Of Linux advocacy in the real world

For those of you who are unfamiliar with such a thing, there are people that feel really strongly about their computers. Since you're reading this, I assume you feel pretty strongly about Windows. I do. However, I try not to see the world through Redmond-colored glasses. That's why WinInfo is critical of Microsoft when they deserve it. However, there are always going to be those who religiously back their favorite system, regardless of the logic. Back over the years, we've seen this with the Amiga, OS/2, and the Macintosh (heck, there's probably still a guy out there somewhere who thinks his 68K-based Amiga 500 with 2 floppies can out-multitask a today's Pentiums. You go boy!). And for those who are interested in this sort of mindless cheerleading, the sites and newsletters are out there too. I won't name names. They're pretty obvious.

Today, however, the Linux community wears that championship belt of crazed advocacy.

And no, I don't mean all of the Linux community. Many people on WinInfo are Linux fans and most of them are very reasoned in their defense of Linux. I'm not criticizing Linux, so put that poison email down for a second. In case you're missing the point here, I've actually been using Linux since the fall of 1995. I think it's important to understand that this OS is, indeed, a real threat to Windows, both on the server and the desktop. It really is that good, and its only getting better. So there, now you know how I feel about Linux.

But that's not important, or at least it shouldn't be. Linux has now progressed/regressed to the point where a member of the media will get attacked--and this is guaranteed--any time they publish an article that is critical of Linux. Even one that is deserved.

So yesterday's story, "OS survey: Linux not ready, tests show NT outperforms it," generated the expected onslaught of email. Two important points that came out of this:

  • Microsoft sponsored the Mindcraft study, presumably because they did their own tests and figured (correctly) that publishing them would generate a collective yawn from the computer industry.

  • This was the first test that shown NT positively killing Linux head-to-head. Many Linux vs. NT tests have been conducted, most showing Linux beating NT at least some of the time.
So what do we conclude from this information? The sarcastic among us simply laugh off the Microsoft sponsorship and move on. In fact that's how Slashdot.org handled the story: Rather than report on this study, they simply mentioned the results, asked whether anyone had any criticism of the test, and let the floodgates open. Within hours, hundreds of pro-Linux users had flung their opinions onto the Web site conference boards. But who cares about opinion? What really happened here?

The fact that Microsoft sponsored such a test doesn't invalidate it. I mean, the test did happen, right? Those hardware setups are pretty standard, aren't they?

As for the whole Linux vs. NT thing, I'd also mention that it's possible to create charts and graphs that show anything you'd like. Previous tests, like this one, should fall under the same scrutiny. No one seemed surprised when Linux beat NT earlier, but why? Isn't that a little surprising? I think it is.

Perhaps most importantly, I was simply reporting on this phenomenon, not endorsing it. If you take the time to actually read what it is that I say about this situation ("the sudden rise of Linux as a media darling" and "a variety of reports \[now suggest\] that Linux may not be all that it's cracked up to be", etc.) you'll see that I was simply struck by the fact that these three critical reports of Linux--from D. H. Brown Associates, Fortune, and Mindcraft--all appeared within a few days of each other. In case you're wondering, I had the D. H. Brown and Fortune reports sitting on the sidelines for a few days and wasn't sure they were worth it until the Mindcraft report came in. Then it all clicked: This is the inevitable backlash that accompanies anything successful. Now that's a story.

A few weeks ago, I reported on Bill Gates' comments about Linux. I didn't add my own opinion to this story, but simply reported what he said. I received over 100 emails from Linux fans and a story in Slashdot as thanks (and that mention generated about 1000 responses on their Web site, some of which were unnecessary personal attacks on me, go figure). Folks, I'm reporting the news here, not inventing it. I'm just asking for the standard "don't shoot the messenger" qualification here.

The Linux community is in a dangerous spot right now. A few years ago, rabid "Team OS/2" members were almost single-handedly responsible for ruining the reputation of their favorite OS, as IBM did everything it could to "unmarket" the product. And the Macintosh community, with its Mac Marines and "Rumors" Web sites, knows the perils of fanatical advocacy all too well. Hopefully, the Linux community will realize the problems with this approach and just fight the good fight: They've got a great OS going for them. I only hope its more fanatical users don't screw it up for everyone.

If you wrote in about the Linux article, consider this your response. There is no way I can get to all of the email I received about this and get any work done, I'm sorry.


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