by Swapnil Bhartiya

Should Linux users worry about no-cost Windows 10 for Raspberry Pi?

Feb 02, 20155 mins
Computers and PeripheralsLinuxOpen Source

The tables have turned, the magnetic poles have reversed, Microsoft is desperate.

The Raspberry Pi foundation has announcedthe release of Raspberry Pi 2, the apt successor of their extremely popular credit-card sized computer. And Microsoft is getting on-board with this device.

Eben Upton, founder of the Raspberry Pi foundation, said that they have been working closely with Microsoft for the last six months to bring Windows 10 to the tiny computer.

Microsoft is taking a page from Google’s book and will be offering Windows 10 free of cost to Pi makers.

Kevin Dallas, General Manager, Windows IoT Group said, “We’re excited to join the Foundation in also announcing that Windows 10 will support Raspberry Pi 2, which will be free for the Maker community through the Windows Developer Program for IoT later this year.”

Microsoft is struggling

Gone are the days when Linux users tried to run their free and open source operating system on Microsoft-controlled hardware: PCs. As Microsoft’s OS and Office market share is declining, and with an (almost) failed mobile platform, the company is now looking at open source for its survival.

According to a recent Gartner report, PC shipments will decline from 296,131 thousand units in 2013 to 261,657 thousand in 2015. Compare this with the rise of tablets from 206,807 thousand to 320,964 thousand during the same period. And a majority of these tablets are powered by iOS or Android.

Hold your breath, total mobile phone shipments are expected to grow from 1,806,964 thousand units in 2013 to 1,946,456 thousand in 2015.

Microsoft is now a minority in the consumer PC (which includes all forms of computing devices – laptops, desktops, smartphones and tablets). It’s 261,657 thousand units vs 1,946,456 thousand units.

That makes Microsoft’s market share less than 15%!

The situation for Microsoft’s Office suite doesn’t look good either, as Google Docs is making a serious dent in the Office space, accounting for more than 50% of the cloud-based office market share.

Why are they interested in the Pi?

Open Source technologies, most notably Linux, has become dominant in almost all sectors. People are buying Android phones, tablets, Chromebooks, Chromecasts and devices like Raspberry Pi.

The only way for Microsoft to remain relevant is to hitch a ride on the platform that’s running the show. If you think Microsoft really loves Linux, then I ask you why the leading Linux player, the real billion dollar company, Red Hat, is missing from Microsoft Cloud while they embrace Red Hat competitors like Canonical?

It’s not about love; it’s about the need to survive. With Nadella at the helm Microsoft is entering into survival mode, and it will do everything it can to survive.

What I think makes Raspberry Pi interesting for Microsoft is the community around it. In the last few years, Microsoft has also lost the developer community to iOS and Android; today more developers are writing apps for Android than for Windows. And Raspberry Pi certainly has one of the most innovative and engaging developer communities. Microsoft has zero presence on many of these new developer-friendly hardware form factors.

Giving away Windows 10 for free may get developers excited in the Windows platform.

But will Linux users care? Will developers care?

Will developers care about a platform that has less than 15% marketshare? I don’t know. Will Linux users care about a free of cost Windows OS? I don’t think so.

Cost had never been the concern of a majority of Linux users, except for students who can’t really afford expensive hardware, software or content. Most of us have super-expensive hardware; we run our own servers to host our own cloud and pay more than what Microsoft charges for Office 365 per month.

The primary reason behind not using Microsoft products is that they are closed source. One of the most serious potential problems this creates is backdoors; since we don’t have access to the full source code for the audit we don’t know if there are any backdoors.

Linux users want a platform that they can tinker, hack and improve by directly contributing the code. None of that is possible with Windows. I remember a discussion with an executive who works in the area of open source in governments and he said that the biggest difference between Microsoft products and open source products is the same as cab drivers and cab owners.

Microsoft products create drivers not owners

You never have access to the source code, the guts of the software, and as a result you never learn how it works. All you can do is drive their trucks (i.e., build an application on top of that platform) while they remain in control.

Open source, by contrast, gives complete access to the guts of the software. You can not only learn how it works, you can also directly contribute to make it better; or take it and spin your own software. That empowers you to be the owner of the truck company and not remain mere a driver.

So while it’s commendable that Microsoft is offering their OS to the Raspberry Pi community, I don’t see how the larger Linux and open source community benefits from it.

It’s because Microsoft loves Linux

I go back to the most highlighted point of 2014 – Microsoft loves Linux. I will believe that when I see Microsoft publishing documents on how to install Linux on Windows systems. I don’t see any love when I see them trying to hack their way into what is primarily Linux hardware.

I see pure lust.