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The good, bad & ugly for Linux in 2002

Linux server growth, Ximian Connector and freedom were winners in 2002

(LinuxWorld) — The economy in 2002 was so disappointing that it would even make Clint Eastwood cry. Where Linux lost huge in the stock market, it gained huge in terms of adoption. That's where we'll start our Good, Bad and Ugly summary for 2002.

Linux market share

THE GOOD: Thanks in part to the lousy economy, Linux growth in the server market continued to be strong in 2002, and sane research (read: any research report not sponsored by Microsoft) predicts Linux market-share growth will continue in 2003 and keep increasing beyond this year.

Conventional wisdom is that Linux is eating up the market share of Unix and not Windows. Maybe yes, maybe no. Here's the problem: Microsoft counts every pre-loaded machine as part of its market share, and I'm told some figures even include machines from ancient Windows 3.1 history. This skews the numbers badly, especially when research firms put too much emphasis on the numbers they get from Microsoft and Linux-distributors like Red Hat. When a customer buys 10 servers with Windows pre-installed, that's going to show up as 10 Windows servers. If a customer buys 10 servers with no operating system pre-installed, buys one copy of Linux, and installs it on all 10 servers, which may show up as one Linux server. Worst of all, if the customer buys 10 Windows servers, buys one copy of Linux and installs it over Windows on all 10 servers, that still gets counted as 10 Windows servers and may not get counted as Linux at all.

Here's where the news is good. Consider the fact that you don't need as many Linux boxes to replace a legacy system as you would need Windows boxes. Imagine Company A migrates from one Unix box to six Windows boxes, while Company B migrates from one Unix box to three Linux boxes. If these two companies represented 100 percent of the market, which would make it seem as if Windows has twice as much market-share as Linux. However, in terms of the market-share taken from legacy Unix systems, both Windows and Linux are equal. In addition, both companies end up with the same amount of computing power (with the exception of the downtime for Company A when it performs its weekly server reboots). Therefore, in this example, Linux is taking over at least an equal share of the market in terms of computing power.

However, that's not what the numbers say. The numbers say that Linux is eating into Unix market-share more than it's eating into that of Windows. If they're calculating this based on machines and not computing power, then Linux is actually eating up the market faster than anyone realizes — even if they get the actual numbers of machines correct.

THE BAD: The weak Microsoft vs. Department of Justice settlement emboldened an already abusive monopoly. Microsoft wasn't terribly intimidated at any time during the trial, but the uncertainty about the outcome kept customers wary about anything Microsoft said or did. That left a big opening for Linux that a victorious Microsoft may be able to close.

THE UGLY: Given its perceived victory, Microsoft should be running away with the market. However, it hasn't put a dent in Linux growth so far, because Microsoft alienated so much of its customer base with threatened audits and expensive licensing-schemes. Microsoft did this to make up for the fact that it has precious little value left to offer in the way of upgrades. A beast is most dangerous when it is cornered, and such is the case with Microsoft. Things got ugly toward the end of 2002, when Microsoft started in on its Total Cost of Ownership attacks. Things will probably get even uglier this year.

Ximian

THE GOOD: Those people who claimed they couldn't try Linux on the desktop because they had to use Microsoft Outlook can no longer lean on that excuse, thanks to Miguel de Icaza and Ximian, Inc. When you add in Ximian Connector, Evolution talks to Microsoft Exchange servers in a way that looks and works enough like Microsoft Outlook that the transition should be painless. Strike that. Because Evolution isn't vulnerable to the countless Trojans, virii and worms designed to exploit weaknesses in Outlook, the transition should be better than painless. It should be a painkiller. Nitpickers may note that Evolution 1.0 was actually announced in December of 2001, but the software only matured to become a credible Outlook replacement during 2002.

THE BAD: Mono is Ximian's moniker for its open-source version of portions of the Microsoft .Net framework. The Mono FAQ explains that Ximian chose that name because it is the word for "monkey" in Spanish, and they like monkeys. It figures; Ximian seems to have the sole mission of duplicating everything Microsoft produces in a monkey-see-monkey-do fashion, so the company might just as well be named Simian.

