Saturday, February 24, 2007

Microsoft's Marketshare and the US Government

I'm a Unix user, anybody who reads this blog knows that, and so I am charged with being the non-microsoft user amongst my friends, the guy who has to defend linux, os X, and every other Unix flavor against microsoft in one fell swoop everytime this argument starts . . . (and it starts plenty). One of the arguments most frequently waged in favor of Microsoft is:

"Microsoft has a huge marketshare in the personal computing market . . . that many people can't be wrong"

Aside from the fact that popularity and quality are mutually exclusive, yes, in fact, taht many people can be wrong. The largest consumer of microsoft products is also the largest employer in the United States. Guesses . . . anyone? That's right, the United States Federal Government. So alot of their marketshare comes from US government purchases, which is not a choice that any single user can make. But when it comes time for that user to make a decision about an operting system, there are going to choose the operating system that they are most comfortable with . . . the one that they were trained to use at work . . . Microsoft Windows.

This is true of anything really, my first PC (not the one my dad got, but my actual first PC, my very own) was a DELL Inpsiron 8200 running Microsoft XP Home Edition. The reason for this choice was 2-fold: My father had Windows in the house since it was a baby . . . all the way back to 3.1, and also my school's computer lab (where i spent alot of time) ran Windows with Turbo C++ (yeah baby). I felt very comfortable with Windows, and so I bought a windows machine. Contrarily I started using Mac in College, and worked as a Mac Systems administrator for a year with the Humanities division, and my next computer was . . . you guessed it . . . a Mac. Linux came in between, but that's another story for another time.

The point is that people buy what they know, not what's the best. Microsoft is successfull for the same reason that McDonald's is successful. When you're in a new town, driving accross the country, are you going to take a chance on that local greasy spoon for a burger that might be great, or are you going to get McDonald's because you know exactly what you're getting. You're going to get McDonald's, and most people who work for the government are going to get Windows in much the same way.

The reason that people try to make an argument about marketshare is simple . . . most people who use windows have never used OS X or linux or solaris or free/net/openBSD, and so if they want to argue about which is better, they have to argue something that has nothing to do with the abilities or technical specifications of the operating system. Which is hard if you've never used it, or have only used it sparingly. I have a better idea, use them. No wait, I have an even better idea, it doesn't matter, you've made your choice, stop talking about it. I have stopped prostelatizing for Mac or Linux, the only thing I do now is when my Windows friends ask for computer help I tell them the truth . . . "I don't know windows very well anymore . . . given some time I could probably figure it out, but i'm not going to. If you want help from me switch to unix and I'll be more than happy to help anytime." And I would expect my Windows admin counterparts to provide the exact same response to unix users.

I believe it's an utter travesty that the federal government uses Windows. Not just in the voting booth . . . which is completely unforgivable . . . but also in the workplace. I don't hate windows, windows is fine, windows is good even for what they need to do. But with the dawn of Ubuntu linux, and Open Office 2.0, Linux is ready. And the government should be criticized for Windows from now on, not because it sucks, or it's insecure or any of that . . . but becaue it's expensive.

In any case, stop saying that a market share is an argument for goodness, unless you want to argue with me that McDonald's cheeseburgers are better than 7/10 cheeseburgers, or In and Out Burgers because they have a bigger marketshare. Didn't think so.

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