And as an enthusiastic Linux, Java, etc. fan, I’ll go first…
Wait a minute, you say. Bill Gates? Isn’t he the Devil Incarnate? Isn’t he the sworn enemy of Linux?
I don’t know how he feels about Linux, and you don’t either… for all you know he’s got a Linux box at home he uses every chance he gets. (Actually, if I were Bill Gates, I’d use Linux every chance I get… if the competition isn’t going to even keep any secrets, you might as well learn all you can….)
But I do know if Windows or something very much like it didn’t exist, that sweet Linux box of yours would cost about 10 times as much. And it would suck.
Which puts that whole deal where most manufacturers would preinstall Windows and make you pay for a license whether you wanted it or not into perspective. Yeah, it’s kind of annoying to buy $200 “training wheels” with your box that you’ll just strip off and throw away. But it’s more than offset by the $20000 savings you’re getting courtesy of Windows and all the people who keep buying it.
What have I been smoking? (“I’ve been smoking the truth, man!”) Well, it all comes down to our old friend “economy of scale”; the more computers that get built, the cheaper each individual one will be, both because of amortization of fixed costs and because it pays to invest more R&D in a large market than a small one, and that R&D itself yields cost and performance improvements.
Now most users are running Windows rather than Linux, not because of any nefarious designs of Bill Gates, but because they are not geeks and never will be. Non-geeks will not start running Linux in great numbers even if we strung Bill Gates up from the nearest lamppost and burned every copy of Windows in a big bonfire. If Windows or something like it didn’t exist, most non-geeks would not buy a computer at all; they spend most of their time on interests that have nothing to do with programming, administration, or tinkering with technology, and will not willingly take the time to learn Linux no matter how much we wish they would. And, non-geeks outnumber us, by at least a factor of 20 to 1. Anyone who tried to sell a computer only to Linux fans would have to charge at least 10 times as much per box, and the box itself would be comparatively primitive because of all the extra R&D that didn’t go into it.
If you want to see what the computer market would be like if the non-geeks stayed out of it, take a look at the market for personal aircraft. The things are outrageously expensive, absurdly difficult to fly, and 40 year old planes are still considered worth owning and flying; the new ones aren’t advanced enough to blow them out of the water the way a new computer relegates even 10 year old computers to museums and junkyards. That’s because personal aircraft are only sold to committed enthusiasts, who are willing to invest large amounts of time and money to learn the primitive, user-hostile interface, get official permission to use the craft, and of course to buy the craft itself, whose price is kept high by the small number of units that can be sold to enthusiasts (aircraft-geeks?) like themselves.
The aircraft industry’s Bill Gates hasn’t come out with an easy-to-use interface for aircraft, and he’d lose his shirt if he tried, because non-enthusiasts wouldn’t be allowed to use it under current law and enthusiasts already know how to use the current user-hostile interface. That’s what would happen to the computer market if someone had stopped Bill Gates from “taking over the world” (i.e., selling huge numbers of computer operating systems to people who otherwise wouldn’t buy a computer at all, thus motivating all those non-geeks to pay the lion’s share of the fixed costs for hardware that would otherwise fall on Linux fans such as ourselves… much of which we couldn’t afford to pay and therefore wouldn’t get invested in developing the really nice hardware we enjoy today).