% fortune -ae paul murphy

Resolved: Vista hesitation signals Linux opportunity

Be it resolved: that Microsoft Vista offers a great short term opportunity for desktop Unix.

Every time Microsoft introduces a new operating system we see the same reaction: before release the gentlemen of the PC press trumpet its wonderfulness, on release they talk about slow adoption and disappointed users looking for alternatives, and a bit later they quietly assume widespread acceptance, write a few articles illustrating the horrors of falling behind the upgrade curve, and start talking about how wonderful the next one will be.

With Vista, we're now getting into stage two with lots of people talking about high costs, slow implementation, limited take-up, and lovely little obstacles to use like a pseudo security system that conditions people to just say yes.

Fortunately, at least from Microsoft's perspective, this behaviour is predictable - and the follow through to fulsome praise for future releases and the condemnation of laggards as nerdy social failures will inevitably follow.

But that doesn't mean Unix proponents should give up - on the contrary a crisis of faith among Microsoft's advocates is an opportunity to play the good angel: tell people facing Vista decisions that they owe it to themselves to try Linux or MacOS X first. At the personal level, they'll be afraid of the change, but you can help by pretending they're only betting the price of the software - argue, for example, that Apple has been running Microsoft's new interface and applications for almost six years now, and that they can always go back to running XP on that same hardware if the jump forward proves too big for them.

And it's not just personal use: if you have a role in an organisational decision on updating from XP to Vista, I think you also have a real responsibility to get people looking at the Linux, BSD, and Solaris alternatives first.

Remember: you can now run most major Microsoft software under both Linux and Solaris for x86, but Microsoft client server is client server: switching to Unix on the client skips the OS licensing cost, lets you run lower cost server software, and reduces your desktop evergreen replacement rate from once every eighteen months to once every three years or so, but won't seriously affect IT staffing.

The truth is that dumb is dumb, and whether that fat client runs Windows or Unix doesn't really make any difference - i.e. your organization may lose some of its slower IT staff to the transition, but they'll be hiring replacements, and meanwhile the checks your company doesn't write to Microsoft and Dell leave money in the budget for training and development projects you would otherwise be giving up to Vista.

So whenever you see a PC "Journalist" working out his personal accommodation with Microsoft's latest cash cow, distribute the article to everyone in sight: pretend it's real, and leverage that opportunity to push people toward considering any Unix - BSD, Linux, or Solaris.

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.