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Community: Mandrake’s Gael Duval Responds to Bill Gates regarding Linux and Open Source

By Gaël
Duval
, Co-Founder of Mandrakesoft, with additions by Phil
Lavigna.
This essay can be improved and redistributed under the terms of the
GNU Free Documentation License (see http://www.fsf.org/copyleft/fdl.html).

Mr. Bill Gates recently said three things, in addition to many
others, in an interview with “Australian IT” (0). First he said
that Linux was just hype and that it cannot compete with Windows on
ease-of-use. He also said the Open Source model doesn’t offer any
great benefit in terms of reliability and security. Even if we can
feel a twinge of satisfaction that Microsoft seems to be concerning
itself with Linux’ existence, his remarks deserve a loud response
because it’s blatantly just false. Much of what Mr. Gates said is
commonly referred to as “FUD” (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt (1)).

About the so-called “hype”

What Mr. Gates calls “hype” is actually a worldwide,
grass-roots, fundamental change in how computing is performed. This
evolution (revolution) had its modest beginnings in Finland in 1991
and continues to enjoy a phenomenal growth rate. The truth is that
thousands of new users are discovering Linux each and every day and
finding it a complete replacement for Microsoft Windows. Many of
these new users have grown weary of relying on an Operating System
that is not reliable and has a tendency to crash regularly for
apparently no reason; many of these people are tired of the forced
uniformity, tired of having no control and no power to fix the many
bugs and shortcomings faced while performing everyday computing
tasks, distrustful of waiting for answers that never arrive,
exhausted from the endless cycle of paying and paying again for an
operating system and applications that always seem to do what they
need — but only in the next release.

The truth is, according to IDC figures, Linux is now the second
most widely used operating system in the world (2). The truth is
also that the most widely used web server in the world is the
Apache web server (3) which is free-software. The truth tends to be
quite a bit different from Mr. Gate’s claim of “some single
applications and web servers”.

About ease-of-use

Linux is still considered to be harder to use than MacOS and
Windows – why is this so? First of all, Linux has inherited a great
deal from Unix which is often seen as a complicated system — not
particularly because it’s hard to use, but because it is VERY
featured and different in many ways. People discovering Linux are
always surprised of the great many things that can be accomplished
with Linux, especially the power that lurks behind a seemingly
simple shell command line which can be used to read and write
email, edit files on remote servers, talk to friends on the other
side of the world, listen to MP3s, burn a CD and compile an
application — all at the same time.

Until recently, addressing these ease-of-use issues was
difficult because the issue is actually two-fold based on the
presumption that security and ease-of-use are mutually exclusive.
We don’t ever wish Linux to become unstable as the cost of making
it easier to use, just as we never want Linux to become unsafe.
People who regularly use Windows are accustomed to system crashes
and viruses as a normal daily concern — this is not the way
computing has to be! With Linux, this situation largely doesn’t
exist because of the fundamental architecture of the system which
consists of independent layers that have specific features and
strict permissions. Additionally, normal users have a strict and
limited role on a Linux system; it’s only the “root” user
(administrator) who has the power to expose an entire system to
possible danger. With DOS, Windows 95 and Windows 98, users have
the ability to do anything to a system — this is a dangerous
scenario in these times of widespread Internet access and extensive
networking. With Windows NT and Windows 2000, Microsoft introduced
some mechanisms that LOOK like Unix features such as
authentication, permissions and others, but they don’t remotely
come close to the same level of security that Linux provides.

Linux-Mandrake, in particular, has always focused on ease-of-use
issues and has been working hard on this particular challenge of
blending common-sense security features while maintaining the same
user-friendly operating system that has become so popular with
Linux users. With a Linux-Mandrake system, you can choose a level
of security for the system based on its intended use while
maintaining a very friendly system at the same time.

“Ease-of-use” seems to have come to mean graphical interfaces
for everything. While it’s certainly not true that a nice interface
instantly means something is easier to use, it is true that users
have come to expect and appreciate slick-looking interfaces to do
their work in. This is one area where Linux lagged until KDE (4)
and GNOME (5) appeared. Now Linux is extremely easy to use
day-to-day with these great desktop environments.

One of the remaining issues we in the Linux community need to
address is the refinement and polishing of the wonderful tools we
already have at our disposal. For example: it’s true that most
applications don’t use anti-aliased for display purposes which
might cause a user to think: “Well… it doesn’t look as good as
Windows, I wonder what else it’s lacking”. Of course this single
point doesn’t mean the application doesn’t contain all the features
that would make this user extremely happy, but people’s perception
is their reality so it is a valid issue to consider.

