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January 12th, 2017

Linux People Should Say, ‘You’re Welcome, Windows Users’

If it wasn’t for Linux setting the bar, would Windows users still be dealing with the “blue screen of death” several times a day?

Roblimo’s Hideaway

VW Linux

There’s no evidence on whether Ted Kennedy tweeted his displeasure at this fake VW ad that appeared in National Lampoon.

There was a time when a computer operating system called Windows totally dominated the market, and it sucked. I mean, really sucked. Blue screens of death, unexplained crashes, viruses and worms galore, re-re-reboots all the darn time…and still, despite all the problems, people used this Windows thing. Why? Because except for the artsy/hipster $MacOS, it was the only computer OS you could get for your desktop, and it was the one that ran all the 17 jillion programs businesses wanted their office workers to use. Luckily, Windows has gotten a lot better over the years. Except…was it luck or was it Linux that made Windows improve?

Before we get into that, let’s talk about cars for a minute. Specifically Volkswagens, Renaults and Fiats. Once upon a time. American cars ruled our nation’s highways and byways. They were big. They had 738 cubic inch Hemiverberator V-8 engines, and loved to stop at gas stations. But hey! Gas was cheap. A couple of friends, maybe me and Indian Ron, could put $5 worth of premium into the big black Chrysler and cruise Van Nuys Boulevard all night or until we found honeys to ride with us, after which…. Sorry, this is a family website.

Meanwhile, now and then you’d see a tiny Volkwagen putting along in the right lane. They were cute little buggers, but there weren’t many of them. They did, however, scare the pants off American Car Company executives. Volkswagens sold for about $20 new in the 1960s, as opposed to maybe $2000 for a mid-sized Chevrolet. You could fix a VW with three wrenches, two screwdrivers, and a pair of pliers, and it got something like 400 mpg.

Before the VW invasion, American automakers sat back, smoking cigars and drinking whiskey, and turned out cars that were bloated, needed lots of maintenance, and rusted rapidly. They didn’t have to change their evil ways because they had no competition. Even VW didn’t give them a big scare. It took a combination of oil boycotts (and their accompanying sky-high gas prices) and reliable, fuel-efficient Japanese cars to get the idea through their thick skulls that times, they were a-changing.

But we were talking about Windows. It was as good as it had to be, which meant it could be pretty rotten and still dominate the OS market because it was all there was — other than that hippie/artist Mac thingy that couldn’t do real business computing or run a real server.

And then, one day there was competition. I’m talking about Linux. Like the early Japanese imports, it wasn’t as fancy or “feature-rich” (another word for “bloated”) as the dominant player. But it cost a lot less and was more reliable. Maybe it didn’t capture housewives’ hearts at first, but just as every gardener and lawn service guy in the western half of the U.S. suddenly seemed to own a Datsun or Toyota pickup, every server suddenly seemed to be running Linux.

Microsoft executives had gotten complacent, to the point where they came out with (shudder) Windows ME and (double-shudder) Vista, but even the suits started to wise up after a while. While their premier operating system was often (metaphorically) broken down by the side of the road, simple old Linux kept putting along, maybe without so many features or as much software available, and maybe without rich Corinthian leather upholstery, but just working day after day without missing a beat.

“Hmmm,” the wised-up Microsoft execs said to each other, “We need to get ourselves some of that there reliability.” Security, too, because Windows was prey to so many viruses and worms that it seemed like half the programs on sale in computer and office stores were some sort of anti-malware for Windows — or at least something that was meant to overcome Windows defects of one sort or another.

Now let’s fast-forward through a lot of pain, and semi-ignore the Microsoft stupidity that gave us the horrible Windows 10 user interface they later realized made more people angry than happy, and here we are with today’s Windows, which isn’t half-bad.

You can hate Microsoft all day long, but the reality is that Windows 7 and subsequent versions have been pretty reliable and pretty secure. And while the latest Windows 10 may have a sucky GUI, free, GPL-licensed Classic Shell cures that problem in a jiffy.

