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Is the Shade Coming Down on the Windows Era?

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Feb 17, 2011 5:00 AM PT

If the human brain can be compared to a search engine, it seems fair to say that most of us tend to scan the news each day for search terms and phrases that support our existing point of view.

Is the Shade Coming Down on the Windows Era?

That, indeed, could explain why a recent post over at the Linux Foundation has drawn so much attention on the Linux blogs.

"HP to Put Linux in Printers and PCs: It's the End of an Era for Windows" was the title of Executive Director Jim Zemlin's post, and it was that last bit -- "end of an era for Windows" -- that fairly leapt off the virtual page for Linux Girl.

'That Has Got to Hurt'

"HP announced that it is going to ship WebOS not only in phones, tablets and printers, but in PCs as well," Zemlin wrote. "In doing so, the world's largest PC supplier is indicating that they are going to ship PCs without Windows.

"For Microsoft -- who was nowhere at this event -- that has got to hurt," Zemlin added. "Perhaps this really IS the year of the Linux desktop."

Now, Linux Girl is in no hurry to get into another "year of" debate -- her bruises are still healing from the last one. But the idea of the Windows era coming to a close was an irresistibly intriguing one. She strapped on her snowshoes and headed down to the blogosphere's Broken Windows Lounge to learn more.

'Weaker and Weaker'

"It is one more indicator -- after Linux-based netbooks, Android-based phones, etc. -- that the end of the era is upon us," agreed Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

Of course, "some of these sorts of things have not been sufficiently successful in the past, and so I remain a little skeptical that HP will be able to bring WebOS to the mainstream," Travers added. "However, even if they fail, it will be one step closer to the fall of Microsoft's market power in this important market."

In fact, "Microsoft's monopoly is starting to look weaker and weaker," Travers opined. "The era will not end with a grand announcement or even a product release. It will be a slow process, but in the end, it is happening."

'Those 2 Million Windows Viruses'

Similarly, "Microsoft would like people to believe this is just the end of the beginning, but it really is the beginning of the end," concurred Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site. "HP sells a LOT of computers, and HP making a linux-based WebOS available on everything from smartphones to tablets to desktops is going to give it some decent 'shelf space.'"

It's significant that none of HP's new devices will run Microsoft Office, "the 'One True Cash Cow,'" Hudson pointed out. "And while Microsoft makes a big advertising push about 'to the cloud,' this same net-centric model removes the need for MS Office compatibility, or even Windows, making WebOS a viable product."

Meanwhile, given the way Android is "crushing the competition" in the smartphone arena, "there's no reason to believe that tablets won't be a repeat," Hudson concluded. "And with WebOS, HP is going to be able to tell both businesses and consumers, 'You can have the same OS on all your devices.' The only difference is that OS will no longer be Windows."

On second thought, she added, "there is another big difference: even ordinary computer users who don't want to shell out for a Mac can ignore those 2 million Windows viruses."

'HP Will Try and Fail'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet -- a self-proclaimed Windows fan -- saw it differently.

"The end of an era? No, it's not -- where has this guy been, under a rock?" hairyfeet began. "HP has ALWAYS been heavy into the workstation niche, and workstations require Linux support, end of story.

"It would be like announcing the end of an era because a company put out Linux drivers for their new server line. Duh!" hairyfeet exclaimed.

"The only way I see HP making a difference is if they put out one hell of a piece of kit at a crazy, Dell-like, barely-able-to-make-a-profit price point, and I just don't see that happening," he added.

In the mobile arena, then, "my prediction is that, like in the past, MSFT will pull a 'me too!' and lower the price of Windows, and the fact that OEMs can buy WinPhone but not iOS will give MSFT share by default," hairyfeet concluded. "HP will try and fail, and no rules will burn Google and Android in a year, maybe less."

'An Era That Never Really Began'

That point of view, however, was far from unanimous.

"How do you end an era that never really began?" consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack asked. "Microsoft has never been all that good at PDAs or smartphones, and the only 'embedded' they were good at were places where you could put a PC in a funny case for a single task application."

HP's move, meanwhile, "is much bigger than Dell dipping its toes in the lake of GNU/Linux," blogger Robert Pogson opined. "With the investment of huge sums, manpower and vision, HP will make a difference."

'The Last Nail in the Coffin'

In fact, "being the largest OEM of PCs on the planet and pushing GNU/Linux -- albeit a distro shrouded in non-free layers -- HP can put the last nail in the coffin of M$'s monopoly," Pogson predicted. "Their product will not only be competitive with that other OS, but iOS/MacOS and Android/Linux as well.

"Competition is good, and this will make every participant in IT make choices and best efforts to give us what we deserve: IT that works for us, not against us," he explained.

Pogson's only reservations are that "HP appears not to be open with development, and they do not provide low-cost IT," he told Linux Girl. "I hope they do open the platform, and I hope they have the vision to make this technology available to all. That will maximize their return in the long run."

Meanwhile, the move "clearly sets the bar high for Apple, M$ and GNU/Linux or Android/Linux," Pogson observed. "With this much competition, choice will be everywhere and monopoly will be ended within a year or so."

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