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Editor's Note: It's Not a Gold Watch...

Jun 16, 2006, 23:30 (9 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

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By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Probably the hardest part of my job is learning to walk away from it. Given the 24/7 nature of Linux Today, and the fact that I enjoy what I do, means that when I take a day off, I have to convince myself that nothing huge will happen while I'm away. The world will keep revolving, and information will eventually get out with or without me.

This has been made easier with the fact that I have available help, in the more than capable hands of Rob Reilly, so things will keep on clicking on LT.

Still, when I took yesterday off to accompany my oldest on a class trip to a popular Indiana amusement park (I know, sunshine and roller coasters, what a hardship. But these are middle-schoolers, so don't get too envious.), I had those vague feelings of withdraw. I admonished myself time and again to stop worrying about it, and got back on another coaster.

We got home very late last night, and I crashed without even glancing at the Internet. All was well, until I rolled out of bed early this morning with coffee in hand, logged onto my source/search sites, and--Great Krypton!! Bill Gates is retiring???

My first thought after wiping up the coffee spill was "I will never leave the office again." I opened LT and didn't see the story. My next thought was to call my esteemed colleague and... ask... him what in the [insert expletive here] was he thinking? One of the biggest tech stories of the year, and we didn't have it? Panic seeped in. I started looking around for the best story to link to, and quickly came to an interesting revelation. Rob didn't make a mistake, he did the right thing. This story, as big as it was, wasn't about Linux or open source at all. And, try as many in the mainstream media wanted to make this about Linux, they really could not make a valid connection.

Now, I did link to one story, a direct Linux analysis from Steven Vaughan-Nichols, which was the only story I could see that looked at the event from a Linux view. But, even with that, I realized that Gates' impending retirement has nothing to do with Linux. Nothing at all.

Oh sure, it will be interesting to see what Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie do when they are elevated to handling Gates' absence. Especially Mundie, the Linux community's Foe of Old. Boy, I tell you, when Mundie wasn't muzzled by Microsoft, his comments were a joy to behold--communicating in powerful measures just how out of touch Microsoft was with their customers.

But other than a few sound bites? The changing of the Redmond guard means nothing to Linux.

I shared this story of my day not to give you special insights into my editorial decision-making process (though infer what you will), but because I have a feeling that my reaction this morning was shared by many other people in the free and open source community when they first heard the news. First, there was the initial "Oh, s**t!", followed by the the haunting refrains of harps from Darth Vader's death in "Return of the Jedi." Many of us see a chance here for Linux to make some big gains while Microsoft potentially flounders around without the leadership of Gates.

But, upon reflection, I have two thoughts on this. First, Gates isn't going anywhere. He's still chairman, and while he will no doubt be working hard for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I cannot imagine he won't have input on Microsoft's overall direction.

Second, the realization I had when I thought LT needed to cover this event: why should Linux--as a technology, as a community--give a darn about anything Microsoft does?

I, like many others I am sure did these last couple of days, was defining Linux based on the actions of one big corporation. And that, I finally remembered, is not what Linux is about. Linux is about diversity and flexibility. It is decentralized and dynamic. And, most critically, it does not need to constantly react to whatever one company is thinking or doing.

It is a very tempting trap, this notion of matching up Linux and Windows. After all, as Linux pushes into the desktop, it is very easy to make comparisons with the most prolific desktop operating system to date. The reverse is also true: as Windows pushes into the high-end clustering market, it is tempting to make the comparisons to the most popular clustering operating system to date.

And when some corporate yuckster comes out with such choice phrases as "Linux is a cancer," sure, it's natural to take note and then later watch the yuckster's company wonder why they are having a hard time reaching out to the Linux community. Go figure.

Comparisons are inevitable. But when you really get down to it, the simple truth remains: Linux will do just fine with or without Microsoft. (Lately, the trend is moving towards without.) People are finally beginning to define Linux by its own terms: solid technology that doesn't break and runs everything from mission-critical apps for NASA to your digital watch.

Can you wrap irrelevance as a retirement present?