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Borg and the Penguin

Posted by webmink on August 30, 2003 at 3:05 AM PDT

It was interesting at LinuxWorld (back near the start of August) to see how many people from Microsoft were attending. Indeed, at both my session and the one with Sterling Ball, a show of hands revealed a row or more of Microsoft employees (sticking together for mutual protection?).

Josh Ledgard was there, and while I must have been speaking a bit fast (I've never worked for MSFT, I was just an ordinary developer in the Word beta program, back in the days before MSDN made it into a business) I think he's on target with his report (even the StarOffice crash). As he notes, the 3D graphics innovations Sun is bringing to Linux were a big hit:

It seemed the most innovative demo was Sun showing off " Project Looking Glass". This was a three dimensional desktop environment for Linux that looked like some mix of OS X(Complete with that funky pop-up start bar) and Longhorn. The audience went crazy for this.

I'm particularly pleased by the way Sun's approach to Linux showed through as more grass-roots and genuine than that of others - notably IBM, who as Ashlee Vance also points out have a very schizophrenic attitude towards Linux and a partisan view of open source, avoiding projects that Sun participates in for apparently no reason other than that Sun participates:

IBM claims to have put more than $1 billion behind open source software, but the company is failing to pay even a modest amount of lip service to one of free software's most needed products.

Indeed, companies like IBM don't like Linux as a place to actually work, as Josh notes:

I saw plenty of people with windows laptops and plenty of OS X notebooks, but outside of the booths and Sun sessions I was surprised at the lack of people running Linux. Sure, their slide decks talked a big game, but it looked a lot like Powerpoint and Windows XP underneath for Dan Powers(IBM VP of Grid Computing and Emerging Technologies) and several others. For presenters and general show goers I saw it felt like the order was MS > OS X > Linux. It surprised me enough to mention it I guess.

But as Vance points out, unless you use the stuff you promote, you're lost:

Linux on the mainframe might be interesting to a few customers, but it's not the OS's future. If IBM wants its Linux investment to keeping paying off, the vendor should push solid open source achievements instead of plugging Microsoft where it's convenient.

Meanwhile, the benefits of liberty and openness extend to more than just the price tag the people you're paying to get your software have to pay. There's also the promise of no visits from the BSA (software's answer to the Thought Police) looking for even spurious license violations to persecute - as Josh notes:

I'm also not even sure what the details of our licensing policies are, but if you were at LinuxWorld you were educated on how evil they are. No one at the show claimed that Linux was free, but one company that made the Linux switch did claim that no evil lawyers have come after him since they switched for being 8% under licensed. It just depresses me to lose customers because of this.

There were also more Microsoft staff than other companies at the Harvard/MIT Free/Open Source Software conference earlier in the year and I'd like to congratulate the technical side of the company on its open-mindedness, which in time will lead to the sort of behaviour massively-connected customers are demanding - as long as the prejudices of Microsoft's kings-of-the-hill can be fixed.

[Also posted to Webmink]

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