The end of Proprietary?

I was talking to Kyle a couple of days ago. He was expressing how he liked the summer and then we got a bit geeky and started talking operation systems. He’s recently made the jump from Windows to the land of the Apple, while I have dumped my windows box for a shiney new ubuntu setup. Kyle not known to be one to mince words. He’s easily one of the most direct people I know online. What’s scarey is that he often says things with a decent amount of authority with proof and counter arguements to back this opinion up. He’s definitely not scared to go in the direct opposite channel to what people are talking about at that particular moment in time. So taking a page out of his book I’ll make an observation and a prediction.

In five years time the main operating system in the world will be a flavour of Linux. I’m not saying it’ll be Ubuntu (although it’s definitely on the right track), just that this is something that will happen. 5 years; that’s when the linux operating system will hit critical mass. By critical mass, I’m talking with this definition in mind:

An amount or level needed for a specific result or new action to occur.

I swear I can actually hear everyone turning off and pointing their browser elsewhere, but hear me out. Yes I am still new and excited about Ubuntu and everything is fresh and new to me right, so it stands to reason that I’m in my honeymoon period, after all I’ve been locked to the Windows operating system for the past 10 years or so. The truth of the matter is we’re on the cusp of something important. To illustrate my point, I present exhibit A. Everyone loves graphs, so here’s one that shows the difference in development cycles of proprietary software and open source software.


Yes it’s COMPLETELY made up, but I’m just trying to illustrate a point here. Proprietary software works in this way. You have a piece of software and you update it for the following reasons:
  1. Make some noise so people who haven’t invested in the software can do so now.
  2. Make some noise so that people who have invested in the software can do so again because they thought the first version was so great.

So what should you do in order to make some noise? You add new features. You do things the competition are not doing, and you do it in a certain scheduled manner that doesn’t make people who paid for it 18 months ago feel a bit cheated that they’ve got to shell out the cash all over again so soon. Bring in discontent within the ranks which is not good for business. Sometimes what happens is that the software feels bloated, takes ages to load anything. It doesn’t really make all that much business sense spending a great deal of time on trying to clean up the code and cutting things down, because it’s not as big a marketing push as just saying you’ve got 115 new features or whatever.

Meanwhile, in the land of the open, you’ve got MILLIONS of people ALL over the world, some paid, some not, constantly chugging at the plethora of open source projects. Open source doesn’t benefit much from adding new features just for the sake of this. This is very clear with such powerful applications such as Blender (for 3D modelling) and Xara for vector illustrations. Lightweight programmes that do their functions well and quickly with the minimum amount of fuss.

What’s the downside of all of this? Well the only thing I can think of is the fact that open source isn’t really in any hurry to get anywhere. The model is based upon slow updates, on a constant basis. Open Source doesn’t really benefit from doing things quickly really. Also every once in a while you also get projects getting abandoned. However it’s good to understand that by their very nature these projects can be picked up anywhere down the line. All that’s happened is that the process and development has been slowed down (so some projects might not exihibit the above graph exactly but might have a plataeu or two. A great example is WordPress. It’s a fork of the abandoned B2 project. WordPress is now much more used than B2 ever was.

Open Source will eventually surpass proprietary software because there are more people devoted to the packages and their ranks are expanding. However the reason why companies will eventually jump ship to the land of the penguin is because of the bottom line. When you’ve got software that is completely free, operates better than the proprietary ones and can be modified to do your bidding without any consequence to that bottom line, it will begin making business sense.

Currently Linux isn’t there yet. In many respects it has definitely surpassed Windows on many, many levels. However there are other areas that could definitely use some SERIOUS polish. I believe that polish will take a good 5 years before Linux is at that stage of the fight where it can take on both Microsoft and Apple.

The common link between Microsoft and Apple is that both of these companies are slowly heading down a very restrictive road, a claustraphobic one; which is in direct opposition to Linux which has begun it’s accention up and open field. It’s early days but mark my words this will happen, it’s only a matter of time.


  1. I totally do support Open Source and use alot of Open Source software, but Windows will not be beaten and nor will proprietary software.
    Surely it is a great development to see software become freely available, but lots of freeware is still not open source.

    Besides that, as long as hardware/computer manufacturers will be subventioned to sell their products with certain (OEM) software open source has hardly any chance. True the amount of os users will surely grow steadily, but at the same time the computer world also continues to find new users. Most of them join the geekiness with a box full of proprietary software. How long will it take before they make the move elsewhere? How many computer users do actually have computer knowledge, or are even interested in changing the software they have?
    Besides that most of times the cheaper, and obviously more popular magazines, will rather show them the way to proprietary software via sponsorized reviews. One hint, Norton Security ;)

    Surely 9rulers and the world around it, just as other valuable sources provide one great tips, but what is (still) the influence of this media compared to monthly issues from other sources. I could even quote my boss (a charity organization) Why blog we have twice a year our [printed paper] newsletter!.

