Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It's Not Often

It's not very often that a big technology opportunity presents itself - but there is one right in front of our noses.

Over nearly 40 years Microsoft has grown from a small, focussed and innovative company to a huge technology monopoly.  And like all such beasts it has become arrogant and uncaring.  The "Windows" and "Office" franchises are cash cows that Ballmer and friends seem intent on milking to death.

And in my view that death isn't very far away.  If you doubt me then you haven't been paying attention to what is going on with Windows 8.  It is basically just another layer of complexity on top of an already unnecessarily complex system.

And it has become unusable.

But there's more - it's not just Windows that is a mangy dog - our friends at Intel have been fiddling with the BIOS (basic input output system) that every PC uses to manage the boot process.  They have introduced a thing called UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface).  And Microsoft have added a thing called Secure Boot - which can secure the boot process by preventing the loading of drivers or OS loaders that are not signed with an "acceptable" digital signature.

Sounds good doesn't it.  Extensible Firmware Interface and Secure Boot - these things are there to protect us right?  Or they would be if their implementations weren't broken, buggy and flawed - and if those bugs and flaws weren't exploited by the folks at Redmond and elsewhere to keep their competition at bay.

Which is what has happened.  I bought a new low-end notebook recently that came pre-installed with Windows 8.  It took 2 days of seemingly non-stop disk activity to update itself.  When I got sick of that and tried to install Linux - I soon realised the folly of UEFI and Secure Boot - which *almost* thwarted my every move.  Fortunately I know some people ;-)

And now I have a small, lightweight notebook running Linux (Kubuntu) and it is fantastic.  At least ten times more responsive than the monolithic Windows 8 and no incessant disk thrashing.

So what's the opportunity?

Well there are two actually - the first is to build some clever software tools to diagnose and deal with the craziness of UEFI and Secure Boot - because these things are going to become much more widespread.  Eventually all new PC's will have them - and that will effectively stop you and me from installing our operating system of choice.  Perhaps this is worth a look?

And the second is to help the folks at Wine - and in particular Winelib - so we can run our existing windows applications (that we have already paid the Microsoft tax on) on our non Microsoft operating system of choice.

Of course these opportunities assume that we do still have some technology skills in the nation and that we have enough curious people to exploit them.  Do we?

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