Is Windows 8 a Linux Copycat?

Here in the world of technology, there’s no denying that developers of even the most creative new products and ideas “stand on the shoulders of giants,” just as innovators in most other realms do too.

New ideas inspire more new ideas over time, after all, so it’s not surprising to see myriad commonalities and linkages among them.

Lately, however, that notion is being examined a little more closely than usual in light of recent revelations about Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 8 and — in particular — how much it has in common with Linux.

‘Does Windows Do It Better?’

“Eight features Windows 8 borrowed from Linux” is the name of the ITworld article that kicked off the conversation in the Linux blogosphere earlier this month, and the ruckus hasn’t died down since.

File copy dialogue and ISO mounting are among the features the article names while asking provocatively, “Linux got there first, but does Windows do it better?”

Individual comments could barely be heard over the sound of the thundering stampede of the Linux masses, rushing to share their thoughts. More than 600 comments appeared on Slashdot in short order, so Linux Girl knew it was time to learn more.

‘A Great Compliment’

“There is no question that Windows 8 has taken a lot of ideas from Linux,” Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told Linux Girl. “Early demos made it look a lot like Compiz.”

The important thing, however, is that “this shows that the past views of the Linux desktop simply copying Windows was not correct and hasn’t been correct for some time,” Travers pointed out.

“The fact that Linux took inspiration from Windows was certainly fair; the fact that Windows is taking inspiration from Linux should be seen by us as a great compliment,” he added.

Moreover, in the long run, “this sort of competition will make us all better,” Travers opined.

‘There’s Nothing New Under the Sun’

Blogger Robert Pogson took a darker view.

“M$ does what it always has done, and that is borrow other people’s ideas for software,” he asserted. “There’s nothing wrong with that — it is normal in the world of software because there’s nothing new under the sun once you have some hardware and an instruction set.

“Everything is a permutation of the instructions one can give a computer,” he pointed out.

Where the darkness comes in, however, is when “M$ calls it innovating and applies for software patents on other people’s ideas and sues people over them,” Pogson said. “They also make their implementations different than others simply to lock users in and make migration to other OSes more difficult.

“May M$ rot in Hell for that,” he added. “Their share of PCs is down 30 percent from their heyday.”

‘It’s Been Missing for Ages’

Indeed, “this is the reason that software patents are such a bad idea,” agreed consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack. “The software world has improved by leaps and bounds over the last 40 years by building on previous improvements and adding new insights to them.”

The ability to mount ISOs “without having to download Daemon Tools is probably the biggie,” opined Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“It’s something that is so obviously needed, and yet it’s been missing for ages,” Hudson explained. “With large hard drives, who wants to hunt around for a physical DVD just to run an install program sitting in the ISO?”

It’s also good for the environment, since “ultimately it means there will be fewer DVDs burned,” she pointed out.

‘What Should Windows Copy?’

It seems unlikely that Microsoft will bring Windows2Go to the consumer market, Hudson mused — “it would be too much of a headache to manage licenses.

“Fortunately, Linux to the rescue — with a big enough USB key, you could probably boot Linux off the key, then boot a Windows VM image,” she added.

The real question, though, is “what should Windows copy ASAP?” Hudson said.

“I think the most obvious one is filesystem drivers for other operating systems — it’s not like they can’t use the source,” she suggested. “This way, it wouldn’t matter if you formatted your USB key or external drive using ext2, ext3, or whatever — you could just give it to someone knowing that they can still read (and update) the data, and that *nix file permissions won’t get wrecked.

“I hate having to copy the data from the USB key back to my hard drive, reformat the device for Windows, then copy the data back to the USB key,” Hudson added.

‘You Just Can’t Cook Your Own’

Ultimately, “I have no doubt Linux will have most innovations first in some official release,” Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, told Linux Girl. “With all the variants around, this is a given.”

That, however, “does not mean the functionality has not been around for some time on other operating systems,” he added. “You just can’t cook your own version of Windows or OS X.”

Still, whether Linux had key features first may not even matter, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet suggested.

