The “Other” OS

I normally don’t make much mention of that other OS. I’ve seen enough Windows-bashing in the Linux world to last a lifetime. I’ve never been an advocate of the position, ” … we’re better because they suck.” I just don’t think it makes an intelligent or articulate case for the power of Linux. And, after all, I do believe that folks who make the considerable leap from Windows to Linux are just that – intelligent, articulate folks who have a real need to understand and better control their computing tools. Occasionally, though, something crops up that strikes me as so funny I can’t help but point it out.

As you well know, Microsoft is working very hard to force a settlement in the ongoing anti-trust case against them. Several states (mine among them) have resisted the settlement proposal reached by the Justice Department and Microsoft. As the battle has continued in the courts, Microsoft has done it’s level best to convince anyone who would listen that a) its ‘innovations’ are crucial to the continued health of the computer industry and b) that its practices are anything but anti-competitive. Mr. Gates himself took the stand a few weeks ago to argue exactly these points.

As is my custom, I sat down with that first critical cup o’ java this morning while perusing The Register, a real wellspring of useful and entertaining tech news. With the rich smell of freshly-ground French Roast wafting through my little laundry room/home office, I found this article on The Register regarding the ongoing Microsoft case. A warning is in order – don’t read this article while drinking hot coffee unless you’re willing to risk scalding the inside of your nose while laughing out loud!

As I’ve said, I’m not much into Microsoft bashing. That’s really not the point of pushing you in the direction of this article. In fact, I’ve noted in the past that my house isn’t quite yet a Redmond-free zone. My wife uses Windows and, consequently, my machine is a dual-boot Mandrake/Win2k box. Being a clear Linux advocate doesn’t necessarily equte with being a Microsoft-hater. In some sense, I can take the position of a disinterested observer to the Microsoft proceedings. I genuinely believe that the open source model can and will eventually win out. Computing has become more vital to the world than the sum of its dollar parts. Believing that the model works allows me to pay less, rather than more attention to Microsoft. I believe their philosophy becomes less relevant each day and that, eventually, they’ll have to recognize the sea change underway, if for no other reason than their survival.

As the aforementioned disinterested observer, I found this article on The Register interesting because it seems to point out some deeply systemic problems at Microsoft. First, they presented an MIT computing professor as an expert witness on their behalf. Not a bad choice. However, they managed to find the one Computer Sciences professor on the planet who seems to have nothing more than a passing knowledge of Linux. If you believe his testimony, both KDE and Gnome are, in fact, full-blown operating systems. In fact, the professor in question, Stuart E. Madnick, seemed to believe that a Linux system was rendered inoperable by removing the X Window system. He’s obviously not a Penguin Shell subscriber or he would have known better. In fact, it’s unlikely that he’s ever even perused one of the thousands of Linux sites on the ‘Net, where the fallacy of his testimony is, quite simply, common knowledge. It’s tough to accept the testimony of a Computer Sciences professor as “expert” with such a limited knowledge of Linux.

The point here is really not to pick on Mr. Madnick. I’m sure he’s completely competent under the umbrella of tenure. But his selection as an expert witness in a case in which testimony about Linux was certain to arise is laughable. To me, it really points out how little attention Microsoft has actually paid to Linux. Corporate litigation lawyers are, above nearly all else, professionals at selecting, coaching and preparing expert witnesses for testimony. Yet, Mr. Madnick seemed genuinely put off by questions that related to Linux – the single strongest contender for Microsoft’s slice of the computing pie. Is this lack of preparation a sign of arrogance or just some mysterious time warp pervading the halls of Redmond? Either way, it points out a serious flaw in the corporate philosophy at Microsoft. It seems to indicate a line of thinking that goes something like this: “If you don’t believe it’s a problem, it’s not.” Guess what? Countless countries that held that same philosophy have been overrun by marauding invaders.

I know. Pointing all this out is a bit like preaching to the proverbial choir. You’ve either made your OS choice or are close to doing so. The Register article really just provides a humorous insight into the thinking in Redmond. It also provides me the opportunity to ask a “burning” question.

Does anyone know a good cure for scalded nostrils?

As always, your concurring or dissenting opinions are welcome. I’ll publish some of them in upcoming Penguin Shell issues.