[Talk] So this is analysis?

Leon Brooks leon at cyberknights.com.au
Fri Jun 20 11:56:34 EST 2003


> I was asked by a major publication to take the Windows side of a
> Linux vs. Windows debate.

Debate? Yes; devil's advocate? Fine; opinion? Maybe; but the many wild 
inaccuracies and mis-statements in this article are simply amazing. 
Whatever possessed you to write it? If it were a blog comment, it would 
be at "-1, Troll" before you could blink.

> But when asked to come up with strong, well founded, business
> arguments, they too often go mute, or begin what often turns into
> the mother of all flame battles with little real content.

That seems to be the intent of this article: the statements in it seem 
designed to provoke a flame war rather than to dispassionately explore 
the realities of the situation.

The Internet is up to its collective eyeballs in such reasons. I won't 
burden this response with a long list of URLs, help yourself to Google.

> It is actively replacing Unix and MacOS as the contrarians' platform
> of choice and owes its success largely to the failures of these
> earlier platforms to run on multiple hardware vendors' systems in a
> consistent fashion. Linux is also attractive because it is not from
> Microsoft. 

The most charitable thing I can say about this is that it is inaccurate. 
If Linux is replacing anything as a "contrarian" platform it is OS/2.

Mac devotees are Mac devotees, and while Mac OS X is showing them some 
of the strength in the Unix approach, most of them would be horrified 
at the suggestion that they switch to Linux. Linux actually loses users 
to OS X, since it's prettier, comes on nice hardware, and can do 
practically everything that Linux does.

Unix devotees generally either like Linux because they can have all of 
their old toys and reliability for the price of a commodity (possibly 
scrounged) PC, or because the tools in Linux have had a lot of the 
rough edges so painfully visible in their previous Unices filed off. If 
they are forced to use MS-Windows, they often install CygWin on it.

> Linux is in many ways a throwback to more primitive systems.

You appear to have confused "simpler, more elegant" with primitive.

> it apparently is introducing a brand new set of problems, having to
> do with intellectual property. 

Linux isn't doing that. Linux relies just as much on intellectual 
property protection mechanisms as MS-Windows, PhotoShop or Irix.

Mozilla, The GIMP and OpenOffice.org suite all run on MS-Windows and are 
raising exactly the same class of questions as Linux.

Claiming that Linux is causing problems here is like claiming that 
taking a torch into an ancient, previously unlit cellar makes the 
cellar dirty. The problems exist anyway, they've just been swept under 
the rug, and now FOSS is exposing the big lump that remains.

> Linux is anything but a high-volume platform

SGI disagree. They built their Altix range based on the premise that 
Linux is a high-volume system. Shall we mention Beowulf clusters? Since 
the single commonest OS reported for public web sites is Linux, I'm 
struggling to see any shred of support for your sweeping claim.

> applications are generally highly customized

Care to name some? Linux is reknowned for running OOTB with 
minimal-to-nil configuration or customisation. That's one reason why 
hosting providers and other bulk providers love it. That and no risk of 
per-seat, per-site or per-CPU licences.

> and more closely tied to the people who developed them than to the
> users that will live with the resulting software.

You've got an immediate problem with this in that "the people who 
developed them" are still developing them, and are usually not only 
constant users of their own software but also install and configure it 
for other people frequently (ask Tridge about Samba; the vast majority 
of features in it are there because users asked for them and working 
well because developers use them).

As well as making your statement a non sequitur (developers are users), 
this implies that the developers are familiar with it, and will run 
into the same issues that their "customers" are likely to run into - 
but before their customers - because they are very much into eating 
their own dogfood.

> Most of the value, and cost, is on the hardware and services
> that surround it [Linux].

Agree on the cost, disagree on the value.

Consider a high volume file server for a few hundred users; to do this 
with MS-Windows you might buy a $5000 server, a $2500 enterprise 
version of MS-Windows-2000 and $5000-15,000 more in CALs. To do this 
using Linux you might buy a $5000 server and download a copy of 
Mandrake for free. Mandrake is quicker and easier to set up (patches 
and such are fast and simple, and you know *exactly* what you're 
getting). Same value, maybe triple the cost.

> You can see why programmers love Linux: It gives them apparent
> power, control, freedom, and flexibility at a low initial cost.
> But this is a zero-sum game and when one group gains power
> another often loses it.

