Saturday, August 14, 1999

These are the days that a student can write a program as a hobby, make it available for free, and topple a trillion-dollar corporation. It is a great time to be alive.

This is a response to talkbacks about a ZD-net article on the subject of Linux vs. Windows. I wrote it but I never actually posted it. However, I'd like the document to be canonized on the web so I can claim proper credit when all of my predictions come true. ;-)

Name: Craig Bruce
Location: Canada
Occupation: Software Developer

Warning: Very Long

Wow, what a mountain of ignorance. I'm not a Linux developer, but I'm a user and have been a Unix fan for a very long time.

From: Allister Mannion, Analyst, Switzerland
> Why don't zdnet (and many other so called computer 'news' web-sites)
> just change their URL to ', or something?

That does seem to be a trend. Mostly how I end up here is following pro-Linux links. (Of course, those are mostly the links that I follow.)

> This guy, along with most of the other Linux MS hate camp are full of
> sound-bites, and have very little real experience of real-world needs.

I don't think that's accurate. Linux was born out of real-world needs: a system that is stable, well designed, and extendable for new developments. I think what you mean is "non-technical end-user needs". That is currently deficiency, but I think that a year from now various on-going projects will have produced a system that can be configured and run entirely by mouse. Installation has almost been brought to this point.

> Will someone tell me what modern applications I can run onLinux? I
> can't find any? The web-server is basic to say the least. The networking
> software is all 1980's UNIX stuff (text configuration files and useless
> without some applications to take advantage of it), and the productivity
> apps. are best illustrated by 'vi'.

This has been answered elsewhere; there are many modern applications, and lots more on the way. Personally, I happen to like 'vi' and spend a lot of time using 'xterm's, but I also use Netscape, xv, and some others. Something that I started using recently is 'vmware'. It allows me to run MS-Windows and its applications inside of a X Window, for the stupid Microsoft-Office files that some people send me.

From: Chris C., USA, Tech Dude

> I disagree with the notion the LINUX will rule the world one day. What
> you have are LOTS of people coding away for FREE. I don't think anyone
> can feasible expect these guys to do all the work for NOTHING and let
> people like RedHat make ALL the money from their hard work. It just
> doesn't make since.  If I were a good programmer and needed to make a
> living I would have two choices.

I think that Linux will eventually rule the Operating-System world (though
certainly not over night), but it is an interesting point about Red Hat
getting rich off other people's work.  Two things though: most people
who develop for Linux are part-timers who have a day job, and there are
many other forms of compensation than just money.  I think that Linux
OS developers will continue to do what they're doing.  There are also
other ways to make money off of Linux, such as consulting and developing
for-sale applications that run on top of it.
From: Dervish, My desk, IT serf
> For sure the Microsoft folks don't come across too well sometimes, but
> that guy isn't doing his cause any justice. He sure strikes me as one
> arrogant fellow.

He does seem a bit uncharacteristically 'bold' in this interview.
From: Tim Adamczak, NY, Police/IT Pro
> Of Course Microsoft kept it's head down, it was laughing too hard. Linux
> is like bellbottoms, the fad comes, the fad goes. Torvalds and his
> cronies probably all read Gates book and are serious wannabees. Let's
> get real. This tinkertoy OS has promise as soon as someone like RedHat
> gets it all together in a convenient installing and hardware supported
> package with a user interface that is friendly.  Wait a minute,I have that
> in Win98 already,I do believe. As the Linux kernel gets more complex so
> will it's problems. It has it's place, just don't get "Holier than thou".

Not at all.  Linux is not a fad.  Good software is not a fad.  Windows 98
is a tinkertoy built on a house of cards.  I don't think you know anything
about kernels because you got the complexity argument backwards; Linux is
a well designed kernel that is able to grow.  Windows 98 has a horribly
complicated kernel that is unmaintainable (and hence, unreliable), that
Microsoft tried to leave behind for exactly this reason.  You're confusing
a good paint job for a good engine and chasis.

