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The Answer Guy

By James T. Dennis, tag@lists.linuxgazette.net
Starshine Technical Services, http://www.starshine.org/

(?)Linux Port of SoftWindows

From The Answer Guy to Insignia Solutions on 25 Aug 1998

Dear Sir or Madam,

You recently sent me a business reply card offering me SoftWindows '95 for any of three relatively popular RISC-based Unix platforms. This offer is useless to me since I use Linux on my PC's.

As a long time user of Linux. I, my employees, and my customers occasionally need access to files in some proprietary document format (usually generated by Windows Office) and we are willing to pay a reasonable sum (I could probably buy 20 copies tomorrow).

I am a member of a local users group (Silicon Valley LUG) with about 400 regular members. I can take a poll at our next meeting and give you the results if you'd like.

Most of us are not choosing Linux because it's "free" (in the financial sense). The time and energy most of us have spent is far more valuable than a couple hundred bucks here or there. Also most of us have purchased new computers and recieved "free" copies of Win '95 or Win '98 with them. We've then gone out and purchased Red Hat (http://www.redhat.com) Linux ($50) to replace those.

The need (among Linux users) to run 32-bit Windows applications without rebooting is perhaps a bit difficult for most Windows users to understand. We could, after all, simply reboot.

MS Windows users are used to rebooting a couple times a day.

However, for most Unix and Linux users this is the problem. We depend upon a much higher degree of stability. Most of my systems stay up for months at a time. These workstations are not "busy" --- they are mostly just "maintaining state" -- my editors, email programs, web browsers and newsreaders are all in different states.

When I get blocked on one task (perhaps because I need to look something up) or interrupted (perhaps to go to lunch, as I did while writing this message) --- my cursors all stay where I put them.

I don't have to remember each of these tasks that are "in process" and I don't have to resort to reams of "Post-It" notes (though I put the occasional XPost-It on my display). I can simply move to another window, another virtual desktop, another virtual console, even another user account concurrently running a whole different session of X. I can leave such processes running throughout my network running with confidence that nothing sort of a power outage or a major sysadmin error will disrupt my work.

To us the notion of rebooting to get into MS Windows (usually just to read some .XLS, or PowerPoint e-mail attachment) is analogous to sweeping all of the paper work off of your desk, emptying all of the drawers, and turning the desk upside down.

For me to just go though an find all my running processes and write down which files were open in which applications would probably take at least a fifteen. Later, to restart all of them and get back to "my place" (reposition my windows, cursors, etc) would take at least a half hour. That's 10% of a workday lost to just rebooting a system!

Since I bill $100 per hour --- it doesn't take much of that to convince me to get a package like WABI, VirtualPC (if Connectix responds to my inquiries), or (if you make it available) SoftWindows for Linux.

There were an estimated 5 to 10 million Linux users by the beginning of this year. IDC estimates that 2.2 million revenue generating workstation installations of Linux were installed during 1997. That beats their estimates of all non-PC based Unix' combined and outstrips the reported NT workstation installations almost two to one.

The number one problem faced by most business Linux users is lack of access to 32-bit Windows applications (most of it for document sharing). StarOffice and Applixware are not yet mature enough and certainly don't have sufficiently robust document filters to be a solution for most of us. Corel's WordPerfect for Linux is "on its way" but it probably won't have quite the quality of document filters and translators that we require for reasonable interoperation with some companies.

WABI will probably never run Win '95 or Win '98 apps. WINE is still not ready for broad use (only the most technically adroit Linux enthusiasts can use it --- and it has virtually no Win32S suppport). So, there is clearly a niche for your market. That niche is almost certainly bigger than the combined niches for HP-UX, Solaris/SPARC, and AIX.

PS: I keep hearing this persistent rumor that Insignia can't release a version of SoftWindows for any PC based OS, allegedly due to some clandestine cross-licensing arrangement with Microsoft. That would certainly explain why you've been ignoring the larger PC/Unix markets. If this rumor ever makes its way to the DoJ it should make for some interesting reading.

I also notice that MS has recently been "legitimizing" the non-Intel Unix platforms and has been making announcements to the affect that they are releasing native ports of MS Office, and Internet Explorer for a select few of these platforms (all non-Intel, naturally). I wonder what affect that will have on your market.

(?)Re:Linux Port of SoftWindows

From Insignia Solutions Unix Customer Service on 25 Aug 1998

Thanks for your interest in SoftWindows for Linux and in Insignia Solutions.

Right now, we do not have a product for Linux or any Intel-based Unix.

Unfortunately this is not a simple port of an existing SoftWindows for Unix on RISC product - a completely different design is required as the Intel cpu does not help as much as you might expect. Consequently, a large investment on our part would be required to produce this product. We are prepared to do this, but only given enough customer demand.

To assess this demand we will be producing a web based survey, to determine what would constitute acceptable pricing, product functionality (in particular whether DOS/Windows would have to be included) and performance.

Please check www.insignia.com periodically for further information.

Thank You,
Christopher Wood
Insignia Customer Service
800-848-7677 option 5

____________________Reply Separator____________________
[attached copy of original message omitted]

[As of press time, they are not plugging a "market expansion survey" or anything similar directly on their home page. However, they are offering a "free UNIX Solutions kit" if you fill out the form at:


...where they don't mention Linux, but will let you fill in an Other space for your platform. It doesn't mention price. If you have a serious interest in buying Softwindows should it come to pass, let them know, so they can't claim "there's no demand". But it should be legitimate demand... if you wouldn't be willing to talk to a sales rep about it, I'd say don't bother hitting the above link.

-- Heather]

Copyright © 1998, James T. Dennis
Published in Linux Gazette Issue 32 September 1998

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