Originally Published: Monday, 1 January 2001 Author: Brian Richardson
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Tux Noir and the New Millennium

Tux Noir, our favorite penguin detective, has a close encounter of the computer kind while celebrating the new year.

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December 31. Again. Even with that extra day from leap year, the last year of this millennium flew past like a 900 MHz computer running SpaceWar in DOSEMU. I had to prepare for another year of mysteries, scandals, and improperly compiled kernel modules. But that's what to expect when you're Tux Noir, Linux Detective.

I waddled through the dark city streets to my favorite watering hole, a little corner bar in the basement of a Betamax VCR repair shop. It's a quiet place ... probably because it's in the basement of a Betamax VCR repair shop. So I was a bit surprised when I found Fred's IceHole packed to the flippers with customers.

Amid the crowded chaos and drunken revelry I managed to get my usual stool at the end of the bar. After a few moments, Fred waddled down to serve me a drink.

"Hello, Mr. Noir. What can I get you?"

"The usual, Fred. What's with all the people? You started advertising or something?"

"No, Mr. Noir. It seems there's a few more people who want to drown their sorrows than last year. I'm surprised you don't recognize these guys. They're all computer folks."

As Fred poured vodka into a shaker, I surveyed the scene. He was right. His bar was full of computer professionals, all obviously depressed and drunk. Venture capitalists, Web designers, 3D graphics engineers, retailers, and a set-top box designer. Passed out next to me at the bar sprawled a bird who looked like a local "certified systems engineer". It was easy to remember his face ... he was the only techie I knew with four beak-rings and purple head feathers.

"Fred, I'm a bit confused. Don't these folks normally hang out at coffee shops?"

"They used to, Mr. Noir. But since the tech stocks hit the floor and retail computer sales slowed down, they can't afford to buy fancy coffee anymore. The venture capitalists don't have any more money for the dot-coms, the 3D engineers are out of jobs, and the retailers are sitting on lots of holiday inventory that never sold. Plus it's pretty hard to drown your sorrows with a double-mocha half-caf triple-spiced iced chai latte."

Fred's shaker ceased its agitation, and my drink appeared in the small glass before me. As I put my beak to the rim, a large penguin bumped my shoulder. It was Herb, manager of the Silicon and Sand, a local computer store. As Herb started to speak, the overpowering smell of Absolut Herring drifted out of his beak.

"Hey, it's Tuff Nower. Hi there, Tuff. [hic] I've got some fish bones to pick with you."

"Now Herb, you know I paid my last bill on time ..."

"Oh no, Tuff [hic] ... I mean Tux. Your moneyz always good at the sthore. It's about thith Linux thing you're always swalking about. I thought it was shupposed to save the computer market. So why are my holiday sales so shh ... so shhh ... so bad thith year?"

I thought a bit before responding. Herb's lack of sobriety had appeared to make him a bit more irrational than normal. The wrong words might turn him and his cadre of pickled penguins into the proverbial angry mob. While I was an expert practitioner of the Arctic martial art, Peng-Sheui, I hated using it against friends.

"Now Herb, you can't expect Linux to change everything overnight. While the Linux kernel and its open-source model make for a solid operating system, it's something the market has to get used to. The 2.4 kernel isn't out yet, so a lot of desktop users can't really benefit from Linux yet. The server market is coming around, but a lot of workplaces don't have Linux-trained IS people. Many companies are using Linux, but still haven't made a product anybody wants to buy."

Herb seemed to follow my line of reasoning. I had managed to explain the situation so he could understand it, while using enough big words that he had to divert brainpower from his drunken anger to decipher my vocabulary.

"Don't worry Herb, the computer market will be back. The average consumer will come around. When companies start putting out more consumer friendly systems, instead of these gigahertz monsters, folks will buy again. And Linux will help make those systems cheaper and more stable. But Linux can't do it by itself. It's not some Deus ex Machina.

The purple-headed techie at the bar turned his head toward me.

"Dude, Deus ex Machina is awesome! I have all of their songs on MP3!"

As we stared at him in awe, the techie rolled his eyes and dropped his head back onto the bar. I turned to Herb and finished my thought.

"Herb, all these guys may seem down-and-out now, but they're not dumb guys. When they get back onto the tech workplace, Linux will still be there. It's a viable tool for software and hardware designers. Technology's still young, so it might take a bit longer than we hoped. Linux will be there, ready and waiting."

Herb walked away, a bit happier than when he had come to me. While I couldn't really tell him when Linux would finally take the marketplace, he seemed reassurred by my confidence. I've seen Linux come a long way in six short years.

Yesterday's hobbyist operating system is running everything from Web servers to cash registers. The Webpads and home appliances that Linux was supposed to thrive on are starting to emerge. The 2.4 kernel is in final testing and ready for public debut at LWCE. There's no telling where Linux will be this time next year.

I tossed Fred some money and waddled to the door. As I headed home down the dark city streets, I looked back at the bar. Despite the stock problems, slow Christmas sales and general uncertainty in the computer market, I somehow knew it would all work out in the end. It should be a pretty good year to be a penguin.

Brian Richardson knows there's a band named Deus ex Machina. Please don't send him links to their home page.

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