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Electronic Commerce Guide: The Cold War Bits -- Part I

May 28, 2000, 16:26 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Don Sussis)

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By Don Sussis, Electronic Commerce Guide

I recently gave a talk to forty-five management consultants from Austria. The talk was sponsored by the Austrian Trade Commission and arranged by Peter A. Gatscha, Assistant Trade Commissioner for Science & Technology. It was held at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum in Manhattan. The Intrepid is an aircraft carrier which houses, among other things, real jet fighter planes and real space capsules. Nearby are a real submarine and several tanks. Among the many other artifacts on display is a piece of the Berlin Wall. The Intrepid, needless to say, was a courageous and adventurous choice of location.

What impressed me most about the venue for this talk was its testimony to the superiority of "open systems" (like the U.S.) to closed systems (like the former Soviet Union). There can be no doubt about the number of innovations, freedoms and quality of life advances that one philosophy has created versus the other.

For those of you who are familiar with Information Theory, this model of success resides in the work of Norbert Weiner in Cybernetics. It was a result of this work that feedback became valued as a mechanism for constantly improving performance. Continuous feedback is a feature of "open systems;" by contrast, "closed systems" become static and inefficient because they discourage new information. For example, guided missile systems are vast improvements over simple rocket projectiles because constant and continuous feedback informs the device, making them much more accurate.

This is a very crucial difference and it has found proof of concept in both politics and in enterprise. At General Electric, for example, Chairman and CEO Jack Welsh utilized an open systems model as part of GE's corporate culture. New ideas are free to grow and every employee is encouraged to operate in an entrepreneurial manner. The company, which was founded more than 100 years ago, constantly re-invents itself and creates value by adapting to change.

I mention all of this to present a perspective on the potential break-up of Microsoft as well as to underscore what is happening in the Linux world. The Linux OS is based upon an Open Systems Model-its source code is published and available. Anyone can access and contribute to its development. That's also why Linux is often referred to as the leader in the Open Source Movement.

To better appreciate the Open Source Movement, I spoke with Larry Augustine, the President and CEO of VALinux Systems. The venue this time was the Internet Economy Conference sponsored by The New York Society of Security Analysts. It was chaired by Vincent Catalano and proved to be one of the most informative events that I've attended this year.

Linux is not only the fastest growing operating system but it now runs more Web servers and than any other OS used for the Internet. Why? Perhaps the best answer is that Open Source directly connects users with developers. In the Windows environment, developers must go through a middle person -- Microsoft. It's like having to go through a state-run bureaucracy before being able to make a change in your business.

According to Mr. Augustine, "In the Linux system everyone has access to the source code and, so, anyone can contribute to improving it." This means, for example, that, "bug fixes can be created and distributed within hours-- rather than waiting for 'official releases' which may takes weeks, months or even years."

Consider this interesting tidbit. The NT server had a clock that counts the number of days that the machine is "up and running." But the counter was set at a maximum of 26 days. "The result," according to Augustine, "was a systems crash -even if the machine was operating properly." He added, "It took three years to find this out."

Also, since there is access to the source code in Linux, customization is easily accomplished. This is especially important if Web hosting is outsourced to giant server farms, such asthose run by Exodus Communications. If you are running 10,000 NT machines with Windows, it is difficult to set up a dozen machines with special OS capabilities. But it is relatively easy to do this with Linux. This gives customers "what they need when they need it." Here is an example.

Cisco Systems, the giant router manufacturer, has had a long-standing company policy that any printer in their enterprise should be accessible to any employee, anywhere and anytime. This couldn't be accomplished with NT. So, according to Mr. Augustine, the Cisco Enterprise Printing System Group (CEPS) "fixed the problem." Then they published the results. This aids real innovation because developers can move forward to new challenges by consulting available libraries of information instead of struggling to develop fixes on their own. There is no need to reinvent wheels that are already turning.

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