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GNU/Linux -- Leader or Follower?

Jun 09, 2000, 06:59 (32 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Benjamin Sher)

[ Linux Today reader Benjamin Sher writes: ]

Dear friends:

I am exhilirated by Linux and at the same time concerned about its future:

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 Linux.

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.

URL: http://linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=2000-06-07-017-06-PS-MS

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.

URL: http://linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=2000-06-07-002-20-OS-MS-SW

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 truly revolutionary?

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 down?

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