The latest usage stats show that something like 105 percent of all desktop computer users run Windows, while -4 percent run Mac OS and 0.0002 percent run Linux. Or something like that — with a majority of the world’s handheld devices running the Linux-derived Android OS, and a majority of the world’s servers, along with virtually all of its supercomputers, running Linux.

Do you know any true Windows loyalists? If you do, and one of them ever talks about how reliable Windows has gotten in recent years, you need to say, “You’re welcome.”

Yes, Linux forced Windows to get better, the same way tiny, tinny VWs and Japanese cars and pickups forced American car makers to produce better, more reliable, more fuel-efficient vehicles than they had before they had real competition.

Will Windows users ever thank Linux developers and users for helping Windows improve? Probably not, any more than you hear American car company executives thanking Japanese auto makers for forcing them to make better cars.

But even without a “thank you,” nothing stops a Linux developer or user from saying “you’re welcome” now and then, either silently or out loud.

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Robin "Roblimo" Miller

Robin "Roblimo" Miller is a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief at Open Source Technology Group, the company that owned SourceForge, freshmeat,, NewsForge, ThinkGeek and Slashdot, and until recently served as a video editor at Slashdot. He also publishes the blog Robin ‘Roblimo’ Miller’s Personal Site. @robinAKAroblimo

20 comments to Linux People Should Say, ‘You’re Welcome, Windows Users’

  • Andrew McGlashan

    This is a nice story, well written, but M$ is still broken, even in the latest versions (perhaps more so really), because some “design” features and decisions eliminate any possibility to actually make it secure. So, the premise that Windows 7 and later are stable and secure (from a Linux guy) is quite false in my view as an all round IT person whom now uses M$ as little as possible, but still uses it enough to know what is going on.

  • soocki

    Valid points and a good read, but than again I am heavily biased Linux fanboy who gets terrible face twitch on those rare occasions when is forced to use Windoze.

  • Mike

    “There was a time when a computer operating system called Windows totally dominated the market, and it sucked. I mean, really sucked.”

    Ah yes, good old yesterday…um, and today.

    Windows is still incredibly broken. Only now it restricts the computer’s owner more than ever to only do things Microsoft approves of. It’s more DRM than functionality these days.

    Anyone who think Microsoft has changed for the better is drinking the kool-aid.

    Also, Volkswagen is a GREAT example of why proprietary code SUCKS.

  • Mike S.

    @Andrew McGlashan,
    Can you please drop the M$ thing? Do you see people write Veri$on? Comca$t? Goldman $ach$? $unoco? Volk$wagen?

    Everyone that doesn’t already hate Microsoft is going to stop paying attention to what you write when you use that silly convention. Even most of the people that do hate Microsoft – like me – are still going to stop paying attention when they read it.

  • Andrew McGlashan

    @Mike S.

    See the related story:

    I didn’t invent the M$ idea, but it is very fitting and I do use it for Hel$tra as well (that is the main Australia Telco [Telstra] that is effectively a monopoly).


  • Maybe, but we’ve also got the Linux world to think for some of the *bad* ideas MS has adopted. Sending what you type into the launch bar to a remote server to serve you ads? Ubuntu did it first. Windows 8’s ill-conceived notion of putting a phone UI on a desktop? I give you Unity and GNOME 3.

  • Randal

    Do you really mean the Windows 10 interface sucks? Are you sure you don’t mean Window’s 8 (or h8 that I called it)? Seems Windows 10, went the interface of Windows 7, with a MUCH worse license. (thankfully I only use Windows for a couple games and on computers supplied to me that are not mine)

  • soocki

    Whoaa Gentleman, do you honestly care about UI of ANY of the Windowzes? I mean really? Don’t we have better things to talk about? Like, for instance ANYTHING and EVERYTHING else?

  • Kim

    HEY – I’m insulted! I was the one that bought Windows ME – ran fine for about 2 1/2 years. Oh – right – that’s why I’m now a LINUX user.

  • Feed up with foss jerks

    This is exactly the type of pompous arrogance that drove me away from linux after 15 years. Linux users have become unbearable. Get over yourselves, Linux is still massively flawed, poorly designed and quite lacking in security, despite your own claims. Windows is indeed crap, but Linux is still in the toilet next to it.

