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back to article How Microsoft shattered Gnome's unity with Windows 95

There never will be a year when Linux conquers the desktop, because desktop computers are going to merge into tablet-style touch-driven devices and disappear. But desktop Linux was getting close, until Microsoft derailed it a few years back. The GNOME project’s recent release, GNOME 3.8, served to remind me of the significance …

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To be fair to MS...

I think the Linux devs were only too happy to create a series of desktops. Without a chain of command led by a control-freak, the people who make Linux desktops will happily split off into groups with different visions. That's often a good thing as well as a bad one.

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You are mistaken …

… Linux dev's (Kernel developers) are rarely concerned with a GUI (graphical user interface) and happily prefer the command line over any GUI … and, very important, Linux and GUI's are not the same. Linux-GUI's are only playgrounds, using the most widely used operating system in the world (Linux) to emulate and/or excel know GUI's like Windows, Android or Mac OSX. Oh, and another mistake (in the article) is the assumption Microsoft (Windows 95) invented the Taskbar. As I remember (being that old) Arthur 1.20 (later RISC OS), an Operating system from 1987, had that feature years earlier, called "the icon bar". Sure, Microsoft invented the "Start Button" ... wow … but that was merely an exercise to declutter the "the icon bar" (er, sorry, "the task bar") …

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Re: You are mistaken …

I was using the term 'Linux devs' in a generic, non-anal sense obviously :)

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Re: To be fair to MS...

This article is saying much the same as I said in the comments to an article back in February:

"Unfortunately, as well as eating itself, it also splits and forks itself. Web servers has always been a FOSS stronghold. Everywhere else that counts is full of crap competition: KDE vs Gnome - developer show-offs leading to no winners. LibreOffice vs OpenOffice - no winners due to diluted development.

Yes it's one of the best things that you can fork a project if it heads in the wrong direction, but it also dilutes development effort trying to do 10 things at once."

That comment received 6 thumbs up and 16 down. Diluting the developer effort is, according to this article, Microsoft's strategy. Funny that.

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Re: To be fair to MS...

Android has not "Won" the mobile war, it is just the current market leader in total volume, Apple still make the lions share of the profits (eroding though I am sure) and as like with Apple someone could come out with some good software and a compelling reason to get peoples attention and do the exact same as Android did to Apple to Android

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Re: To be fair to MS...

I don't see that Linux has to be number one. It's actually doing very well because of all the variety. However cloning stuff from Microsoft is simply following a company who makes good popular software. It's not innovating and producing something better. Honestly by now there should be one document format that can be worked on by one application which combines all the features of MS Office. Linux is not going to produce this first whilst it's Office is a copy of MS Office.

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Re: To be fair to MS...

Ohh, you are going to get a lot of downvotes for that one....

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Re: You are mistaken …

And the RISC OS desktop had a application launcher (Start Button-alike) if you chose to install something like Director. And what do you mean by "window switching". You do that by clicking on the window's title bar to bring it to the front, or just click in it's edit area to give it the input focus without the brain-dead MSWin lobotomy of bringing the whole window with it.

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Re: To be fair to MS...

This is typical of the latte kids. I go to get a coffee and what I want is a coffee, I don't want to have to chose between a whole bunch of different varieties, I then don't want to have to decide whether it is with milk, or cream, or whipped cream, I don't want to be asked whether I want syrup and which flavour. I just want a fucking coffee.

Similarly when I use a desktop computer I just want it to work, I don't want to pick and chose a dozen different desktops, and then go through sub variants of those. I just want the damn thing to work. No fscking about, just turn on and go.

That is why I won't go into starbucks for coffee and I wont install linux again.

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Re: To be fair to MS...

What's depressing is that there's been very little OS development since almost forever.

Apparently no one can imagine anything more original than a desktop with menus and icons over a pre-emptive multitasking system based on ideas from the 1960s.

And then you get Win 8, which takes half of that and breaks it.

Forking doesn't make something interesting if all you get are twenty variations on the same ideas.

What would a completely original take on interface design, networked file system design and data type sharing, Internet integration and distributed processing look like?

Nothing like Linux, OS X, or Windows, I'd bet.

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Re: To be fair to MS...

That is why I won't go into starbucks for coffee and I wont install linux again.

Go into Starbucks and ask for "a coffee".

When they say "what type", say "I don't know.. a coffee."

You will get a coffee.

Same with Linux really. If you don't want the choice, you can stick with whatever you're given. Apps designed for different Linux desktop GUIs all seem to interoperate nicely in alien desktop environments anyway, so I really don't know what the article is on about by "fragmentation".