This is NOT a zero-sum game.

It is indeed possible, even inevitable, to increase the total political 
power available through a system.

Giving the programmers more power in this case increases the total power 
base. IRL, management will have more power too, because their 
programmers and admins have more tools to hand to produce results which 
weren't thought of by the designers of those systems which rob 
programmers of power (and the nett effect of that is: the company 
equalises on dumber programmers).

The reason my Linux system (and my wife's) has a shell icon on its 
desktop is the same reason that my children have words in their books, 
even though they can't yet read. It's so the system can be used by 
adults as well as by children.

As administrator, I have the option of taking away that shell, or 
knobbling it down until it's almost as gormless as CMD.EXE, but it's 
there. Unlike certain billionaires I don't have to pretend for 
political reasons that it no longer exists, and I don't have to pay 
extra or obtain an activation key to get one. I also have a choice of 
six shells, and could probably find another six without great effort.

Most Linux users couldn't care less about the shell, some don't even 
know it exists, but the option is always there. Who needs six different 
shells? Not me. But someone else might be more productive with zsh or 
the C-shell than with the Bourne-Again SHell I prefer.

The rest of your long argument (most of page 2) stands on this assertion 
and so falls with it.

You speak of Linux as if it came in kit form and each enterprise had to 
hand-assemble their own, probably different, version ("putting top 
human resources into the development of software for internal use" and 
so on).

I strongly suggest that you download a copy of the Knoppix ISO, burn it, 
boot it, and get educated. It doesn't touch your hard disk without 
specific and detailed instructions (a deliberate decision) so toying 
with it is quite safe. If you like what you see, grab a copy of 
Mandrake Linux and install it on a spare PC. Your horizons will zoom 
outwards, starting with the install (which is simpler in many ways than 

> Recently SCO (formerly Caldera) began to change that perception
> and began to demonstrate what could easily become a nightmare for
> the Linux community.

This argument is just plain dumb. The users at the greatest potential 
risk (still approximately nil) are AIX users. AIX is closed source.

The problem is the leaking of allegedly secret intellectual property. 
Linux is LESS at risk here than anything else except perhaps one of the 
open BSD derivatives. The Linux code (any GPLed or for that matter 
BSD-ish code) is public, freely available for inspection and 

A vendor secretly incorporating code from it into their proprietary 
system has LESS excuse for their actions than one stealing code from 
another proprietary system, because in the latter case they can more 
reasonably claim to not know that the code is copyrighted since they 
officially have no access with which to perform comparisons.

Someone hoping to incorporate previously proprietary code into Linux (or 
any other FOSS project) obviously cannot do it in secret. The code 
would be in plain view for the real owner to see and find. That's one 
thing which makes common origin a far more likely explanation for any 
Linux code shared with SCO code than pilfering.

> Whatever the outcome, it is clear that not enough consideration
> was put into the protection of intellectual property in the
> creation of this platform

This arrogance cannot go unremarked upon: all it means is that Rob 
Enderle has failed to understand how the IP property protection 
mechanisms for Linux actually work. Ockham's Razor versus human nature.

> currently, much of the risk seems to be getting passed downstream
> to enterprise users of the product, rather than upstream to the
> distributors.

Whoa! Another terrible blunder: you're assuming that SCO's unwarranted 
threats have a valid legal foundation. They don't. Not at all.

Until SCO identifies specific instances of code which they can prove 
that they (AT&T, USL, Caldera, whoever) wrote, did not derive from 
public or other sources, and was copied into Linux, they have no case 
for either damages or a cease-and-desist on *anyone*.

If SCO are able to identify such code (or snow a judge into believing 
that they have), each Linux distributor will have an updated version of 
the kernel available for their users before any cease-and-desist pops 
out of the postal network, let alone before "reasonable time to comply" 
has elapsed. URPMI, apt-get, whatever - end of problem.

There's no possibility of damages without ongoing violation, SCO's 
reprehensible standover/blackmail tactics are annulled, business as 
usual except for a smoking crater in Utah where a company of suers 
imploded. It's worth noting that SCO haven't even had any related 
copyrights transferred to themselves yet.

> They have neither the legal expertise nor the budget to even
> properly assess the risk, let alone effectively mitigate it.

They don't need to. Until they become informed, they are not at risk, 
and by that time free, tested updates will be available.