Of course, it's quite true that this distinction is lost on the average
desktop user.  Linux has made enormous strides in user-friendliness over
the past year and this will continue.  Linux isn't quite ready for Joe
Public yet, but the productivity of the Linux community dwarfs anything
that Microsoft can put together, and a year from now Linux will be just
as easy (definitely more-so in some areas) to install, configure, and
use as Windows.  A lot of posters here are saying "look at things today",
and that isn't really what the article is addressing.
From: Scott McKenzie, Kansas City, IT Director
> linux is making the same mistake that sun and ibm made in the past. they
> are focusing their efforts on taking over the data center, not the
> workstation. the fact is, that without the workstation and home desktop,
> they will not increase the end user demand for their os, major desktop
> applications will be slow to develop and microsoft WILL maintain its
> stranglehold on the os market.

I tend to agree, but on the other hand, Linux will be most successful
where its greatest strengths are, and for now, I think that's in the
server area.  Regardless, there are numerous projects under way to make
Linux more friendly on the desktop, such as KDE, Gnome, Open application
development, and commercial third-party application porting.
From: Dante Martinez, Atlanta, GA, Support Desk Manager
> Yet another person declaring the fall os MS. What he and others fail to
> understand is that there is more than innovation and great technology
> involved in selling software. While that may be unfortunate it is
> reality. The other thing that the Linux community must realize is that
> to "win" they will have to become like that which they most dislike,
> Microsoft. Linux will do well and perhaps kick MS where it hurts. I
> wouldn't start planning MS' funeral yet though.

Quite true.  To pick a nit, he's not saying that Microsoft has fallen,
more that the first signs of the inevitable fall are starting to evidence
themselves.  Personally, I think that Microsoft will fall just like
IBM did.  It will take several years, however.

One thing that most people seem to be missing is that it is no longer
Microsoft vs. The Linux Community.  Two years from now, it will be
Microsoft vs. Every Other Major Player in the Computer Industry &
Every International Software-Interoperability Standards Organization &
The Linux Community.  How is Microsoft going to compete against that?
Well, actually, the industry players will deal applications to both sides,
but still, how can Microsoft compete on a level playing field?  I'm quite
sure that they can't, and I'm quite sure that they know that they can't.
The "Halloween" documents demonstrate that.
From: Thomas Eppic, London, IT Tech Support
> I feel that Mr. Raymond has been a little naive. ZDNet are right, Microsoft
> (and SAP) sell to the managers, not the technical people. The managers
> say do this or do that to the techies, and the techies have no choice but
> to comply. Then the managers complain when it all goes horribly wrong,
> and blame the techies for not making it work.

Dead-on accurate.  The news hype and especially the porting of third-party
applications to Linux will help out in this area.

> I work in technical support. I support hundreds of users in a day to day
> environment, all using NT or Windoze '95, and I see this kind of thing
> happening day in day out, and not just in IT.

Tech Support people seem to do a lot of belly aching about Windows
stability problems.  Eventually, some of this will leak into the PHBs'

> What Micro$oft have done, is to make an easy to use interface with their
> OS, which even managers (bless 'em) can understand, which is how they can
> sell it to them. Any techie worth his salt will know that Linux is a very
> viable alternative solution over NT/9x. Unfortunately, many 'techies' also
> buy into the Micro$oft hype on the belief that it makes their job easier.
> ESR says that 'its a complicated world'. Too right it is, and managers
> don't like feeling out of their depth on this increasingly technical
> world. They look for an easy-to-use solution that they can understand,
> and *that* (currently) is Windoze.

My God, this is poetry!
From: Pete Biro, Niagara Falls, ON, CA, Systems Admin
> "We want to crush Microsoft, we don't want to crush Solaris" 
> I believe that Linux is MORE a threat to Unix flavours then MS right now. 