Look at me, happily running GTK apps in KDE.

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Happy

Re: To be fair to MS... @Eadon

The argument isn't bullshit, it is spot on. There are too many options and far too many opinions to facilitate an easy transition from the mainstream (Windows). Stick with me through my post, please.

I am a good example. Just last night I installed Mint after weeks of trying to decide what distribution was best. I finally picked Mint because I got frustrated making a decision. I was confident I could fix it if I didn't like it (it went extremely well by the way) but at the end of the day I was just making a shot in the dark. If I wasn't competent enough to repair any damage I caused I would have been insane just to 'change' over to a new OS with a terrible users manual, strange options, productivity software incompatibilities and an extremely vocal and over enthusiastic user group for my only source of help. No business manager wants or needs to deal with that.

That being said, I am so far happy with Mint. All my hardware works, the install process was simple and with the exception of the Cinnamon theme crashing/stuck in an error loop, it has been good. I don't know where my clock is, I still haven't figured out how to turn the damn thing off without pressing the switch and I my desktop is completely empty as I haven't figured out how to get stuff on there.

It is the little things like the missing clock, the absence of a 'GO' button, no obvious trash can, terrible documentation and an abusive support system that scare people off. Im sure you know how to solve each of those issues, but I don't (yet). I can sure as hell fix them in Windows though. Is it Windows-centric thinking? Absolutely! But those are the expectations Linux has to meet before people like me sign off on transitioning hundreds of happily functioning PC's and staff over to Linux. It needs to be at least as straightforward as Windows to ensure mass adoption. I think there are too many voices and they all have the same power to be heard. Fragmentation is not helping adoption.

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Re: To be fair to MS...

"I go to get a coffee and what I want is a coffee, I don't want to have to chose between a whole bunch of different varieties, "

Well, no one who's preference is available WANTs to have to look through the options they don't want. I use WindowMaker and I'm very happy with it. I'd love the GNOME and KDE projects to clear off and put their resources into improving WindowMaker or something else that I do use.

But, when your preference isn't available, that's when you understand the attraction of "fragmentation", especially at the user desktop level where it does no real harm to program functionality.

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Happy

@Don Jefe Re: To be fair to MS... @Eadon

You can put useful icons and STUFF on your system panel (taskbar). You'll figure it out. Just right click everything and see what gets offered. Try 'em all!

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You are mistaken …

... how can someone give a "thumb down" for this post (except for the spelling mistake in: "known") ... seriously, what's wrong with it. There is noting emotional, non factual or irrational in it.

And for the endless pro and contra topic of variety, which is exactly the strength of Linux and its distributions (like it, or hate it) ... Linux makes a good operating system for your telly, the space station, mobile phones and pads, the Google search infrastructure as well as your desktop etc. etc. ... and if you don't like it, buy a Mac ... fair enough ...

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Re: To be fair to MS... @Eadon

@Don Jefe

Many distros will install a goodly selection of applications by default and have a GUI package manager that lets the user browse and install/uninstall more. This is what OpenSuse does. The default KDE install includes LibreOffice, an editor, GIMP and other photo programs including a panorama creator, Firefox, audio & video players, CD burner, e-mail, file-manager, rdc and a console ( and lots of other stuff )

All, by the way, on a hierarchical start menu

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Boffin

Re: To be fair to MS... @John Lilburne

" I go to get a coffee and what I want is a coffee, I don't want to have to chose between a whole bunch of different varieties"

Um... if I go to Starbucks and ask for "black coffee", or "American coffee" (this is how "regular" coffee is called here in Mexico) I'll get exactly that. In fact, the only question I'll get is "do you want space for milk/cream?". I've never run into the retarded zillion-option thing that makes its rounds on the intertubes.

Meanwhile, with desktop Linux distros, if what you want is something that "just works", it'll work no matter which distribution you've chosen. Got Ubuntu? Use Unity. Got Fedora? Use Gnome3. You can change the desktop manager, but you don't need to choose that when installing. So just like the Starbucks faux analogy, it doesn't apply to Linux either.

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Re: You are mistaken …

Actually, RISCOS (the Acorn one, that is) had all of:

1) the "Icon Bar" with two types of icon that worked in from both ends

2) Window "Title Bars" with icons in them to expand and collapse the window, &c

3) A "Start" buttin, called the"Apps" icon (on the icon bar) that contained applications is the ROM

as a starting point but also applications from the boot disc that were added to this set.

