Deliver us from Microsoft

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday February 2nd 2008 in The Guardian
“Deliver us from Microsoft” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry introduces the open source platform that will see off Windows.

In recent weeks I have banged on about Open Source, expending two articles on Firefox alone. Open Source applications make their code available to everyone. Disagreements and rabid balkanisation within the Open Source community aside, for our purposes the term might as well refer to free software whose licence allows you to share the source code, alter it, use it, do with it what you will.

The two great pillars of Open Source are the GNU project and Linux. I shan’t burden you with too much detail, I’ll just make the outrageous claim that your computer will be running some descendant of those two within the next five years and that your life will be better and happier as a result.

I am writing this article on a kind of mini John the Baptist, a system that prepares the way of the software saviour whose coming will deliver the 90% of world computer users who suffer under Windows from the expensive, clumsy, costly, ugly, pricey toils of Microsoft.

The Asus EEE PC perched on my knee combines GNU software with a Linux kernel powered by an Intel Celeron Mobile Processor to produce a very extraordinary little laptop. It weighs less than a kilogram, starts up from cold in about 12 seconds and shuts down in five. It has no internal hard disk and no CD drive. It offers 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage and a seven-inch display; wireless, dial-out modem and ethernet adaptors are available for networking and internet connections, three USB ports, mini-jack sockets for headphones and microphone, a VGA out, an SD card slot and a built-in webcam. All for about £200 – less than the price of a show, dinner and taxi for two in London’s West End.

When you press the EEE’s power button, the lightning speed and quietness of boot-up tell you that you are in the hands of a solid state flash drive: no vulnerable moving parts and buzzing platters here. Within seconds a tabbed screen will appear on your display: the tabs are labelled Internet, Work, Learn, Play, Settings and Favourites. A click on each reveals a page containing bright, clear icons that relate to 40 separate applications and half a dozen or so selected web links. The applications include Skype, Firefox, Thunderbird (the Mozilla mail client) and OpenOffice.org, an Open Source suite of applications that allows you to create and edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. One of the pre-installed web links is to Google Docs, which lets you do the same MS Office compatible work online. This combination of “server side” applications and Open Source software is, rightly, scaring the heck out of Microsoft which is in danger of relying, in a few years’ time, on its excellent Xbox games console for income and kudos, its domination of personal computing a rapidly diminishing memory. Well, I’m allowed to dream.

The EEE is far from perfect: system software claims two-thirds of its meagre 4GB of storage, the keyboard is sub-par, the trackpad worse; it seems a shame to boast a built-in webcam and a full field of IM clients, yet be incapable of videochat; the OS, a customised version of Linux, part Debian, part Asus’s own creation, makes downloading outside the bundled software updater uncertain. But these defects are minor compared with the machine’s astounding value and functionality – and to the future trends in computing it heralds.

This is a computer designed as an introductory machine for children or adults, as well as a simple cheap do-it-all machine along the “One Laptop Per Child” model but which is also absolutely ideal as a truly cheap, portable, resilient device to slam into a backpack or briefcase. Everything you could want is there in free, Open Source form. It does not pretend to cater for the power user but, while file management is basic for the average person, tuxheads (Linux experts) can go straight to terminal mode and do their stuff. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, this is a wonderful little friend who does all we need straight out of the box. And it is only the beginning…

© Stephen Fry 2008

This blog was posted in Guardian column

186 comments on “Deliver us from Microsoft”

  1. mr.kemp says:

    The opendisc is a great way to introduce people to OpenSource, all this talk of distros can be quite offputting

  2. LittleRubberNinja says:

    My 9 year old son just referred to Mr Fry as “The Nigel Slater of mobile phones and stuff”.

    Sorry, carry on…

  3. Salvador says:

    This device is just what I have been waiting for – to be able to do word processing, email, web surfing etc on the move without having to shoe-horn applications into a PDA and sideways scroll to read anything.

    But I think you may be overoptimistic when you say it heralds the dawn of linux for all. Apparently, already quite a few people have been installing XP on it.
    But all is not lost – reading through a forum recently, I came across requests for help on reinstalling the original software!

  4. Bob_Robertson says:

    Wow, just saw the spiral fracture picture, it hurt just to see! Heal fast and well, good sir.

    While the EEE is a bit short in a couple of areas, keyboard size and its 4GB main storage, what I think it does best is show just how incredibly over-powered most modern PCs are. Supercomputers weren’t this powerful just a short time ago, and much of that power is used just to run Windows. Today’s Linux will still run on 10 year old machines, back when it was mega-this and that, rather than giga-this and that, and run just fine. Hardware makers _love_ Windows, because it forces people to buy upgrades.

    And on a system fast enough to make Vista work well, Linux _screams_.

    marysiak’s tale of woe is no surprise. Reinstalling Windows does make a big difference in performance, until the cruft builds back up again. Linux systems are well known for uptimes measured in years (if the power doesn’t go out) without a reboot, much less a reinstall.

    Crusader, Dell didn’t just return to selling XP, try http://www.dell.com/open/ and see that they’ll gladly sell you systems with Linux and even an OpenSource version of DOS.

