Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

/onSoftware & JoSDot

I have been a pretty regular viewer of this board and Slashdot, among others, for over a year and half now.

Its interesting the number of proprietory, esp. MS, supporters and justifiers on /. and Open Source advocates on JoS is on the increase. And the points put forth actually do make sense to the unwashed such as myself.

Initially I had written it off as deliberate trolling and infiltration for the mere sake of rebutal and apology, but of late, both the content and presentation of the arguments have improved and have really added to my knowledge base. It was an uncomfortable, and sometimes frustrating, experience evaluating Linux vis-a-vis Windows XP, when budgeting/planning for my SOHO network last year.

Given this trend in the increasing maturity and understanding in both the camps, in 2006, would I be right in presuming that there would be no necessity for me to hunt around the various boards on the web for a justification and/or a fault fact sheet, when I am planning to conduct my next upgrade, as both the parties would have learnt and implemented the best of the other camp?


Kaushik Janardhanan

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Yes and no.  I think in 2006 Linux and other OSS offerings will be stronger than ever, but as an avid user of OSS as well as Microsoft products I think there are two trends that will continue to hamper success in learning and implementing the best from the other camp.

There seems to be an problem in the OSS camp where on one hand no one wants to merely imitate Microsoft in their UI, and but on the other hand no one seems to come up with anything radically different in the UI department.  So the result is that using certain OSS products feels like you're always playing catch up with their Microsoft counterparts.  The two examples that come to mind are Evolution and  OO.o seems to pride itself on enforcing a style based approach to formatting, which, I agree is more "the right way" (hey we all want to seperate content from presentation format, right?) compared to the ad-hoc formatting approach utilized most often in MS Office, but when I just want to make the first line of every paragraph bold, I *don't care* if creating a style and applying it is the right way, I just want to grab the format painter and click once at the left edge of each line and be done with it.

Evolution doesn't even require an example of the comparisons and contrasts--I think its well enough known as just a trailing-behind Outlook clone.  And I don't even like Outlook.  And I'm not saying that the developers on these teams aren't awesome.  Read their blogs at and it's obvious these guys are sharp and are deeply passionate about what they're doing.  It's not even their fault that they're saddled with this imitate vs. innovate dillema.  If they don't produce apps that are automatically familiar (read: look and feel like an MS equivalent), then most users simply won't bother.  This means they have to burn a lot of cycles trying to nail down the moving target of MS work-alike, eating into time that could go toward really out of the box innovation.  That's not even to mention the OSS trolls who turn around and complain when a product is, "just imitating MS."  Bottom line is, as long as UI innovations are classified as MS like vs. Non MS like, either camp will fail to embrace the best of the other.  On the other hand, if we could take to heart the wisdom of Duke Ellington that, "There are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music", we might get past this catch 22.  In other words, the OSS'ers need look to the best features in the history of UI and embrace and innovate on those without regard to who invented them.  For their part, the MS camp could help by doing the same and not forcing us into feature bizzaro world with features that are useless, but set a standard for competition that OSS devs have to spend time trying to reach.

Important: the above is a 1:00 AM rant, so if it is totally nonsensical, please go easy on me.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

On the OSS imitating MS thing >

One thing that springs to mind is that in terms raw functionality OSS has been on par with with windows for a long time. I dare even say that a plain debian installation is supperior with regards to the amount of things you can do with it, compared to windows.

The problem is how. Most of that functionality is tied to the command line and some scripting and piping are needed to reap its full benefits.

So, many nix users are already satisfied, with console and simple window managers. I suspect that the efforts to make more elaborate desktops and easy to use stuff are done mostly to get wider adoption of linux and hence, mimicing windows is logical.

