Playing nicely with Windows

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Windows is a very important platform, and our justifiable pride in Linux and the GNU stack shouldn’t blind us to the importance of delivering software that is widely useful. I believe in bringing free software to people in a way that is exciting and empowering to them, and one of the key ways to do that is to show them amazing free software running on their familiar platform, whether that’s Windows or the MacOS.

Firefox, for example, is an inspiring free software success story, and I’m certain that a key driver of that success is their excellent support for the Windows environment. It’s a quick download and an easy install that Just Works, after which people can actually FEEL that free software delivers an innovative and powerful browsing experience that is plainly better than the proprietary alternatives. I’ve noticed that many of the best free software projects have a good Windows story. MySQL and PostgreSQL both do. Bazaar works well too. And users love it – users that may then be willing to take a step closer to living in the GNU world entirely.

So, I was absolutely delighted with the way Agostino Russo and Evan Dandrea steered the Windows-native installer for Ubuntu into 8.04 LTS. What I think is really classy about it is the way it uses the Windows Boot Manager sensibly to offer you the Ubuntu option. If I was a Windows user who was intrigued but nervous about Linux, this would be a really great way to get a taste of it, at low risk. Being able to install and uninstall a Linux OS as if it were a Windows app is a brilliant innovation. Kudos to Agostino and Evan, and of course also to the guys who pioneered this sort of thinking (it’s been done in a number of different ways). It looks crisp, clean and very professional:

Ubuntu being installed through Windows

I’m a little daunted at something as new as WUBI being the very first experience that people have of Linux, free software and Ubuntu, but initial reports are positive.  I did have a question from the media that started with “it didn’t work for me but…” which makes me a wee bit nervous.

So – yesterday I suggested folks hammer on the Heron for servers, today, here’s a call for folks who have a Windows machine and would like to see WUBI in action to test it out and let the developers know if there are any last-minute gotchas. Happy hunting!