    What got me off of Windows was the upgrade treadmill. I got tired of paying for the same software over and over…

  5. Blarney says:

    I must admit to being severely tempted by the Eee pc. Its so small and cute and I could use it to go ‘wardrivin’ and er…um… Check my email.

    Nope, for £100 more I could get a new desktop machine that will run the best OS that man has created yet.

    http://efficientpc.co.uk/

    Yes. Pclinuxos. This is the best unkept secret in the Linux world. Go to Distrowatch.com. Do NOT pass go. Click on the topmost distro and install. Nirvana is on its way!

  6. paulhulbert says:

    Can anyone tell us how good the Asus EEE screen is?

  7. mick4recycle says:

    upcoming on Digg
    http://digg.com/linux_unix/Stephen_Fry_s_Take_on_Linux_eeePC

    Leo Laporte asked about getting Stephen on the TWiT podcast again this week

  8. alten says:

    I can. It’s 800 x 640. Very crisp & clear. Surprisingly adequate, given a few tweaks to your applications (mostly already done by the folks at Asus).

    It comes with an ‘easy’ interface, with the big icons that Stephen spoke of, but is EASILY changed to a full KDE desktop with all the power of Linux available. I plug in a 1280 x 1024 screen, and a wireless keyboard & mouse, and it is plenty powerful enough for normal computer use.

    Mostly, however, I leave it in easy mode, and use it on my lap anywhere in my house, using the wireless network.

    You would hardly know it’s Linux unless you look for it. You’re used to all those daft interfaces on PDAs, Digital TVs, etc? The eeePC is just another of those, except that you can change it, update it, program it and add or remove as many programs as you wish.

    At the same time, you are learning a system that will work on practically any computer device that you can imagine, so you know that your data isn’t made redundant, dead and buried by the demise of your current device (such as a PDA). Did you know that Linux runs about 80% of the top 500 Supercomputers?

    And you can change the entire system if you have another favourite – for example, Ubuntu or PClinuxOS, or Mint, or Debian, or Red Hat . . …

    ‘Nuff said.

  9. Tony Fisk says:

    A few people have mentioned the XO laptop. I await your comments on it (and the Pixel Qi spinoff!) with interest…

    One thing, in particular, that seems to be getting the lucky G1G1 recipients buzzing is the screen clarity in sunlight. (G1G1 was a US only offer, so the second world is now the new third world:-(

    I agree with Quixote’s assessment: IBM in the early nineties were in the process of falling from a great height, but hadn’t reached the bottom yet. Microsoft now are in the same predicamant, and I don’t think they have the same capacity to bounce.

    It will be interesting to see how many Yahoo!/Flickr accounts are cancelled if the proposed takeover bid is successful.

  10. alten says:

    I will certainly cancel my Yahoo account & move on.

    It’s bad enough here in New Zealand where Yahoo is in bed with Xtra (NZ Telecom) – crappiest service in the country – which has stuffed up many good things on Yahoo. If Microsoft gets involved I am sure that the customer will come last in a very long queue of interests. I will jump ship and save myself more bother.

  11. Tiki East says:

    I adore my EEE. I call him Jay, Jay Asus. He’s cute, he’s tiny (fits in my handbag) and he’s perfect for my (self-proclaimed) rock and roll lifestyle.

    I can start the little fella up when I want to take down notes almost as fast as pulling out a notebook and scrabbling for a pen. I can keep my site up to date and surf the web with ease. I don’t have to buy extra software, worry about my software key being stolen, update virus protection continuously, or any of the other boring things that stop me from being productive on my desktop.

    Jay Asus worked straight out of the box which is exactly what you want from a new toy, ermmm….essential media tool. The screen isn’t fantastic outside, but it’s certainly the best I’ve seen. The screen capture on the webcam is pretty damn fine. Obviously size wise, some sites are tricky to view. But heck, some sites are tricky to view on whatever. For the portability I’m more then happy to make the small sacrifice.

    I’m planning on buying one for my completely non-computer parents, happy in the knowledge that it comes with an easily accessible help guide built in, and I won’t be called at all sorts of times to get the thing to work. It just works – how cool is that!

    I loves it :)

  12. Sigmund Fraud says:

    I’ve been using Linux on and off now for several years, however since Ubuntu 7.10′s release I’ve finally settled into Linux for all my desktop needs. I got an EEE PC this Christmas and it’s absolutely fantastic, I would recommend it to anybody that needs a good portable system for all round use.

    I’ve also got my entire family using Ubuntu now, something that saves me having to fix everyones computer problems. (Except for the odd teething problem of course)

  13. oboogie says:

    I like Macs and PCs. I work on both at work. To each their own, however.

  14. Shawn Powers says:

    Thank you for pointing out the shortcomings as well. I did a video review of the EeePC over at Linux Journal, and I agree it’s an incredible little device, especially for the price. It’s not perfect, however, and hopefully if reviews make sure to keep mentioning the shortcomings, future revisions will address them. (Those keys are small and hard to use for more than a quick email…)

    Great review, thank you.

  15. JulesLt says:

    Thank you Mr.Fry, for not picking apart the EEE PC for it’s flaws but seeing it as a harbinger of machines to come.

