magazine was one of the first to tip the Unix-alike open
source operating system known as Linux as a dark horse on the
computer scene. At the time (around 2 years ago now) the
conventional wisdom was that Microsoft was utterly unstoppable
and anyone who thought otherwise was certifiable. But at that
time, not too many observers had really taken in what the
Internet means in terms of the opportunities for structural
change in the way all commerce operates. Times change.
Microsoft have even used a spoof commercial featuring one of
its own people - Vinod doing a pitch Valloppil - for Caldera’s
Open Linux in court recently, in an attempt to show that
Microsoft has lots of serious competition for Windows.
However, as the trial unfolds, the expression “smoking gun”
scarcely does justice to much of the testimony, since there is
a veritable blazing inferno down at the Microsoft arsenal, and
efforts to extinguish the embarrassment created by the
exposure of Microsoft’s internal memos and email documents
are becoming more and more tenuous.
But don’t be distracted by the sudden
MS embrace around Linux - Bill Clinton still looks positively
chaste and veracious alongside the unfurling tale of Microsoft’s
efforts to put the kibosh on its competitors.
Linux, meantime, ploughs on regardless.
It is way, way above the unpleasant commercial considerations
that have always besotted the Arch Tradesman of Redmond, as it
continues to be free as the air for those that want it. The
modest charge made for the CDs is neither here nor there when
you consider that a Linux server feeding 1000 users costs
maybe $50 for the Linux CD, against the NT server and Bill’s
bill for $50,000.
But there are other reasons why Linux
refuses to go away, despite the current supremacy of windows,
let’s remind ourselves.
Open source means what it says – it means that
programmers developing with the operating system are able to
get the source code. This has become an rather effective
riposte to those who promote “proprietary” operating
systems where the developers hide their source code, and who
use the argument that Linux is “not a supported operating
Support for Linux is generally better than support for
Windows – the user community of the Internet provides more
effective support for Linux users than Microsoft does for
Windows users. The self-help extends to requests for specific
drivers, where a request in an IRC channel frequently produces
a response within minutes.
Third world countries cannot afford to licence Windows
for their populations – nor could they effectively ever
expect to compete writing software for Windows. It’s a
different matter with Linux and the internet to distribute the
Windows is restricted to a few hardware environments
based on Intel’s ubiquitous but inefficient 8086
architecture, the 2,2 Linux kernel now supports x86, SPARC,
Alpha, Ultra, m68k, ARM, and PowerPC.
Linux – like Unix – is based on being a networked
operating environment. Windows bolted on networking later in
life, and it shows. The internet was Unix finest achievement,
and it remains mostly based on Unix at the core.
When you install an application on a Linux system, you
rarely if ever need to reboot it.
Linux runs very effectively on the sort of hardware
that Windows would barely wheeze along with. It’s a great
way of mopping up all those old 386 and 486 systems that
otherwise have nowhere to go. It’s also a great OS for thin
client systems for the internet.
If by now you are wondering why Windows
survives at all, the answer is simple: it has all the
applications! Linux has a handful of productivity applications
available (Star Office, for example) and a growing range of
server database applications – but it takes a huge leap of
faith to replace Windows on a PC and expect to replace Word97
with anything so complete that runs under Linux. However, you
can run both operating environments on the same PC using a
thing called the “boot manager”.
And at last, there are rumoured to be plenty of
programming tools in the works – but programming in Linux is
still very much for C programmers only, whereas Windows
programmers have the luxury and power of tools like Visual
Studio and Inprise’s Delphi.
So why doesn’t Microsoft just accept
that its operating system monopoly is going to be dismantled
one way or another, and support Linux with all its
applications that are now deemed “industry standard” with
good grace - be grateful for having got away with it for so
long - and “embrace and extend” Linux..?
Well. Microsoft has a history of elbowing
out competition (like Netscape) by fiddling with the operating
system (which is monopolises) to make it difficult for
competitors to compete. In the wide open world of Linux,
Microsoft would (for once) have to compete on quality of
product, effectiveness of support and price. Uncharted
It would nevertheless start with the huge
advantage of being the established productivity software
provider, and it would arguably do its enterprise aspirations
a big favour by freeing products like SQL Server and Exchange
from the millstone of Windows NT - which still suffers in the
big companies because large organisations simply don’t
believe that it scales reliably in industrial strength server
applications as predictably as UNIX.