This last bit is the one that differed a nit form Window because it wasn't at either end of the icon bar, and it didn't support a menu structure for the applications -- but it was there.

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Re: To be fair to MS...

> LibreOffice vs OpenOffice - no winners due to diluted development.

Actually not. Developments in either could be included in the other. They can be somewhat competitive in trying to outdo each other and that is a good thing, but in the end the code is available.

Same with desktop environments. It doesn't matter which one I use because applications will run in any of them (given I load the required libraries from the distro).

With, say, MacOS vs. Windows the choice must be made and stuck with. With KDE, Mint, LXDE, I can switch between them and not worry.

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Re: To be fair to MS...

> I just want a fucking coffee.

So when you buy one you get given the current style decided by the vendor ? This week it is 'black no sugar', next week will have sheep's milk.

I presume that you use Metro because that's what MS gave you and you don't want choice.

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Re: To be fair to MS...

"I don't want to pick and chose a dozen different desktops"

Then don't. Pick ONE, install it, use it. No problem.

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Mushroom

You've got to be kidding.

Most of the basic UI elements from Win95 were not invented by Microsoft. They were cobbled together from a wide range of sources including CDE and other ancient window managers. A lot of the apparent missing prior art is MIA primarily because the author refused to really acknowledge the state of X before 1995.

The the first "clone" of Windows95 was nothing more than a theme for an existing window manager (fvwm).

A start menu is nothing more than an anchored app menu from any of the early window managers.

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Re: To be fair to MS... @Eadon

Totally agree with you Don. If, in a corporate environment, there's an issue to solve, nobody wants to hear "let me check out forums and IRC". That's the downside of free as in beer. Expecting competent and individual support like you MAY find if you pay large license fees, isn't realistic. (By "you" I'm referring to people in general; I'm sure you're aware of it.)

So on the one hand you have a mega corp running the show on business desktops for almost two decades. They charge money for it, and can therefore afford to offer support (and are expected to).

On the other hand you've got free Linux (or *BSD or [now] Sun Solaris descendants like OpenIndiana, IllumOS, OMNI etc). The majority of developers who contribute will see no compensation for it. A few are lucky to be able to contribute as part of their day-jobs, because their employers have a strong interest in those things.

But you cannot reasonably expect support in the same way as you can from commercial options like Windows or *cough* Oracle Solaris etc.

For a business simple maths: If the costs (setup/maintenance/support/training) are lower or at least easier to foresee than the risk you may be taking with an unsupported, free product, you'll go for the safer option.

Of course there are commercial options available too: for example Red Hat. They offer great support, but that doesn't come cheap either. (Add to that the training for your staff who have never used Linux, and it's often not worth switching.)

Without any commercial backing which makes professional support for business customers possible, Linux will *never* conquer the desktop. But it's not a competition. At the end of the day, everybody should use what works for them, whatever the reasoning behind it. (I'm typing this on Fedora 18 on my laptop, and despite paying the tax for the pre-installed Win 7 Pro, I've removed Windows altogether).

I don't want to see a one-size-fits-it-all without any competition out there. The more options are available to the customer, the better it is for them, be it operating systems or window managers (Gnome, KDE and numerous others), or anything else for that matter.

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IT Angle

Re: To be fair to MS... @John Lilburne - but @coffee

One of Bill Bryson's books has an absolutely brilliant parody scene about this "coffe selection" problem, taking place at an ungodly hour of the morning in an airport, Bryson gagging for a cup of java. It is hilarious.

The scene ends when the assistant finally "gets it" and says, "Ah, an Americano", to which Bryson responds "Evidently". Worth a read, but I forget which book it's in and I am not near my books.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: To be fair to MS...

Trying to claim Linux is succeeding/will succeed by pretending Android is just another Linux distro rather than a separate OS in it's own right is massively disingenuous. Linux is going absolutely nowhere on the desktop, and the desktop itself is in it's twilight years as a mainstream platform.

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Re: To be fair to MS...

> Look at me, happily running GTK apps in KDE.

...And I happily run Qt apps in Gnome.

All this "I don't want to choose a desktop" thing confuses me - if you don't want to choose one, then don't. Accept whatever is the default and it will be good[1]. If it stops being what you want, install another one and carry on regardless. Your choice of desktop does not dictate what you can do with it, just how it presents your tools to you.

Vic.

[1] Except Unity, natch.

