Linux Without Microsoft
In "The Dark Knight", the Joker, laughing at Batman's question of why he wants to kill him, replies by saying: "I don't, I don't want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You... you... complete me." In finding Batman the Joker discovered a purpose in life, a worthy adversary, an opposite side of the coin. Similarly, for the past twenty years the Linux community, to varying degrees, has identified itself as being everything Microsoft was not. Open where Microsoft is closed, free where Microsoft is proprietary, Linux was the scrappy upstart battling against unimaginable odds against "the evil empire". My how times have changed. Today, Bill Gates is a humanitarian, And Steve Ballmer's time at the head of the worlds largest software company has come to a close. Microsoft has been relegated to bad jokes and horrible desktop computers in poorly lit cubicles. Linux has won, or so it seems, so where does that leave the community when they have no one to fight against?
It is easy to understand why the FOSS community rallied against Microsoft. For one, having a highly visible opponent can gather together people with similar feelings. Microsoft acted as a catalyst for a rallying cry for hackers to come together and push Linux forward. Microsoft in the 1990's was unstoppable, and ruthless in their dealings with manufacturers like Compaq and Dell. Microsoft earned their reputation as a cutthroat business partner, extinguishing competition whenever possible. The Linux desktop came together to provide a free alternative to Windows, and to make the switch as easy as possible. Several desktop interfaces available were direct clones of the Windows '95 desktop. I recall KDE in particular being very "Microsoftish". Of course, over time that has changed, particularly in the past few years as developers have rethought what the desktop should or could be, and taken advantage of newer animation capabilities.
I find it interesting to note that the changes in the prevalent Linux desktop interfaces have diverged with increasing rapidity with the decline of Microsoft, and in particular the Windows desktop environment. In their place has emerged another familiar desktop:
Mac OS X is instantly familiar to millions of people around the world, and Apple is one of, and at times the biggest companies in the world. Apple is secretive, proprietary, and closed. It would be easy to move the obloquy once reserved for Microsoft to Apple, but it would also be a mistake.
Linux stands at a unique crossroads in the history of computing. Without Microsoft being the 800lb gorilla in the room, the community has the opportunity to redefine itself in a way that makes sense for a population searching for privacy and freedom. Linux no longer needs to be the "anti-microsoft", it is now free to be the system for the intelligent, for the scientific, for the discerning, for the rising, and yes, always for the underdog. We don't need another "me-too" clone of Windows or OS X, what we need is a chance to rethink what we are building and redefine what personal, real, truly personal, computing can be for the next ten years. Instead of focusing on what makes Linux different from popular commercial vendors, why not concentrate on what makes Linux great.