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What does Linux gain by the Mindcraft controversy?

May 09, 1999, 11:50 (15 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Robert Kiesling)

by Robert Kiesling

Mindcraft's statement of purpose for their third round of NT vs. Linux benchmarks raises the questions, what was wrong with the second round of benchmarks? And, who is Mindcraft more afraid of, Microsoft or the Linux community?

The statement is notable because it is probably the first instance where a VAR has had to tread the line between the two.

Mindcraft chose not to make the results of those tests public. They have the right to do so. They conducted the tests with their own money, and so the information is theirs. But why does that put them at a variance with Linus Torvalds's recent statements apropos of Microsoft?

Granted, it's hard to see one's work go down the drain, especially if the reason for failing has nothing to do with the product's or service's technical merits. Linus Torvalds is justifiably proud of his operating system kernel, as is every brilliant programmer in the world who has contributed code to it. He's probably also frustrated that vendors have not been able to install Linux because of alleged monopolistic practices--I won't go into too much gory and questionable detail--and Microsoft's marketing muscle to leverage substandard technology.

Could Microsoft be equally proud of NT? Perhaps. But we won't know. Microsoft, personified by Bill Gates, seems to take a fundamentally different approach to software than the Linux community. So we don't know if programmers at Microsoft are screaming with the same ferocity that Linus Torvalds is, or if it's due to Microsoft's "evil empire" persona, if they are using their marketing muscle to intimidate Mindcraft into suppressing the information.

There's a note of public-relations doublespeak in Mindcraft's statement. This certainly would not be the first time that corporate flacks and attorneys have caused information to be withheld. Only someone who is truly naive would believe that. What is significant is that the corporate PR model has come up against the Open Source model of software development, and its implicit premise that the unrestricted flow of information is the most optimal.

Mindcraft's statement sounds like the product of a company trying not to give the impression that it is knuckling under to a larger competitor, and at the same time avoiding the political incorrectness of throwing out the most charming and potent symbol of the open software industry.

I should point out my own bias in this. I am maintainer of the Linux FAQ, an Internet document that perhaps hundreds of thousands of people have read. Do you think I'm proud to have countered some of the most expensive PR in the world? You bet I am. There's a mythos that surrounds Linux, that of hard working, selfless programmers who wrench out world-class code day after day, version after version. This is the old image of hackers taking pride in their code, elevated to a high, neo-classical art form. Of course, if the operating system didn't stand up in actual use, that image would be so much PR. I'm watching the development of Linux with the same sense of awe and trepidation as many others in the industry must be.

I hope Linux becomes dominant over NT, and not just because I'm tired of paying too much for software. I want access to the information that underlies the technology I use. Right now, the race is about even. If Linux does become more popular than NT, then those of us who have access to an independent source of technology, and an interest in the free flow of information, will find it easier to tell the differences among the software industry's many realities and its myths.

Robert Kiesling is maintainer of Linux Frequently Asked Questions with Answers. He has written Linux-related articles for several computer magazines, and is the editor of "Linux: The Complete Reference," 6th Ed., as well as a contributor to "Linux Installation and Getting Started."