This depends on exactly what you mean by "threat".  Personally, I think
that Linux will steamroll all of the Other Unixes.  In fact, it looks like
SGI's IRIX is the first to go, and I'm sure that Sun's Solaris will be
the last.  The main difference between Unix makers and Microsoft is that
Operating Systems aren't the Unix makers' main business.  Sun gets 90% of
its money from selling hardware.  If Microsoft's monopoly in the OS market
is threatened, so is its monopoly in Office Productivity and other markets.

The fall of Microsoft will come from the bottom up as end users and OEMs
rebel against Windows, its hardball business tactics, closed standards,
lack of interoperability, poor reliability, lack of configurability, and
inferior technology.  The 'demise' of the Other Unixes will come from the
top down, as the management of the commercial Unix makers realize that
they get a lot more leverage out of switching to Linux than from throwing
good money out for not maintaining their own Unixes.  Their OS-maintenance
money can be leveraged much better by contributing their Unix's strengths
to Linux and then by tweaking & reselling Linux for their hardware.
Of course, this 'open'ness might threaten hardware monopolies.
From: Darryl Hammill, Raleigh, NC, MIS

> As the amount of software being written for Linux workstations increases,
> so will the amount of people who would love to leave the Wintel world - but
> can't (due to the lack of available packages).  Staroffice is a real office
> suite - but not many people even are aware of this great, free package.
> Take a closer look at the shelves at major software retailers (like
> CompUSA).  Slowly but surely shelf space is being given over to Linux and
> Linux ready software. Look at major game manufacturers such as ID. They
> too are releasing Linux ready versions.

Quite true; all of this stuff scales together.  What consumers want most
are applications, and they don't care what OS the application runs on
just as long as it is easy-to-use and reliable.

> By the way, once the Feds successfully break of the monopoly in Redmond
> this will all be a moot point.

This will certainly add an interesting dimension to all of this.  I think
Microsoft will lose, but how much will they lose?
From: Mark Hoskins, Tulsa, Programmer

> What will keep Linux form going the way of Unix? Microsoft took raw Unix,
> made it Xenix, and began marketing it.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft combats Linux.  Their
traditional hardball business tactics won't work, and there really isn't
a specific competitor to crush or devour.  'FUD' won't work because "the
truth is out there".  In fact, so far I think their FUD attempts have
all backfired.  They can't undercut Linux because how do you beat free?

Perhaps the most effective thing they could do would be to co-opt it like
they have attempted with Java, but how would this play out?  This would
certainly be a desperate manouver, and would be seen as such.
From: John Erikson, Portland, OR, account exec
> Any Fortune 500 CEO reading this article will want to stay far away
> from Linux - because of their marketing "guru." THIS IS LINUX' MARKETING

Linux doesn't have a 'marketing guy', a PR firm, or any of the usual
corporate spin doctors.  ESR is a volunteer.  Oh, you're a suit.
Never mind.
From: Tom Seiler, Santa Cruz, Ca, webmaster
>"but right now the story is that we've already taken over the Internet"
>This is the funniest quote ever printed on the Internet. With 15% of
>the server market and 0.21% of the desktop market they have taken over
>the Internet.

I think ESR is talking about the Open-Source software rather than Linux
specifically.  (The popular press can confuse the two because Linux is
a more popular buzzword than 'OpenSource'.)  The Open-Source Apache web
server owns the web-server market.  I think that that Open-Source software
(sendmail) owns the e-mail world too.  FTP?  TCP/IP?  You don't think
that Microsoft invented the Internet, do you?
From: Guray Cemberci, Dayton, OH, Proud Microsoft Developer
> Linux probably crashes less I think because there is nothing to crash
> for.. No applications, not so many market share.. It's like you're walking
> in a crowded street(Windows Market) and the chance of being hit by someone
> is higher than being hit in a EMPTY street (linux street).