About reliability and security in the Open Source
model

Reliability and stability have long been major benefits of Linux
and this is proven every day by the thousands of Linux servers that
run for months and sometimes even years without as much as a
hiccup. Security has also been an important feature of Linux — not
only one of the fundamentally most secure operating system itself,
but also the way security flaws are handled. When a security issue
is discovered it doesn’t take very long for Linux vendors to
release an update. Sometimes a fix can take a week, often a few
days, or even a few minutes depending on the bug. The Open Source
model provides an extremely efficient process for handling these
types of matters that can’t be matched by a proprietary software
maker such as Microsoft who often take weeks, months or even years
to fix a problem.

So how exactly does the Open Source model excel? Even if
Microsoft had the best and brightest engineers in the world, we
have the power of numbers. When a serious bug is discovered with
Linux, hundreds (possibly thousands) of experienced users and
developers can spontaneously work to fix the problem because they
have access to all the sources. And we, as Linux vendors, quickly
receive patches from the community or develop a solution ourselves.
This patch is then validated (or not) very quickly so an update can
be released in record time. This extremely efficient process is
strictly impossible in the proprietary/closed software model, it’s
simply the nature of that beast.

Once upon a time there was a young boy and a
PC…

He couldn’t do much because he only had DOS/Windows installed on
his computer; he was very saddened to realize he had to buy
additional software to actually do anything with his new pride and
joy. But since he had already spent most of his money on the PC, he
unfortunately had to copy some proprietary software. And this
wasn’t an ideal solution because then he couldn’t get the
documentation for the software. This was extremely unfortunate
because he was very interested in learning programming but couldn’t
find any information about the libraries that were shipped with the
C compiler that a friend had copied for him. Furthermore, the
operating-system calls that he used were apparently undocumented
and there wasn’t even an assembler provided with the system. He
really couldn’t understand why he didn’t have the opportunity to
create his own software for this computer and operating system that
he already paid for.

That was 1990. Five years later this young boy discovered he
could run Linux on that 386 – and it was free! Well… he just had
to buy 50 diskettes and he was with his new OS. This operating
system provided several full-featured compilers and all the
documentation he needed to enable him to program anything for his
computer. It was then that he realized how limiting Windows had
been for him all that previous time and how it stifled his personal
desire to create. He realized how Linux couldn’t even be compared
to that other operating system.

Linux provided the freedom this young man needed; the freedom to
control the technology at hand and also his own future. Linux
provides the opportunity to express one’s self through creating
code and empowers the individual — which is where power best
belongs.

The Future will be Open.. or it won’t be

People know about icebergs. They know that unless they’re
swimming underwater in that sea, they’re seeing just a little bit
of the iceberg. That’s similar to how it is with Linux companies
and the Open Source model. Linux companies won’t ever be as rich as
traditional software companies because they offer much more than
proprietary software does, and nearly for free. But this doesn’t
mean we can’t all make a living with Open Source software and live
well. Mandrakesoft, Red Hat, SuSE, Turbo Linux… all these
companies will tell you that they grew much this year, they also
grew the previous year and will grow again the next because there
are ever increasing numbers of people having their own personal
discovery with Linux. These people will buy a Linux pack, then
their friends will purchase a pack, as will more and more
enterprises who will also require services and support. These Linux
companies and this wonderful community we’re all a part of are
helping change the way people use software and directly affecting
people’s lives and how we all work.

So to potential new Linux users, just tell them they can have a
full operating system for their PC that contains an office suite, a
web browser, just about everything they could want.. for free. This
is the first step to entering the Linux world. This will put them
on the road to discover for themselves what the “Free” really means
in Free Software. With time they’ll also come to know what we
already do; the same way your mind evolved between the first day
you decided to get Internet access — no matter whether the
reasoning was because it was a “fashionable” thing to do or if you
really wanted to know what it was — and the day when you first
browsed those personal web pages to the day of posting your first
words in a forum.

All readers who switched definately from Windows to Linux are
welcomed to give their feedback about their experience in the
Mandrake Forum on http://www.mandrakeforum.com/article.php3?sid=20000918042153.

Notes:

(0) « Empower the people: Gates’ vision » – read the
article on
http://www.australianit.com.au/common/storyPage/0,3811,1184200%5E501,00.html

(1) FUD – see http://nofud.linuxtoday.com/MainTOC.html

(2) Linux second server OS (1999) – see
http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-200-1549312.html?tag=st.ne.ni.rnbot.rn.ni

(3) Apache first web-server (2000) – see http://www.netcraft.net/survey/

(4) KDE – see http://www.kde.org

(5) GNOME – see http://www.gnome.org

(6) Mozilla – see http://www.mozilla.org

(7) Open-source StarOffice – see http://www.openoffice.org/

To read the article in French, check out
http://fr.linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=2000-09-18-007-03-PR-LF-OP
.