PORTLAND, Ore. Maybe I'm on to something.
For a good chunk of last week, your reviewer's scribings about Ubuntu Linux was in
the top five of most-read stories at Washingtontimes.com, this newspaper's Web
site. Since most of the other top items concerned health insurance reform or the
H1N1 vaccine and similar weighty topics, the presence of a geek-oriented column was
a pleasant surprise.
I suspect this may reflect a growing disenchantment among many computer users with
the high cost of operating systems, specifically Windows operating systems from
Microsoft Corp. That firm launched its newest release, Windows 7, on
Oct. 22 and while sales signs are encouraging, we're not seeing the mania some
previous Windows launches have engendered. With prices ranging from about $110 to
just under $200 depending on the flavor of Windows 7 purchased, some users may
invoke the famous Roberto Duran maxim: "No mas" ("No more").
In short, when computer hardware can cost as little as $300 for a somewhat decent
setup, spending one-third to one-half of that on the operating system seems a little
extravagant, if not downright crazy.
My Ubuntu column drew a number of reader comments and questions. Here are a couple
of clarifications and answers to the most frequent items raised by readers:
iTunes for the Masses: I voiced the "complaint" that there isn't a Linux
version of Apple Inc.'s iTunes application for Ubuntu (or any other flavor of)
Linux, and that this was a demerit. Several readers, including Mr. Stephen Ostrow of
Long Island, New York, noted several open-source music player programs out there for
Linux, including Rhythmbox, Songbird, Amarok, and Banshee.
But, said I, what about buying music MP3s under Linux? Mr. Ostrow correctly replied:
go to Amazon.com and download to your heart's (and wallet's) content. His point
is well taken.
Given my druthers, I'd still prefer a Linux-friendly version of iTunes: Apple has
done very, very well, in my opinion, with its online
music/video/podcast/applications store, and while Amazon.com is a very good player
in the marketplace, there's stuff Apple has that Amazon doesn't. Bringing iTunes
to Linux would be a nice step, in my opinion.
Emulation made easy: Another question was about using "virtual machine" software
to emulate a Windows PC while running Linux. This can be done when there's a
Windows program you just need to run, and there's no alternative. Toddle over to
www.winehq.org and download the latest version, again, free. Follow the
instructions, cross your fingers and you'll be off to the races with most of the
popular Windows applications. (I'll confess I haven't tried this yet, because
I'm traveling. But I'll do it soon and report back.)
The whole issue of emulation, though, portends something else, I believe: if we're
able to cross-operate all sorts of applications on different (and less-expensive)
operating systems, then what's the future of expensive upgrades? My guess: a
Now, there are advantages to having an operating system such as Microsoft Windows in
the marketplace: there's a long history behind the OS, a lot of support for older
computers, displays, printers and other peripherals, and ostensibly less worry about
a "plug-and-play" computing experience. And, let's face it, users have nearly
25 years of Windows versions to play with; it's super-familiar and thus,
But there's that price tag. It's still jarring, especially since Apple, Inc.,
launched it's newest OS version, dubbed "Snow Leopard" at $30 a copy, period.
While what's officially known as Macintosh OS X 10.6 is not necessarily as much of
a revamp as Windows 7 has been, its price tag is more in line with the sensitivities
of today's market, I believe.
We might well be at the start, the most nascent stage, of a sea change in computing:
if your OS costs more than, say, 10 to 15 percent of your hardware's cost, it
might be viewed as costing too much.