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Don’t Shoot – It’s a Penguin

There is, it appears, a great opportunity for Linux in the new Iraq but there’s a problem, which comes as no great surprise to anyone familiar with the progress of the reconstruction programme. While the US Department of Commerce has classified Microsoft Windows and Sun Solaris as "mass-market encryption products," meaning that the vendors can ship them to Iraq without a license, what is described as publicly available" software, like Linux, remains under sanctions, because it implements certain security standards, namely, strong encryption. Ipso facto it may be harnessed as a terrorist tool to conceal communications and as a consequence Baghdad has become a Penguin-free zone, although I’m not entirely sure about Basra, which of course lies under British control.

I was asked recently, if I would like to go to Iraq. “Very kind of you to think of me”, I said “But I’d rather not”. Most recently I’ve known one person who survived a mortar attack and won a gallantry award and another who sustained serious injuries when a grenade bounced off him in Bangladesh. Twenty-five years ago, I recall being at Lympstone, when the Royal Marines were looking for volunteers to join the garrison of a small unknown island group in the South Atlantic. Not being interested in either salmon fishing or sheep, I passed. A good decision I thought some months later, when a group of heavily armed Argentinean tourists arrived one night without reservations.

Back to Iraq then and a reliable electricity supply might be a good place to start, followed by a supply of Personal Computers that can be used to kick-start education and the economy. For much of the Arab world however, Personal Computing and Windows are synonymous, partly because in any bazaar, one can pick-up just about any Microsoft product for a few dollars, software piracy being rife in many countries and possibly like smuggled copies of Linux, the last thing the US marines are worrying about at present.

In contrast with the news that Linux may yet have a part to play in the war against terrorism, there is reassuring news from The George Mason University that Microsoft's dominance of the desktop operating system market isn't a threat to U.S. national security. The university’s report, based on advanced network simulations, concludes that any future attempt to attack and exploit Windows is unlikely to produce a catastrophic failure of the Internet. While it focuses on the proprietary monopolies held by Microsoft on the desktop and Cisco in the router market, the study also suggests the growing importance of the security of open source products.

The Internet, it seems, is more resilient than we give it credit for and although patching and mass exploitation of Microsoft products has become a regular fact of life for computer users, the university argues the weaknesses reside at a less critical point on the network. One reason that the Internet is more resilient than previously thought lies in Microsoft's smaller presence in web server software, where it holds just 21 percent of the market, compared to a 97 percent market share on the desktop. The research concludes that an exploitable technology must be present on more than 43 percent of nodes in most networks before the potential for massive failure of the Internet becomes a possibility.

If you hadn’t guessed already, then if Microsoft only has a 21 per cent share of the Web server market, then 67 percent of the Web's 50 million servers must be running on Open Source Apache, an exploitable weapon of mass destruction in the wrong hands or simply another reason to choose Linux over Windows? You tell me.


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