weakness of Linux was the dire necessity of users having to take control to a degree they didn’t want. I would say only in the last few years have we seen the rise of Linux projects that understand users don’t want that much control right up front. There has been a long existing need for a Linux that had sane defaults — sane not for geeks, but the vast horde of users who will never be geeks. (Genuine computer geeks are culturally somewhat hostile to ordinary users, but things have changed just a little here and there.)
So what’s holding us back? Public consciousness.
You aren’t going to get there by simple advertising. That would help, but I don’t see any global ad campaigns promoting Linux in ways users might actually pay attention. That requires way too much money. Nor would a change likely come with the continued ratcheting of torture and abuse from Microsoft; all Big Tech doing the same thing. What it requires is one recognizable voice of authority to tell folks it’s a good idea to migrate. And what would it take to see that happen? What kind of thing would cause a major figure to stand up and say that you should no longer trust Microsoft?
This puts us right back into politics. On some level, there will have to be some sense of betrayal, something that paints a target on Microsoft. It need not be an act of betrayal, only the sense of betrayal. It has to fail in ways where everyone — the media in particular — decide it’s no longer possible to stick with the default. Just a few companies here and there, even really big ones, won’t do it. Money and technology aren’t the issue. It has to be a political issue, because what keeps MS on top is sheer politics — not economics, not the market, not technology, or anything else.
For example: Would you believe that, despite my comments above, I still keep an instance of XP running in a virtual machine on my Linux desktop? It’s because the software environment has favored Windows and Microsoft for so long that a lot of development effort was captivated to it. So there remains an XP-oriented package or two that I need in order to do what I do on a computer. Indeed, I sit here writing this in Notepad++ text editor running via WINE because the folks who make this editor aren’t really that interested in giving us a version for Linux (so far). For my uses, it outshines everything available on Linux. That’s in part because every Linux editor is designed by and for serious computer nerds, not writers. It’s a matter of nerd politics. Match the features and how it works, and I’ll switch.
I suppose if the world of Windows computers were to simply grind to a stop and there was no possible fix to bring them back to life, we might see a migration without any further political propaganda. That’s just barely possible, but that kind of Doomsday scenario is highly improbable.
If you as an individual user feel moved internally to try it, let me recommend Linux Mint with XFCE. If it’s more for corporate of business use, let’s talk about Xubuntu; pick the LTS version. I’ll be here to hold your hand if you need it. Just my two cents.