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MSNBC.com: The Threat of a Linux Generation

Mar 04, 2002, 15:08 (39 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Ness, Stefan Theil)
"In Germany, Linux is already becoming something of a movement. Whereas American corporations moved from mainframes to networks of personal-computer servers back in the 1980s, Europe lagged by a decade. By then, Linux had been developed into a robust competitor to Windows. European firms embraced Linux, and the Internet boom provided further impetus. Siemens, Deutsche Bank and Volkswagen have been using Linux for years—and by last year, says IDC, 40 percent of German corporations were doing so as well. Last week the Bundestag, Germany's Parliament, decided to switch its servers to Linux from Windows. "My wish would be to declare the entire Bundestag a Microsoft-free zone," said Jorg Tauss, a deputy for the Social Democrats. It would be irresponsible, he said, to entrust the work of Parliament to closed-source software.

Computer programmers are quick to point out that they don't impugn the quality of Microsoft's software. It has some advantages: it is generally more consistent in quality and easier to install on servers, especially for inexperienced programmers. Rather, the issue is more one of who controls the software. If a security loophole, say, is found in a corporate computer network that uses Linux, the firm's own programmers can fix it themselves. Microsoft keeps details of its own software so close to its vest that Windows is opaque to programmers, and they have to rely on Microsoft technicians to make repairs.

What really has programmers worried are Microsoft's recent steps to prevent piracy. The firm's new "product activation" policy, rolled out with the October release of its XP operating system, requires customers to register Office XP, Windows XP, Project 2002 and other products with the firm's headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Moving the software to a new computer, or making significant programming changes, requires reregistering it. And how's this for intrusive? From time to time, the software checks your computer's ID to make sure it matches the registration. You might wake up one day to find that your computer has gone into "reduced functionality mode"—it won't save or create new documents. Greg Sullivan, product manager for Windows XP, says that the product-activation policy was designed to be as unobtrusive as possible and will have negligible affects on anyone who isn't breaking the law."

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