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Editor’s Note: Astaire, Garland, and a Chorus of Tapdancers

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

From where I sit, there are some interesting things going on in
the world o’ Linux and open source this week. The two that jumped
out at me said “pay attention!” were the Unilever migration halt
and the news from Massachusetts on open formats.

The Unilever story did not make me pause because it was a
crushing blow to the cause of Linux; it wasn’t. It made me pause
because I haven’t seen so much tapdancing since Fred Astaire put
the moves on Judy Garland in Easter Parade. (See? I made
the headline work. Did you think this was eWeek?)

Let your sage and crusty editor help shed a little light on the
statements of Unilever CIO Neil Cameron. In
an interview with Silicon.com
, he said this:

“Suddenly I can do things with more proprietary products at a
price performance that says actually the gap between that and open
source isn’t as wide as it was two years ago…”

That’s 32 words that basically translate into “Microsoft cut us
a deal.” See, as a writer, I’m good with words that way. Actually,
I am being unfair… in all likelihood, it should be “Sun cut us a
deal,” because it would be much easier to shift a UNIX-to-Linux
migration to UNIX-to-Solaris than UNIX-to-Windows.

What tipped me off to this speculation? Was it my keen nose for
news? Hardly. It was this statement from Cameron in the same
interview: “The world moves on. That was run on a financial model
and the reality of a financial model is the landscape changes and
the model doesn’t work anymore.”

What the?

I give Mr. Cameron props for being right. Landscapes do change
and financial models need to change with them. But from my
perspective, if the landscape has changed that much in the last two
years since Unilever embarked on this now-aborted migration, it has
been in favor of Linux. But then, let’s think about what’s
changed in the last couple of years. Hmmm… oh, yeah, Sun
decoupled Solaris from proprietary hardware!

Hopefully, whatever solution Unilever is going with now will
suit them well. But proprietary vendors are very good about
short-term attractive pricing. It’s that long term pricing you need
to worry about.

Then there’s the very cool move from the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts to shift to open formats. In and of itself, an
excellent policy decision. (Especially for someone like me who
sighs in quiet frustration whenever I get an attached Word document
in an e-mail.)

Some of you were quick to point out that while my colleagues in
the media were jumping on the controversy bandwagon and claiming
this was the end of Microsoft Office in the Massachusetts
government, it wasn’t necessarily the death knell. Congrats, you
get the Kewpie doll.

Microsoft isn’t being excluded; nor is their cash cow
application, Office. Only .doc, .xls, and .ppt. And while I am sure
we all love the symbolism of yet another Boston festivity with
Office boxes thrown into Boston Harbor, what will likely happen is
that Microsoft will add OASIS format compliance to Office.

That could be even more of benefit to open source
software than just Massachusetts whacking Office. Yes, that would
be more fun but in the long run, Office compliance with OASIS
formats means that the few remaining compatibility barriers between
OpenOffice.org and Office would be gone. File sharing between the
two suites would be seamless, and that would kick a huge door open
for OpenOffice.org to enter the workplace desktop.

We will have to wait and see what Microsoft will do, of course.
According to an
article in the Boston Globe
, “Alan Yates, general manager of
Microsoft’s information worker business strategy unit, indicated in
an e-mailed statement that the company isn’t interested in adopting
the full OpenDocument standard.”

So if this proposal goes through, expect to see some serious
twists in the office-suite arena very soon.

Finally, I just wanted to mention a slightly disturbing set of
occurences that I came upon this week. I’d call them a trend, but
it might be too soon for that. While I was looking for news to post
over the weekend, I found an anti-FUD piece out on Techworld,
one of IDG’s Web sites. But when I read the article, datelined
September 2, 2005, it looked vaguely familiar. Since I hate running
duplicate stories, I looked for it on LT’s search engine.

Now, let’s be clear: cross-posting is quite common among the
various online media outlets. If CNET runs a story, then you can be
darn sure the same story will appear on ZDNet, ZDNet UK, and ZDNet
Antarctica within 24 hours. ECT News Network (LinuxInsider,
TechNewsWorld, etc.) is bad about this, because they will
cross-post their articles almost immediately, but they have some
sort of reciprocal posting arrangement with IDG, so if I am not
careful, I could run a LinuxInsider story that was on InfoWorld a
week or so ago.

But for all of this cross-posting, usually the gap in time
between publication is a day, maybe two. At most, two weeks.

The story I suspected was a duplicate on Techworld actually ran
on another IDG site, CIO… on March 1, 2004.
(We linked to it on
March 11
).

Here’s my problem: running any analytical piece that’s over a
year old (whether it’s for or against Linux) and passing it off as
current is a bit irresponsible. It was a good article, but I
imagine some stats could have been updated between then and now. A
stale pro-Linux article can be a valid target for those nay-sayers
looking for ammunition against the penguin.

Odds and Ends

  • This weekend marks a holiday weekend here in the US, and I will
    be taking full advantage of it. Accordingly, LT will be on the
    weekend schedule until Tuesday, September 6.
  • I have been asked to co-write the Enterprise Unix Review column
    on ServerWatch.com, replacing former LT editor Michael Hall there
    as he moves on to an upcoming JupiterWeb site. My duties on EUR
    should coincide well with things here in the Linux/Open Source
    channel, so feel free to read it when it comes out on
    Thursdays/Fridays. Word of warning: they use headshots of writers
    over there, so my photo may not be suitable for young and sensitive
    viewers.
  • Finally, there have been a lot of catastrophes, both natural
    and man-made, around the world this week. Wherever you are, if you
    can help, please do so in the manner best suited to your talents
    and beliefs. And get to know your neighbors. If disaster comes your
    way, your lives might depend on each other someday.

Peace.