Sunday, November 11, 2007

Desktop OS- Vista vs. Linux

Couple of updates concerning the Microsoft Vista versus Linux Desktop install base. Reason why this is coming up, well, now, of all times is that I was finishing up a review for Tabula Rasa and knocking out a commentary on Cryptic selling the City of Heroes franchise to NCSoft. While checking up on Cryptic Studios website I noticed they had a movie and link up for the Marvell MMO that Cryptic was basically blackmailed into making a few years back. The system specifications for Marvell Universe Online indicated only Xbox 360 and Microsoft Vista as supported platforms.

So, as a parting shot to Cryptic I commented that they were not going to have that large of a viable player base. This goes back to an earlier one liner I laid out in this blog where I noted that many gamers where users of Desktop Linux. I didn't lay out much background behind that, but here's a bit of anecdotal evidence. Everytime I bring up the subject of Linux in the games I play online I get a relative ratio of 4 out of 5 other players stating they run Fedora, Suse, Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, Mepis, or some other Linux distribution on a "side" computer or on a Dual boot system. If I include those using Virtual Machines under Windows, I'd estimate probably 7 out of every 8 gamers I've "chatted" with has some middling experience with running a Linux box. Now keep in mind that I play games like City of Heroes, Tabula Rasa, F.E.A.R. Combat, Ratchet and Clank, UT, and a couple of others that.

Now, recently Microsoft released their financial statements and, as usual, I've been picking through them. Also in the news back on November 9th, Vnunet reported that Microsoft and Novell had agreed to extend their technology agreement. These two events are semi-related.

A couple months back several vendors initiated a Vista to Xp crossgrade. Basically, if a customer ordered a computer and it came with Vista installed, the customer could get an Xp license instead. According to some of the reports I've seen (and I'm not sure if they are actually publicly available, and I happen to like having remade some industry contacts again), vendors who have started the Vista to Xp crossgrades have over a 70% adoption rate. Now get this, Microsoft does not count the crossgrade... as a sale for Xp. Rather, they count it as a sale for Vista.

Now, combine that data with public statements from vendors that Xp is outselling Vista on an average of 3 to 1. Now go take a look at Microsoft's sales statements for Vista and for Xp, and you'll note a startling difference. Microsoft's finance numbers do not add up if one accepts the numbers Microsoft has floated for sales.

Care to guess how the numbers appear to be adding up? If you are thinking that Vista is selling worse than Windows ME, you'd probably be close to what appears to be reality.

Okay, now lets tie this all back in together. Novell claimed several months back in a video ad that Desktop Linux users accounted for upwards of 30,000,000 different people. That's 30 million. Recent statements made by some Novell representatives indicate that they expect there are upwards of 50,000,000 Desktop Linux users. Microsoft has never contested the number of Desktop Linux users, and if anything the deal Microsoft signed with Novell was tacit agreement that Microsoft believed those numbers to be accurate.

The number being floated is now higher, and Microsoft just signed an extension of that agreement with Novell, again tacitly agreeing that Novell is right about the estimated user count.

Now, considering this for a factor. The Xbox 360 has confirmed sales just over 13 million. The Nintendo Wii, the top selling Console, has also breached 13 million sales recently. Lets accept the original number floated by Novell, which is 30 million. The entire Xbox market is just over 1/3 of the Linux market. If you accept the new number of 50million users, the entire Xbox market is just over 1/5 of the Linux market.

Now, Microsoft reported back in July that 60 million copies of Vista had been sold. Now start subtracting the crossgrades to Xp that are not counted as sales, and the 3-1 to ratio of Xp to Vista sales. Now, I'm not confident in my mathematics, but right now the best I can come up with is a realistic install base of around 40 million.

Yes. Desktop Linux Marketshare... is larger than Vista.

Now, lets put this in terms for game developers. Games written for OpenGL can run across the dominant installed OS which is Xp, the number two installed OS which is Linux based, and then on down to other platforms.

Thing is, gamers are not buying Vista, and I'll reference Tabula Rasa again. During beta there were several players who admitted they were running Vista, and then also admitted that they really didn't like it... only their vendor was not doing the crossgrade to Xp for them. Again, just about 4 out of 5 of the Vista users... stated they were running a Linux in some form.

Gamers are fleeing from Vista and remaining with Xp, or moving to a Linux base. And quite frankly, if game developers do not come to terms with the shift in gaming, they will be left behind.

I just don't think Cryptic has a viable market if they only ship on Vista and Xbox 360. Keep in mind that two of the biggest names in console RPGs, Final Fantasy Online and Phantasy Star Universe recorded the Xbox 360 as their lowest subscription platform.

So, personally, I'm actually sort of glad that City of Heroes has left Cryptic, because I'm not convinced that Cryptic will be a viable game studio in just a matter of months.
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