MSNBC.com: The Threat of a Linux Generation

“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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