    Charles Stross’s blog made the interesting observation that with this machine, and the XO laptop, we are seeing Moore’s law – that the power of computers doubles every 18 months – used to LOWER the cost of machines, rather than increase the power while keeping the price (and therefore profits) higher.

    With response to Steve Howard – with all due respect, I think the major problem in the computing industry since the end of the 80s, has been in taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach to computing. For a long time, families were convinced they had to have a noisy large tower PC in their house.

    Machines like the EEE PC at one end, or the MacBook Air at the other, strike me as being aimed very much at what a lot of consumers actually DO with their computers – browse the web, use email, type up essays, maybe touch up a photo before putting it on the web. They strike those of us more used to fully powered computers as limited or compromised, when they are simply specialised.

    A decent laptop is still a reasonably serious purchase. £200 is a different price point. That’s almost cheap enough for one for everyone in a family. Almost cheap enough to have around as an internet browsing device small enough to leave lying on the sofa. Cheap enough not to complain about any lack of Windows compatibility. And of course, if you really want to, the EEE PC will run XP. Not as well as it runs Linux, but it can do it.

    As for the predictions about Linux – the biggest thing in it’s favour of it’s growth is in the customisation it will offer manufacturers, particularly in a low power device market, that MS seem to have failed to spot (Vista, instead, having been based on the idea that machines would follow Moore’s Law upwards in power, rather than the sudden shift to £300 desktops and £400 laptops that has happened).

  16. impurist says:

    Thanks Stephen,

    A great little review. I finally saw one of these little beauties in “the flesh” the other day. I was most impressed, and was pleased to be able to show my partner an Linux system available in a retail shop. I was disturbed to see a “Runs Windows XP” on signage near the display. I am looking forward to a slightly more sophisticated model for some lightweight mobile programming , however its a very encouraging start.

  17. cel4145 says:

    I love my Eee PC. It’s a great UMPC (not a full laptop or desktop substitute). With the Xandros Advanced Desktop enabled and by accessing additional repositories, it has no Windows functionality that I could wish for.

    I’m an open source advocate, but I believe that five years for heavy Linux proliferation on the desktop/laptop/UMPC is very optimistic. It’s not Windows that is the reason or something wrong with Linux; it’s the applications for the PC that so many people like to use. Now if Adobe and the top five video game manufacturers would port all of their software to Linux in the next couple of years, well, then five years might be reasonable for a significant market share to emerge :-)

  18. OpenSourceFry says:

    It’s one thing to be a fully-enabled English speaker who is just interested in a few text-centric applications, but if you want to be able to handle the platform integration for additional devices, for screen-readers, text-to-speech engines, handle speech & handwriting recognition, input method editors for Japan & China, bi-directional text for the Middle East, complex script composition for countries in between plus a plethora of other plumbing niceties that are necessary for more than half the world’s population then these devices & pared-down distros simply do not cut it.

  19. octahedron says:

    “much of OpenOffice is simply plagiarized from Microsoft’s R&D effort”

    Mmm, and much of Windows is plagiarized from Xerox Parc research via Apple.

  20. I do a fair bit of photography and I’ve started taking the EeePC with me to shoots rather than a regular laptop. It’s rugged, quick, small & light. I’m happy to chuck it in a bag without the fretting one has with a regular laptop.
    It will happily run Picassa to preview the RAW image files while I make copies from the card-reader to a USB drive for extra safety at the end of a shoot.

    It’s also good for a quick surf around, check of the email etc while people are changing outfits, doing make-up etc. I love the little thing :-)

  21. I’m more interested in the next generation of the EEE PC style devices – in the near future it’s highly likely that there will be similar devices with far better specifications – now that the market has been created.

  22. Ar-Pharazon says:

    SCRAPS

    you said that you wished the EEE had a calendar and Address book.

    It does. If using the Easy Mode then go to

    Work
    ——->Accessories
    —————->PIM to get Kontact. Which has this and will work as an Email Client, To-Do list etc.

    Should also sync with a Palm Pilot, but you may have to be in Full Desktop mode to do that.

    OPENSOURCEFRY
    Ah yes, the whiff of astroturf redolent uin your Ironic Use of the name

    Curiously enough the EEE has a built in Disctionary that handles Chinese and the characters display. Not to my taste but there you go. The fact that China is heavily into Linux mitigates against your argument.

    as does the fact that Microsoft said it wouldn’t localise Office Products for Hebrew unless paid to do so. I believe localisation Of Open Office changed their minds on that one.

    I got a Dell laptop that had Vista and Office 2007 on it. 2/3 of the retail price of such a machine was the OSD and Office software. I find that for day to day use my EEE, at 1/6 the “price” suits my needs.

    if it wasn’t for games I could run my IT needs at home without Windows entirely, as it is, many of my day to day apps are Open Source (Thunderbird, Firefox, OOO, Gimp)

  23. Richard George says:

    I am writing this comment on my eeePC, suitably tricked out with the Advanced Desktop mode and with an extra few GB of storage on a SSD flash card. It’s a really nifty little machine, and very quiet too. It fits in my coat pocket but I can plug it into an external monitor for a full sized display. It’s ideal for text editing.