Not true at all.  Linux crashes less because it has a well-designed
kernel and a well-defined split between kernel and application-level
functionality.  In fact, X-Windows (the GUI part) runs entirely at the
application level.  Windows has too much complicated junk cramed into its
kernel space, presumably so that it can look good in benchmark tests, and
that is why it crashes so often.  Well, this and its .DLL house of cards.

> Perhaps Windows 2000 Street will be much wider and better so no one will
> hit each other..

Windows 2000 will add an interesting dimension to the story.

> I hate to write all these stuff as a Microsoft Developer because I really
> don't care about LINUX just like my other millions of MS colleges who
> really don't care about sending TALK BACKS to ZDNET. Well if they did that,
> it would be a long long long Gigabyte size of Talk back page..

Being a developer for a well-designed system with well-documented APIs
and Open Standards isn't all bad, you know.

> Linux will not win.. because it's not the OS only it's the huge DNA
> network, developer network, sponsors, partners, 95% market share, MSN,
> hotmail, broadband investments (like, billing system
> (like, Embedded NT, Windows CE, CarPC, Toys, Game
> technologies like DirectX and many more that makes Microsoft unbeatable..

The big industry players who are adopting Linux (and who, by the way,
hate Microsoft) will bring this sort of stuff to Linux.

> If I count all the technologies and strategies Microsoft involved and
> will be involved you will understand better..

What if you count all of the techology & research of all other companies
in the industry, educational institutions, and international standards
organizations, and part-time software developers out there?  The part-time
developers alone outnumber Microsoft employees many times over.
Name: Arv Koetitz, Western Washington, Retired Computer user
> The Senior group I live in is comfortable with using Win 95/98 and the
> programs that work with these systems.

Good for you.  No one is holding a gun to your head and ordering you to
use Linux.  An important thing that Linux offers is choice.  Lots of end
users will be uncomfortable with that because they've never had it before.

> I don't know a one that wants to go back to command line processes, or
> for that matter knows how to.  Multiple windows suits me fine. 

That's funny; I have 19 windows open on my Linux desktop right at the
moment (I use a virtual desktop built right in to my window manager).

> Linux may be a free open system but will it run my MS Excel the way it
> runs now? Will I be able to get programs for $19.95 that work under Linux
> as they do now under Win 95?

There is a choice of a few different office-productivity suites.  A lot of
applications are available for free.  Main-stream third-party commercial
software isn't there yet.

Actually, one thing that should appeal to seniors is that Linux will run
well on ancient and inexpensive hardware.
From: Ken Conroy, Kissimmee, Fl, student/systems analyst/programmer
> In fact, Linux makers would do well to make the fullest possible use of
> Apple's Quicktime technologies, and technologies like it, and integrate
> them into the OS. Apple has long been a leader in multimedia technologies
> (It still is - Quicktime offers the best non-streaming compressed video
> I've seen on a computer - Remember the new Episode 1 trailer that came
> out that was specially designed for QT 4?

QuickTime is an interesting case.  Unfortunately, it's a proprietary
format, and Apple doesn't seem too eager to release a Linux player, and
moreover, doesn't seem eager to release the technology as open-source.
Presumably, they see it as a money maker, and open-sourcing it would
cause the development of a dozen different player & recorder applications
available to everyone for free.
From: Gregg Shick, Texas
> Geez.. Is there a more arrogant group of people than these Linux
> devotees?? I think not. Newsflash: Linux is UNIX!! A 20 year old
> operating system.  Torvalds did nothing more than create the umpteen
> millionth flavor of an old operating system.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that Unix = Old = Bad.
If Unix is so bad, then why has every subsequent OS, including DOS all
of the Windowses, stolen so many basic concepts from it?  BTW, Unix is
30 years old, and it isn't still going strong because it's decrepid and
poorly designed.  Ken Thompson hit a hole-in-one with the Unix-kernel
design and what Torvalds did was cherry-pick the best kernel techology
available (i.e., Unix) and make it run on PCs for free.

