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Lose the Beard – Buy the Operating System

Linux again. And once more it’s time has come.

For me, Linux has always had a certain “Life of Brian” type of appeal and sitting around the dinner table with Sun Microsystems the other evening, I wondered how much longer it will take before we stop talking about ‘Distributions’, ours or theirs or Red Hat’s or IBM’s and start talking about solutions, allowing the subject of the Operating System to fade into a state of transparency.

For Sun, Linux is small and fast and ideal “for the edge of the Enterprise”, whatever that means to you. Asked whether Linux could ever evolve to a point to compete with Solaris, Sun’s Mike Avis thinks not and imagines a cosy type of co-existence into the foreseeable future.

Now in many ways, this makes sense. Big boxes and equally big Enterprise applications require a pumped-up version of Unix and Sun have this already in the shape of Solaris, so why expand Linux any further? Do a deal with Red Hat, which they have done with Sun’s own Linux 5.0 (AKA Red Hat 7.0) and you have a solution that runs neatly across a range of different processors, including those from Intel.

But there’s a nagging concern I have which won’t go away. You see IBM believes, with equal fervour that Linux can be big, very big and scalable indeed and so you have two of the largest players who appear unable to agree on what Linux will look like two or three years from now.

For many people and particularly those who vaguely resemble ZZ-Top fans, this isn’t a problem as Linux will continue to grow and evolve with Zen-like indifference to the forces around it. However, if you happen to be a government, like Germany or indeed China and you would like a compelling and cheaper alternative to someone else’s Operating System, then a rough consensus over Linux future is an attractive feature and mitigates any potential risks involved in migrating from Windows.

In my mind, Linux needs to become almost invisible. When you buy a PC or a Macintosh, do you really worry too much over the Operating System or is it the features or the solutions that really count in the end? Sun and IBM and all the other Linux evangelists need to sit down and ask themselves how they would sell Linux, not to a man with a leather jacket, a pony-tail and a beard but to an attractive twenty-something woman with a Renault Clio. This is of course an exaggerated analogy but I firmly believe that for Linux to succeed, something radical needs to be done with both the message and the marketing.

Linux needs to be something more than a “Not Microsoft” vote for the IT Director and it needs to be able to attract the small businessman too, who will always be vaguely distrustful of anything that has an ‘X’ in it.

For Linux to progress as a really viable Windows rival, it needs rather more than financial muscle and IBM and Sun declaring that it tastes like chocolate and cures cancer. Instead Linux needs some kind of re-invention, as the processor equivalent of Viagra perhaps but certainly more imagination than the dull Calvinism that surrounds it today.

So once again Sun and IBM, Linux has great promise but in needs imagination and a place in the popular consciousness as much as it needs market share and investment. Shooting anyone seen with a beard and a pony-tail might be a good first step.

If it worked for Lenin it might for Linux too!

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