Consider Microsoft and the Timeline fiasco. Developers who deployed on 
MS-SQL-Server are now directly at risk because Microsoft lied to them 
about their exposure from Timeline. Unlike the corresponding situation 
in the Open SOurce world, the developers don't even have the 
*possibility* of checking code or remedying it themselves.

> The key licenses that surround Linux, for the most part, have yet
> to be fully tested in court.

A full nuclear strike by the USA has never been tested either.

The GPL relies on a very simple application of existing copyright law. 
That's much easier to defend than pages of EULA, many clauses of which 
rely on dodgy interpretation of obscure law, and much of which is 
legally inapplicable in most jurisdictions anyway.

> The market may soon be defined by the ability to litigate rather
> than the ability to develop, and products like Linux, which have
> a weak defense, may simply not survive this market phase. 

The market is already defined by the ability to litigate, at least in 
the USA. Ballmer couldn't undercut a price of zero, so SCO are trying 
to artificially inflate the price of practically every computer 
operating system and give him something to undercut.

Their tactical mistake in starting with wealthy IP-hoarding IBM will 
make Custer's battle plans look positively conservative.

> Many Linux users are outspoken and militant. Like their OS/2,
> MacOS, and Unix predecessors and counterparts, they make
> personal attacks and broad public statements.

Ah, yes, that would be "PacMan-like", "viral" and "a cancer", wouldn't 

Get serious, Rob! Are you going to fire Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer for 
saying those things? How about "So now we've got some punk young kids 
who've taken and engineered pieces around the Unix [kernel]"? That's a 
SCO CEO talking (punk!).

> Any product that promotes behavior that violates some of the most
> critical of these [HR] policies should be on the short-list of
> things to be avoided in an enterprise.

Indeed. Now consider that you've characterised this activity as 
ANTI-Microsoft. Surely the logical move to make would be removing all 
Microsoft software from the organisation.

Before you say that this can't be done, remember that it already has in 
many places.

> In short, while Linux is technically a very competent product,
> it still lacks the necessary maturity for a mission critical
> enterprise deployment.

Right turn, Clyde? You've just finished wailing about the lack of 
self-control of "a vocal minority" of Linux supporters and suddenly, 
without blinking, we strike what appears to be a conclusion?

Sorry to break it to you, chum, but your perception of the maturity of a 
minority of self-appointed "cheer squad" members has absolutely squat 
to do with the maturity of the Linux kernel.

Kernels are not cheese, they're not wine, and they're not cigars. Linux 
has had some world-leading talent contributing to it, and you can't 
match that with any number of years of having your code lying around 

> It does have a place as solution for small companies who, themselves,
> occupy cottage industries and where a handshake is all the contract
> you really ever need; in an enterprise, unfortunately, cost controls
> and solid policies that put the business first must take precedence
> and place Linux off the list of consideration, possibly forever, for
> many enterprises. 

You'll be pleased to note that several other - perceptually more 
rational - analysts have come to exactly the opposite conclusion. As 
far as real life goes, you're evidently both wrong. I install Linux in 
everything from "cottage industries" to mid-sized businesses myself, 
and I call to witness the city of Largo, Florida, the city of Munich, 
Germany and the entire government of Brazil WRT the desirability of 
larger deployments.

> Assuming someone doesn't put a bomb under my car I'll be back
> with another column in a few weeks. The working title for that
> one is "What's Wrong With Microsoft." 

At the risk of being classified an immature Linux zealot, I have to ask: 
do you really plan to deal with all of this in only one article?

I've just finished a six-full-page magazine article on what's wrong with 
SCO, and despite their antics that case is dead simple vis Microsoft's.

Bill Parish has probably twenty pages up just on their financial 
shenanigans, there's bucketsful of histories just bursting with 
customer/dealer/supplier/competitor abuse, and we haven't even touched 
on the archives of data streams like alt.windows98.crash.crash.crash!

Also, if you've ever signed a Microsoft NDA, you might find that you're 
prohibited from criticising them.

Cheers; Leon

http://cyberknights.com.au/     Modern tools; traditional dedication
http://plug.linux.org.au/       Committee Member, Perth Linux User Group
http://slpwa.asn.au/            Committee Member, Linux Professionals WA
http://linux.org.au/            Committee Member, Linux Australia

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