Hold your horses. Linux isn't an NT killer just yet.

Merry OS, Charlie Brown?

Hold your horses. Linux isn't an NT killer just yet.

To paraphrase the late Gilda Radner, “What’s all this I hear about Linux? Isn’t he still carrying around a blanket and hanging out with that Charlie Brown boy?”

Those of us who live in a Microsoft-centric world tend to forget that, yes, there are other operating systems out there, and no, they’re not all going gently into that good night.

Linux, the open-source Unix-like OS, has gained users, market share, and media buzz, owing partially to its status as the darling of those who’d like to nuke Redmond and relegate NT to the status of a monopoly-driven curiosity more suited to workgroups than enterprises.

Auntie can’t speak for everyone, but my experience with Unix administrators has been one of listening to them explain all the advantages of their OS: “All you have to know is how to speak fluent Brobdingnagese! Sed! Awk! Grep!” Ease of administration doesn’t seem to be a strong point with Unix, yet you’ll find a lot more Unix systems running under really big-money apps in major financial institutions than you will NT boxes. How often have you heard of a Unix system (Solaris, AIX, Linux, etc.) needing a periodic reboot to function? Contrarily, how often have you—yes, you—had to come up with a reboot strategy to keep your NT servers healthy?

Some Day, Your Pacemaker Will Run Linux

NT has become ubiquitous, but it hasn’t been around as long as the Unix family, and no, it isn’t as robust or as stable. NT 4.0 is a major improvement over its predecessors, but it can still hang, leak, bluescreen, and, well, just plain suck on occasion. So, most serious we’re-worth-billions enterprises still run their most critical apps on OSs other than NT.

Of course, companies aren’t running these critical apps on Linux, either. The openness of Linux lends to a teeny problem of support. Microsoft may be 90 percent responsible for your 200/140 blood pressure, but you know where it is. Redmond may be the doubletalk capital of post-industrial civilization, but it has a ton of support engineers who’ll actually help you work through problems and occasionally fix bugs —and I’ve had the pleasure of spanking only a few of them for being sassy. It’ll be interesting to watch the big Linux players such as Caldera and Red Hat attempt to replicate NT’s support infrastructure for their flavors of Linux. And are there many enterprise applications for Linux? IBM offers DB2, its MQ series, and Object REXX for Linux, and Oracle offers 8i and Oracle Application Server—but how many production systems are they actually on?

Another item that interests Em is seeing the shrinkwrapped Linux-in-a-box products at CompUSA and other retailers. Some include application suites, and there’s also a trickle of Linux consumer applications, with the most visible being WordPerfect from Corel. Does the trickle become a flood? Not until there’s a larger installed base of Linux systems, and that means not until big players like IBM, Compaq, Gateway, and Dell start shipping consumer desktops with OEM-installed Linux.

The funny thing is that none of those manufacturers does. They may load it for you on special request, but they’re yet to prebuild desktops with Linux and ship them to your local warehouse club.

Here’s a piece of my mind, packaged in the finest gingham I can find: Linux is a good and noble thing, and that has absolutely nothing to do with its higher visibility of late, which is fueled by funding from the big players who are desperate to find something—anything—to use as a wedge against Microsoft.

Linux—not yet playing with the big guns in the enterprise, and not yet available with a brand-spanking-new PC. You need to be a computer aficionado to set it up, and that means your cousin Ernie’s not going to load it on his Windows box and surprise the kids at Christmastime.

“Look, Daddy! Sed! Grep! Awk!”

I don’t think so, Charlie Brown.


Dear Auntie...

In your March column, you say, "Microsoft will never catch all the flaws in Win2K...Live with it." If we don't demand that software quality be equal to that of other consumer and business products, it never will be, and we'll always have to "live with it." Does that make you happy?
—Jon Osborn, MCSE, CNE

No, it doesn't make me happy. Just as the periodic recalls of automobiles doesn't make me happy, and just as truth and public service seeming to be mutually exclusive concepts doesn't make me happy. My expectations for Microsoft products are about the same as any others I use. I might even call the 90's a decade of diminished expectations. So live with it.
—Em C. Pea

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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