History's on the Linux Side of the Equation

Posted by tadelste on Feb 8, 2006 8:10 PM EDT
Lxer.com; By Tom Adelstein, Editor-in-Chief
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I once read an essay in which the author wrote: "No one can cheat you out of ultimate success but yourself". When it comes down to making irresponsible decisions about Linux and Open Source Software, you might make the kinds of mistakes that people have made in the past in other endeavors thinking they knew the future as it slipped through their fingers.

I started my career in public accounting while attending graduate school in business. At the time, micro-processor based computer startups were going through boom times similar to the dot com era. I took an idea to the managing partner of my firm that involved changing from pen and ink accounting to doing our work on a micro-processor based system.

The managing partner threw me out of his office physically. He called me a fool. He wasn't interested in losing money like every other CPA firm in the country throwing money down the drain. I was a dumb kid who needed to settle down and learn the profession.

That night, I went home and looked in the newspaper and saw a job opening for a CPA. I called to see if anyone might possibly have worked late and got the hiring manager. I went over to their office at 9 PM and by 7 AM had an offer on the table.

I showed up at my previous employer with a letter of resignation, a job offer letter with a three fold increase in salary and a band-aid on my forehead. The managing partner went nuts. He needed me to show up that morning to an audit. At that point I didn't care about what he needed. I had given him notice and he told me to leave.

Thinking that I would implement my computer strategy at my new firm, I discovered that the managing partner there also had a bias against computers. But, he wanted me to do a compliance audit on a mid-size manufacturing firm's systems. I had to write my own programs to create fake transactions to test the system.

Later, I wound up at law firms, customer brokers, clothing manufacturers, home builders, etc. either setting up their systems, auditing them or migrating them. But, the CPA firm still did everything by hand.

I went home one day and didn't return. I borrowed $40,000 and bought a Wang Laboratories computer. I took some broken code and turned it into an accounting machine. Within nine months, I was undercutting every CPA's prices in town. We could do approximately ten accounts per day to their one with new graduates. I also paid the new grads more money to start than the going rate and picked up some high quality people.

I decided to port the Wang code over to a Texas Instruments system. TI had made us a great offer. With an investment of $20,000 we turned that into $250,000 plus royalties to be paid out each year for ten years. We accomplished that goal in nine months. That year became the big year of the accounting system.

Without going into more detail, our application did things that others hadn't considered. We didn't sort transactions. Instead we used a networked database and "C" style pointers. We wrote our own code to do that.

I left out a part of this story. Before I moved into my garage and started programming, I had taken my concept to almost every CPA in Dallas. I used to say I got laughed out of Dallas. But, when I sold the software business those same people wound up buying my Client Accounting System (CAS). They just didn't know it was my system.

Some Inspiration

In graduate school, I had some freedom to do a self-directed study program. I discovered history they didn't teach me as an undergraduate in the school of liberal arts. For example, I learned that Gardiner Hubbard offered Western Union telegraph company the chance to buy Alexander Graham Bell’s patents for $100,000. They turned him down.

The uptake on telephones appeared slow. The giant Western Union didn't get it. They were a big, successful global technology firm. They didn't need no stinking phones. Those stupid things would never sell.

But, not many years later, Western Union bought their phones from the Bell company. And while this story also has lots of twists and turns, it proved one thing to me. Don't give up on a good idea just because the establishment says you're dumb and foolish.

Some Inspiration for Linux Startups

For the people who think free software stinks, here's a bit of history for you. A bottle cap salesman named King had an idea. King's boss at Crown Cork & Seal, William Painter told him to come up with something which, once used, people will throw away. Painter told him that the customer will come back for more.

King had the idea to give something away at a very low price but sell a critical component. No, this wasn't the start of the Inkjet Printer. Though, I'm sure the Japanese got their inspiration from King. This was King Camp Gillette and he came up with the cheap razor and sold people razor blades.

Microsoft and Ford

Microsoft learned before the year 2000 that people needed bugs in their software. If a customer couldn't figure out how to get a critical system up and running, then they would need MS engineers to help them figure it out. I discovered this little trick of Microsoft's in 1997.

I was a product manager and had set up a Solution Provider for a year old firm that had developed some school planning software. The developers wrote their code in Access Basic and then upgraded the database to SQL Server. The lead on one project liked to manage the database from her workstation.

I set it up to do that for her. But someone came behind me and changed a setting. Suddenly, the system started issuing a Hardware Abstraction Layer Error. I had gone to a customer's and the project lead used one of my priority service incidents to try to fix it herself.

