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Where's The Competition to MS Windows? 14 February 2002 Edition
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Million $ Ideas
At last, the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook are revealed for all to see!
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Microsoft owns the desktop, it's Windows operating system being installed on the huge majority of personal computers all around the globe.

Despite the company's claims that piracy has affected its bottom line, the revenues generated by sales of OEM and upgrade copies of the operating system generates represent a princely sum by anyone's reckoning.

So why haven't competitors come along with Windows-like operating systems that might steal a sizeable chunk of that market?

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Yes, we have Linux -- a fine operating system that supports several very Windows-like GUI shells which do an admirable job of mimicking Microsoft's look and feel.

However, these alternatives lack one critical factor -- you can't just grab a copy of your favourite MS Windows program and run it in such an environment.

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    While there have (and still are) a few attempts to provide Linux with the ability to run unmodified Windows programs, none are yet ready for the big-time.

    Of course we all know that developing an MS Windows-compatible OS is not going to be a trivial job. It would cost many millions of dollars and take quite some time -- but I'm beginning to think it might just be worth the risk.

    Microsoft's "Trustworthy Computing" train appears to have already been derailed by the recent surge in security alerts relating to Windows XP, IE6, Hotmail and MSN Messenger -- so anyone who can come up with a truly secure OS that is fully compatible with Windows is staring a fortune in the face.

    Except for one thing...

    The laws, as they stand, appear to be stacked very much in Microsoft's favour.

    In the USA, not only is it illegal to "reverse engineer" someone else's software (thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act DMCA) but you'd also likely find yourself injuncted to hell and back -- tied up in court by Microsoft's lawyers on all manner of other charges.

    I am absolutely sure that if building a totally clean-roomed Windows clone was simply a technical matter then it would have already been done and we'd see some real competition in the marketplace. Amongst the positive side-effects of such competition would be a massive improvement in the security and reliability of the average desktop operating environment.

    Unfortunately the technical challenges associated with cloning Windows are probably the least difficult. The real problem lies with the fact that you'd be swimming in shark-infested waters with raw bait in your pockets.

    So the US government only has itself to blame as they struggle to try and resolve the Microsoft problem.

    Just about everything they've criticised the company for could be resolved by market forces if they'd just allow a little competition to grow in the marketplace. Unfortunately this just isn't going to happen under the mass of existing laws which are stacked very much in Microsoft's favour.

    Of course Microsoft are going to use every piece of leverage that existing laws allow (and some) to protect its strong monopoly position -- that's only natural. What is farcical is that the US government seems intent on continuing to shoot its own toes off by creating a commercial environment that effectively stifles the production of "cleanroom clones."

    What happened to the good old days when we had Microsoft and Digital Research Inc going head-to-head with MSDOS and DRDOS respectively? The competition between these two functionally similar products that were able to run the same binaries was intense and it saw some great innovation take place.

    Wouldn't it be nice to see the Windows OS having to go head-to-head with a "real" competitor?

    False Hope
    Last night my heart really skipped a beat.

    My Sky TV set-top box reverted to the old software and I could surf through the channels just as fast as I could push the up/down button.

    The white-on-blue text reverted to white on black and everything happened at lightening speed.

    Had Sky seen the light and ditched that awful new software?

    Was I going to, once again, enjoy using my Sky remote?

    Well I'm afraid that it was just a transient change. This morning things are back to "normal" and I'm once again lumbered with the treacle-like response and atrocious ergonomics of the new EPG.

    I guess they were downloading another bug-fix to this awful new system and the box reverted to the ROMed version of the old code during the process.

    Still, it was nice to be reminded just how good the old system was before the marketing goons at Sky got too greedy.

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