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Re: To be fair to MS... @Eadon

Of course there are commercial options available too: for example Red Hat. They offer great support, but that doesn't come cheap either.

So you've shown us two ends of the spectrum - what about all the space in-between?

There are *many* of us offering support for Linux systems. We're much, much cheaper that RH. You don't get the same SLA - if you want it, you can buy it.

Support in Linux is a simple trade-off between what you get and what you pay. If you don't want to pay anyhing, you take your chance with volunteers. If you want paid support, you get out your cheque book. Same as anything in business.

Add to that the training for your staff who have never used Linux, and it's often not worth switching.

That's very old, very stinky bait.

Vic.

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Re: To be fair to MS... @John Lilburne

Yes, but you already know that you want "black coffee" or "American coffee". Likewise, many long-time Linux users know that they want "Linux with GNOME" or "Linux with KDE" or "Linux with AwesomeWM". Like how you've tasted your share of coffee and know which one you like best, Linux veterans have tasted their share of distros and know which one they like best.

So, for a better analogy, suppose you've never drank coffee before. You have *no idea whatsoever* what kind of coffee tastes best, so you have no idea which of the many flavors and styles of coffee would be best for you. You have to go by one of several factors:

- What do authorities on coffee (i.e. the barista) say?

- What do fellow coffee-drinkers (i.e. my friends) say?

- Which coffee looks like it would taste the yummiest?

This is quite precisely how the Linux DE decision is made. You go by recommendations by authorities (journalists, formal reviews, etc.), recommendations by fellow Linux users (i.e. on forums, etc., or a Linux-using friend), and whether or not the DE/WM in question comes with the features you want. With that, you take a shot in the dark and try one.

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Re: To be fair to MS...

> by pretending Android is just another Linux distro

Linux is the name of the kernel. Distros are based on GNU/Linux by using the Linux kernel, GNU utilities and one of the many GUIs plus many applications. If you swap the kernel for another, such as BSD, then you get a BSD distro using the same GNU utilities, GUI and applications.

Android uses the Linux kernel. It doesn't use KDE, nor Gnome, nor LXDE, or any of the others, it has its own GUI and its own application environment but it has the Linux kernel and rates being called 'Linux' in exactly the same way as Red hat or SUSE.

> the desktop itself is in it's twilight years as a mainstream platform.

Which just shows that Linux is once again far ahead of the mainstream. Linux dominates on SuperComputers, is the majority of Servers, is far ahead on mobile. Microsoft have been fighting over the twilight of desktops and netbooks (which is why Linux didn't get much traction) and failed to catch on to the move away from their territory.

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Headmaster

Re: To be fair to MS...

I'm sorry to contradict you ...

You won't get any coffee at Starbucks ... you'll get some type of brown diluted shit.

With apologies to shit.

Thank you .... yes I'm a coffee nazi .....

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Linux

My head hurts ...

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Pint

Re: fishdog

"My head hurts ..." I gave up trying to track all the forks in the Linux desktop years ago, so I can only sympathise with yourself and applaud Mr Poven's efforts! The only suggestion I can make is fuggedaboudit for today, it's actually sunny here in the UK, so I shall be scheduling a "team meeting" down the local watering hole instead.

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Windows 95

Windows 95 broke one of the most useful conventions. (Being able to type in a window without it being on top).

The RiscOS / X11 ways of doing it are different but still just as useful.

The Xmouse powertoy was never very good. (Funny thing is the reg hack for Windows 7 / 8 works really well.)

Don't think a task bar is that necessary. The middle mouse button is pretty much never used in Windows so using that to list the open programs would work fine.

If the start button never existed people would just hit the windows key (Or use ctrl-escape on an older keyboard).

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FAIL

Re: Windows 95

.. and introduced the abominable and terminally braindead concept of windows suddenly taking context and popping up at inopportune times. Keep typing and the next thing you know you have hit the "Y" key and something quite bad has happened.

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Re: Windows 95

Is being able to type into 'beneath' windows that useful?

Here (MATE, but also with most other window managers, including MS's) it's easy to see what window will get my keystrokes - it's the one on top (and with a different coloured outline, the way I have it set up). It is trivial to give another window focus.

I'd hate to have start looking for where a mouse was before knowing what would happen when I started typing.

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Re: Windows 95

> Is being able to type into 'beneath' windows that useful?

Yes. Massively so.

It allows you to control machines without having to dedicate much screen real estate to the control window (which, at that point, you're not that interested in, so long as you can get a command to it). That leaves your screen displaying other bits of the system that you *do* need to monitor closely.

