Friday, 19 October, 2001
Linux: Take the Server, Abandon the Desktop
Russ Mitchell's piece Open War over atWired presents an interesting perspective on the Linux vs. Microsoft battle. The gist of it is this: Linux developers should give up on the desktop and channel their energies into completely taking over the server market. He backs that up with some very good arguments that a vendor would be hard pressed to ignore if Linux was owned by a company. But what we call a Linux distribution is made up of an operating system kernel, utilities, and applications that are created by thousands of individual developers who work on things for fun and give them away. Sure, some projects are controlled by companies that make money selling commercial versions or other services, but there's no single controlling interest. There's nobody to say "Stop working on the X Window system." People work on what they want to work on, and if they build something cool, other people use it.
Linux has become a good server operating system because thousands of people have spent 10 years duplicating the functionality of Unix and Unix-like utilities. What we have now is a free Unix-based server operating system that is more stable and more secure than any current version of Windows. Whether Linux can maintain that edge is yet to be seen. Assuming Microsoft fixes the Windows security problems soon, it'll be interesting to see if a loose confederation of open source developers can match Microsoft's ability to add new features and functionality.
Linux still has a very long way to go before it's as usable as Windows in a desktop environment. I personally don't think that open source, as it's currently practiced, can ever catch up. I've been wrong before, though, and I'd love to be proven wrong this time.