Sunday, February 8, 2009

Game up for desktop Linux?

[Duncan McLeod Financial Mail] With Microsoft readying itself for the release of a fast, streamlined operating system in Windows 7, the Linux community needs to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat if the free and open-source operating system is to stay relevant on desktop computers.

Microsoft last month released a “beta” or test version of Windows 7, its newest operating system for desktop PCs. Unlike Vista, which was derided by consumers and the technology press for being bloated, slow and problematic for many users, Windows 7 is winning plaudits from those who have installed it.

Windows 7 runs faster than Vista and works well on the new generation of “netbooks”, the low-cost, low-power laptops from the likes of Acer, Toshiba and Asus. These lightweight, barebones machines typically sell for between R3 000 and R6 000, prompting many consumers who use their computers for Web browsing, e-mail and basic productivity tasks to shun more expensive notebooks.

Most netbooks are, however, unable to run Vista, causing a big headache for Microsoft — the company has been forced to continue selling and supporting the now eight-year-old Windows XP on these machines. Worse, the rise of netbooks has resulted in Linux, which is less demanding of system resources than Vista, gaining a toehold in a market that Microsoft had completely dominated.

The company is fighting back hard with Windows 7. The new operating system, due for release later this year, could spell the end for Linux on the desktop — before the free system, developed by enthusiast programmers around the world, has had a chance to establish a meaningful place for itself.

The problems for desktop Linux go beyond Windows 7, though. Ubuntu, the most popular version of Linux — its development is funded by SA-born billionaire Mark Shuttleworth — is looking increasingly dated.

Next to Windows 7 and Apple’s Mac OS X, Ubuntu and other Linuxes are looking old fashioned. Other than some nifty 3D effects, Ubuntu has not had a significant refresh of its graphical user interface since it was launched more than four years ago.

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