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The Satanic Verses

I was a little shocked by the aggressive response to my column 'Open Source - Open Season' in Computer Weekly last week. I had believed I was taking a balanced view of the Open Source debate but others, in newsgroups, mostly in the States, see it rather differently.

The strength of opinion appears to support my view that the Open Source argument is assuming far more of an ideological position than is healthy for the industry and in some cases, it approaches the margins of obsession.

I showed some of the more savage newsgroup postings to a friend in a leading IT company, who is equally agnostic about the future of Open Source computing. She remarked, “It is the same lack of logic that was common in the dot com boom that I see being repeated in the newsgroups on Linux. I think only time will tell, as it did with the dot com bust - for logic and reality will win eventually - keeping in line with 'there is no free lunch', regardless of whether you love or hate Microsoft or McDonalds.

As a columnist, I don't mind criticism; in fact I welcome it because sensible debate is what we need to discuss the future of computing, whether this leads to a Microsoft or Open Source delivery model. What worries me is the unshakeable conviction on the part of some, that Microsoft is the anti-christ and that Linux represents a form of digital salvation which answers all today's problems.

This isn’t an episode of ‘Buffie the Vampire Slayer” and business can’t afford the simple naivety which grunts “Linux good, Windows bad”, simply because people prefer a “Worm-ridden” but richly functional desktop and commodity software environment to one which is free, flexible, open and still not quite ready for my mother to manage without asking for help.

Let me offer two examples from my work, this last week, which influence my thinking.

The first is from local government, a migration study which involved kicking-out Novell and GroupWise and replacing these with Windows 2000, Exchange and Windows Terminal Server.

“We needed reduced cost of ownership and a platform that allows the council to respond to change, quickly and easily”, explained the IT Director. “We were replacing the technology supporting our core, critical processes and so we recognised the cost and performance advantages offered by Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Windows Terminal Server and Microsoft Exchange over what we had before”.

The second was a large German financial institution introducing a completely new managed security model to link its branches, partners and customers over an IP network. In this case, it was Windows that was being completely replaced with a mix of Solaris and Linux solutions and the argument wasn’t one of cost or even a fundamental certainty that UNIX is more secure; it was simply a question of failing into line behind a government policy that has decided that Windows has to go.

So one government, our own is agnostic and the other, Germany, quite sensibly wishes to support SuSe and believes that in the end, choosing Linux over Windows will lead to a lower cost of ownership and a more secure computing environment.

The corner I’m arguing is that businesses want both security and lower total cost of ownership but as much as some people would like to see Microsoft languishing on death row, the jury, Gartner, IDC, Meta and others, still have failed to reach a majority decision, in the absence of any hard proof in favour of one or the other distribution models.

Simply saying “We know Linux is better” isn’t enough because business thrives on certainty and certainty is absent on both sides of the debate.

So, if some members of the Open Source community wish to ‘shoot’ me or hang me in effigy, then that’s OK because they are as entitled to their opinions as I am to mine but let’s try and keep this very important argument at an unemotional technical level where business and even whole countries can decide on the facts and not the kind of anti-establishment rhetoric which has found a focus in the battle between two very different views of what an Operating System should be.


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