> it's easy to see what window will get my keystrokes - it's the one on top

If that's the way you want to work, then that's just fine. Choice is good. Imposing decisions on other people is bad...

Vic.

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I'm not sure Microsoft *has* won.

Witness the total disaster that is Windows 8, and Linux is starting to look pretty good - at least you have the choice of going with MATE (or Gnome 2.x on RHEL/CentOS 6.x), which is probably going to make its way to the next RHEL/CentOS version due to massive popularity.

If you're going to kick your opponent in the balls, it helps you maintain a victory if you don't douse yourself in sulphuric acid at the same time.

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Pint

Re: I'm not sure Microsoft *has* won.

MATE is no where near stable enough to be appearing in RHEL. They still use a solid version of Gnome2 in RHEL. Why would you bother with MATE which is very new and unstable if you ask me. Certainly not suited to a enterprise environment currently.

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Re: Bill the Sys Admin

Have an upvote on me. RHEL/CentOS with any GUI is bordering on silly. Having a new and largely untested desktop environment is just outright craziness. I would venture that MATE would stand a decent chance of fizzling out before Red Hat got through with the necessary evaluations. That said, in 3-5 years who knows. RHEL turns slowly but it does move.

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Re: I'm not sure Microsoft *has* won.

The problem is that the next version of RHEL will likely be based on Gnome 3, not Gnome 2 - since Gnome 2 is no longer supported.

Therein lies the problem: Do you suddenly expect everyone to revert to a Fisher-Price user interface, or do they go to the effort of bundling Gnome 2 and 3 on the same system - even though Fedora got shot of Gnome 2 at Fedora 17?

I think MATE has a better chance than you think: Most of the effort has actually gone into fixing bugs that were present in the Gnome 2 branch that it was forked from, rather than adding new features or eye candy (Cinnamon.)

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Re: I'm not sure Microsoft *has* won.

I think the premise of the article was that we have reached "peak desktop", so a "victory in the desktop" would be hollow as it will be a declining market as we head towards slates and other non-desktop things. In that market, as things stand a form of Linux is very, very likely to "win".

You may disagree with that premise of course

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Mushroom

Re: I'm not sure Microsoft *has* won.

There is nothing much wrong with Windows 8 - it is rock solid and faster in key benchmarks like graphics and large file transfers than any other desktop OS.

The few things that some of the public are finding hard to cope with like no start button, and having to start in Metro mode are already fixed in V8.1 - public preview due out later this month!

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Re: I'm not sure Microsoft *has* won.

There's nothing wrong with Windows 8 if you do not use your computer for work.

Windows 8 is a toy.

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Re: I'm not sure Microsoft *has* won.

Mate is stable enough here. Its a lot more stable than W95 ever was :-)

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Re: I'm not sure Microsoft *has* won.

8.11 for Workgroups does not fix any bloody issues. A Start button that brings up the Start Screen? *bzzzzzzt* Wrong answer! Explorer (and so much else) still has Ribbon bars? *Bzzzzzzzzt* I could go on - at length - but 8.11 for Workgroups doesn't actually address any of the concerns that the general public raised. It was a shitty token gesture designed to seem like outreach without doing a goddamned thing to change the real issues.

8.11 for Workgroups is Microsoft's way of "doing something" that is in fact nothing so that they can get on their horse a month later and scream "but we did what you want!" They'll claim "persecution" and will start a P.R. war whereby they blame their opponents (Google, Amazon, etc) for "fighting dirty" by funding (or arranging airtime for) people who continue to highlight legitimate grievances with Windows 8, or the general "trustability" of Microsoft.

8.11 for Workgroups is a mirage. A handwave to befuddle the gullible and give them justification for a protracted campaign aimed at silencing dissent. Microsoft has thrown power users under a bus and done so on purpose. They've done it for the same reasons Apple has. It will come back to bit both of them in the ass in short order; on that day, I will give out free popcorn. Until then, well, Windows 7 doesn't end support until 2020 and Cinnamon works just fine for me...

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Re: Trevor Pott Re: I'm not sure Microsoft *has* won.

".....Microsoft has thrown power users under a bus....." Yes, and the market for real "power users" is how big compared to the masses of average desktop lusers and home users....? I used to hear the same shrieking from self-proclaimed "gurus" with win95 and when Linux and the various commercial UNIX flavours got desktops - "REAL users do it on the command line!" Seriously, there was very little chance Redmond or the FOSS brigade could make one OS interface to please all users.

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