    + you can buy 5 eeePC’s for the cost of one Mac Book Air.

  24. Daithi says:

    Everyone uses Open Source and Free Software even if they are ignorant of this fact. The Internet is the child of Open Source and Free Software. Microsoft originally did not “get” the Internet.

    An important reason for using open source software is data longevity. The ASCII format (an ANSI standard) which is still the basis of computing was adopted by the USA as a standard in 1960s and is still in use and readable today. How many proprietary files are readable and supported from the 1990′s.

    The British Library has warned of a “digital dark ages” because even an institution with it’s resources can not read proprietary digital files from the not too distant past. Roll on the adoption of the ODF worldwide.

  25. Dark Phoenix says:

    “As someone who draws their income from creating software, spending years in the process of not only working with great minds to develop new technology but to make that beautiful, it’s sad to hear that someone who also draws income from the act of creation telling us that we need to bugger off let our income go elsewhere. Perhaps you know there’s an OpenFry in the wings ready to supply paraphrased novels, scripts and columns to publishers for Free and are simply not concerned.”

    You know, when I see posts like this, I wonder why it is that shills seem to be attracted to any post that even suggests Microsoft is not the world’s greatest company. Sir, you are propagating the proprietary world’s favourite myth; that you cannot make money with Free Software. You are incorrect, because you’re assuming the wrong definition of free. Free Software is not free in price, it is free in the respect that you are not permanently tied to the whims of some random company who may or may not consider the same sorts of problems as important as you do.

    As for claims that Linux will NEVER touch Windows, wasn’t it only a short time ago that people said no one would ever touch IBM? Obviously no one has ever heard of the concept of disruptive innovation. That is truly what these new systems represent; they break from the long-held believe that computers MUST become more powerful for the same price. Using Linux allows for reaching price points that Windows will never, ever be able to touch, because it would require Microsoft to stop charging for it, something that will never happen. As for Windows being “easy”, that only comes from the viewpoints of those who have been using Windows for years and have learned how to avoid its myriad problems.

    “I know they’ve played hard in business, that security has been shoddy and that innovation has not always come from within, but that seems like a fairly predictable and not too heinous set of charges to pick up over a few decades when a business has, let us not forget it, transformed the face of personal computing.”

    Yeah, by setting computing back 20 years or so. Things Microsoft is tacking onto Windows now were staple components of the original UNIX, created in 1970.

    “> The two great pillars of Open Source are the GNU project and Linux.

    Call me a nitpicker but I would have said Linux and Apache.”

    Er, when I see comments like this, I have to agree with Richard Stallman that the system really ought to be called GNU/Linux, not just Linux. Although hardly ever mentioned, the GNU system makes up a large chunk of what people call Linux, making it probably the biggest FLOSS project in existence. If it weren’t for GNU, there wouldn’t be a system here at all.

    Remember, the operating system called “Linux” is actually the GNU system + the Linux kernel.

    “Installing and un-installing programs, for instance, is not a simple task.”

    LOL!!!!!! You find opening a single program (Synaptic or the simple Add/Remove program that Ubuntu uses by default) harder than having to search for an installer, download it, run it, and hope that by installing it where you do it won’t break the system? I don’t know about you, but I much prefer having ONE place to go for installs. Seriously, the repository concept is brilliant. Apple, Google and Adobe are all bringing variations of it to Windows for their programs.

    “There is some world class open source software but I wouldn’t run my business entirely on it – do you really trust running a patch on your OS that has been cobbled together via a disparate set of bedroom-programmers that you have no comeback to. Of course not all open source software is like this as there are professional companies providing support for professional quality products. But it is a minefield trying to find a reliable outfit that you know are going to be in business long enough to keep your software running.”

    But you’d trust your business to a company that has a long history of releasing known beta patches to see how they effect their customers, without a worry for people attempting to run mission-critical software? I suspect you’re coming from the viewpoint of a client with a LOT of capital, as anyone who lacks the capital to make companies like Microsoft pay attention know full well that if you don’t have money, you can forget having your specific problems dealt with, unless it’s something major enough that the company considers it important to fix. As for relying on “bedroom programmers”, besides the fact that most good programmers started there and continue to work there, there is nothing stopping you from hiring a team of programmers to update the software in question yourself. If you’re going to do something important enough to require regular updates, that’s probably a better and ultimately cheaper option than paying a random company for service they’ll provide at completely random intervals. And if you’re going to say that FLOSS coding gives you no one to sue… I suggest you read the Windows EULA again. Specifically the part where you agree that any failures in Windows are not Microsoft’s fault and that you agree not to hold them personally liable for problems caused by Windows’ instability.

    “But for the business or power user, it is no good. That could change, but we’ve been told Windows is Dead, Long Live Linux for the better part of a decade … with no noticable effect. Anything that is going to replace Windows is going to have to overcome the innertia of millions of Corporate and Institutional installations that cannot simply coose to nip out and buy new equipment, new OS on a whim.”

