Here is an interesting post from The Angry Admin ‘blog. The basic point being made is that Microsoft has succeeded in corrupting the ISO standard-setting process, attempting thereby to shake the faith in it and the standards that arise from it. Perhaps the title of the post should have made reference to the death of ISO, not ODF. Near the end, the company’s proficiency in FUD is highlighted; but, if true, it also reveals a slight difference from Microsoft’s typical modus in that a stalemate was considered acceptable. When it’s not winning the game, the company usually either bullies the other kids until it is declared the winner or picks up its toys and goes home; in this case, it opted to raze the playground. Could this be a sign of a weaker Microsoft? Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell.
by Kevin Guertin
IBM believes Linux is finally ready for the corporate desktop.
In an announcement this week at the Lotusphere 2008 conference in Orlando, IBM said that it will provide full support for Ubuntu Linux with Lotus Notes 8.5 and Lotus Symphony using its Open Collaboration Client software, which is based on open standards.
Antony Satyadas, chief competitive marketing officer for IBM Lotus, said the Ubuntu support for Notes and Symphony were a direct response to demand from customers. Lotus Notes 8.0.1 has limited support for Ubuntu Linux, but customers have asked for broader capabilities, he said.
Based on Slashdot comments from users, this isn’t such a great announcement. Some go as far as saying that it will be the death of Ubuntu. Canonical, on the other hand, has said that the availability of Notes and Symphony for use with Ubuntu will be a win for customers everywhere.
Although I’ve never used Lotus (and don’t plan to), apparently over 100,000 business users are interested in moving to Ubuntu Linux on the desktop. That number is a good chunk. If it helps to squash FUD, I’m all for it. Especially for Linux on the business desktop.
What do you think? Will this really be the Death of Ubuntu or will it definitely help solidify Linux/Ubuntu in the corporate world?
An article from the Business Standard entitled “Cheap laptop price tags can mislead users” (by D’Monte & Shinde, Mumbai, India, January 24, 2008) warns consumers about the pitfalls of buying a cheap laptop in today’s market. It doesn’t focus on suboptimal hardware offerings, or limited expandability, or the defect-rate of cheap components, or even the impact of pre-loaded bloatware on the unit’s usefulness. I expected any or all of these when I first clicked on the link. Instead, it focuses on the OS cost component and how Linux is being used to bait customers on price point.
The authors (almost) immediately write Linux off in the fourth paragraph, citing the general lack of support for the OS (FUD Pattern #2), commercial offerings of Red Hat and Novell excepted. Once again, the business-centric concept of “good support” – evidenced by a toll-free phone number and a paid staff – is reinforced in the mind of the reader. This simple statement effectively obscures the wealth of online Linux support information and gives the OS a second-rate appearance at best. It also sets the stage for the remainder of the article, a discussion of the popularity of Microsoft’s products in India and the unfortunate piracy rate. The only disparaging remark about Linux after the fourth paragraph is that the affordable Vista Starter Edition has successfully displaced Linux on most new cheap-laptop orders.
On a side note, essentially all of the initial comments support Linux, several even calling FUD. I was impressed with these fourteen opinions…so strong and impassioned, so consistent in thought… so written by only five distinct users. I get the impression that the comment input-box was too small and that two comments had to be spread over eleven submissions. Still, many good points were made in these rants.
I saw this article summarized on Slashdot this morning. Headline: Microsoft Claims ‘Vista Has Fewer Flaws Than Other First-Year OSes.’ According to the article, Vista released 17 security bulletins and fixed 36 vulnerabilities in the first year, which is a big improvement over XP’s hit counts of 30 and 65 respectively. The article continues by comparing these figures to the first-year vulnerability numbers for Red Hat (360), Ubuntu (224) and Mac OS X (116). One security specialist is quoted, stating that these numbers “prove that [Vista] is quantitatively more secure.” He then chastises other OS vendors for their negligence in QA and security testing.
When you read this article, does it make you doubt the security of Linux and OS X? That’s the intended message, no?
I find this article misleading for a few reasons:
- Vista numbers are based on actions Microsoft decided to take: release bulletins and fix vulnerabilities. There is an element of subjectivity here.
- The article discloses that 30 Vista vulnerabilities remain, which brings the number of known vulnerabilities to 66. Sometimes, ‘known’ translates into ‘disclosed’.
- An assumption is made that the writing of Vista and the compilation of a Linux distro are comparable activities. They are not, and the vulnerabilities associated with these activities likely have different statistical distributions.
- The scope and risk of the vulnerabilities fixed are not discussed. Microsoft may have fixed 17 big problems, where as Ubuntu fixed 224 small ones. For all we know, the cumulative effect could be equal.
The security specialist states that Vista underwent more testing than the other OSes. He makes no reference to the relative quality of that testing. “More” doesn’t mean “better.” And what does “more” mean anyway? Was the testing measured in dollars spent? Number of testers? Number of test cases?
An analysis of the actual report would probably provide more clarity. Moreover, independent verification of the numbers would boost the integrity of the conclusions drawn. The validity of the actual results, however, does not change the intent of those who report on them. FUD, I say!
