I know there is a great debate taking place about which operating system is better. Jack Wallen, host of the Linux and Open Source blog, started a lengthy discussion asking the question: Why would you choose Windows over Linux? I thought that was kind of funny, because recently I have been asking myself the opposite question: Who would choose to switch to Linux?
I could go through a litany of complaints I have about Linux. I could complain about the confusing number of distributions. I could complain about the propensity of Linux proponents to cause unnecessary confusion by abbreviating or using acronyms for Linux-only functions. I could complain about the silly confusing names they give applications.
I could complain about cryptic command lines, nonexistent instructions, obscure references, and septic responses from the "open source community" to novices and their questions. I could reiterate that a multi-step process that takes an hour to work through to get Linux to put music on to my iPod is not EASY. I could point out that I receive security patch notices almost weekly for SUSE Linux, which indicates that as an operating system Linux is not anymore safe than Windows.
But all of that is not addressing the correct issue, is it?
The debate about operating systems is a senseless debate about something that, in the long run, makes no difference. An operating system exists only to create an environment for applications; nothing more, nothing less. Most people sit down at a computer and just start using it without worrying about what operating system it is running.
I have no knowledge of the operating system that runs my microwave oven. I don't have to install the popcorn application — it is already there, and it works just fine. I don't care who made it, I don't care if it is open source, and I don't spend time on PopcornRepublic discussing the merits of one popcorn application over another. It doesn't matter — what matters is that I get a good bag of popcorn.
What matters in a personal computer is that I can run the applications that I want to run without having to worry about whether I have the correct operating system. You can argue that we are not quite there yet, but I think outside of the information technology industry, at the user and consumer level, they are there already. Consumers buy a personal computer for the applications; they know what they want a computer for. Much of the time, the operating system is Windows, but do you really think they care?
Jack wanted to know why Windows and not Linux. At the base level the answer is simple: Because that is what came with my PC when I bought it and there is ABSOLUTELY NO COMPELLING REASON to go through the trouble of switching operating systems just so I can run applications that are similar (or even identical) to the applications I already have.
The whole mythology that Linux is perfectly safe and never crashes is just wishful thinking. I have seen Linux crash — I've watched John Sheesley crash Linux over and over again. Viruses and worms exist that take advantage of Linux bugs and security lapses just like Windows. Those kinds of problems are not exclusive to any one operating system.
The real security weakness lies with users and their willingness to click on a link, any link, just to see where it leads. The nefarious among us take advantage of this aspect of human behavior — that has nothing to do with the operating system.
So why Windows — why not? That is what the user knows and, so far, no one has offered any compelling reason for them to change their operating system. For the part of the population not engaged in the raging operating system debate, the question is meaningless — they just want to run applications.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.