Many students are mystified, at first, by my ignorance of and apathy toward the Microsoft environment. To many of them, Microsoft is the computer. They're younger than the IBM PC architecture itself, and didn't experience the great diversity of home computers (Commodore, TI, Atari, Tandy, pre-Macintosh Apple) that my friends and I had in the early-mid ’80s. Nor did they witness the following decade of dueling proprietary Unix workstation vendors (DEC, Sun, SGI, HP).

The simple story is that I started using these Unix workstations in college in 1991, and never even bothered to install the clunky contemporary Windows 3.0 on my own PC. By late 1992, I was installing early distributions of Linux. I stayed in that academic Unix-using bubble until 2002. Sure, I had seen Windows 95 briefly at a summer job. But it wasn't anything to take seriously. I'm a bit younger than that condescending bearded hacker in the Dilbert strip, but I'm clearly his heir.

I bring up this story because I read a number of interesting comments on Slashdot about resistance to Vista, and the extended end-of-support deadlines for XP. I'll just pull out some examples here, first about programming languages:

As for J#, C#, VB and WebDev, we're back to the same "How do I keep giving Microsoft money" question again. Those are not standards. They're proprietary solutions and stuff you build on them will obsolete every time Microsoft decides it needs more of your money. It's a trap. Don't fall into it. If you must program in those soon-to-be dead languages then you've created your own predicament and nobody can help you. — symbolset
I guess that articulates why I resist VB and C# in our program, even though there is clearly demand for them in industry, and thus students want to learn. Incidentally, another prof (who is not an anti-MS bigot) teaches those languages on occasion.

Here's a provocative call for Microsoft to save themselves by turning Linux into Windows version 7:

This is going to sound crazy, but bear me out. So here's what Microsoft does. They take the [Linux] OS and develop a Windows GUI for it. They pour a billion dollars or so into WINE development and research (while providing WINE's coders with full access to existing Windows APIs) and they bring WINE's performance and compatibility to dizzying heights. And then they sell it. Call it Windows, sell it as Windows and do what Apple's done with Darwin. Keep the proprietary stuff proprietary and the OSS stuff OSS. You'd wind up with a rock-solid OS, and your users could run their old software until their apps received an update to the new system. Eventually WINE would no longer be needed. This all sounds a lot like Apple, MacOS X and Classic, doesn't it? Anyway, there we go. I'm sure there are a thousand valid reasons why this couldn't/wouldn't work and naturally it will never happen. I understand that. I can dream though, can't I? — penginkun
How delusional am I, that this sounds like a perfectly reasonable strategy? Problem is that Microsoft is completely allergic to it.

What Apple has done fantastically well with the OS X transition is to maintain basic compatibility between the GUI frameworks and the underlying command-line tools and system calls. Apple adopts cups as their print server, adds some new GUIs and such, but continues to maintain ‘lpr’ and ‘cupsd.conf’. When some new technology like Spotlight is added, it comes with command-line and file-system support. Meanwhile, on Microsoft, you create a symbolic link on the Desktop, and you can't use it from the command-line or Perl scripts or normal C code. It's not part of the file system; it's just a façade that the (bloated) API provides.

I think this is why Apple has achieved significant market share among CS types and other scientists. I'm not even certain it was an explicit design goal for OS X, but now that we're a market segment, let's hope they keep it up. One thing that Linux distributions are doing better is package management. APT is great. You can run APT on Mac of course (and even on the iPhone), but if Apple blessed it and you started seeing most applications and demos installed that way, it would be an improvement.

Anyway, I'm not sure I'd go as far as to say that Vista represents the complete downfall of Microsoft, but the mind-share monopoly is certainly fading.

©20022015 Christopher League