% fortune -ae paul murphy

What Linux needs to Succeed

Last week's "insight Friday" piece, on the artificiality of the server - desktop distinction for Unix drew a long and well reasoned response from a user signing himself (or herself) as "xtep." At the end xstep says:

I would like to hear more Linux users talking about what *nix's need to meet the needs of everyone?

Yeah, me to.

At the moment my belief is that nothing, not even the best of the BSDs, gets close to Solaris for scalability, performance (at least on SPARC), and reliability. Similarly I don't see anyone close to catching MacOS X for desktop usability. In other words, I think that Unix is already there, and has been at least since Microsoft dropped Xenix in favor of MS-DOS.

Linux isn't the best at anything, but it's pretty good on a lot of things and far ahead of Microsoft's offerings on just about everything. In fact my image of this is of three world class skiers who mostly finish in the same order: Solaris, BSD, Linux but almost always do so within fractional seconds of each other, with Microsoft skidding in an irrelevant fourth a minute or two later.

That's my opinion. In reality, however, Microsoft continues to dominate both the desktop and server operating systems markets and this obvious conflict needs an explanation.

In my more pessimistic moments I think the normal curve is badly skewed, with 90% of the market fitting in the left hand side, but more reasonably what's going on is that we're still seeing the after effects of the initial PC adoption in rebellion against mainframe control practices and the natural consequences of all the money to be made egging that on.

In those days, the eighties and nineties, if you could sell dope or used cars you could make money selling Windows and feel good about yourself as a technology leader doing it. Today those same people are in charge -and if you want to know why so many of them have discovered that Linux costs more and doesn't work as well as Windows; well, it's because Linux isn't Windows and pretending it is by perpetuating the Windows way is a guaranteed route to failure.

So why hasn't Linux taken the desktop by storm? It's not the GUI, not the games, nothing to do with bits and bytes at all -it's to do with skills based on memorisation, rather than knowledge integration: put a typical MCSE in charge of Linux and the only thing he'll succeed in doing is proving what he knew to start out with - that he can get better results for less using Windows.

Want to fix it? stop trying to make Linux look like Windows, don't put those people in charge, and don't let anyone pretend that Linux is some kind of cheaper Windows replacement. Linux is what it is: Unix, and it takes different reflexes, different ideas about networks, about the role of the computer, about data storage, and about application management to make it work.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specialising in Unix and Unix-related management issues. n