    As for Linux, they are there and they have always been there. There where they aimed to be… the server market. ;)

    1 franky
    Quote | 16/7/2006
  2. Franky, prioprietary isn’t here to stay. Not by a long shot. Companies come and go. If Macromedia can be brought by it’s arch rival, and in doing so have several of it’s packages completely obselete, then it can happen to other companies as well.

    People are looking for alternatives that work. Sure Microsoft have a strangle hold on the desktop at the moment, eventually once more open source software comes of age, the obvious choice will be to switch. It’s only a matter of time. It’ll be a struggle to get there, but when the alternative is cheaper, easier to use and much more powerful, the reasons to stay become less and less.

    This isn’t saying things will happen tomorrow, this is in the future.

    2 Khaled
    Quote | 16/7/2006
  3. I would say that Linux will need about 10 to 15 years before it can become a serious alternative to Windows and the Mac OS. As a system for operating and managing a server, Linux works great because everything is done on the Command line and it’s the industry standard NOW. But as a Desktop OS, Linux needs A LOT OF WORK. Yes, people are fed up with Windows by and large and are willing to switch to something new. But it has to be worthwhile to do so. Apple’s cost of entry (buying a Mac) is just too steep for the everyday consumer (even though there is the Mac Mini which is only $600+, Monitor/Keyboard not included). And Apple isn’t chasing that market anyway so that is why the number of users is as low as it is. The everyday consumer however, has reached a certain level of expectation in what an OS should provide and Linux just doesn’t have that now.

    One of the problems is that there is too much choice. Too much choice leads to confusion. Mac and Window users are happy NOT having to decide which windowing system to use to manage the OS. Give them one consise Window manager and they are happy campers. Sure, leave in the option to be able to change it, but seriously only us geeks are going to be concerned with such matters. The everday consumer just wants to be able to power up their PC and get to work, no drama or hassel required. In addition to that, graphically, users have come to expect a certain level when it comes to the look of their OS. Linux right now (with the slight exception of Ubuntu LTS) looks like Windows ‘98 or Mac OS System 7. The distros need to step up their game and offer something that is as visually appealing as OS X is. Of course that costs money, but such is the price of business when you’re developing an OS. As a graphic artist, I’m sure that there are very few instances when you would work for “free” and the various distro developers need to understand that the graphic artists of the world that could offer them something totally mind blowing in terms of visual appeal and great UI wouldn’t either. You are a great visual designer…someone like you or Wolfgang Bartleme definitely needs to be helping out in that arena.

    The last problem concerns hardware: There just isn’t enough support for the various devices that people use day-in and day-out on Linux. In order to change that, the distros are going to have to break down and start licensing drivers from the various device manufacturers. Apple does it, Linux could too. Users shouldn’t be subjected to glorified reverse-engineered hacks that may work one day, but not work the next. Whatever Linux distro that a person uses should have the needed drivers already installed…no Command line compiling needed. It shouldn’t take me three and a half months to get my Belkin wireless card to work (speaking from definite experience here). When I install it or stick it in the card slot, it should just work like it does in Windows and OS X.

    For Linux to truly reach the Tipping point that you write about, distro developers are going to have to face an ugly truth: There can be only one. Right now development and research is spread too thin. Linux could advance so much faster if someone (Novell maybe?) would step up to the plate and start making the types of ugly decisions that would be needed in order to move the OS along. Until then, your five years are going to go by and then there will be another blogger talking about the time frame for Linux and critical mass.

    3 viperteq
    Quote | 16/7/2006
  4. Khaled, first off don’t get me wrong, I am surely the last to not support open source. I do love open source and having run several (German) Windows Communities in the past I have adviced mainly open source software. Tools as Xammp and Ethereal belong to the most powerfull software one can find.

    *Nix certainly won his position in the server narket due to his stability. But having been a system administrator I can tell that *Nix also has his price. The web, which would have been totally different without open-source, is THE example for this. How many webhosters do actually have great server configs? What is fe. one of the great things about Media Temple? Exactly, those guys do know what they are doing.

    Still too many things need to be changed today. What open-source, and especially *Nix, needs right now is a consortium like W3C. Although W3C sometimes more a hurdle is than anything else, they did standardize and looking at IE7 it certainly has/will improve the web and the software.
    Thinking back of your installation problems under *Nix, such a consortium could make everything better and is surely needed IMHO.

