Is Linux an Alternative or Does It Stand Alone?

Posted by tadelste on Dec 27, 2005 6:29 AM EDT; By Tom Adelstein, Editor-in-Chief
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LXer Day Desk: 12-26-2005

Linux represents a computer technology designed from the bottom up rather than a copy cat. As long as people compare it to Windows, they cannot grasp its power and uniqueness. Simply put, Linux isn't Windows.

During the frantic days of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. MICROSOFT CORPORATION, Defendant, Microsoft corporation employees put together an argument for the court that made a tiny group of Linux companies look like a threat - even a competitor. The defense presented exhibits at trial to explain the Linux operating system. The most impressive exhibit was the box for a retail version of Red Hat Linux 5.1which claimed Linux was a multi-user, multi-tasking OS. That box appeared during the cross examination of a government witness who didn't even know Linux existed.


From that day until now, people have looked at Linux as an alternative to Windows. In many ways, that's a shame. Because when the early Linux developers began the project, Windows as we think of it did not exist. In the early 1990s, the industry had completely different market leaders.

When Linux began, the consumer desktop market was split between DOS and the Mac. Novell Netware had between 55 percent and 60 percent of the Network Operating System market. By 1996, Windows NT NOS held a 20 percent market share, while IBM's OS/2 Warp Server and Banyan Systems' Vines accounted for 15 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

In the early 1990s, Digital Equipment Corporation had a startling share of the enterprise market. We ran VAX VMS clusters with Oracle financials at a large DOE lab. Our desktops were Macintosh and we used AppleTalk. We had several thousand employees and a half dozen or so had IBM PCs.

Linux belonged in academia a decade ago. Linux Journal had just started up and looked more like a newsletter. In an interview with Linus, the magazine wondered if Linux had reached 30,000 users globally. By Spring 1999, Jon Hall speaking in Dallas said he estimated global use at two million.

So, Microsoft comparing Linux to Windows should not have counted much in court. But then, in the confines of a courtroom where lawyers set the context to the four walls, a fancy retail box like the one above has a different meaning. To the court, all those claims on the back of Red Hat's box seemed to mean something.

Then How Do We Position Linux?

From this writer's point of view, Linux represented a powerful operating system in its own right. Having worked on mainframes and programmed microprocessors like TI's 990 Model 1, the IBM PC with DOS was a device not a computer. Windows seemed like an enhancement to the device with 16 colors. The Mac seemed like a dedicated typesetting replacement and a small document manager with a black and white laser printer when your didn't need the power of Framemaker or Interleaf.

Linux always seemed to have powerful UNIX-like utilities. You could do so many things with Linux. It had a familiar feel, multi-tasked like the big boys and let us learn UNIX system administration without having to go into debt for twenty years.

Today, Linux with Apache, MySQL and/or PostgreSQL, perl, python and/or PHP provides a formidable platform for web services. It also does an excellent job running local and wide area network services. It's the premiere file and print server. You'll also find anything else a difficult sell when it comes to high performance computing in the grid and/or cluster environment where Linux is a monster roaming the planet.

In it's Own Right

If you were to step away from the desktop, Linux kicks everyone's butt from the tip of the North Pole to the bottom of the ocean where it runs sonar arrays on nuclear submarines. Where desktops still remind real engineers of devices, Linux is king. No doubt exists where a computer isn't a toy.

Now, when it comes navigating the Internet, writing software, managing web sites and remote administration, Linux has a plethora of tools and works on commodity hardware like a real computer does. I think of it as a workstation that can also allow me to connect to the kiddie's network where people are more interested in instant messaging, watching movies, listening to music and arguing about which game is the coolest.

Microsoft seems to really have staked out its market on the kiddie network. They even make a dedicated game box. But let's face it, the kiddie network is really a subset of the technology world where the real work gets done by real operating systems like Linux.

What'd you say nerd? Oh, you think you're a programmer cause you can drag and drop stuff on to a pallette. Come on over and have a few shots of Tequila then. First one to forty wins.

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
An OS is an OS is an OS jimf 9 2,765 Dec 29, 2005 9:06 AM
It's only semantics dotmil 3 2,258 Dec 27, 2005 4:37 PM
Dim dumb_user as windows Nocturnal 1 2,485 Dec 26, 2005 1:49 PM
What people are accustomed to Bob_Robertson 0 2,469 Dec 25, 2005 5:50 PM

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