    Actually, I rather enjoy this viewpoint. Obviously one of someone who has gotten used to the upgrade treadmill of most proprietary software companies and refuses to look at alternatives because it’d “probably cost more than what we’ve got”. Linux works with the same hardware as Windows. And it’s FREE. Ever heard of virtualization? Why do you think Microsoft BADLY wants to either kill it or force it to run only on Windows? Because with virtualization, you can run an old version of Windows (which odds are most companies have lying around somewhere) on top of Linux for those few programs that you can’t seem to find replacements for. This scares Microsoft more than anything else that has happened in years, because it is the most effective way of weeding out Microsoft reliability there is.

    As for claims that Linux is “not moving”, I only have two things to say to that. First of all, “moving” is not the point of the various projects that make up the GNU/Linux operating system. Building an effective free system is the point. Secondly, never in the history of Linux have the numbers dropped. They steadily increase every year. Eventually, a tipping point will be reached. Personally, I suspect that will be when Adobe finally releases a Linux-compatible version of their Creative Suite.

    “MS spends a surprising amount of time simply making sure that new versions of Windows work with rather obscure applications.”

    No, they USED TO spend a lot of time making sure Windows was backwards-compatible. Since XP, that hasn’t been the case; in fact, reports are that Linux’s Windows API layer, Wine, supports more Windows programs than Vista does…

    “You could even say that the main Linux window systems (KDE and Gnome) are heavily influenced by Windows and OS X in just about everything from the graphics schemes to window layout.”

    Haven’t seen KDE4 yet, have you? Not to mention that there are more desktop systems than those two, including systems that have NOTHING in common with the traditional desktops…

    “It’s one thing to be a fully-enabled English speaker who is just interested in a few text-centric applications, but if you want to be able to handle the platform integration for additional devices, for screen-readers, text-to-speech engines, handle speech & handwriting recognition, input method editors for Japan & China, bi-directional text for the Middle East, complex script composition for countries in between plus a plethora of other plumbing niceties that are necessary for more than half the world’s population then these devices & pared-down distros simply do not cut it.”

    Versus what exactly? If you’re trying to imply the system lacks Windows’ unbelievable internationalization support, I suggest you get out of the USA and actually analyze this situation. Windows is so American-centric it’s not funny.

    If you’re referring to other versions of Linux itself, well, pairing down does require removing certain things, but this IS Linux. Missing programs are a few clicks away.

  26. RickMoynihan says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Great article and I couldn’t agree more with the premise, which is one I entirely agree with. We are rapidly moving to a world of devices where the desktop will become the niche market. The vast majority of these devices will adopt Linux and open source software in order to reduce costs and ship quickly.

    This is largely the same in an argument I recently made on how we should “Forget the Linux Desktop as it’s the Linux Laptop that matters”:

    http://sourcesmouth.co.uk/blog/Forget-the-Linux-Desktop-it-s-the-Linux-Laptop-that-matters.html

    I’m loving your posts by the way, keep up the good work!

  27. mattflaschen says:

    If OpenOffice.org really, provably, infringed Microsoft’s rights, we would have heard about it by now. And I don’t mean heard Ballmer’s rantings. I mean heard of Sun and OpenOffice.org receiving a summons.

  28. zorg says:

    Wonderful analysis from Stephen Fry! When the history of Microsoft’s downfall is written, the Asus EEE PC will surely be seen in a major role, perhaps even as John the Baptist.

    It’s also wonderful to see all the Microsoft Astroturfers swinging into action in the comments section, repeating the talking points of their chair-hurling leader. These are familiar chestnuts to Microsoft watchers and include the following bunk: Apple is just as evil as Microsoft (and some puppies look sinister), Linux is not ready for prime time so it’s safer to stick with MS (and its viruses and upgrade extortion), the seeming widespread ill-will toward Microsoft is secretly orchestrated by Larry Ellison and IBM (why not claim Bin Laden is part of it, too?), and my personal favorite, that Microsoft has already won for all eternity, so even if it is as bad as everyone says, we should just give up!

    Why do I say it’s wonderful to see all this bunk? Because we can respond! For instance, “OpenSourceFry” (second commenter in the list) claims (erroneously) that the cost of Windows and Office has dropped over time. One of the reasons the US Justice Department was successful in its pursuit of antitrust action against Microsoft was that Windows was consistently growing as a fraction of total PC price. The Asus EEE PC has finally highlighted the enormous expense of Windows relative to total PC cost! Well done!

    Another wacky assertion by Microsoft Representative “OpenSourceFry” is that OpenOffice somehow “plagiarized” Microsoft R&D! I don’t think he meant this as a joke so where are the lawsuits? Microsoft didn’t do any R&D. They are never the first to market with anything. They buy cheap software and slowly add features, dragging their feet on software development, while devoting most of their energy to destructive efforts like breaking standards. Most of their genuine improvements in Microsoft Office code development came after it was a market leader and only as a result of making the software “phone home” when it crashed. They used a hundred million beta testers and their lost files to debug underachieving software.

    What Microsoft’s representatives, like “OpenSourceFry” can never understand is that there are things people actually *want* to pay for, like Stephen Fry’s books and Apple’s software. And there is work that genuine artists are willing to release for free, like Apache and this blog. When you’ve been toiling away for Darth Vader for too long, you just fundamentally can’t understand people who won’t work for Darth Vader.

