An article titled Mac poses as much of challenge to Linux as to Windows is both insightful and missing the point.

The general thrust of the article, is dead-on. It's just the sort of stuff I've been saying to folks about OS X. It's the only "Unix on the Desktop" package that really delivers. (Side note: I'm going to be at O'Reilly's OS X Conference tomorrow.) Red Hat is playing catch up with Apple and they're at a severe disadvantage.

However, later in the article is a mini-review of Red Hat Linux 8.0, which just came out today. The author notes that:

In short, a PC loaded with Red Hat 8 can handle about 95 percent of the average user's needs. This much software from Microsoft would cost about $400. But Red Hat 8 can be downloaded from the Internet for free. To get service and support, you have to pay for the software, but only $39.95 for the basic desktop version.

Excellent. Many folks have been predicting that this day would come.

The article also says:

In our test of Red Hat 8, none of this mattered. The disk partition process is automated now. As for compatibility, the software identified and self-installed all the vital peripherals on our test machine without incident. And there was none of this Microsoftian nonsense about software authentication. As a result, Red Hat is actually easier to install than Windows XP.

That's no surprise. Red Hat has been working themselves crazy to ensure that it'd be easy to install. Easier than Windows. Easier than any other version of Linux. Easier than any commercial Unix.

But then we get to this:

However, cheap is not enough. Red Hat 8 is still a ragbag of code, written by amateurs and part-timers and jumbled all together. And it shows. For instance, the feature for allowing you to share information with a Handspring handheld computer didn't work properly. A Red Hat engineer admitted that he wasn't sure of the reason, because the underlying software was written by somebody outside the company and he knew little about it.
Corporate users pay for Microsoft products largely because they get a decent level of support from the company. Because Linux isn't controlled by Red Hat or any other company, delivering the same level of service is far harder. But it'll have to be done.

This shows that folks at the Boston Globe, like so many other of the mass media STILL DON'T GET IT.

Linux is an operating system. It is not a desktop. Red Hat Linux is a large bundle of software, little of which was written by Red Hat. To compare all the pieces of Red Hat Linux that Red Hat did not develop with Microsoft Windows simply doesn't work. It's apples and oranges. Stop it. All of you.

Linux and Open Source are a new way of doing things. They are not the commercial software market. The whole point is that this "ragbag of code, written by amateurs and part-timers and jumbled all together" is often (certainly not always) better than the commercial alternatives.

Just look at what Apache has done in the server world. It's the number one web server and has been for a long, long time. Microsoft is not winning in that space. Expect to see similar things on the desktop. I'm not predicting that Linux will take over the desktop--not by a long shot. But there will be killer apps on the desktop. Just look at all the innovative new projects that have sprung up to build on the foundation that Mozilla has provided.

Posted by jzawodn at September 30, 2002 08:42 PM

Reader Comments
# Ross Devitt said:

"Corporate users pay for Microsoft products largely because they get a decent level of support from the company. Because Linux isn't controlled by Red Hat or any other company, delivering the same level of service is far harder. But it'll have to be done."

Obviously the writer had a sense of humour. A decent level of support in Microsoft's eyes has always been something like "Hmmm Windows problem? Must be your RAM/Hard Disk/Main Board etc.

In all my years as a Microsoft Partner I have never managed to get an answer about why a fault was occuring.

on September 30, 2002 10:03 PM
# Dan de Isaacs said:

"All my years" means all of 4, but I can second Ross's statements. When evaluating the reasons for keeping current with our OS (Still mostly an NT shop), "Support" was the first question my manager had a question about. It was also the funniest thing he said.

on October 1, 2002 04:44 AM
# Adam Turoff said:

Actually, *we're* the ones who don't get it. Posturing and preaching about the divide between applications and operating system gives us a sense of superiority that's totally irrelevant to the average user.

Over the last few years (since about 1994 or so), most Windows users get most of their software from Microsoft. To the average user, Microsoft is just a one-stop-shop to turn a lump of chips and cords into something approaching useful.

End users aren't buying OS+Apps anymore, they're buying something approaching a full solution. That's one reason why damn near every PC you can buy today comes with an office suite of some kind, usually some variant of MS Office. (It's also why new Macs come with AppleWorks...) And that's why RedHat needs to include all of that "other code" to make RH8.0 useful for the average user.

on October 2, 2002 01:38 PM
# joe duran said:

I agree with Adam's comments that WE are the ones that don't get it. I've made a living for many years as a consultant, mostly solving problems or installing network solutions based on NT/2000 servers. The constant barrage of fixes, service packs and upgrades has kept me gainfully employed.

The point now though is that Linux has matured to a point where installation is a breeze, apps are becoming more available, and eventually they will be more easily supported and as prolific as their Windows counterparts. So what are we missing?

At this point in time, Linux is a great server platform, and not a bad desktop. Macintosh has a great desktop but has never really had a server platform that could compare in features to Linux (or even NT). Now however, with OS X, Apple has begun to shine again. And what better combination than Mac desktops and Linux servers? Or a mix of Linux and OS x servers? Use the mature Mac desktop until Linux catches up. These two systems together make a fantastic team.

I know this because I am running it. Two Linux boxes (RedHat 7.2, one set up as a 'server', the other is a 'workstation'), a Macintosh 7500/G3, an iMac 500, and a Powerbook 1400. I stopped using Windows at home about a month ago, when the installation of Service Pack 3 for Windows 2000 Server rendered the system un-bootable. At that point I decided to finally become Windows-free. I still have Microsoft Office 2001 on one of my Macs, so I don't have to give up document sharing with the office. But everything is much smoother now, and simpler.

So it's not one OR the other. Use a combination of what works best and promote that. No OS is perfect, so take advantage of what each does best.

on October 7, 2002 08:05 AM
# Bradley said:

I have been in the IT industry for a long time. I get the best Windows support the same way I get my linux support, through the community of the users. I have also worked for a major computer manufacturer. One of our best support tools there was to check message boards. Microsoft supports no one, individual, corporate, or manufacturer. I have also used their paid support at US$120 an incident, and never received a fix, solution or anything for the problems. So, linux support lacks? Show me where!

on October 15, 2002 06:03 AM
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