> I challenge you to put a user in front of unix and have them be able to
> do anything without the gui. Plus every linux gui I have seen stinks.

Lots of people also seem to be under the impression that either Unix
doesn't have a GUI or that Windows is the be-all and end-all of GUI's.
X-Windows for Unix has been around for 15 years and works very well,
thank you.  Personally, I like the FVWM desktop environment for Linux
for its speed and configurability, but the KDE and Gnome desktops for
X-Windows on Linux are a lot "cooler" than the Windows desktop.
Name: Greg Salts, Dallas, Software Support Professional
> [...] customers are using this OS turn on the hidden control features I
> built into the OS and begin charging a licensing fee for the software. How
> secure can open source software be? Go buy a new car and give everyone
> in town a copy of the keys and see how secure the car is.

This analogy is flawed and backwards.  First, you are giving people the
schematics to the car and not the keys.  Second, you are challenging every
expert on the planet to examine the schematics and find and fix any flaws.
Then, when the car is impenetrable, you build a production version, park
it in your driveway, and pocket your keys.  You run into security risks
when what's inside of a system is supposedly a secret, but some malicious
hacker out there knows the secret.

> It's suprising how so many people think that Linux does not crash. Could
> this be that the developers that write third party applications have not
> written any bad code for it yet, let alone any real applications?

You don't seem to have a concept of the kernel/application split.
Netscape for Linux has bugs in it and it has crashed on me many times in
network-news mode.  However, when the application dies, it has never _ever_
taken the kernel down with it.  The same is not true for IE and Windows.
I think you are too used to buggy applications crashing the operating
system.  In a well-designed system, that simply doesn't happen.
Name: Steven Laux, St. Louis, Technical Support Specialist
> Bill Gates may have gotten rich, but he also paid his developers. This
> guy wants to profit while having everyone else work for free.  The worst
> part is that these linux followers are too blind to see it. They're
> brainwashed. It's smacks of a freak, religious, suicide cult.

Yikes.  Obviously you don't know how the open-source development process
works.  I would recommend reading "The Cathedral and The Bazarre", but
it's probably beyond your depth.  First of all, ESR doesn't own anything,
isn't in charge of anything, nobody works for him, and he doesn't make
any money directly from Linux.  Second, the developers are volunteers
who have day jobs (and probably earn a lot more money than you do!) and
who either want to develop software for their own use that they wish to
share or are sick to death of the inferior quality of commercial software.
From: Robert Downs
> Now if Red Hat, SuSe, Caldera, or any of the other Linux venders were to
> strongly pursue and create a Linux based OS that represents the future
> of computing and not the past as well as being supported by major game
> and productivity companies, I may someday switch to a Linux system.

All of this stuff is happening right now.

> One other thing, if this article represents the mindset of the Linux
> community, then I fear the state of the "Lintel" market after "Wintel"
> has been "defeated".  Unless some companies out there are making some
> serious cash from the Linux cow, I see it self-destructing and easily
> replaced.

Not at all.  You're thinking of Linux as a business and it isn't.
Suppose that Linux becomes the dominant OS in all markets (servers,
desktop, embedded).  If you had an operating system that is fast,
reliable, easy to use, super-scalable, ubiquitous, universally supported,
state-of-the-art, extremely configurably, highly extendable, under constant
development by a million software developers, supports all open standards
in existence, offers many choices for all system components, and is free,
how could any proprietary OS ever come along and replace it?
Name: J Rutledge, co, i/t professional

> I don't wan't to sound combative, but most Linux nay-sayers obviously
> have little tech knowledge (by the wildly generalized and inaccurate
> statements they make) and ignore the biz case. Time will tell. I'm tired
> of argueing with these people. As Linux grows they will still be talking
> about how it can't happen.  Heads happily in the sand. So be it.


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