The Microsoft engineer told her that the entire network was corrupted and everything would have to be reinstalled. He also said that all their records were lost. All her coding in the version control system was also lost according to this idiot.

Unaware of the problem, I came in that morning and saw that SQL Server was not making a connection. So, I checked the configuration and discovered someone had turned off named pipes. Named pipes had to exist in the configuration if she wanted to manage the database remotely. So, I checked named pipes and restarted the server.

Unaware of a problem, the lead and her husband, who also worked at the firm, told the owner/CEO that I had completely destroyed everything. They couldn't make their deliverable to a large school district because of me. The Microsoft engineer told them that. I also learned that the the husband a HTML programmer unchecked the use of named pipes in the protocol stack.

To make matters worse, Microsoft said they needed to come out and get their consulting group involved and the company needed to buy a new service package. So, when the lead developer came into the office that morning and saw everything up and working, she called the engineer and thanked him. But, this guy didn't know the system was back up and running. He didn't do it. What could it possibly be? They needed to come out and do an investigation because it could happen again!

The owner had changed all the keys to the building and had arranged that morning to terminate me. But before he pulled me into his office, our lead developer headed him off at the pass and told him I had saved the day. Now, keep in mind, I didn't know anything about this.

During lunch, everyone went out to celebrate. I left early and tried to get into the office, but my key didn't work. The next day, I was interviewing with a contractor for an Intranet architect's job with the Disney Cos. It was a one year contract.

I remembered the history of the Pinto. That's a car not a bean. It seems Dennis Gioia discovered that the car blew up in 8 out of 11 cases when the car was rear ended. The three times it didn't catch fire was because the gas tank was shielded from a set of studs that did the puncturing.

Ford didn't seem to care at the time. They reasoned that small cars were inherently unsafe. Ford president Lee Iacocca reportedly said that safety didn’t sell.

Mark Dowie somehow got his hands on a Ford cost-benefit analysis comparing the cost of recalling all Ford cars with rear-mounted fuel tanks against the cost of restitution of those injured or killed by the Pinto’s flaw. The analysis showed by a factor of three to one, Ford would wind up better off paying victims and their families than to make an $11 fix in each car.

Ford Motor Co. put the lives of consumers against the dollar and the almighty dollar won.

I would love to have an opportunity to evaluate the cost-benefit of having broken software to having unbroken software where a proprietary company could charge large amounts for service. To those companies stung by the CodeRed Worm, for example, why aren't you looking at Linux? Do you really believe a company with $50 billion in the bank couldn't fix these bugs and vulnerabilities in a day? Could you with their kind of resources?

Now, what is it you know that I don't?

Understand, that I know what it cost you when you couldn't clear checks for two days. I understand what it cost you when your credit card transactions didn't clear. I also know what it cost you when your entire staff was idle for a work day.

Do you think it cost Western Union more than $100,000 when they recognized their blunder. Or when Western Union tried to put out its own version of the telephone, with Elisha Gray’s patents and Thomas Edison's design? Or what about the legal battle that followed when Bell prevailed?

Get this: Western Union president William Orton didn't like Bell's father-in-law. So, he went on his feelings rather than any facts. He threw the father-in-law and the biggest Bell investor out of his office. Phones were a parlor trick according to Orton.

Can you really afford to refuse to investigate Linux and an open source strategy just because you don't understand it? Can you afford the risk that your proprietary software firm just might allow bugs and viruses to exist because it makes money because of it? Or can you afford the fact that your competitor is cutting costs and improving their ability to do research with the use of low-cost clusters providing business intelligence?

You see Linux is my business and I'm telling you I know my business. I know this business like I've always known my businesses. Mr. CIO and Mr. CEO, I believe you are being taken to the cleaners. No shortage of Linux talent exists. Linux isn't put together with band-aids and Elmer's glue. What do you know that Amazon, Google and IBM don't?

I have a pretty good handle on Linux. I want you to know that with a few programming tweaks, Linux would do everything you want from a desktop. So, listen up before you miss the boat. In today's competitive environment, you can't afford to use Microsoft any more. You can't afford to wait for them either.

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Interesting parallels wjl 5 1,705 Feb 10, 2006 5:47 AM
Great Article joel 3 1,982 Feb 9, 2006 10:35 PM
It's Worth Mentioning moopst 1 1,753 Feb 9, 2006 5:31 AM

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