Penguins Give Me the Shivers

Penguins Give Me the Shivers

Our intrepid technology observer gives Linux the cold shoulder.

I have never warmed to that little Linux penguin. Not really. Maybe it's because it is a cold-water beast or, more likely, that the Linux community of open-source-obsessed programmers sends a chill down my spine. Their fanaticism presses all my scepticism and suspicion buttons.

It used to be that by loving Linux you were the industry radical. Times have changed and now even questioning the divinity of the open source movement can be a sacrilegious statement. It is an uncomfortable position. It feels as if you are standing in a corner at a party on your own, save for a few boring Microsoft millionaire types and a couple of analysts who repeat ad nauseum that Linux is another Unix flavour waiting to happen.

Being this far out of step with the industry reminds me of the days when I used to work at The Sun newspaper - the British rag famous for its topless Page 3 girls. At any social occasion, you never admitted to working there. I made the mistake of doing so only once when chatting to a schoolteacher. My ears still ring with her invective about "you and your kind" poisoning a nation's conscience. Conversations with Linux folk are not so dissimilar. My failure to embrace the vision and repeatedly decry Bill Gates as a 21st century demon seems to inspire passionate lectures and offers to come and see the miracle of Linux for myself. (Yeah, cheers, but I might be washing my thinning pate that day.)

Before anyone starts e-mailing death threats or preparing to hang headless chickens above my front door in the middle of the night, let's get a couple of things straight: I'm not against Linux, I just don't love it. In fact, I'm quite ambivalent, perhaps pragmatic, about its usage. And here's a bulletin . . . I am not the only one.

Local CIOs, in a quick straw poll of 20, expressed a number of concerns about Linux that should at least give the fanatics pause for thought. Sixteen respondents are concerned about the lack of support skills available internally. In government agencies particularly, most IT staff seem to have kept their heads in Microsoft manuals. One CIO in a state government agency lamented: "I would roll out Linux tomorrow, but I think I am the only one in the department with Linux skills of any description. They're all Microsoft guys. So, it's just not practical."

Other questions arise about the proven Total Cost of Ownership. Most of the respondents were, frankly, confused by all the claims and counter-claims that go on between the likes of Microsoft and the pro-Linux IBM. Thirteen of the respondents said they were yet to be convinced that the Penguin was going to save them money.

Their reluctance to buy into the hype is understandable. On the one hand you have Giga, Meta and IDC research all plugging the TCO benefits of Microsoft - and guess who paid them to do that? On the other, firms as reputable as IBM and Novell spruik the opposite story, touting their own "independent" reports. And Gartner's Michael Silver threw fuel on the fire with his brilliantly titled research, There is no ROI in spite - a dig at those who would kick out Microsoft for Linux as a punishment for arrogant salespeople and aggressive licensing strategies.

For mortals just trying to keep the mission-critical systems going with a tight budget and growing business and compliance demands, it is easiest to dismiss Linux as simply a tactical solution. Not everyone should be put in that bucket, however. A Novell salesperson told me her company has half-a-dozen local proof-of-concept projects under way for Linux on the desktop. Their motivation, she said, was to be able "to move Microsoft out of their organization and reduce their costs, not just for licensing but other issues like security management".

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