  • Mike

    @Feed up

    Blah, blah. blah. So you pick your OS based on the personalities of random internet strangers. Interesting, do you let them choose your clothes too?

    Linux lets me do what I want with my computer instead of doing only what Microsoft wants (or Apple for that matter). It doesn’t spy on me, or try to sell crap to me, or prevent me from running applications just because some company decided to ‘change things up’ because ‘marketing’.

    By all these counts, Windows is so far behind Linux it isn’t even funny. Windows is crap…closed source software is crap…all of it.

    …and I’d pit Linux security against Windows security any day of the week, and that’s a topic I know a thing or two about.

  • Well ranted, Mike! 😉

    Every time the subject of Windows/Android/iOS ToS/EULAs comes up, my throw-up reflex wakes up. The only way you can get past that if you throw caution out the door and switch off your conscience.

    The idea of software developers working on a single virtual desktop – as almost developers on Windows do, regardless of 3rd party tools which make this possible on Windows – really boggles my mind, as does working without bash&co. But that’s software culture for you.

    The artificial limit on the number of remote desktop connections to the company Windows server is a frequent reminder of the beauty of FOSS: every FOSS application, service, tool or gimmick is delivered to users in the deluxe-ultra-extra-turbo-batteries-included edition, with all possible features available to everyone, no questions asked.

  • Miguel Mayol

    Old USA cars still run in Cuba and they repair them with custom made pieces. Not so bad. Now is almost impossible to repair a modern car without paying the car companies for software, pieces and more. As it happens with laptops, almost impossible to make your own one by parts and if possible not ever cheaper.

    But the thesis is funny and lacks in my opinion a more extensive part in the mobile and server space, because there is where MS WOS loosed but also GNU.

  • Earl

    As long as Windows uses the the executable-file.exe paradigm, it will be an insecure operating system… period.

  • Earl

    Note to ‘Feed up with foss jerks’ – next to Linux, any version of Windows is just a crude little toy.

  • tracyanne

    @Andrew McGlashan

    You forgot about Optu$ the other half our Duopoly.


    Speaking as someone currently using Ubuntu Unity. The internet search from the HUD is optional, and the Phone UI works just fine.

    The only real problem I’ve ever had with Ubuntu Unity, is the insistence Canonical have in using Standard GNOME tools, like Nautilus. I fixed that one by replacing it with Nemo

  • Ramos Cervantes

    “Linux is still massively flawed, poorly designed and quite lacking in security, despite your own claims.”

    I guess he must be an OpenBSD user ;+)

  • soocki

    Nice comeback Ramos 😀

  • W. Anderson

    Yes, Windows Operating Systems (OS) Have gotten more reliable and slightly more secure – today, in January 2017, but that statement does not mean – in any respect – that Windows has reached a level of reliability and security that should be considered acceptable by any respectable high end technology standards.

    About 12 years ago, an Australian IBM “Fellow”, roughly equivalent internally at IBM to a Nobel Prize winner – stated quite stoically that Americans had the greatest tolerance for mediocrity than those peoples in several other developed nations in which he had spent time over a fifteen year period.

    Why this statement? – the ready acceptance of Windows reliability and security, compared to the level and quality of reliability and security that is demanded for any other high end OS technology, shows the acceptance of a certain level of mediocrity in regards Microsoft, particulrly by Americans.

    Credit should be given when due, but the recent rapture of Microsoft Windows and other MS technologies is going overboard, and undeserved.

  • Mike

    Microsoft has always been and continues to be a threat to computing freedom. Period.

    Intel is too.

    If we don’t find a way to establish hardware freedom as the norm, the freedom offered by FOSS is going to be relegated to a mere puppet within precisely defined and controlled hardware sandboxes with unknown persons pulling the strings.

    The ignorance of this by the general populace is bad enough, but having to deal with ambivalence and outright denial by people who should know better is disgusting. Closed source is a threat…in all its forms.