Mono isn't completely without merit. The C# language and CLI represent a relatively elegant design, but it's hard not to cringe when Microsoft takes credit for it. The design is clearly a Microsoft-centric Java rip-off, which is hardly surprising: C# and the CLI wouldn't exist if Microsoft had gotten away with its attempt to derail Java's platform-neutrality.

Microsoft's obvious motive for reinventing the wheel is to get everyone off Java and onto something it controls, namely the .Net framework. The bait is comprised of the fancy IDE called Visual Studio .Net, the huge class library (framework), the elegance of C# and the appeal of being able to generate byte code using several different languages (with most of the interest focused on Visual Basic). And if enough people take the bait, Microsoft will be all over your wallet like ugly on a... well, let's just say Microsoft will leverage a new monopoly to squeeze more money out of your IT budget.

Where does Mono fit into this scheme? Some say Mono only helps Microsoft achieve its goal. If so, Mono is self-defeating. Because Microsoft will always keep Mono in catch-up mode, Mono's existence only draws more attention to a technology that it can never match or exceed.

On the other hand, some speculate that Mono is the way to beat Microsoft at its game of controlling developers, because a nearly identical, open-source version of .Net would make leveraging a .Net monopoly impossible.

Where's the bait for Mono? Does Mono offer an equivalent to Visual Studio .Net? No, so those folks who flock to .Net because of the fancy IDE aren't going to have any reason to switch to Mono. Does Mono offer that huge class library? No. Mono only implements a fraction of .Net at this early stage of development, and not even Ximian knows for sure how much of the framework it can or will reproduce. Does Mono offer the elegance of C#? Yes. Does Mono offer the ability to generate byte code using multiple languages, primarily Visual Basic? Not yet, but it probably will.

The appeal of Mono really boils down to the ability to write to an incomplete API using multiple languages — primarily C# and eventually Visual Basic. If it is possible to come up with a more-lame reason to dance with the devil, I can't think of one.

THE UGLY: Heaven only help us if Miguel de Icaza gets carried away with the monkey obsession and launches a remake of the Planet of the Apes.

Rights

THE GOOD: There were some minor victories in 2002 for our freedoms. Some folks who might have been prosecuted for publishing descrambling code and algorithms weren't. And some who were prosecuted weren't found guilty or punished.

THE BAD: Whether the year was bad or just silly is debatable. AOL patented instant messaging (that's funny... I seem to recall sending "instant messages" before AOL existed). Microsoft Windows Media Player squeals on you whenever you play a DVD. It sends the information — including a unique identifier for your individual player — to a Microsoft server. And the list goes on.

THE UGLY: This is sure to get worse before it gets better. What we need is a rebirth of the rebellious spirit of the '60s. Let's find a modern-day equivalent of the Smothers Brothers to concoct comedy routines to mock establishment greed regarding "intellectual property."

Here's something to get them started:

Time: The future. Setting: Corporate headquarters at Disney. A bigwig named Walter is sitting at his desk, wearing a futuristic headset. He's monitoring the thoughts of competitors, which he can do legally thanks to legislation that protects him from prosecution if he breaks into the minds of others to see if they're stealing his intellectual property. Suddenly he discovers that an executive at Big Idea productions was thinking of a cartoon character that looked a lot like a cartoon character Walter had imagined a few weeks earlier.

Walter flies into a rage. "Aha! He's thinking that thought I thought weeks ago! My thoughts are mine, so that's a clear violation of my intellectual property. If he thinks he can think the thoughts I think I already thought without paying for them, then he's got another think coming." Then he resurrects the great philosopher Descartes to see if he has any ideas on how to protect his thoughts. He says, "I think not," and then promptly disappears.

Well, okay, it's not the best skit, but I did put this suggestion under the "ugly" category.

Dooeeooeeooo...wah wah wah waaahhh.

More Stories By Nicholas Petreley

Nicholas Petreley is a computer consultant and author in Asheville, NC.

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