GNU/Linux -- Leader or Follower?
Jun 09, 2000, 06:59 (32 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Benjamin Sher)
[ Linux Today reader Benjamin Sher writes: ]
I am exhilirated by Linux and at the same time concerned about its
I have been using Linux for about a year and a half (first Red Hat
and for the past year Linux-Mandrake, now upgrading to 7.1, and I
just love it. For a year I ran Linux and nothing but Linux.
Recently, due to the continuing encroachment of Windows Media
Player, I have had no choice but to install Win98 as a dual
Linux-Windows system. Why? Almost overnight stations everywhere
were switching to WMP. For me this is not a question of
entertainment alone but of professional needs. As a Russian
translator, I suddenly discovered that most Russian television
stations now broadcast their domestic programs in Russian using
WMP? The same goes for many other languages.
And the same goes for many other areas that Microsoft is
relentlessly pursuing even as the judge is about to hand his
verdict later this afternoon.
The following two articles made a very deep impression on me. I am
NOT a programmer, but the writing is or seems to be on the wall.
What precisely? Not that Linux is dying. On the contrary, it is
exploding all over and conquering new territory every day, from the
new IBM S/390 mainframe computers down to embedded systems. I enjoy
reading Linux Today just to read the daily headlines that are a
rollcoll, a cavalcade of Linux's fantastic successes. Recently, I
discovered that GeoVRML will bring 3D for the first time to
The authors of the two articles below express deep concern about a
key tendency in Linux, namely, that of FOLLOWING technological
innovations on the Windows and Mac platforms (I don't mean
Microsoft's "innovation" but that of Windows developers and third
party software companies developing applications for Windows and
the Mac) rather than LEADING them.
The first article deals with a potentially astonishing development
for computers in general and a devastating blow to Open Source,
namely, the Star Wars talkie computer strategy, i.e. a possible
Voice Recognition OS, developed by Microsoft or Apple. The author
bemoans the nearly total neglect of this and other critical
technologies by the Open Source Community. He claims that such a
talkie technology would have to be an OS technology, and he opines
that this may well be Microsoft's secret plan, i.e. to keep
stalling until the technology is fully developed (shades of their
first attempts at a browser, at Windows Media Player and at a
PocketPC). If Microsoft succeeds, the author believes that it will
continue its monopoly power for at least another generation.
The second is an article on Microsoft Patents ASF Media Format:
Stops Reverse Engineering. Again, the author laments the fact that
the Open Source community would rather spend its time creating yet
another text editor rather than getting together and forming its
own standard, software and pushing for its implementation and
universal adoption. Again, he implies that Linux is a follower and
not a leader.
I am not raising these issues because I have the answers but in
order to spark a serious discussion by professionals about the
issues raised in these and other articles.
Is GNU/Linux a leader or a follower and should it be?
If RealPlayer falls by the wayside (the signs are already there, no
matter how rosy the 120 million base of users picture looks because
Microsoft has bundled its WMP Server with Windows 2000), what will
Linux have left. We will be surfing the Web blind, groping in the
darkness of a Microsoft world dominated by Microsoft's "embrace,
extend and extinguish" concept of standard-adherence. In other
words, we will be at the mercy of Microsoft.
More importantly, Linux will be at the mercy not only of Microsoft
but of proprietary software companies in general, of strangulation
by UCITA, etc.
My own general impression after being a regular reader of Linux
Today for over a year is that Linux is, generally speaking,
REACTING to developments in the proprietary world rather than
leading it by developing new technologies. Linux is obviously a
great visionary achievement by a dedicated cooperative worldwide
movement, but it began as an attempt to duplicate UNIX on the PC
(and also recently on the Mac). KDE is fabulous, and, like everyone
else, I am very excited about KDE2, but again, it is an attempt to
duplicate Windows (albeit in a superior way). So is Koffice. And I
guess so is Gnome. And so is Mozilla an attempt at creating a
superior browser rather than a whole new technology that might make
a browser obsolete in the first place (such as the Napster, for
instead, or Gnutella). And Sun's StarOffice, my default Office
program, a wonderful, feature-rich program more than sufficient for
most of us, is again an attempt (successful, I assume) to duplicate
and possibly to outdo Microsoft Office).
So, is Linux a leader or a follower. And what should it be?
Should it duplicate what other proprietary systems have already
done or should it compete with them by revolutioning existing
technology and drawing people to it not only because it can do what
Windows does only so much better, with such fabulous reliability
and true multitasking, etc., but rather because it offers something
In short: what would happen if Linux had developed voice technology
and were able to suddenly surprise the computer world with a Star
Treck talkie PC? Wouldn't that turn the entire desktop world upside
Just thinking aloud, folks.
Thanks for listening.
P. S. My apologies for writing from Win98. I tried to install the
new Linux-Mandrake 7.1 last night and accidently wiped out my
entire Linux installation by resizing my partitions. Am waiting for
my 2-CD set from LinuxMart.
Benjamin and Anna Sher
Sher's Russian Web