Open Source Software vs. Commercial Software:
Migration from Windows to Linux
An IT Professional's Testimonial


A Little Politics: Windows vs. Linux

Web Browser Wars: Microsoft Internet Explorer vs. Mozilla Firefox

We've already touched on the big picture of the differences between Windows vs. Linux, or commerical (closed source) software vs. open source software, and the surrounding reasons why open source has many many advantages. Now, let's touch on some more granular usage of commercial (Microsoft) products vs. usage of open source products, and take a look at some actual real examples of why this can be true.

For years, Microsoft has released versions of its own web browser into the market in hopes of having users adopt to it and use it more than rival browsers. It's as if there is a war going on between Microsoft and the open source world of Internet browsing. So, with this in consideration, it brings up a fairly good example of open source software versus commercial software. After all, it is with something that all of us probably use whenever we are on a computer: a web browser. On one hand, you can use Microsoft's own browser, Internet Explorer. On the other, you can use something like Mozilla Firefox (I chose this one as it's the most popular open source browser there is). From personal experience I have found that Firefox is way ahead of Internet Explorer both with security and features. Firefox is based on earlier Mozilla browsers, which for example had tabbed browsing back in 2004. Microsoft realized that this was a highly desired feature and with its release of Internet Explorer 7 in 2007 finally integrated tabs into the browser, 3 years after open source had it. Another example of how open source is ahead by quickly implementing features and taking in feedback from its own users. From my experience, the password manager of Firefox is superior to Internet Explorer, and the popup blocker is very good as well. I can easily get to my remembered passwords to view, delete, modify. To do this same task in Internet Explorer, it requires advanced knowledge of the registry and is definitely not straightforward at all. Also, compare the list of plugins available for Internet Explorer and Firefox, and you will soon see that the number available for Firefox greatly outweighs those for Internet Explorer. Also, plugins for Internet Explorer can cost money, whereas a plugin for Firefox that actually costs something would be very rare (I have yet to discover a need for a commercial plugin for Firefox). If you care to take a gander at the list of Firefox plugins at the website, you will soon see my point.

Internet Explorer is also known to be very incompatible from version to version. Each new version of Internet Explorer that comes out seems to have issues opening up older websites from previous versions. Most recently, Internet Explorer 8 has come out, and already people have started to make a list of websites that are not "compatible" with it. What?? You mean the sites are supposed to be updated to the browser? I think not. Why should the web designers be forced to re-code their websites for each new version of Internet Explorer? That seems to be 180 degrees (completely backwards) from what the process should be. The web browser should be backwards compatible with the websites. This is how Firefox works, and it does it very well. In Firefox, I can open websites that are several years old that have been that way for years, and open them up just as I did in an earlier version of Firefox. Ask any web developer about trying to keep Internet Explorer users happy and you will probably get a grumble out of them. It tacks on an extra burden for website developers, when the burden should be in Microsoft developers instead.

My best guess as to why Firefox is superior to Internet Explorer, is that Firefox is developed and maintained by the open source community. Everything from features to security to cost, Firefox stands on top and has a great advantage over Internet Explorer. Yes, Microsoft gets feedback and does its own research and development for Internet Explorer, but Firefox is developed by the mass community of the world that uses it and contributes to its development. It takes Microsoft time and effort with its limited staff to go through this feedback from the community. Remember, Microsoft still dictates what features are kept and pursued, and which ones are thrown out. This goes to show why Firefox is ahead in these areas and more. There is much debate on the battle of Internet Explorer with Firefox and other browsers. Internet Explorer is still the most widely used web browser because it is tightly integrated into the Windows operating system. Windows is still the dominant operating system out there, so it is far more convenient for its users to open up a web browser that is integrated into Windows, rather than to install and mess around with another browser. If Internet Explorer is already there and working, why bother? This is the thought process of many Windows users. Because of the vast Internet community using Internet Explorer, many websites are tested and confirmed to work with Internet Explorer first over any other browser. However, the recent numbers show that Firefox is gaining ground quickly over Internet Explorer, as more and more individuals and organizations are jumping on the bandwagon and using Firefox instead. Overall, the great news is that you can download Firefox and try it out for yourself, and it won't cost you a dime. And, it's less than 10 MB (megabytes) in size so it won't kill your Intenet connection if you don't have super high speed cable access. After using Firefox and comparing it with Internet Explorer, you will soon see that you have been missing out with Internet Explorer, and I wouldn't be surprised if Firefox continues to gain ground and even surpass Internet Explorer in usage at some point.

The war of Internet browsers is nothing new. There has been much debate over the years between Internet Explorer and others like Netscape, Opera, and now Mozilla Firefox. Recall the infamous lawsuit against Microsoft for integrating their own Internet Explorer in Windows 98 and taking advantage of the monopoly of the Windows operating system, United States v. Microsoft [3]. I think this was finally a wakeup call for the general public to display that Microsoft has clever ways of using its leverage to its own gain, with the sacrifice of the actual users using the software. The battle between Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 3 is probably the biggest of battles yet. The latest trends are showing Firefox gaining ground quickly over Internet Explorer. The latest results at the time of this writing (early 2008) are showing that about 52% of technical savvy users are using Internet Explorer, 32% using Firefox, and the other 16% using a combination of Netscape, Mozilla, Safari and Opera. With non-technical savvy users, the results show that 62% are using Internet Explorer, 26% using Firefox, with the remaining 12% using a combination of Safari and Mozilla. This basically points out that technical oriented users are using Firefox more than non-technical users. This makes sense since most non-technical users will just use what is placed in front of them, which in most cases is Internet Explorer because it is conveniently part of the Windows operating system.

