The Future Of Computing Will Be Good Enough

The latest version of the Linux kernel includes an experimental driver module that tears apart the fabric of space-time. Keir Thomas tested this module, and in doing so managed to retrieve the following article, posted on PC World supersite in the year 2025.

Undoubtedly the biggest upset in the world of tech over the last ten years has been the demise of Microsoft. However, the end had been obvious as early as 2009. The corporation narrowly fought off an antitrust judgment under the (first) Clinton and Bush administrations. But it also developed fatal issues with its product line.

It was the vintage Windows XP operating system that caused the rot to set in that brought down the company. XP had proved a best-seller in its day, but became a significant thorn in Microsoft's side when it attempted to introduce new products.

Put simply, nobody wanted to upgrade. Everybody was happy with XP. Too happy, in fact, for Microsoft's business model to survive.

The lack of desire to relinquish XP by users was part of what became known as the "Good Enough" revolution in both software and hardware. At the beginning of the 21st century, computing hardware had evolved sufficiently to reach a level of performance that allowed for speedy execution of virtually all common computing tasks. Prior to this, the only way to guarantee good performance was to buy expensive cutting-edge hardware. But now chips costing just a few dollars offered more performance than most people would ever need.

Upgrading became less a matter of getting a better PC than about simply replacing old and broken computers with newer models. Ever resourceful during the Great Recession that struck in the early 21st century, PC manufacturers responded with ultra-cheap but "good enough" computers (both laptops and desktops) that were designed to be simple slot-in replacements for existing computers. PC manufacturers had already carved this route with netbook computers, where the goal was to be cheap and usable, with little if any frills.

All of this was good news for the open source movement. To keep costs down, the manufacturers shied away from pre-installing expensive Microsoft products and instead distributed Linux (and later various renditions of BSD and OpenSolaris too). Utilizing the freedom offered by open source, manufacturers joined together to share development costs, significantly reducing their operating system outlay.

It's no secret that, in the early days of the Good Enough revolution, many users simply installed their old versions of Windows XP on the new ultra-cheap computers. But when Microsoft introduced licensing changes to stop this (a futile bid to force users to upgrade), many stuck with the open source operating system that came on their computers. To their apparent surprise, most found that the open source OS did everything they needed. Just like the hardware, the software was "good enough" (indeed, it was an open source advocate who coined the phrase "The Good Enough Revolution" on the PC World Linux Line blog back in 2009).

But there was another unseen element at play. The rise in Internet-based applications meant operating system choices were simply not as important as they once had been. As long as the OS allowed the user to get online and didn't get in his/her way for most tasks, this was all that was needed.

Faced with falling revenues, Microsoft responded by heavily discounting its operating system products and--eventually--giving away its Office product entirely free of charge as part of Windows. They claimed this was simply an upgrade of the vintage Notepad application, and its removal was impossible without breaking the operating system, but fresh antitrust allegations quickly followed. Just a few years ago the company was finally broken up.

Of course, the sad story of Microsoft pales into insignificance alongside the virtual destruction of Google after intelligent spambots hit the scene and rendered all search engine results useless. But that's a story for another time.

Keir Thomas is the award-winning author of several books on Ubuntu, including Ubuntu Pocket Guide and Reference. (And no, he didn't really travel through time.)

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