Blast from the Past: The Operating System War is Over

{February 2004}

The battle between Windows and Linux was as intricate as any war could possibly be. And the fighting will continue as isolated skirmishes in chat rooms, bulletin boards and the occasional court battle. But the fate of the consumer computing market is sealed.

The whole time since IBM’s culture of computing empire was passed to Microsoft, the non-MS vote was divided between the Open Source non-empire and the third-party platform, Apple.

And in the war, Linux didn’t even show up on radar, though for a short while I was convinced it would eventually mature and become half of a two-standard world. Yes I was naive to think that Linux was even a viable OS instead of merely an operating platform (a distinction few made and to their own demise).

But the push for Linux boxes to flood the Chinese market — the last great untapped and undecided market for so many goods — simply never happened. There were to be two boxers in the ring, and one didn’t show up for the fight. If China would have chosen Linux, it would have staved off extinction. But now, it’s days as a possible widespread consumer platform are numbered.

The surrender of the global consumer computer OS market to Windows was figuratively signed yesterday between Bill Gates and Chinese President Hu, and again, the loser of the war didn’t even show. In fact, he wasn’t invited. And the relations between Microsoft and China may seal far more than even economic dominance by one of its corporate players, but add to the possibility of long-term world peace in its own way.

But in consumer computing, there will be no two-party system in China or the world for ages to come. The only thing that truly remains to be seen is if our world’s great-grandchildren will all be speaking in English or Chinese.

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