Originally Published: Tuesday, 18 May 1999 Author: Steven St. Laurent
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Response to Linux battle cry

On April 20th zdnet.com did a short story on Linux @ Comdex by Jesse Berst. There are some interesting points brought up but the same old Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) still propagated, from someone probably not the best equipped to speak on the subject. While Mr.Berst's points are valid from the point of view of people new to Linux, they also tend to scare away users. I'll take each point in turn, along with some of the reader's comments....

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On April 20th zdnet.com did a short story on Linux @ Comdex by Jesse Berst. There are some interesting points brought up but the same old Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) still propagated, from someone probably not the best equipped to speak on the subject. While Mr.Berst's points are valid from the point of view of people new to Linux, they also tend to scare away users. I'll take each point in turn, along with some of the reader's comments.

There's no single company behind Linux

A valid concern but is this necessarily bad? What if the justice department won its case and Microsoft decided to stop making the Windows operating system? What then? With just one company making it, and the source being proprietary the PC world would be left with a sudden void. Instead of having a single company behind Linux, we have Caldera, Debian, RedHat, Slackware, Stampede, SuSE to name a few. It is this diversity that Microsoft has suppressed in its niche, creating the Dept Of Justice case against them.

No single source of support

Microsoft does not have a single source for support either. If you purchase your computer from Dell or Gateway they offer their own support system. Calling technical support can be a pain. Having alternate means of support is, I believe, better. Mailing lists, newsgroups, 3rd party and individual support makes for an excellent alternative to traditional methods. Several large companies are also planning to offer support for Linux along traditional lines.

No sales rep to call in and berate if your OS fails unexpectedly

Linux rarely "fails unexpectedly". So where is the need? If you really want to call and berate then how does that solve the problem at hand. If all you want stick with Windows. Don't forget you installed a distribution that probably offers some form of technical support for their product.

There's the danger Linux will become fragmented, like Unix

This is the most obscure reason I've seen recently. It seems to be a mantra of sorts. Unix is fragmented, so is the car industry, and tv makers. Its called competition. Unix is fragmented but Unix is still Unix. They all operate along the same lines. Linux IS a fragment of Unix, it's a child of Unix, BSD is a child of Unix. The ugu.com page shows no less than 65 flavors, the separate Linux versions are lumped under the same title Linux. Give the user choice, I say. The old choice, windows 3.1, 95 or NT, were not choices at all.

Companies may jump on the Linux bandwagon for PR purposes, but lack real commitment

So. Like IBM's commitment to Microsoft when the co-developed OS2 or Apple's commitment to the Common Hardware Reference Platform (CHRP). Linux has come this far with no real corporate support from outside the community. Does it's growth rely on everyone else now? I think not. Let them come, if they do not contribute then what is really lost? Customers. With the growth of Linux if they are NOT in the game their competition will be!

Mr. Berst does make some good points:

  • System vendors and Linux distributors are supporting an independent Linux certification process from KeyLabs
  • Caldera this week debuts OpenLinux 2.2, promising users a kinder, gentler Linux experience
  • International Data Corp. predicts a 25% annual growth rate for Linux into the new millennium
I would say the growth rate is a bit liberal but let's not sweat the details here. Growth is growth and the area of growth of most interest to Linux fans is in the area that NT still cannot crack, legacy Unix systems. Linux's heritage clearly pegs itself as a successor for legacy systems running old Unix variants.

He also makes the following point:

One thing that really motivates Microsoft is competition. And with his "we will crush them" remarks, Linus Torvalds threw down the gauntlet. The same way Netscape did when it boasted its browser would crush Microsoft. The same way Sun did when it said Java would stomp Windows. The same way Lotus did when it said Notes would trample Exchange.

Competition does motivate Microsoft, but in the wrong ways. It scares them into harsh marketing campaigns and predatory pricing practices. Netscape is still the #1 browser and Microsoft was forced to conform to SUN's flavor of Java. Lotus Notes did not trample Exchange yet Exchange has yet to take over either. If Microsoft is successful by being 2nd place in these markets then Linux has won, and soon will be first.

I tend to agree with NT being dominating the department server market. Considering the number of years IT departments have invested in it, Linux would have to show some powerful features indeed. Linux has just begun to scratch the surface in this market. Indeed on the desktop its beginning to show great gains and in the high end server it is poised to replace legacy Unix systems. Unix variants have even seen a resurgence of life with Linux. This battle is Unix/Linux vs. NT, period. Linux might never be top dog in this environment but it has clearly shown it is ready to run the race. Not bad for a OS without all the "advantages" Microsoft has.

As for reader comments, some of these had to be flame bait posted by Linux users to start a fight. John Baker states Linux does not support his Voodoo cart or EMU sound card. In my own experience, Windows98 didn't ship with a USR v.90 driver for my modem, I had to download it, performance with that driver under Win98 is still worse that my BSD box. He also stated that somehow being forced to use Netscape is the fault of Linux, yet I went to Microsoft website and saw no Linux versions available yet. Linux cannot run what is not available.

Woody Murrah says "if the auto industry were as unreliable and unresponsive as the computer industry - we'd still be riding horses" Woody [must] not have gotten a recall notice on one of the 1 million GM vehicles or heard of the Ford Pinto. He might not recall the numerous reports of Sport Utility Vehicles rolling over with ease. No the computer industry is AS BAD as everyone else, we just expect perfection from a dumb little box.

Sadly, most people who comment have no real long term experience with Linux, except what they have read. Mr. Berst makes a good attempt to show the pros and cons of Linux and does, at least at one level, capture some of the complex problems with such a novel operating system. People forget, though, the struggle for Microsoft to reach the desktop market. They assume that on the first day IBM invented the PC and on the second Bill created Windows. Linux, in less than 10 years, has gone from 1 user to an estimated millions with the majority of growth occurring within the past two years. It can, in almost unchanged form, go from the workstation desktop to the enterprise server. Any developer can create his/her own products on top of it without complex license agreements and non-disclosure agreements. The success of Linux lies not in performance statistics or installed user base but whether a single user gained some benefit over all the other products on the market. I did, so it's a success in my eyes.





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