The future of Windows should be open source

If I were to judge the future of Microsoft based on these two statements, we should look for another version of Windows in about five years. And while I agree there should be another version of Windows and Office, I will disagree with the business model.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
5 min read

In a recent interview with Microsoft's COO Kevin Turner, the executive was asked about the future of Windows. In response, Turner had this to say: "Certainly, this last year has been an unprecedented year for Vista and Office and the launch," Turner said. "And we are still committed to the desktop. There will be another release and launch of a Vista-type operating system. [And] there will be another release of Office."

In typical Microsoft fashion, he continued: "You don't want this audience to abandon Windows, so it's important to remind them that Windows is still the most interesting operating system to develop for."

If I were to judge the future of Microsoft based on these two statements, we should look for another version of Windows in about five years. And while I agree there should be another version of Windows and Office, I will disagree with the business model. Forget about paying a couple hundred dollars for an operating system that is riddled with problems, the next version of Windows should be open source!

Wow, did I just say that? It felt so good! And while I know the next few iterations will cost us a cool $200 just to play around on a new GUI, why shouldn't Windows be open source? Why should a company with no debt and enough cash to buy up almost any country in the world release a product that is not only technically inferior, but dangerous to use if you don't know how to play with it?

But I digress. Windows will never be open source because Microsoft simply despises the open source movement and will never shy away from an opportunity to make some extra money. Yes, I know the company executives are trying to run a business and losing that revenue would be difficult to swallow, but I don't think Microsoft would lose that much revenue.

Consider this: right now you can download a Linux distribution or Open Office without the hassles of paying for it and yet new versions come out all the time. Worried about revenue? Let us download it from the Internet -- you know, over that super-fast connection we've been promised for years -- and put some advertising on the download site and the installation process. You're Microsoft! I'm sure someone will pay lots of money to see their company's logo on the new Windows installation screen.

But regardless of money, the time has come for Windows and Office to be open source. Not only are Linux distributions far exceeding the capabilities of a Windows box, but Open Office can provide much of the same functionality as the wildly expensive Microsoft version. Granted, right now I would choose Microsoft Office over Open Office, but give it a few years and I think I'll change my mind.

The simple fact is most people are tired of paying exorbitant fees for basically the same product every few years.

And this talk about people buying Windows machines because they use them in the office is starting to get on my nerves too. If that's true, why is Apple gaining market share and why is Dell releasing Ubuntu on its systems? Windows is slowly but surely becoming a dying breed. It may take a good ten or twenty years, but it will happen. Trust me on this one.

But perhaps the most compelling reason why Windows should go open source is because of the Internet. Simply put, the industry is moving towards the Internet and local desktop programs, while still popular because of slow connection speeds, have their days numbered. With Web 2.0 taking control of the software business and products being released that work best on the web, why should we spend time fooling around with a desktop application? And if you haven't noticed, most programs already use the Internet in one way or another.

More than Windows becoming obsolete, the desktop is becoming obsolete. As technology progresses and our toys become more advanced, instant access is key. In the past, desktop applications just worked -- in the future we will be laughing at them.

Windows is not immune to the ever-growing shadow the Internet is casting. As connection speeds increase, it will become more likely that people will use the Internet for all of their needs. For example, right now, I can't easily connect to my home computer and use it as if I was there. With a future web-based OS or even an open source OS that people have modified, I may be able to have a slew of products capable of running my entire home OS. Granted there would be storage needs and other issues to combat, but this isn't about proof of concept.

And yet, the question remains: why open source? Well, why not? I'm a firm believer in the open source movement and the ability for the public to take a company's code and strengthen and tailor it to fit its needs. Hasn't anyone ever given thought to the fact that an open source Windows would mean less security issues? Right now we're entrusting an outdated bible of code to get us through the next five years without any serious security issues. I don't know about you, but that doesn't instill too much confidence in me. But if we opened the code to the public, not only would experts strengthen it, but maybe they would do away with one of the main issues with Windows: its inexorable connection to the past. The current Windows code needs to accommodate many of the old Windows operating systems and in turn, many of the old issues. Not good, not good at all.

But alas, we are left with an operating system that will never go open source and a business model that has worked in the past, so surely, it should work in the future, right? It's sad to say, but unless Microsoft wakes up and realizes the current trend in the industry, Windows and Office as we know it, may meet an early demise.