  29. cpjackso says:

    Good review – great to see a mention in the national press.. The EEE PC comes into it’s own when it’s used out and about, especially with mobile broadband. Just thought I’d leave a note because there is a national/worldwide shortage of the Asus EEE PC at the moment — most online retailers don’t have them, or they are selling out within minutes – so I made a stock checker that people on eeeuser.com etc. can use to check all the retailers at once:

    http://eeestock.cpjackson.co.uk

    Hope it’s OK to post the link here… And I hope Asus ramp up their production soon!!

    HTH – Chris.

  30. blackgoose says:

    Just a comment about Stephen’s remarks that the trackpad is sub-par. As noted on fora like http://www.eeeuser.com the default sensitivity setting for the trackpad is set stupidly low.
    After realizing this and turning it up to a more reasonable level I’ve had no problems with it.
    On balance I think it’s better than other trackpads in my life – but in retrospect, perhaps they need proper calibration also!

  31. Tony Fisk says:

    There is an interesting comparison between the Asus and the Laptop XO at Groklaw

    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20080128171935946

    (Stephen, feel free to remove this comment if you think it inappropriate)

  32. WhaleTales says:

    I think people need to think of the EEE more as an over grown PDA than a cut down laptop. Anyone wanting an all singing, all dancing, miniature PC will always be disappointed with any solution provided.

    As for the use of Linux, all I can say is that I hope this is a taster of things to come. For those that say Linux isn’t ready for the desktop I have to ask “whose desktop?”. Windows isn’t yet ready for my desktop, and still has a long way to go to catch up with Linux. It is slow and cumbersome to use and seriously hampers my work. When I first worked with Windows 3.0 it was like stepping back into the dark ages after my Commodore Amiga.

    Paulie, I do run my business entirely on open source software. I wouldn’t dare rely on Windows, it just isn’t reliable or functional enough. I had a customer migrate from Linux to Windows a few years back and the reason stated was that Windows broke. The fact that Windows broke and needed fixing was giving visibility that the manager responsible for the IT was doing a good job. Nobody would question choosing Windows, and the fact that Linux was just working reliably meant that nobody noticed the IT or the good work he was doing! Can you imagine a manager buying a company car on the basis that it broke down, because getting it fixed showed he was looking after it?

  33. OpenSourceFry says:

    @ Ar-Pharazon : Microsoft were localizing in Hebrew long before Open Office came long. Its local office is nearly 20yrs old. They even had a development office very early on.

    To Zorg and those who say Microsoft does no R&D: you simply spit on the working efforts of tens of thousands of engineers and scientists. Mr Fry seems to enjoy encouraging this martialling of ad hominem attacks that I personally would rather abstain from.

    It’s easy to check that the cost of software has dropped over the time, and the performance has risen incredibly in the time since a single copy of a spreadsheet like Lotus 2.01 (for DOS) cost much more than Windows and Office combined. It’s also to be expected that the cost of software does not drop as fast as for hardware coming off a production line. The real costs of newspapers, printing books and making televisions have dropped but media creators like Mr Fry probably haven’t suffered a drop in income pegged to that.

    PS I’m not from America.

  34. NeilHoskins says:

    Nothing about the EEEPC is rocket science: it’s almost what the Psion 9 or Netbook could have been about now (British technology being way ahead of our marketing as usual). The only pleasantly surprising thing about it is that it’s proved so popular.

    And just to throw my tuppence-worth into the open source mudslinging: Linux and open source are already all around us, there’s no getting away from it. Have a closer look at your router or PVR…

  35. Ar-Pharazon says:

    OpenSourceFry

    Hmm. I think I misremebered that even. It was the localisation for the MAC a few years back. They also decided to stop localising IE for the MAC.

    There was local offers to pay for the process and the Manager, a Mr browne, turned them down.

    That is STILL the case with Mac Office 2008 as far as I am aware

  36. tretle says:

    “Don’t underestimate MS’ ability to woo software developers with killer specialist apps” or money. I’m actually surprised to see developers argue that open source is bad on these comments. I do believe that Linux will become more prominent on the home users machine over the next five years even if the user has no idea its Linux. One only needs to look at whats currently happening to see a surge in Linux migration. olpc, eeepc, android(google phone), openmoko, eeetv.
    I’m a college student right now, Iv been coding since i was in primary school, I enjoy what I do and I have a great pride for the open source community. In the world of software development you are constantly under pressure to evolve, Why is the switch between closed source and open source any different. People can make money off of open source. I don’t feel sorry for Microsoft, they have had a monopoly long enough. I don’t feel sorry for its employees who have been hiding behind it so long, if they were any good to begin with they wouldn’t fear open source.
    What I’m trying to say is open source is the future like it or not, people who enjoy there job and learning will probably strive from this. Companies with monopolies and people who float through life will probably see it as a bad thing.

  37. OpenSourceFry says:

    Ar-Pharazon: perhaps you should *start* with some documented facts, instead of slinging random mud like some of the others trolling above. I should also point out that enabling a system for bi-directional support (and complex glyph-shaping) is more complicated than localization, which for the most part involves translation of UI text. Hebrew is technically a small-language market and the cost of adapting the text-plumbing for Mac (instead of using Windows platform technologies) is not something that can be paid for out of a localization budget. Assuming the same ratio for Mac:Windows deployments as in other parts of the world, then it’s very likely that the cost of that work would never be recovered from Mac Office sales. Microsoft would thus be better advised to protect its core investment in Hebrew products on Windows, much as say Apple protects its own eco-system of Mac and iTunes products.

