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Editor's Note: Hardware, Software, Bay Staters, and Buckeyes

Sep 30, 2005, 23:30 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Is it me, or is the whole ruckus about Massachusetts getting just a little bit shrill?

I mean, no one knows better than I what the overall impact of that commonwealth shifting to OpenDocument standards in 2007 is; heck, I've written my own column about it. Thus, you might say I contributed to the noise myself, and I accept that. In my defense, I will mention that I wrote about it early on. Now, everything just seems superfluous and snippy.

Of particular interest to me are the paid-for columns that are appearing in the mainstream news outlets. An old trick of professional spin doctors, these advertorials have one purpose: to convince the general population that a specific issue is very important and worthy of opposition. Ironically, these articles are used to convince the public to go against something that will probably be better for the greater good.

Well, it seems that these articles are too little, too late. I am, though, wondering if the legislature of Massachusetts will be able to have any say in this whole process. If they jump in, they could short-circuit the whole OpenDocument process there. But I am not sure how that works in the Bay State.

It feels like there is a lot of pressure on Linux these days, but it is as many expected. The more proprietary companies think they will lose, the more they will fight. Or get others to fight for them.

For instance, the remarks made by Michael Dell on Wednesday may at first seem like paid-for FUD on behalf of Microsoft. Indicating that there are too many distros with too much infighting is a line from the FUD playbook, but I don't think Dell said it on Microsoft's direct suggestion.

Either Dell is grossly misinformed or (more likely) he tossed the remark out to our reporter as a public appeasement to Microsoft for offering pre-loaded Linux and non-loaded clean machines in the first place. Ultimately, Dell will not care what operating system is on his machines, as long as his company is getting his machines sold. But, in the short term, he has to play very nicely with Redmond.

And, on the off chance Dell is misinformed, let me help him. Yes, I drive a VW Golf and I have a mortgage to pay, but I am smart enough to figure this out: while there are indeed a lot of distros, and some of them do have contentions about standards and whatnot, all you need to do is pick one.

If you want to go with Linux, choose one distro and stick with it. Mandriva is good, you're already working with them. Or how about Red Hat, since you plunked $100 million on their stock not too long ago. Or one of the others. While I would love to see an equal playing field for all that is Linux, no one is going to fault you for choosing one distro over all the others. Why do you have to worry about multi-distro support?

If you are really worried about giving your customers choices, choose a distro that is LSB compliant, so if your customers do want to experiment or shop around for other distros, they will be able to.

Geez, it's not rocket science.

Neither, one would think, is the business of making your customers happy. Give them good products and good service at a fair price, and everyone wins in the end. Easy, right? So why is this simple equation eluding Microsoft?

(Yes, I know you think it's because they're a bunch of contemptible greedheads. But hang on, there might be more to it than that.)

I refer to their latest bungle: telling customers that they will only be able to upgrade to the enterprise version of Vista if said customer signs up for the Software Assurance program. That's the equivalent of extortion in many people's minds, and it's got some people looking around at Linux.

Pure greed? Oh, it's there, I am sure. But I also think that it is yet another sign that Linux is getting to them and they are getting nervous.

When I was a newspaper man, I sat next to the advertising staff. It was a small office; I sat next to the publisher, the typesetter, and my reporter, too. But, listening to the ad staff on the phone making their calls and working their mojo, I quickly gleaned that it wasn't the one big monster ad sale they wanted--it was the series of smaller ads that would run for a month or two. These ads would give the customer greater impact and more positive response. If they felt their long-running ad was getting noticed, they would renew another series of ads.

So, too, is it with Microsoft. They don't just want you to buy their software; they want to know that you will be around for the long haul. Thus, things like the Software Assurance plan and Vista. They are desperately seeking continuity.

Software Assurance is doomed to fail, because too many people are waking up to the fact they they control their data, not the company who builds the software. This licensing plan might have worked better in the mid-90s, when a lot of us didn't know any better. But now we do.

The free software genie is officially out of the bottle and there's no going back.

It's been a rambling column this week, and I beg your indulgence. Many things are on my plate, including traveling to the Ohio LinuxFest this weekend. I have my passport and my Hoosier-Buckeye translation dictionary all packed and ready to go. They are a simple folk, these Buckeyes, but they are peaceful and welcoming.

Seriously, it looks to be a fun trip, and many of you have already contacted me to arrange face-to-face meetings. This is indicative of the community nature of this show that I think I am going to like; no one seeks me out at LinuxWorld conferences, save marketing reps.

So, if you are in the Midwest and feel like a roadtrip, head on over to Columbus, Ohio. It should be an interesting conference.