Eric Debois
Saturday, March 20, 2004

More that UI of apps., the apps., themselves are the prime issue, IMO. I had such a big problem with looking for and installing applications on linux, media players, abiword, "network neighbourhoods", in fact even upgrading the OS itself on my old PII box, that I spent a day downloading and configuring "rdesktop", just to access all my apps on a Win2K box. Of course, that was a while ago, now I am slightly more competent on linux. An "InstallShield" for Linux will go a long way in making itself more acceptable to the end  users. Especially for us lesser mortals with no 24/7 access to the web. "swaret" and "apt get" are not options that we can bank on.

A second issue that needs to be addressed targetting. I feel it is advisable not to target existing PC users but new users, so that the Interface compatibility becomes a secondary focal pont.

I am more comfortable today with OSS software on *nix platforms. But I have not yet managed to get my 65 year old father to play "Patience" on the Linux box or browse the web with Konqueror.  KDE 3.3. Hopefully that should make him comfortable.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

The company I work at is 95% a MS shop. The other 5% is me, the "unix guy". Although I spend a great deal of my time in the MS world, no one else will touch unix with a barge pole. It's a "dead" industry to most, so why bother. But a few recognize that Linux is sneaking up on Windows in certain areas especially in Europe and Asia where it is already a force to be reckoned with.

It was I who, about five years ago, had to determine whether it was worth porting our products to Linux and I who pronounced Linux not yet ready for prime time in our industry. And there they have let it stand, never updating their opinions. But I've been watching it and using it and have recently been suggesting that Linux is more than ready for prime time.

So lately I have been introducing anyone who is curious about Linux to Knoppix, the bottable, runnable, single CD Linux dist. The magic of it is that you can bring up a fully functional desktop and run from the CD without ever disturbing your Windows installation. I found that the biggest reason most people refuse to experiment with unix is that it requires "messing with" your PC setup or even reformatting your disks. It's simply too much trouble to go to just to investigate what Linux is all about.

Download a Knoppix v3.3 iso and make several copies and offer them for people to try. It's like free candy, few can resist. Even though they are going to remain locked into the Windows world, almost to a person my colleagues have been quite impressed by what's there.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

MacSqueeb, that's a very interesting perspective you've used in your post.

Why do open source applications have to compete with MS? Why do they care? There's no profit involved, so whether your mail client has ten million users or just ten, does it really matter?

Given that, why bother playing "catch up" with MS at all? Why not just find your own path and follow it, and those who want to follow will?


Saturday, March 20, 2004


This is why things compete, from my perspective:

Most nontrivial projects are not written solely to address the needs of the author. It may start that way, but I believe that the goal of most projects is to create a product that people can use. That people will use.

This means competing with other products in your domain. You copy Outlook because a whole host of users require that functionality. You make it look like Windows because that's where your new users are coming from.

Mike Swieton
Saturday, March 20, 2004

Philo, in my experience most [Free|Open Source] Software development happens in exactly that manner. The slashbots may fume about the injustices of ms, but most slashbots aren't actually oss developers.

However, the meme that's going around about the desktop and having to compete with ms/apple stems from a (long standing) sense that the hobbyist hacker nature  of development will be completely encroached upon if developers don't do something about it. (ie: 'It'll be less fun if there's less people to play with.') Similarly, there's a will to prove that, as on the server, hackers can develop industry or production grade software to beat the best of them.

Interestingly, a lot of hackers are picking up on the idea (see ESRs rant about cups) that software can't be called worthy until it's easier than easy to use, regardless of how powerful or robust or whatever else it is.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

For other reasons, I agree with what Philo said. Leave MS and Apple alone and not attempt to try to match them or better them on the desktop. It may be a good thing to score a few points when Evolution matchs Outlook, one to one. Yet, OSS is inexpensive and relatively smooth only for new users. It's an Oedipal Discomfort in the Fundament for existing MS/Mac users. And that is why I would like to see the OSS community focus on us in the Non-US, Non-EU market, where PC penetration is still on the lower end. That way the OSS producers get to hone their products, just as MS and Apple got to do in their time,  and we would have a cheaper alternative.


Kaushik Janardhanan

Saturday, March 20, 2004


Monday, March 22, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home