The #1 item on my Top 10 List of Linux FUD Patterns concerns its learning curve. This pattern is probably the most prevalent and primarily appeals to fear by attempting to convince you that Linux is too hard for the average person to use or that it is simply not user friendly. There are many variations of this pattern, from the straight-forward “Linux is for geeks” assault to more mature, logical arguments, such as “if Linux can do everything the fill-in-the-blank OS can do, why bother with the hassle of switching?”.
To be honest, as with every convincing piece of FUD, I think this line of reason has…or should I say, had…a glimmer of truth behind it. Back in the day, when I was casually messing around with Linux as a hobby, I spent many hours on “administrative” tasks, such as installing Slackware from 30+ floppy disks on old retired hardware and trying to configure the RedHat-bundled Metro-X server for specific video cards and monitors. Looking back, these tasks were difficult enough for a seasoned PC tech like myself, let alone for the general public. But today, it’s a different story, especially since Ubuntu makes it so easy.Nonetheless, web news headlines asking “Is Linux Ready for Prime Time?” still appear frequently. What makes Linux so difficult anyway? A quick look through screenshots and how-tos for modern Linux distributions tells quite a different story, does it not? I believe its close association with Unix is the primary reason.
Unix in general has a “bad” reputation for being a command-line-driven OS. It was written in the late 1960s and the graphical ‘X’ windowing system was not introduced until the mid 1980s. In contrast, Linux was first released by Linus Torvalds about 1991 and the development of the XFree86 windowing system for PCs began about a year later. Therefore, one could argue that Linux had a graphical user interface “from the start”. Moreover, Ubuntu and others have done a great job in reducing the user’s exposure to the system console altogether. The need to log into the system on a character-based screen and manually run ‘startx‘ is no more. Of course, you may forgo an X session and boot directly into a prompt if you wish, but that is not the default.
First impressions count too. Despite the availability of X, my first serious exposure to Unix was in university in the mid 1990s and took place, not on something as fancy as a Sun SPARCstation, but on an amber-on-black dumb terminal in the school’s computer lab. To me, Unix came to mean a terminal screen, often accessed via telnet over a dial-up connection with the host computer. It was not until several years later that I discovered X.
Case sensitivity is another classic example. Unix and its kin are case sensitive in practically every respect, and most visibly when saving and opening files. This can be a most obnoxious feature when working from the command line, especially for the occasional user; however, the impact is minimal in today’s point-and-click Linux world. I have heard the concern expressed more than once that having two or more different files in the same directory, each with the same name, differing only in case, would be too confusing. My usual response is in the form of a question: why would a person have so many files named essentially the same thing to begin with? Just because it can be done, doesn’t mean that it should be done.
Other differences exist, such as installation methods for both the OS and software applications, but I think I’ve made my point: Linux is very much like Unix, but it is not the same OS. Linux was made for the x86 PC platform, though other platforms are supported as well. It was written with the end-user in mind, knowing that the everyday user will demand a slick windowing environment, web browsers with plug-in support, and the like. Contributors to Linux and its applications are everyday users too, you know.
How can these negative perceptions be overcome? The concept that Linux is very similar – but not the same as – Unix is too academic, too logical and would take far too long to adequately communicate to the masses. It just doesn’t make for good marketing.
Nothing, however, beats seeing it in action! Remember what I said about first impressions? Live CDs are very useful weapons against FUD. They allow potential users to test drive the OS, to try before “buying”. This helps prove to some that Linux has come a long way in terms of automatic hardware detection and other features that make it user friendly. It’s also much easier than going to the extent of configuring a dual-boot system. The downside is, they can be a bit slow under certain conditions. If a friend has a Linux system already installed, it may be better to try that out instead.
It is also fortunate that the academic community has shown an interest in Linux. Of course, this stems partially from the never-ending need for schools to save money, but there are also purely-educational reasons for using Linux as well. For example, Linux provides an open platform for programming classes and many math- and science-based applications have been developed. Early exposure to Linux means that kids will “grow up” with it and its “peculiarities”.
Hopefully, this treatise will help you keep an open mind the next time you read an article on how Linux could dominate the market “if only it were easier to use”, or help you form an appropriate response when someone expresses the same sort of sentiment in conversation. Always seek out the reasons used to support these opinions and remember that experience should provide more convincing evidence than the rhetoric of FUD.
|<< Go To Part 1||Go To Part 3 >>|
The following is my Top 10 list of themes used by anti-Linux FUD campaigns. This list is based on observations made over my years of following the Linux market. The ranking loosely correlates to frequency of usage and is somewhat subjective at best. Understanding each pattern will help you recognize a nicely-prepared piece of FUD when you encounter it. Each will be covered in more depth in subsequent posts (links in the list).
- Linux has a steep learning curve.
- Linux is not “officially” supported.
- With Linux, you cannot access old files or share new files with others.
- There are no good software titles for Linux.
- Linux is not secure.
- Linux is low-quality software.