‘Features Are Like Hubcaps’

“The problem with Linux has NEVER been features — in this area Linux is just fine,” hairyfeet explained. “But features are like hubcaps: nice to have, but frankly not really needed.”

The problem, rather, “has always been in the follow-though, like a golfer that can drive a par five in two shots but then takes 10 just to get the ball into the cup,” he added. “You get soooo close, then completely miss the mark.”

In the end, “it doesn’t matter about matching Windows with features,” hairyfeet concluded. “What matters is meeting or beating it in support, ease of use, and simplicity. And while Linux has made great strides, frankly it still has a long ways to go.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.


  • so can we get a Linux company to sell Microsoft a license for their own Windows 8, because surely MS must be using a Linux patented method in there some where. This would be the ultimate irony.

    • What have I said? What were my words? that Linux doesn’t have the main things people care about, ease of use, support, and a "it just works" mantra. it hasn’t had it, and continues not to have it, and probably won’t have it in the future, where is the contradiction?

      And you think I’m DEFENDING MSFT? What are you smoking? lets see, what’s wrong with MSFT 1.-Their mobile strategy is basically "Ape Apple for all its worth", 2.-Windows 8 will make Vista look like Win95 because instead of the fail that is putting a desktop on a phone they are now gonna put the phone on the desktop, 3.-Frankly they have become so fixated on the consumer market they are ignoring business customers, I believe to their own peril as the business world buys ipads, 4.-Since ballmer took over frankly the ONLY thing they got right was Win 7, and that was the MS office team coming in to right the ship, see Zune, kin, Sidekick, Rushing X360 out with a fatal flaw, etc.

      But like it or not the linux community refuses to ask ONE question, the question that frankly could change everything: What are my competitors doing right that we are doing wrong? and the answer is simple…REAL long term support that "just works". I have XP units in the field that are over 8 years old, that’s TWO service packs and over 3000 patches, know how many driver failures they’ve had? ZERO. Zip zilch nada squat. Compare this to linux where the forums tell you with a straight face "You have to install clean"…uhhh…wasn’t that what you made fun of Windows for?

      The driver model is a bad joke, Linus’ kernel fiddling constantly breaks critical drivers, the driver devs simply can’t mathematically keep up, its impossible. Rewrite 100,000+ drivers EVERY 6 months? Can’t be done. There is ZERO QA, see Dell having to run their own repos (which causes them to LOSE MONEY on every Ubuntu unit sold) because even though they have less than a dozen models they can’t get enough QA to keep the mainline from taking a dump on their drivers, too many help files are either cryptic or have a "to do" placeholder, and frankly CLI has become a crutch that devs use as an excuse for bad UIs.

      In the end numbers don’t lie, linux suffers from what I call the "busted toilets’ problem. what that means is because nobody will spend any money on the desktop the nasty boring lousy jobs, QA, regression testing, writing docs, fixing the driver model, all this long term thankless work, well it just never gets done. Everybody wants to be the artist and nobody wants to be the guy that cleans toilets so in the FOSS model they simply don’t get cleaned. mark my words Canonical WILL abandon the desktop in less than 3 years, they are bleeding money and have no way to recoup their losses. Did you know that novell only broke even 3 months before they were bought out? that’s right it took 20 years just to make nothing, nothing at all, just recouping their losses.

      In the end this model simply doesn’t work on the desktop. it works on servers because companies will buy support, it works on embedded because companies will buy custom code from the devs, but in desktops the FOSS model is a giant fail. Mandriva, Xandros, gOS, Linspire,Novell, the list of failed desktops goes on and on and Ubuntu WILL be next. Don’t blame the messenger when he points out that despite all its flaws both OSX and Win 7 are frankly light years ahead of your offerings in every way, I didn’t build the thing YOU the community did. Either fix it or give up, but stop complaining because nobody wants your subpar offerings. When people are willing to steal the other guy’s product than take yours for free? that ought to give you a clue that something is horribly wrong.

  • I have been following these LinuxGirl articles for some time, and enjoy the info and different views, but hairyfeet’s comments really irk me, and the reason is, he will defend windows even if he has to contradict himself. Features are nice to have but not really needed? On dozens of articles before, your major complaint was the lack of features

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