The sponsor of this article, Apex Internet Solutions, a website design, hosting, and multimedia company based in Michigan, has also collected data from its hosted websites which shows statistics right in line with the results above. The general breakdown at the time of this writing are as follows:

Usage Share
Microsoft Internet Explorer 50.08%
Mozilla Firefox 36.83%
Opera 0.04%
Other (Netscape, bots, crawlers, etc.) 13.05%

These results are based from real log data from the web servers at Apex, and are not fabricated or skewed in any way. The interesting point is that Internet Explorer is slowly losing market share, while Firefox is quickly gaining market share. Other browsers like Opera and older Mozilla variants like Netscape are holding consistent.

From my dealings with those using Internet Explorer, most users are frustrated with Internet Explorer's interface and layout, as well as its instability and frequent crashing. Things are not necessarily organized in a logical way, they are organized in Microsoft's way. And, those that had become accustomed to the layout of Internet Explorer received quite a jolt with Internet Explorer 7 which completely rearranged the layout and interface. This is a clear example of the downside of commercial software where the design, functionality, and distribution of the software is tightly controlled. It will be interesting moving forward, to see how this battle of the browsers plays out. Give Firefox a test drive and you will soon see why it is becoming ever so popular each day.

Web Application Wars: Microsoft ASP.NET vs. open source PHP

As applications are becoming more and more web-based today, the heat is also turning up between Microsoft ASP.NET and PHP. These are two technologies for creating dynamic websites, and are both very powerful solutions for doing so. Both technologies are commonly used for writing some of the most complex websites on the Internet today. So as you can imagine, this topic can bring hours of reading. However, from my personal experience, PHP is a very flexible, fast, stable, and easy to learn technology. If you do some searching around on speed comparisons, you will find a majority of the words used in comparing the two quite homogeneous, usually saying something like "ASP.NET is as fast as PHP", but there are no words about PHP itself being slow. It is difficult to make a direct and fair comparison, because essentially you would need to compare the same exact application written for both ASP.NET and PHP side by side, optimized as much as possible for each to make it fair ground. But, the fact that there is always mention about PHP being fast, and about ASP.NET trying to be proven to be as fast as PHP, tells me that there might be a possibility or maybe doubts from many that ASP.NET might not be as fast as PHP. Maybe it is all speculation and rumor. But one thing is for sure, PHP has a long and reliable track record. Again showing us an example of open source software being around and proven over and over again over time.

With that being said though, personally I find PHP much simpler to adopt and learn than ASP.NET. PHP is based on C++ which is a very common language used in all sorts of applications and is the standard of many programming languages used today. ASP.NET on the other hand is based on languages such as C#, J# and others so that it is very flexible in which language is used. It really all depends on what the goal is with developing the website and applications. However, PHP is simpler to start with for the novice, since you can take a basic HMTL page and simply add PHP code to it as desired. The web server will parse the file and when it finds bits of PHP code within the HTML code, it will execute it as desired. With PHP you can build an application from the ground up starting with basic elements such as HTML, which is much easier for the novice to grasp in my opinion. The design and layout can be graphically edited in popular programs such as Mozilla Composer, Macromedia Dreamweaver, and many others. With ASP.NET, the interface is somewhat proprietary and is not the same as using standard HTML code. Users are also limited in the graphical software used to develop ASP.NET, which is mostly Microsoft Visual Studio. I do not know of any good third party applications that are up to par with Visual Studio. So essentially, if you choose ASP.NET you are also locked in to using the Microsoft web server software (IIS), and the Microsoft development tools (Visual Studio). Does this sound familiar? The key word there is "locked in". The biggest shock is the price tag of adding up the tab for all of this Microsoft software to run the ASP.NET applications. As I mentioned earlier, Microsoft is very clever at locking its customers into using multiple Microsoft products. This example is definitely on par with that philosophy. So, taking this into consideration and then adding the bad track record of IIS (Microsoft Internet Information Services, the Microsoft web server software required to run ASP and ASP.NET applications), plus the extra maintenance overhead of Windows, PHP starts to look like a very promising and viable solution. And it is... PHP on a Linux server is a rock solid and very viable solution to just about any application. Not to mention, a developer can set up a Linux computer to develop or test an application, and not once have to think about costs and licensing, but rather get set up and start working on developing the actual application. The ever so popular Linux web development and server platform is often called LAMP (which stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). This platform is rock solid and has been for years. It is increasingly being used more and more businesses and individuals in a wide variety of environments because of these reasons.

In closing this subject, I would also like to mention that PHP is also very good at being backwards compatible, as is the case with most open source software. A server with the PHP5 engine (the latest version of PHP) can run PHP3 and PHP4 (older versions) applications with ease. Now, don't get me wrong, the latest Microsoft web server can run ASP or ASP.NET applications just as easily. But, when you look at the language and code of ASP and ASP.NET compared to PHP3, PHP4, and PHP5, you will soon discover that ASP and ASP.NET are two different animals altogether. PHP3, PHP4, and PHP5 are very similar. ASP is based on the Microsoft Visual Basic language which is a contrast from ASP.NET which is based on C# and J# languages. Microsoft has a long history of suddenly changing gears, leaving its customers behind in the dust, forced to follow along and either upgrade or make big or continuous changes to its applications to keep up. This by the way can be a huge and very costly headache with many many side effects. With open source though, the migration of PHP3 to PHP5 for example is very manageable, whereas the migration from Microsoft ASP to ASP.NET is a very difficult migration and would require a complete rewrite of the applications. Granted, there is not a huge push in migrating from ASP to ASP.NET other than probably a speed gain of ASP.NET. ASP has been known for being a somewhat slow technology when it comes time for actually using the applications. PHP has always been well known for its speed, flexibility and reliability, which makes is a great choice for developers for all of the reasons I have mentioned above and more.


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3. Wikipedia : United States v. Microsoft