- Linux software is always behind the curve.
- Linux will void your warranty.
- Microsoft will sue you if you use Linux.
- The total cost of ownership for Linux is too high.
More to come!
|Go To Part 2>>|
Ok… I know, I know… it’s been over 7 months since my last post! I have been busy with my personal life, work, and Visual Basic .NET night classes that I’ve been taking for work, which barely left me with a social life, but classes are done now and I think I’ll have more time. I have been commenting or replying to others as much as I can, though.
Oh, and Happy New Year!
With the New Year comes a new thing: a new writer joins this blog in my quest to squash FUD towards Linux. Brandon lives in the Dallas Metroplex in Texas and has much more experience than I do in Linux… and lives much more south than I do! We have very similar technical backgrounds and I’m sure we’ll work well as a team. He will post whenever he can on no particular schedule… like me!
So let’s welcome Brandon to the team! And if you are interested in joining us as a part-time or occasional writer, contact us.
- Kevin Guertin
Greetings all! My name is Brandon, I use Ubuntu exclusively for my personal computing, and I’ve volunteered to assist Kevin in maintaining the Linux FUD blog. By way of introduction, I would like to share my own conversion story.
My experience with computing began in the era of the Commodore 64 and the Apple IIe. I never had to use punch cards, but I do remember saving data to cassette tape. I learned how to program in BASIC on our home computer, which ran on MS-DOS 2.1! Over time, I migrated through the various releases of DOS and graduated from BASIC A to the more procedural QBasic. I tinkered with assembly language, removed the sound commands from gorilla.bas on the school computers (my apologies, Mrs. Hanes), and even learned how to add mouse support to a batch program.
In a nutshell, I “grew up” on DOS and BASIC. I was not a fan of the early members of the Windows family, however. Windows 3.x was slow and Win95/98 was buggy. The stability and security of NT 4.0 won me over and I became a huge fan of NT. For a variety of reasons I continued to use it without major upgrade for nearly a decade.
My interest in Linux began around 1996 or so, when two individuals, a coworker and a schoolmate, independently tried to convert me away from NT. I was vehemently resistant at first, but the more I read about it, the more I entertained the thought of switching. I eventually bought (yes, actually paid for) a copy of Red Hat Linux 5.0, but my experiments with it and subsequently with Slackware were less than successful. Though I was unconvinced that Linux was good enough for daily use, I did see its potential value as a platform for computation-intensive applications.
A few years later, a work assignment presented the perfect opportunity to show off some of those QBasic skills. To my surprise, beginning with Windows 2000, QBasic was no longer being bundled with the OS. To complete my project, I gained access to one of the Solaris machines and learned Perl as a replacement language. Though this had nothing to do with Linux per se, I became much better acquainted with Unix in general and eventually traded my Win2K work laptop for a shiny new Sun Station…ok, the “shiny” part was a joke, really, but it was new. Besides Perl, I started making heavy use of awk, sed, and other utilities. I finally had my command line back and with some very powerful tools to boot.
The more I read about the state of Linux over the years, the more I was impressed and I started running Knoppix to try out the new OS before committing to it. After that, there was no question left in my mind that Linux would be my next platform of choice. I was still not impressed with Red Hat, however, so I narrowed my short list to Suse and Ubuntu.
When I purchased a new laptop in 2006, I decided to try Ubuntu first. I thought that I would end up with SUSE in the end, but Ubuntu was making serious headlines and, true to its word, everything “just worked”. I never did install SUSE. Since then, I’ve converted my wife and my parents to Ubuntu and have had several friends express an interest in the recent past.
I do not think my conversion story is all that unique and it is certainly not entertaining or inspirational. No, I wanted to tell my story because it illustrates fear, uncertainty and doubt at various levels. Fear that Linux will not survive long-term. Uncertainty that it will suit my needs. Doubt that I will be able to see my data later if I decide to switch again. The decision to convert 100% was neither quick nor easy. When I look back on it, I recognize that the decision was swayed in both directions by the articles I read and the people with whom I spoke.
Therein lies my interest in contributing to this blog, to help eliminate FUD, both intrinsic and intentional. More on that to come.
Until next time, Happy New Year!
No, it’s not a swear. It’s an acronym for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. FUD. These are all feelings a (potential) new Linux user feels. You can add stupidity to that list, too.
That’s how I feel. Stupid. FUDS.
You see, I consider myself to be a Microsoft Windows guru. I’ve been using/working with computers since 1991 (of course there was Commodore 64 and the likes before that). Remember MS-DOS Shell? How about QBasic? The original Nibbles? I’ve been using, studying, and tinkering everything “Microsoft” since its infant years. I know my stuff.
I’ve grown to hate Microsoft (for all the usual reasons), but still love it at the same time. Then I ask myself, “Honestly, is it really love?” Nah… I think it’s more like a habit or a security blanket. Stick to what you know.
And then there’s Linux, tugging at the security blanket, charmingly threatening to take it away and offer better things for free. It’s convincing, and I’m starting to let go of that blanket.