  38. PC Bitseach says:

    eeer….”Balkanisation”? Sounds like a made-up word from a social science textbook (and there are LOTS of such made-up words!)

    Adds to my list of “TinaW”s [This is not a Word] which annotates various textbooks every time I read things like: responsibilization, concretization, foregrounds (as a verb), residualization, institutionalization and now balkanisation! LOL

    Anyway, back on topic, I wish all these computer and software companies would focus more on helping me have a laptop that works faster, smoother and with fewer glitches; that they’d release their products with some of the glitches ironed out BEFORE release instead of releasing beta products; that they wouldn’t fug up my memory with idiotic space-filling “Easter Eggs” just for their own egos’ sakes; but that did’t require a computer degree and subscription to Dorklife Weekly to use. [sigh]

    Pc Bits’

  39. joezasada says:

    uhh… to OpenSourceFry…

    openoffice is descended from Staroffice, which has been around for a very long time… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staroffice – the history part of the article…

    It’s been around since at least the DOS 3.2 days… when Wordperfect was king of word processing, and Lotus 1-2-3 was king of spreadsheets…

    and, to say that openoffice is a rip-off of microsoft office… well, let’s just see where office originated from:

    -Word is a ripoff of WordPerfect
    -Excel is a ripoff of Lotus 1-2-3
    -Powerpoint was purchased
    -Outlook is a ripoff of eudora
    -IE is a ripoff of Netscape
    -Visio was purchased
    -Access is a ripoff of dBase
    -windows is a ripoff of a mac (which was a ripoff of a xerox GUI)

    hmmm… does microsoft ever actually invent anything themselves… or do they just purchase / copy someone elses? (for that matter, is there such thing as a ‘unique idea’ in the whole technology industry today? everything’s been done before ad nauseum…)

    Oh, and openoffice is available in many languages that M$ office is not…

  40. fred2 says:

    @PC Bitsearch

    Quotation from the Oxford English Dictionary:

    “Balkanize v., to divide (a region) into a number of smaller and often mutually hostile units, as was done in the Balkan Peninsula in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” OED’s earliest quote is from 1920. Whence Balkanization is first quoted in English in 1922, where it is stated to have been coined by German socialists. Whereas the word originally referred to a geographic phenomenon, its use in other ways is nothing new. Whether the word has come back into fashion following the Balkan wars of the late twentieth century I’m not sure.

    Stephen does use quite a lot of made up words, of course, in his blessays, blisquisitions as well as extrablogospherically. And jolly nice they are too as a rule. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of intrablogoneologization I say.

  41. JulesLt says:

    At the risk of turning Mr.Fry’s blog into the new Slashdot.

    Daithi – be careful not to confuse open standards (such as ASCII, HTML or TCP/IP) with open source software. Open standards have actually been far more important in the development of computing, and have long been backed by consortiums of companies. In the future, it will be far easier to recover, say, an MP3 file or DVD, than something created using an unknown and failed format using open source software.

    Dark Phoenix – to be fair, comparing Windows in the 80s with Unix circa 1970 is a bit off, given that desktop computers simply did not have the spare power to run a ‘proper’ operating system until well into the 90s. Even in the early 90s Unix workstations were typically 5 times the cost of a PC. You can only really compare it to its peers – GEMM, AmigaOS, Mac OS, Archimedes OS and IBM OS/2. Where it is still loses.

    What I don’t understand is why they have failed over the last decade to take the opportunity to move onto a properly designed system. The cost of maintaining Windows must be huge, and the cost of trying to ‘fix’ it, even higher.

    Backwards compatibility isn’t an excuse when you can run Windows software in an OS X environment using software like Parallels or Fusion, a solution that would be a lot easier when you control every piece of the puzzle.

    [For what it's worth, MS have experimented with an entirely new research OS, called Singularity, which is worth reading up on, and proof to those that MS do invent things]

    I think Tretle has it right about ‘even if the user has no idea it’s Linux’. I’d almost go so far as to say ‘only if the user has no idea it’s Linux’.

  42. The Mad Hatter says:

    Stephen,

    Isn’t it exciting? For years Microsoft ruled the roost. They didn’t do it with quality, they didn’t do it with marketing, what Microsoft did was cut deals that prevented competition from selling to the OEMS. Except Apple, and Apple spent a decade wandering in the wilderness until Steve Jobs came back.

    So now we have Apple delivering exciting tech, ASUS, OLPC, and a whole bunch of other companies producing really neat tech, all of which is based on Open Source software.

    And Microsoft can’t compete. They never learned how. They learned how to cut off Netscape’s air supply (read the US antitrust case documentation). But they never learned to produce a compelling product – something that was so good everyone went “wow – I’ve got to have that.”

    Even the XBox – possibly their best product to date, is really second rate compared to the Nintendo Wii, or even the antique Playstation 2.

