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Albatrosses Yes, Penguins No

Albatrosses Yes, Penguins No

Will Linux ever fly in the enterprie? I seriously doubt it

We went to see the albatrosses in their sanctuary on the Otago Peninsula but we elected to miss out on the penguins. After all, there were enough of them in Dunedin at the time.

You see, our holiday trip around the south island of New Zealand in January happened to coincide with the annual regional Linux conference. Everywhere you looked in Dunedin there seemed to be someone sporting a black T shirt with a penguin on it. I must admit that I found their earnest technological enthusiasm somewhat nauseating.

To some this may seem a bit like heresy coming from me. For four years in the early 1990s I was heavily involved with the Unix International Australian Marketing Group. I was there in the trenches fighting for the cause of open systems. Back then we were the people who were going to do away with proprietary systems. We would bring down the behemoths of the ICT industry with their fat margins and vendor lock-in marketing strategies. Unix would open up the world to affordable, server-level computing.

I suspect my current cynicism is perhaps a reflection of the painful lessons Unix devotees like me learned back then. In the end, what we thought was an advantage was in fact a huge negative. Unix's independence and source code availability actually resulted in a loss of control over the development of the operating system. Everyone ended up doing their own thing. The result was many hybrid versions of Unix, which meant there was never any certainty whether a program could or could not be ported to an alternative Unix environment. Even in its simplest form the goal of open systems proved elusive.

When I look at Linux it seems another case of history repeating itself. Those devotees in Dunedin may think they are going to slay the Microsoft dragon, but I think that all they really do is highlight their own business naivety.

As one senior Australian CIO told me just this week: "There are certain parts of my IT infrastructure that I don't want to spend even a second thinking about." I would bet London to a brick that desktop operating systems fall into that category. This CIO wants to spend his time making sure his counterparts in the business make better use of the IT resources they have already. He sees little value in pioneering at the desktop level, in the vain hope that this might slash some dollars off the IT bottom line.

Unix did bring down the cost of mid-range computers, but I wonder whether this would have happened anyway. The increasing power of the desktop, the capabilities of the Internet and economic recessions all would've had an impact on the cost of mid-range computing. Similarly, I expect the cost of desktop software will fall as Microsoft finds its pre-eminence in that arena challenged by innovative suppliers such as Google.

Perhaps the highlight of our trip to New Zealand was seeing several albatrosses fly. This is something of a rare occurrence for visitors to the sanctuary because it takes a bit of effort for an albatross to get airborne. However, when they do they become an aeronautical marvel. A bird that is capable of flying nearly 2000 kilometres in a single day.

That's the sort of uncomplicated reliability and performance that CIOs want from their operating systems. They don't want penguins. Penguins can't fly.

Peter Hind is a freelance consultant and commentator with nearly 25 years experience in the IT industry. He is co-author of The IT Manager's Survival Guide and ran the InTEP IS executive gatherings in Australia for over 10 years.

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