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Windows 8 launch – Jim Zemlin and the Free Software Foundation have their say

Windows 8 and the open source, Linux and free software communities are at odds, and the leaders come out to explain why

It’s Windows 8 launch day today, Microsoft’s new, one size fits all operating system for desktop, tablets, and smartphones. Thanks to the Interface Formerly Known As Metro, the folk at Redmond plan to claw back their market share in the PC space by finally cracking the portable computing market.

Or something like that. Microsoft are going through the same motions as Canonical and GNOME have done in recent years, trying to convince people that their interfaces are fine for mouse and keyboard even when the results seem to contradict this.

Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, believes that Windows 8’s hybrid approach is too little too late:

“A lot has changed in the three years since the last major Windows announcement. Netbooks were on the rise. The iPad wouldn’t be introduced for another six months and Nokia still had the lead for most smartphone sales in the world…that is no longer the case. Google’s Android OS only accounted for a 3.9% share of the smart phone market in 2009 (according to Gartner Group); last year that rose to 64% of the smartphone market. In 2011, smartphones for the first time outsold PCs (including tablets.) With hundreds of millions of those smart phones running Android, the consumer market is fully accustomed to Linux-based software.”

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Jim Zemlin pointed out this Forbes graph of global OS adoption, showing how strongly Android is doing

Zemlin argues that we’re living somewhat in a post-desktop world, or at least well into a transition period, and Linux is helping to drive this as the base for Android and Chrome OS.

“Microsoft is stuck in the liminal space between the desktop-driven, cost per software license world they dominated and the era we are just now entering: a world driven by open source software and services.” Continued Zemlin, pointing out that the price of Microsoft hardware is up to six times more than hardware powered by Linux. He attributes this to companies like Google not having to spend so much on R&D, with the Linux kernel and its estimated $10 billion (£6.2 billion) worth of development readily available, along with our FOSS like WebKit.

The Free Software Foundation agrees with this, and activists set out this morning to New York’s Microsoft store to hand out pamphlets to the people braving the cold to attend the launch event. In it, they warned of the dangers of proprietary software:

“Microsoft has already spent almost two billion dollars on slick advertisements to convince people that Windows 8 will revolutionize the way they use computers,” said Libby Reinish, campaigns manager at the FSF “The fact is, it’s basically Windows 7 with new surveillance ‘features’ and even more restrictions on users’ freedom. Whether or not Microsoft wants you to know it, it’s easy to switch to free software instead of choosing a downgrade to your rights as a computer user — for example, your rights to know what the system is doing and to change behaviors you don’t like. We’re here because we want people to know that they don’t have to buy Windows 8 — this is a great time to upgrade to free ‘as in freedom’ software.”

FOSS Linux Android
A gnu, the GNU mascot, showed up to hand up pamphlets in halloween pumpkin baskets

In the last year, Microsoft has been contributing more and more to open source and the Linux kernel, and of course you’ll be able to get plenty of free and open source software on the operating system. However, with all this FOSS dominating even the Windows space, how long until people start making the switch to an open operating system?