The Microsoftie Who Embraced the Dark Side (Open Source): Page 2

Posted December 6, 2008

Keith Curtis

Keith Curtis

(Page 2 of 2)

It contained a graphical installer that ran all the way to completion, it resized my NTFS partition, setup dual boot, and actually did boot, and let me surf the Web. I didn't have a clue what to do next, but the mere fact that this all worked told me more about the potential of Linux than anything I had read so far.

Before I had started this, I told myself that I would force myself to boot into Linux to try it out even though it meant losing my place, waiting for the reboot, and not being nearly as comfortable. But several months later – and by this time I had started using Ubuntu Breezy Badger – I was using Linux all the time.

I ran into various stumbling blocks along the way: I had to learn about the xorg.conf file, dig into superuser and Linux file permissions, learn about SSH, and compile some Intel wireless drivers. But each stumbling block gave me a worthy challenge, and also newfound knowledge, and the fact that I was able to succeed every time gave me courage to continue.

And what impressed me was the power of it all.

Linux came with tons of applications: OpenOffice, GIMP, Audacity, Nvu, Eclipse, Apache, MySQL, and thousands more for me to discover. I could spend years in the command line and never learn all of the applications and capabilities. Installing Apache took just a few seconds, and gave me access to a vast world of PHP. Installing WordPress took me 15 minutes the first time, but I knew when I became better at things, I could do it in one.

I came to understand that beyond its poorly debugged device drivers, a Windows computer is a sad joke. By mid-2005, I was in love with computers again!

However, I had also started to realize that while Linux had lots of amazing capabilities, it was not on a trajectory to kill Windows very fast. I wrote a post on my blog on October 2005, listing a bunch of bugs I had found and filed, but I also started to notice that the bugs weren't getting fixed.

After the Software Wars, by Keith Curtis
"After The Software Wars" by Keith Curtis
As a side note, while Microsoft doesn't have a great reputation right now, especially because of Vista and malware, there is a lot of clever code and brilliant engineers inside the company. I was fortunate to learn with a bunch of great people, in groups that fostered cultures of very high quality software. Don't blame me for Vista bugs! People forget all that, but this is why Word beat WordPerfect, IE beat Netscape, Excel beat Lotus 1-2-3, VC++ beat Borland's compilers, ad infinitum. (Microsoft's biggest problem today is they are overwhelmed with the complexity of their software and hampered by their ancient code and old tools.)

Anyway, as I got more comfortable with free software, I saw all of these bugs and became frantic. What was the problem? Where was everybody? Why was Ubuntu shipping with 10,000 active bugs? Why was Debian's big team not helping Ubuntu on them, and why were they even split off in the first place? It seemed to Ubuntu, the bug list was a potentially useful management tool, not the single most important thing their entire organization could possibly be focused on.

I started writing several blog entries describing my thoughts on the state of Linux and what steps it needed to do to take over, like this one (about Linux's bugs), this one (about challenges for Debian), and this one (about challenges for Ubuntu). I eventually decided to put all of my thoughts together into a book, which I have just finished.

It took me quite a while to get all of this together. I went to many conferences, talked to hundreds of programmers, read lots of source code, magazines and books, visited many Websites, did a little hacking, and otherwise gathered a ton of data. This allowed me to put a book together that talks about why free software kicks ass, but also what steps are remaining for total world domination, and other related topics I discovered as important along the way.

(In fact, I'm still working on the Web chapter! If you read it, feel free to send me your thoughts.) One chapter even started as an explanation of why Java is the future of programming, but evolved into a chapter on why we should kill it.

Free software could have become the dominant model years or decades ago. Some wonder whether free software and proprietary software will live in some indefinite détente. I think it is the sort of détente that exists between a farmer and his turkey — until Thanksgiving. Let's eat! A 21st century renaissance beckons, with free software at the center of it.

The book isn't really about Microsoft as much as it is about the Microsoft proprietary development model that has pervaded or even infected computing. Microsoft could even be a part of this future, a topic I take up in the book’s Afterword. Although Microsoft as a free software company would be something we would not recognize today, and one reader suggested this Microsoft as a free software company is was more like science fiction than the book’s section on driverless cars.

The download page for Keith Curtis's book is here: After the Software Wars

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Tags: open source, Linux, Windows, Microsoft, Ubuntu

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