% fortune -ae paul murphy

Windows, Linux, and the Kyoto Climate Protocols

I read a blog, yesterday, by one Randall Hoven, titled "Kyoto Schmyoto" which started with this:

One would think that countries that committed to the Kyoto treaty are doing a better job of curtailing carbon emissions. One would also think that the United States, the only country that does not even intend to ratify, keeps on emitting carbon dioxide at growth levels much higher than those who signed.

And one would be wrong.

The Kyoto treaty was agreed upon in late 1997 and countries started signing and ratifying it in 1998. A list of countries and their carbon dioxide emissions due to consumption of fossil fuels is available from the U.S. government. If we look at that data and compare 2004 (latest year for which data is available) to 1997 (last year before the Kyoto treaty was signed), we find the following.

Since that's the exact opposite of what widely quoted experts, including some prominent Americans, are saying about U.S. performance I tried to confirm the numbers - and it turns out they're about right. During that process, however, I was struck by the similarities between what most people think they know about climate change and the Kyoto treaties on the one side and what most people think they know about the Linux vs Windows debate on the other.

What's going on in both cases is that what people believe has little to do with facts and everything to do with individual decisions to value conformance to perceived majority opinion over conformance to objective reality. On the climate side what this means is that otherwise sane scientists and science administrators willingly pander to the media bandwagon on human responsibility for climate change while knowing perfectly well that the parallel to effects visible on other planets in our solar system prove human causation a non issue.

On the IT side this means that some of my friends willingly continue their allegiance to Microsoft while knowing perfectly well that the Microsoft client-server architecture does not work and cannot be made to work while all three of the major Unix groups: the BSDs, Linux, and Solaris, offer alternatives that are both demonstrably effective and theoretically supported.

In that same vein I've suffered the frustrations - and I'm sure you have too - of talking to people who seem perfectly sensible in real life but repeatedly react to IT failure by repeating what they did to create it. That's classical insanity, but I know one guy, a person I'm happy to call a friend, who has upgraded his personal Wintel gear roughly every 12 to 15 months since the early nineties, now has Vista on a brand new quad core of some kind, still loses Word and outlook files, isn't doing anything today he couldn't do with a MacAV in 1991, and has yet to understand that spending money will never make him the instant master of the information universe he yearns to be.

( After SP1, I think I'll suggest he try the the upgrade to dual core and XP. :) )

One of the weird things about this is that he's consulted me prior to each upgrade - with every evidence of sincerity. In each case, furthermore, I've given him the same advice: just get a Mac - and fourteen times now he's agreed that the Mac's better but decided against buying it because Apple's going under.

The behavior looks utterly irrational - and really is inexplicable unless of course, you look at the climate change issue for a parallel because it's pretty clear there that the movement leaders are in it for reasons having nothing to do with climate - and most of the followers are desperate to believe for political reasons having nothing to do with climate either. Apply that to the Windows vs Linux debate and you can see why the fact that Unix does more than Windows with one third the lines of code and less than one percent of the failure rate simply doesn't matter.

So, bottom line, what's it mean? That arguing Unix vs Windows on the facts is silly - and perhaps even counter-productive because the factual argument favoring any Unix over Windows is so overwhelming that the media, and most customers, have simply tuned out in favor of continuing uninformed opinions they've been led to believe lots of other people hold too.

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