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Editor's Note: One Company to Screw It All Up

Jan 27, 2006, 23:30 (24 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

One of the more interesting parts of my job is to go out and lurk around on Windows community sites and see what they are saying about, well, us. I do this mostly to see if there's any new twist of fear, uncertainty, or doubt about to head our way. I am usually disappointed, which I'll explain in second.

As you might expect, it's the usual rhetoric: "Linux isn't more secure, Linux isn't that fast, Linux is not ready for the desktop... blah, blah, blah." What's disappointing, in a macabre way, is that none of their objections are original. Theme for theme, and almost word for word, they parrot exactly what comes out of the halls of Redmond. It's all the same stuff. Is there nothing originally bad to say about Linux amongst the Windows fan-boys?

Linux users, on the other hand, don't have an übermeister speaking the Word that Must Be Spoken. When they come up with an opinion, it's usually on their own. Granted, others will usually pitch in and agree and thus establish a bit of group-think. But the original ideas come from individuals in the community. And that is a huge advantage.

Someone reading this column might think that Red Hat or Novell might qualify as our corporate overlords, and think that would dispute my point. Are you kidding me? As the folks in these companies (and all the other commercial Linux ventures) surely know, being big and having bling in this community just makes you a bigger target.

Even Linus Torvalds does not have universal power over all that is Linux. He has the kernel--that's it. If Linus came out tomorrow and said that the new Linux mascot will henceforth be a llama, the community would laugh in his face.

Conversely, if Bill Gates came out and said that Windows makes better spaghetti than Linux, you can bet that within a week, every pro-Windows user with a blog would have the best recipes for spaghetti carbonara on their site.

As I said, this single-source of FUD against Linux gives the Linux community a distinct advantage. Unlike the Windows community, which has to fend against Linux from all sides (server, desktop, embedded, high-end) from different organizations (companies, projects, foundations), all we have to do is consistently point out the facts of what goes wrong in Redmond. Once.

For example, say the pro-Windows community said that the whole notion of Linux being free was an illusion. Because, guess what? They do, constantly. They look at products like Red Hat or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and say "See? Not free! Nanny-nanny-boo-boo!"

But they would not be right. Remember, they are saying that Linux is not free. Which Linux? All of it? That doesn't make sense, because I certainly don't remember sending anyone a check for my Kubuntu software. Or the OpenOffice.org software I'm typing this in. You know what? I didn't send anyone a check for the Fedora Core I was running before Kubuntu, either. So, some of Linux is free, isn't it? Big, sweeping statements simply do not apply.

(Actually, really all of Linux is free; Red Hat and Novell are just charging for services and upkeep, but I did not want to confuse the Windows folks even more than they are.)

Now, let's turn that around, shall we? We can say, pretty accurately, that Windows has a huge number of security problems. Does that affect all of Windows? It certainly does.

You can argue that Windows XP code is different from Windows CE and Window 2003. You can stipulate that they have totally different developer teams. Those would be good arguments. Except, at the end of it all, you are still left with the burning notion that this insecure code was all produced by one company. One. Responsible for it all.

And sooner or later, the message will get across: if this one company is so sloppy in some areas, what prevents it from being sloppy in others?

C'mon, do I really have to spell out the answer?

Everyday more people are learning that even if there are problems in certain parts of the Linux operating system, it is not as reflected upon the whole as problems within Microsoft reflect on Windows.

Linux is the greater sum of many parts. Windows is just the product of one company, eventually inheriting all of the faults of that company.

It's the curse of the monolithic culture, one that Linux will never fall prey to.