Chrome, Windows, Linux? Who wins?

I’ve read a few different articles lately about the rise of the Linux desktop and the impending Chrome operating system by Google.  Following each article is a fairly predictable line of comments which talks lightly about the information of the article and then degrades into finger pointing and name calling like a medieval battle line.

The Linux guys talk about the deficiencies in Windows.  The Windows guys talk about how clueless and geeky the Linux guys are.  The Linux guys talk about the impending destruction of Windows.  The Windows guys say that’s been predicted several times and nothing’s happened.  Blah, blah, blah!  Yada yada yada!  Everybody’s right.  Everybody’s wrong.

I’m a full-time Linux user and a pretty avid proponent for Open Source.  I don’t pretend to understand the far-reaching implications of economics and the true future of technology.  In fantasy and science fiction truly knowing the future typically not possible because the future is always affected by free will… which is precisely my point.

The point of these OS competitions is choice.  I don’t have a grudge against Microsoft that wants to see them die.  I used Windows when Windows fit my needs.  When my needs changed I moved on.  No big deal.  We can still be friends.  I feel that way about any of the technologies that I had a “relationship” with.  However, I don’t want my previous choices to follow me around.  I don’t want them to badger me that I made the wrong choice and I need to come back to them.  I don’t want them to make trouble for my newer choices that makes it difficult or impossible for me to continue on my path.  (Wow!  As I write these words down this starts to sound like the plot for a summer movie!)

Basically, all of this winds down to interoperability and standards.  In areas, like the Internet, where some open standards have been established, things go really well.  In areas like document formats, where there are fewer open standards and more commonly used tools, this becomes difficult.  I am a huge proponent of using tools that run on more than one platform.  You know some of the names:  Firefox for Web browsing, Thunderbird for email, Apache HHTP Server for Web serving.  There are probably several that you don’t know, like Audacity for sound editing, Pidgin for instant messaging, Inkscape for vector graphic editing, tightVNC for remote control (yes, I can control a Windows box from a Linux machine and vice versa!).  They don’t all have to be “free” either.  I use an XML editing tool called “Oxygen” for my editorial work in developerWorks.  It’s is not at all free, but well done, and works across platforms.  There are many choices for applications that do the same work to the same protocols despite your operating system choice.  If you choose a protocol and/or tools that are supported across platforms, then this becomes easy.  People choose what they like and no one has to suffer needlessly about not being chosen.

There are standards that work today in this fashion.  Adobe has been good about making protocols such as PostScript and PDF available.  JPEG is available for photos, but there is also the often ignored PGN (Portable Network Graphic) format that allows for transparency.  Of course HTML and good ol’ ASCII text are available.  Significant headway is coming in the form of the Open Document Format (ODF) which is used by Open Office, IBM’s Symphony, and recently supported by Microsoft Office with the addition of  a plugin.  MP3 is available for audio, but I bet you’ve never even tried the completely free Ogg Vorbis standard.

To me it seems that all of these environments can live together in relative peace provided that users can kick their co-dependency issues and be more open to making choices for themselves.  We don’t need to have a community where we look for the next alpha leader to destroy the previous one.  We don’t need to make sure that our side wins so we aren’t enslaved by the other side.  That’s not what’s going on here.

Don’t get bogged down in the argument.  Don’t pick a side.  Look at all of this as more choice opening up before you.  Remember that you can change your future through your choices.

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