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.comment: Can Microsoft Hurt Linux? In a Word, No. - page 3

Appeal Not, Lest Ye Be Appealed

  • February 28, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Among the opportunities available in the Linux world, there is none greater than the field of productivity applications. "Suites" are all the rage, which has engendered the fallacious belief that mediocre applications, joined together, somehow lose their mediocrity. This belief was foisted onto the world by Microsoft Corporation, and everyone else has dutifully followed.

I do not know what it is about the prevailing business model that requires companies to abandon any measure of uniqueness and give up what market share they have in pursuit of somebody else's market share -- and in the process leaving existing customers high and dry. But that is how it works. In the 1980s, an all-news radio station in Miami came up number one in the ratings. By the next ratings book, there were four all-news stations in Miami. A format that would support one radio station could not support four, and some of those stations still haven't fully recovered. Meanwhile, they lost the loyal listeners they'd enjoyed. There used to be a U.S. cable station, The Nashville Network. It offered a variety of programs of interest to a countrified, outdoorsy audience, and it did well. It got bought up by a New York-based media conglomerate, such that programming decisions were now being made by suits who have as much knowledge of that audience as I have of sanskrit. The channel has turned into a regurgitator of reruns (there already being several cable stations that perform this important service), and in due course the suits in New York will be scratching their heads and wondering why the ratings dropped. So it is with the development of application software. Because Microsoft has cranked out what amounts to an ultra-bloated version of Works, that's the model being chased by everyone else. It's proving to be too big a bite -- if the same effort were put into single, standalone applications that let the desktop handle communication among them, we'd have several very good applications instead of several not-very-good "office suites."

Linux, which has changed the way computing is done in many ways, ought to as a community re-examine the office suite vs. standalone apps question. The number of enormous projects we can successfully undertake is limited, and it is overextended in places like Mozilla, WINE, OpenOffice, even KOffice. Yet we still don't have a good word processor. (Yeah, yeah -- emacs, LyX. LaTeX. Don't bother to send the email.)

In fact, we could and should take it further. Microsoft ships bloated, overly complicated, resource-intensive stuff. And it's all tied in with the GUI. But there are some uses for a computer -- lots of them, in fact -- that gain little or nothing from the GUI and in fact are slowed by it. A lot of useful work was done by nontechnical people in plain old DOS. And there are lots of 386-33s out there with 8 or 16 megs of memory. How about a set of text-mode applications along the lines of those old DOS apps? A menu app. A file manager. A word processor. A spreadsheet. Easy text frontends to databases. Productivity applications that have the same menu structure and ease of use as GUI apps have. A newsreader. A lot of those old machines have been donated to charities. Equipping 'em with good, free, fast Linux software would build the user base in ways that Microsoft can't, and we could. Think upon it.

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