In a lot of ways Windows 95 is like Linux; in a lot of ways, it isn't.
Looks like I volunteered (read: was volunteered) to write the Windows 95 article for Linux Journal. Seems like we have to do it—every other computer magazine did. I suggested to our Editor that it could be humorous or serious. He told me it didn't matter, I would get flamed either way. So, here goes—you decide if it is humorous or serious.
I am writing this column in early August, just a couple of weeks before the scheduled release of Windows 95. In case you haven't been on this planet for the last year or so, Windows 95 is a product of a small company called Microsoft located about 10 miles east of the Linux Journal offices. In a lot of ways Windows 95 is like Linux; in a lot of ways, it isn't. Let's look at a few of the similarities.
Win95 and Linux both run on Intel-based PC hardware. (Linux also runs on other hardware such at the Alpha and Amiga, but that is beside the point.)
Win95 and Linux are both 32-bit operating systems. (Linux on the Alpha is 64-bit, but that isn't important. And when WINDOWS Magazine Editor-at-Large John Ruley interviewed Georg Moore, a Microsoft program manager, he was told that Win95 is really a hybrid, with lots of 16-bit components remaining.)
Win95 and Linux both run user applications in protected mode. (Except that Win95 maps memory from 64KB to 4MB into the address space of all applications, with write access to all data areas between 64KB and 4MB. Again, from John Ruley's interview.)
Win95 and Linux both include networking. (If the U.S. government allows this in Win95. And, of course, Linux includes NFS, NIS, uucp, .... In other words, a lot more networking with an open architecture, which makes it easy to network Linux with other operating systems.)
Win95 and Linux both include a GUI. (Of course, the Win95 GUI only runs on whatever Win95 runs on. The Linux GUI, X-Windows, is available on many platforms.)
Win95 and Linux are both written in C. (Well, that's what I have heard. While Linux source code is freely available, Win95 source is not.)
Win95 and Linux are both licensed software products. (The licenses do differ: the Win95 license says you can't share, the Linux license says you must share. Also, if you didn't see it before, take a look at Linus Torvald's “Linux '95 Final Release”, a spoof on Microsoft's license that he posted to Usenet in March (on our Web site at www.ssc.com/lj/issue18/final.html).
Enough for the similarities.
Win95 includes the “Registration Wizard” which allows automatic, on-line registration of the software. Why, even consumer advocate Ralph Nader has noticed this. In fact, in a letter to US President Bill Clinton he said “Another objectional feature of Windows 95 is the Microsoft online `Registration Wizard'. This part of the program is designed to scan automatically a user's hard disk, dial-up Microsoft, and download information to Microsoft about the files on the user's hard disk, including the titles and versions of software applications. Critics of this practice, including the Department of Defense, have questioned the impact of this practice on data security and privacy.” While this registration is optional—you have to click OK to enable this—one wrong mouse click can compromise the privacy of your system.
Enough of the rumors.
Let me look at the serious part of what Win95 means for Linux users.
The inclusion of networking in Win95 means that the Internet will grow faster than ever before. The World Wide Web, already experiencing fantastic growth, will grow even faster. (I guess this is why we are starting a magazine called WEBsmith for Web developers.) CompuServe figured this out and bought Spry, a company that sells Web sites.
While Win95 shows that Microsoft is finally getting serious about connectivity, Linux was born on the Internet and has a lot of experience working with diverse systems. PC Week started its life with Web servers on Linux boxes and today even Spry uses Linux for its Web servers. If 100,000,000 people eventually get on the Internet with Win95 boxes, the Internet probably will need another 1,000,000 Web sites to handle the traffic and offer new services. Many of these systems could be and will be Linux systems.
Microsoft will sell tens of millions of copies of Win95 to people who want a desktop workstation. Companies such as Caldera expect to sell Linux with their desktop software to a similar market. The “features” of Win95 I listed above will help many companies and individuals choose Linux instead of Win95. If my 100 million estimate is right and 1% pick Linux instead, that's another 1 million Linux systems.
Another use for Linux systems is vertical applications. A dentist doesn't care what kind of operating system her computer runs. She wants a reliable, cost-effective system that takes care of appointments and billing. With Linux's low cost (free software and low system requirements), it is a fierce, though quiet, competitor in this market.
While Microsoft will sell tens of millions (9 million sales are projected for the remainder of 1995 alone), and maybe eventually hundreds of millions, of copies of Win95, the number of uses for computers is growing. Rather than try to capture the whole Win95 market (which we can't afford to do), Linux can fill plenty of niches far better than Win95.
Finally, a tip for Linux users who wish to try Win95. A bug in the Win95 installer code causes it to destroy the master boot record of your hard disk. This has been reported to Microsoft, but there has been no response. Linux users who install Win95 must then reinstall LILO or whatever other boot manager you are using. While I haven't tried it, I have been told that LILO works fine and will boot Win95.