It is often touted by many Linux users (including myself) that
one of its greatest strengths lies in its diversity. Recently,
however, I have seen evidence that points to a new shift in the FUD
wind coming from Microsoft--a shift that tries to place that
self-same diversity as a Linux fault.
And from all appearances, this tactic is working.
The most recent public evidence of this tactical maneuver from
Redmond was an interview with Ryan Gavin, Microsoft's director of
published in a ZDNet Asia article earlier this week. In it,
Gavin stated: "One of the beauties of the open-source model is that
you get a lot of flexibility and componentization. The big downside
To sum up Gavin's comments, he implies that due to the
complexity of open source code, specifically Linux, independent
software vendors (ISVs) are unwilling to spend the time and the
money trying to hit a moving target while writing or porting apps
to Linux. Right away, Linux developers will cry foul since they
(and indeed, the rest of us) know that if you write an application
to one version of Linux, then it should work on other Linux
distros. Especially if the distro is compliant to the Linux
Standard Base (LSB).
But here's the thing: that message is not reaching the ISVs. At
all. There are technically knowledgeable people out there that
still think that writing to Red Hat is a whole different animal
than writing to SUSE, Gentoo, or Mandriva. That's bad enough.
The worse part of the problem is that many of these same people
think that once you write a Windows app once, you're done. Never
mind the incompatibilities that exist between--for instance--98,
XP, and XP SP2. There are two reasons ISVs can say that with a
straight face: they know when Microsoft revs to a new version, it
gives the ISVs a good reason to re-vamp and re-package their own
applications to sell as "Now compatible with Vista" (otherwise
known as Windows 07... or 08... 09...). Or, they have been
completely bamboozled by Redmond into actually thinking Windows is
a grand unified platform. I honestly don't know which is
Meanwhile, the same folks from Microsoft who have planted these
notions in the ISVs' heads have been running around and spreading
the FUD about "complexity." And, I kid you not, this strategy is
working very well for them.
Take the case of one hardware vendor, related to me by a trusted
source who requested anonymity. The source told me of cases where a
device maker will code Windows device drivers at a cost of tens of
thousands of dollars. But they will charge upwards of US$1 million
to create a Linux driver for the same device citing, among other
things, the variations between the Linux distributions for which
they have to account.
Is it any wonder that hardware vendors and their ISV brethren
are hesitating to code for Linux? Clearly, the time has long past
to deliver the right message to these folk: Linux distributions are
not separate moving targets, and coding for one is coding for
It'll take more than just education: the behavior of the
distributions will need to change as well. Most of the major
distros are LSB-compliant, but there are a number of variations
that do lend some credibility to the complexity argument. These
distros, and they know who they are, need to get right with the
LSB. Any other plan of action is simply an attempt to hog all of
the Linux business for themselves. Do I need to point out the
obvious flaws in that line of reasoning? Linux will never
technically fracture, that much is certain. But if the commercial
powerhouses try too hard to go their own ways, then we will end up
with something almost as bad: a commercially fractured market that
Microsoft and Sun will be able to pick apart with relative
This is, of course, the perception that Microsoft wants
potential Linux customers to have.
Another thing that needs to change: the amount of negative
attacks between distros or individual open source projects has got
to decrease. This isn't just the usual KDE vs. GNOME hullabaloo,
though thank goodness that's calmed down of late. I'm talking about
episodes like last week's missive from
Linspire CEO Kevin Carmony, who lambasted Novell for
shifting from proprietary to free software in their offerings.
Now, I respect what Carmony and his company are trying to do with
the inclusion of proprietary, but really, sir, what do you care if
Novell goes to free software or not? If you don't like it, fine,
but if that's the path Novell has chosen, then let them choose it.
That kind of inter-distro sniping is unnecessary at best.
The Free Standards Group, organizers of the LSB, needs to step
up as well. The message of a unified Linux application platform
needs to be hammered repeatedly into the general IT market. As much
as I admire the goals and aspirations of the FSG, I am not sure if
they have successfully communicated the benefits of the LSB to
enough companies. We, as a community, need to figure out a way to
help them do this.
It's going to take a lot, because there's a lot of
disinformation out there. The time has come, however, to get the
real message out there. We can't just say "Linux is great, Linux
rulez" anymore. We have to come up with real-world, concrete
explanations as to why Linux is the best choice for IT today, and
unify that message across the entire commercial and non-commercial
We have the tools, and we have the talent. Let's get the message
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