    So yes, our saviors have arrived, and they are the BSD, GPL, MPL, and other open source licenses. The next few years in tech promise to be exciting – we will see even more neat toys coming down the pike, and none of them will have Microsoft product inside them. Unless someone at Microsoft gets smart – and with Steve Ballmer running the show I don’t see that happening.

  43. GreyCells says:

    Hi Stephen

    Good to see you articulate so well, but it would be great if you could make a better distinction between ‘Free Software’ and ‘Open Source’.

    Free Software is free as in enterprise or freedom. Open Source is often used as a competitive weapon with highly restrictive licensing.

    http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.html

    http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html

    The two links above provide a much better analysis that deserves better publicity.

  44. Ar-Pharazon says:

    OpenSourceFry

    1) I was right about the lack of localisation for Hebrew. My brain was fuzzy on the details but the essential was correct. If lack of support happened to MAC in 2002 it could happen on Windows in 2009.

    A couple of links for you
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2002/06/17/microsofts_mac_hebrew_snub_prompts/

    http://m10lmac.blogspot.com/2008/01/mac-office-2008-still-no-arabichebrew.html

    2) If Office was an open sourced product then anyone could hire someone to localise it and feed it back into the community, or not as they saw fit. That is the “freedom” of open source, not it doesn’t cost anything but it is yours to do with as you will.

    Then if you have a market where your supplier doesn’t deem it worrthwhile then you are not scuppered by that.

    You should own your computer, not a company convicted of abuse of monopoly position that tells you that you aren’t allowed to change the hardware in your machine without risking a deactivation and a long phone call to get sorted.

  45. Minty says:

    Ah yes, thank you for nother wonderful read Stephen. I found myself nodding as I read it knowing that many people feel that way. Including my other half so I emailed it to him a link to it saying a word about it. He read it and came back with ‘yes I agree exactly’. Knew it. We keep saying we are going to try out Linux, one of these days.

  46. Groveler says:

    This is an hilarious thread!

    I think I’ve read threads similar to this for every one of the last 15 years, between Microsoft defenders (I wouldn’t say any are advocates, unless employed by them) and Open Source foot soldiers. Everyone (practically) in the industry knows that Open Source has many benefits over the M$ offerings, but that hasn’t changed anything; the forecasts of M$’s demise have not proved true. Why is that?

    In my opinion it’s because M$ has succeeded as a business; it has developed, bought, marketed, wheeled and dealed to a position of great strength and as a consequence its products have become predominant. It’s not because they’re products are so much better than all the others, as we know, although they do have plenty of decent products, regardless of where they’ve come from. Open Source products haven’t been championed by an organisation as effective as M$.

    So will Open Source products be omnipresent-ish (you know what I mean) in five years time. In my opinion, only if one of two things happen. First possibility is that M$ adopt Open Source, and start applying their expertise to that business model. Second possibility is that M$ drop the ball in a bad way (as IBM did) and lose their predominance in the marketplace. Perhaps they already have; Vista has not been their finest hour, and with Bill Gates less hands on perhaps the magic of M$ is waning. In the past they’ve made errors (the Web) but spotted them and recovered. Can they continue to do so?

  47. Ar-Pharazon says:

    OpenSourceFry

    No, I was right though I misremembered a particular. MS Office since 2002 has not been localised for Hebrew or Arabic.

    Here’s the story I remembered as reported
    THEN http://www.theregister.co.uk/2002/06/17/microsofts_mac_hebrew_snub_prompts/

    and

    NOW http://m10lmac.blogspot.com/2008/01/mac-office-2008-still-no-arabichebrew.html

    This cut to the heart of the argument. Let’s discount the reported offer of financial support to localise for the MAC. Say it never materialised.

    Nothing can be done. No volunteers can help, because the source is closed.

    What about OpenOffice? http://he.openoffice.org/ Page for a Hebrew localised OpenOffice

    NeoOffice can also use its localisation

    Hell, there is even a Scots Gaelic OOO localisation.

    You lose this one

  48. krishva says:

    I won’t bother to read most of the previous comments (largely because it’s an argument I’ve heard a thousand times before and it never gets any more tolerable).

    My philosophy about computers is “Use what works for you at a price you’re comfortable with.” So if your little machine does what you want, that’s wonderful. But I also can’t fault most people in search of a midline or low-end laptop who buy a Dell (with Windows) at a price between $500 and $1000 USD.

    The thing about Windows XP is it’s really not that bad. It works. It’s stable. Not the prettiest user interface in the world, but folks who want a premium user experience tend to go for the expensive premium computer (Apple). There are lots of programs available for Windows so people can do whatever they want on it. It’s an OS that allows growth in how you use it. That’s the kind of thing most people need–it might not be the best way to do the job, but for many it’s the cheapest.

    I don’t expect Windows to be overtaken by Linux any time soon. Open source is swell but as a rule GNU software is not made with the average user in mind. It’s not a fantastic company platform either (paying employees to create something to give away for free). Berkeley open source, sure, I can see there being more products derived from BSD-style open source. Companies can profit from that, and companies care a lot more about user interface issues than computer-savvy volunteers usually do. :)

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