A recent debate between KDE developers raises an interesting question: Does
it help or hurt to port open source applications to closed platforms, such
as Windows? One
side argues that availability of open source applications on Windows diminishes
the chances that users will choose to migrate to Linux or *BSD. The other side argues
that open source on Windows can bridge the gap between Linux and Windows,
thus making it easier for users to (eventually) migrate.
First, there is the question of goals. While Microsoft has a coherent set
of goals, the open source community does not. Some projects are dedicated
to spreading open source as an end unto itself, others just see open source
as the best model for their specific project. If the goal is simply to
foster adoption of a specific application, like Firefox or OpenOffice.org,
then porting that application to Windows is without question the right
strategy. The vast majority of desktop users are on Windows, and it makes
little sense to ask users to switch operating systems to use one
However, if the goal is to spread open source in general, then one has to
wonder whether users are likely to migrate to a new operating system if the best applications for
that system (or most of them, anyway) are also available on the closed system that
they're familiar with. The vast majority of users are motivated by factors
other than licensing.
This is not the first time the debate has been raised, nor is it likely to
be the last. However, this may be a good time to look at the
situation. Linux is acknowledged as a mainstream server operating system,
but still looked at as a fringe desktop operating system. Desktop
applications on Linux are starting to reach parity in ease-of-use and
feature sets with their Windows counterparts, thus making it a viable
platform for Windows users to migrate to, should they so choose. At the
same time, many of those applications are available on Windows, allowing
Windows users to adopt open source applications without migrating away from
Windows. If this is the final result, then most Linux users would see
porting open source applications to Windows as undesirable. As Aaron Seigo
The more software we port to Windows the more we reinforce this application
availability imbalance and strengthen the user's inertia to stay on
Windows. If users had to make a choice between Windows or Linux (or BSD)
when it came to getting access to better applications they would find they
had a motivation to switch. And switch they would.
There is, however, the possibility that users will be more likely to adopt
Linux or *BSD if they have a positive experience with some of the open
source applications on Windows. Change is scary for many users, and it may
be better to provide a means to gradually adjust to open source platforms
rather than expecting a user to plunge in headlong and learn to swim right
away. It's also worth considering that many Windows users would never be
exposed to open source applications if they are not available on
Windows. It's one thing to hear wonderful things about OpenOffice.org,
Firefox, The Gimp, Apache or KDE, but another thing entirely to actually
use those applications and become comfortable with them.
For organizations, the gradual approach may be the best way to ensure the
adoption of open source. As "pipitas" argues:
Even at the present stage there is a considerable share of IT desicion
makers in enterprises and government bodies who seriously evaluate options
and costs of a switch over. For most, it now looks like "all or nothing,"
and a big jump. A too big one in many cases. So they refrain. So they sign
another 5 year contract with MS...
To chop the task into smaller pieces, to take the direction, but only a few
steps for now, to smooth the transition out over a period of time is very
difficult. And it costs. Not only do you have to train the users. You also
need to re-train the IT teams. So Microsoft is of course playing on the
card of Total Cost of Ownership (TOC), with a liiiiiittle bit of (every
marketeer's) exageration, but with a tiny bit of valid argument too. They
keep winning, albeit often by a small margin. And they even start losing
some rounds, lately.
Both sides make compelling arguments. There are, no doubt, users and
organizations that will adopt a handful of open source applications and
stop there. Other users and organizations will adopt Firefox,
OpenOffice.org and other open source applications and decide to go
In the end, however, it's hard to argue for spreading open source by
restricting users' choice. Most Linux users resent Microsoft for
restricting their choices when using Windows, so it's somewhat hypocritical
to suggest that Windows users should have to make an "all or nothing"
choice to use Linux or *BSD to benefit from open source. While there's a
risk that users will choose to stay on Windows, it's the ability to choose
that led most of us to Linux in the first place.
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