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Volume 3, Number 9
September, 1998

Tales of the Geek Lord
Who is this Linux? (And how do we kill him?)

by Pelican Smith

Let's draw the immediate parallel: Star Wars.

Microsoft is the Empire, and Bill Gates is Darth Vader. Well organized and well supplied, storm troopers scour the galaxy. The Linux camp is the rebel resistence, not as well funded, but still holding together and fighting. Who will win?

The battle wasn't always between Linux and Microsoft. Gates has crushed just about every other commercial competitor he has faced. Novell is on it's death bed. Netscape is struggling to find it's new corporate identity now that browsers are free. Even Sun has suffered what may be mortal wounds since Java has failed to take over the desktop.

But Linux is different. You can't buy it out, because nobody owns it. You can't underprice it, because it is free. You can't even ridicule it's owners, because it is owned and maintained by millions. Bad news is that it works great on the desktop. Worst news is that it works even better as a server.

Still, Linux only owns about eight percent of the server market. Let's look at the five big reasons why:
  1. You can't bet the corporation on freeware. Ugly as this argument is to computer afficianados, it is a real motivation to the management types. When money is on the line, and you don't know any better, you tend to rely on name value. Everyone knows who Microsoft is. Of course, anyone who truly knows computers would debate this to then end of time. After all, freeware can be very good. Further, if you find some problem in Linux, you can simply fix it, since the source code is included.
  2. Linux is a crackers tool. This is undeniably true. I wouldn't say that it is the crackers favorite tool (since most of them would rather own their own Sparc workstations), but it is widely used by the computer criminal element. Probably the biggest reason why is that you can do so many things with Linux. It is versatile enough that it suits the needs of just about any task at hand.
  3. You need an expert to keep linux running. Hmm, well, maybe not expert. But, if you are going to be using Linux as your corporate mail, database, file and print server, then you definately need to be on top of the situation and use a little common sense. The thing is, you need just as much knowledge to keep any operating system running under such demands. No matter what Microsoft may try to tell you, your average Windows 95 user cannot run an Exchange server. Where a person can get lost on the command line of a Linux machine, they can get equally lost in the windows within windows of an NT server. Where the switches and configuration files of your typical Unix application can confuse the novice, so to can they be confused by the drop down lists and checkboxes scattered around multiple windows.
  4. Microsoft has such a headstart. Why not go with a winner? Back to the name brand argument. If image is everything, then yes, Microsoft has a headstart. Using just a little bit of memory though, you might remember that NT is actually very new to the server world, where Unix machines have existed for thirty years. Also, the whole headstart argument loses all meaning when one competitor is freeware, since the competition does not really exist. Linux users don't care if you buy Microsoft, since it never took any money out of their pocket anyway.
  5. There is no real support for Linux. Microsoft has a very extensive (and expensive) customer support section that can take your calls at 3 AM. Now that Caldera and RedHat offer support contracts, Linux does too. Both have their own newsgroups for peer support. An argument that Linux users like to suggest is Microsoft needs such a large support section becuase their product is inherently broken.

Bottom line: Right now Microsoft is trying to ignore Linux, and dismiss it as a toy. But as corporations like Cisco continue to move their servers over to Linux, Microsoft might begin to feel the financial bite. Eight percent of anything in the computer industry is a lot. If the trend continues to rise, Microsoft may find itself pitted against a foe it is powerless to stop.
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