    But that still is a very long way to go. Adobe owns nowadays even more patents due to the merge/purchase of Macromedia. Sony and BMG MUST review their merge in Europe, (only) 4 years after they merged and EU agreed this operation. But look at the damage Sony continued to make, in every domain software as well as DRM. Actually your operating system and software might not be compliant with future DVD-releases since it might not supports HDTV protective/copyright drivers. Un-CDs are still being produced. My DVD-ROM is blacklisted. I mean WTF.

    Also companies/corpos are not dumb either. More and more proprietary software for open source platforms is being created. Xara and Nero being probably the more known examples. I can’t imagine Adobe will continue just looking at Gimp and not react. Especially not now Gimpshop! is becoming more and more popular.
    I will support the fight for open source software and an open web, but I am bored of learning perpetuously new licenses aso. But the internetwide FightClub must continue… in every possible way. ;)

    4 franky
    Quote | 16/7/2006
  5. The only reason I can’t fully use Linux is because I use so much hardware that doesn’t support it. Until major companies start supporting the Linux operating system, it’s not going anywhere (at least not as far as it should). I’m talking mainly to Adobe, Dell, and all the hardware and software companies that create proprietary software that doesn’t work on Linux. For example, I have a friend that uses his Mac to record music and podcasts. Companies like M-Audio supply the hardware, and that makes it impossible for him to use Linux.

    That’s pretty much the only thing holding us back — things like Adobe Flash, Quicktime, and Mac- or Windows-only hardware.

    5 Steven
    Quote | 17/7/2006
  6. I’m going to have to agree with Steven. You’ve got the biggest players and hundreds of billions of dollars behind proprietory software. You have marketing departments, sales people, etc. behind windows and apple. These are the people with access to corporate executives who make decisions. They don’t listen to the nerds.

    Windows and Apple have God-knows how many sales presentations, cost-analysis charts, statistics with which to convince people. Open Source has a long, long way to go before they can even think of competing–not only in terms of software, but in company organization, business plans and even their communities.

    6 Zach
    Quote | 17/7/2006
  7. Being a Mac fan, I have to voice a slight objection to putting Windows and OS X in the same light, vis-a-vis proprietary software.

    One of the largest coup d’etats in recent history has been Apple’s switch to UNIX, and its embrace of open standards. Sure, their OS isn’t as open as Linux, but you know what? That doesn’t matter in the long run. Open Software is nice, yes, but what’s more important is Open Standards. If my proprietary system and your open software system can read and write the same files, does it really matter if I can’t read my OS’s source-code and you can?

    Apple’s gone from being the flag-bearer for proprietary software (remember the days when “Not Mac Compatible” actually meant a whole lot more?) to today where, at least in my opinion, it’s up there with Google in blowing the open standards horn. Microsoft, now, becomes the odd-person-out: Office, Windows Media, not conforming to even CSS2 in IE7.

    Personally, I’d like to see Apple take this even further, and do like they’ve done with Safari: Make the application and “value-added” features proprietary, but open up the core for tweaking / fixing. They’ve done that with Darwin too, and I think it’s a model that’s worked with some degree of success. For starters, I’d like to see Pages and Keynote use an open engine for layout (Maybe TeX? Maybe OpenOffice? Maybe something else?)

    (Yes, I know - the big black eye here is Fairplay. I’m not amused over that either…)

    7 andrew
    Quote | 17/7/2006
  8. So we’re saying that companies like Novell, IBM, Sun don’t have the resouces to push it forward? They do and they are. Novell has begun taking more action into creating software that is compatible with current ’standard’ software, i.e making Openoffice more compatible with excel and word macros etc.

    Guys you’re not thinking long term enough. The more people that switch over the more these companies will start to cater their hardware to the software available and being used widely. If nix is the main thing, then adobe will have to shift it’s main core business to cater for that particular operating system, which shouldn’t be too difficult as it’s got Apple as a major factor in it’s business and nix isn’t all that far displaced in terms of the core as osx, etc.

    I might be wrong in the timing, for sure, but it will happen. It’s just a matter of getting the software mature enough, and friendly enough. If linux continues with the momentum that has been building up the last year or so, it’s going to be sooner than you think…but like I said, open source isn’t in a hurry to get anywhere fast.

    Businesses will have to take the bull by the horns and actually start implementing various software packages, much like Sun, Novell and IBM are doing.

    8 Khaled
    Quote | 17/7/2006
  9. The danger of proprietary software or just sh*t happens.

    9 franky
    Quote | 10/8/2006

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