I have been a faithful user of the Microsoft Windows operating systems for over two decades, starting with Windows 3.1 back in the early 1990s. Over the years, I upgraded to Windows 95, 98, Millennium, 2000, XP, Vista, and finally Windows 7. When I started using GNU/Linux in about 2004, I happily used GNU/Linux and Windows side-by-side, effortlessly switching between the two operating systems. However, Windows 8 would take me along a path that I cannot follow. It is time for me to finally get off of the Windows train.
The Comfortable Co-Existence of GNU/Linux and Windows in My World
When I became a GNU/Linux fan back in 2004, GNU/Linux and Windows were similar enough to each other that I could be productive on my Windows computer system without having to ever think about the operating system. That is how I still work today. On my Windows 7 computer system, I install many of the same Free Software programs that I use on my Fedora 18 laptop: Firefox, Chromium, LibreOffice, Gimp, FileZilla, and others. I can also use my beloved Gmail, Google Docs, and Dropbox on either system. The transition is so seamless that it is easy to forget which system I am working on.
The Beginning of the End: the Dreaded Ribbon Interface
However, the introduction of the ribbon interface a few years ago began the real divergence between my GNU/Linux experience and my Windows experience. I found myself actively trying to avoid the ribbon interface by avoiding Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, I was forced to use MS Office at work. In the freedom of my home, I was able to avoid the dreaded ribbon interface by using LibreOffice in my GNU/Linux and Windows computers. Now, the day has come where Windows has gone to a place that I cannot follow.
Meeting Windows 8 Face-to-Face
I recently visited a local computer store to test out a few Windows 8 laptops. I will not say that Windows 8 is bad. However, it is such a radical departure from the desktop experience that I am used to that I have no desire to go down that road. I am not a prude or a person scared of change. I welcomed the changes that came with Gnome 3 a few years ago. However, one thing that I have always loved about GNU/Linux is that you have A LOT of choices. If you hate the Gnome experience, you are free to try Cinnamon, Xcfe, or a host of other desktop environments. Unfortunately, the Windows world seems to be moving in a direction where unilateral decisions are being made for the user that leave him or her with no choices. I could at least avoid the ribbon interface. The active tiles, the use of desktop space, and other new features of Windows 8 are unilateral changes than I am not willing to accept.
How Could Microsoft Keep Me As a Windows User?
I gave this question a lot of careful thought. I would love to see Microsoft open source the entire Windows ecosystem, with the exception of the Windows kernel. They obviously don’t like the GNU GPL version 3 license, but they SHOULD allow developers to develop programs for Windows using whatever license they like, including GPL v. 3. Microsoft should create a reference version of Windows which presents the Microsoft version of the Windows experience. This would be similar to the Nexus Android devices that present the pure Google version of the Android experience. Let’s call this version of Windows “Windows Prime”.
Since Microsoft does not like GPL v. 3, all of the software that runs on top of the Windows kernel in the Windows Prime version would be licensed under Microsoft’s open source license, the MS-PL. This would help Microsoft in several ways:
- An open source community would develop to contribute code to Windows Prime.
- Microsoft would get a lot of great new code created under the MS-PL.
- Microsoft would free up resources to re-focus its engineering staff on making the security and performance of the Windows kernel as good as possible.
Microsoft could license the Windows kernel to developers who want to make alternative flavors of Windows. For example, the Gnome team might want to create a flavor of Windows that has a Gnome-like user interface, and one that supports GTK+ applications. They could also make it so that this Windows flavor would support native Windows applications. Let us assume that Microsoft charged a very reasonable kernel licensing fee: the Windows Gnome Edition developers would pay Microsoft a $250 license fee to use version X of the Windows kernel in an unlimited number of OS disks. For that fee, they would get a certain number of free kernel upgrades. Perhaps they would only have to pay a fee for each major kernel revision, but all minor revisions would be free. They could then sell copies of their Windows flavor, but they would have to pay Microsoft a small fee (e.g. $5) for each copy sold. The Windows Gnome Edition (WGE) developers would then charge a reasonable amount (e.g. $20) for each copy of WGE. Of course, Microsoft would not offer any support for WGE, they would only offer support for Windows Prime.
Windows Gnome Edition is an example of a Windows operating system that I would buy: reasonably priced, supportive of Free Software, and a Windows version that would allow me to make my own choices. I would still run GNU/Linux on most of my computers, but I would reserve space on one of my household computers for Windows Gnome Edition since there are people in my home who like to run Windows programs. Those is my home that like the “classic” Windows experience could always download and install an open source classic Windows desktop environment if they did not like the Gnome user interface.
Do I really think that what I have proposed here will happen? Probably not, but if sales figures for PCs and for Windows 8 do not improve, the ideas that I present here might be something that the management at Microsoft might want to consider. The free software/open source model is a smarter and more efficient model, and Microsoft could benefit from adopting it. Thank you for reading TLWIR 56!