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enKryptic observations - How Linux is like Star Trek

Linux...The Final OS. These are the voyages of the Linux distributions. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new commands, to seek out open source and new freedoms, to boldly go where no Microsoft developer has gone before

Who here remembers the original Star Trek? Yeah, that's right, the original James Tiberius Kirk makin' it with the green ladies while Spock stared into some tiny optical view master and the Enterprise running full speed ahead with photon torpedos and phasers blasting away Star Trek. Each episode usually placed the crew into some new frontier, planet or gaseous expansion (gaseous...a humorous word) that forced them to analyze, communicate, learn and deploy a new method to overcome some challenge. Now I can't say that Linux has defeated any hissing green Gorn lizards, but I can say that I really have come to the conclusion that Linux is alot like Star Trek. Here's why...

Star Trek blasted onto the scene in the 1966...to not much fan fare. Well I should say visible fan fare. In a way when Linus released his 1991 kernel it too released with not much fan fare. Again...I should say visible fan fare. Linus himself was particular low key by stating "I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones." The big corporate cigar-smoking fat cats at NBC ultimately dismissed Star Trek just after three seasons, never realizing the huge fan base that quickly developed around the concepts of freedom, exploration, peace through strength, the prime directive and the aspect that everyone can contribute to the success of the community. Microsoft too ultimately dismissed Linux as a tinker toy. Just as NBC missed the realization of what Star Trek was, most of the IT industry missed what Linux was about. 

Linux has become the Genesis Device. It exploded and has created not just a revolutionary new operating system, but also a methodology of community. Just like Star Trek, the Linux fan base has exploded into a community that believes exploration, freedom and that any person can/should contribute is the way of advancing man's technical capabilities. As Linux has matured and more users,  developers,  and corporate sponsors have joined the "Linux Federation", our favorite operating system has mushroomed into various distributions.

So we now have Linux TOS, Linux the Next Generation, Linux Deep Space 2.6, Star Trek: Linuxager, Star Trek: Penguinprise. Ok, maybe that sounds a bit silly. But think about it. We now have Red Hat, Debian, Ubuntu, SUSE, Slackware and the list goes on as more and more fans begin to create their own distribution. 

This is the only concern I have at the moment about my beloved OS. I've begun to notice that as more corporate entities have begun to get involved, the direction of the starship has begun to drift. The marks and bearings change depending on who the perceived captain is at the moment. Although I hear talk (and efforts are in place) of standardizing directory structure and libraries, it is slow at best in adoption. In fact I'd say with corporate entities jumping into the pool (think of them as the necessary but bureaucratic Starfleet Command) things have begun to retard actually and slow us engineers down. I am currently fighting with very large companies who say they support Linux, but in actuality they have only half heartedly decided to support the OS. Even more so, they have decided that they support only one distribution and that if you cannot instantly get their software to run on your other distro, well then it just can't be done cost effectively. 

Example? I was recently told that a particular 32 bit application from Cisco would only run on 32 bit Red Hat. Period. No way could it run on a 64 bit Red Hat let alone any other distribution their support people said. Well, after looking at some code and where the application was looking for libraries, a few work around links that did not require hacking original code and poof, proof of concept shows you can get said application to run on a 64 bit OS. 

The problem are the business units. Those who do not understand Linux are beginning to make technical decisions that they have no business making.  Essentially by BUs making decisions they are pitting Linux distributions against each other. It's just like that classic fight between Kirk and Spock in "Amok Time" (yeah yeah, I know...I'm a geek). The music kicks in and you have two Starfleet officers...best friends...being forced to fight each other. 

In the back ground while that music is playing (dun-dun DA DA DA DA DA DAH DAH DAH DA dun-dun-dun-dun-dun) I'd offer that the community needs to do a better job of educating the business managers of our companies we work for and interact with daily. They are forgetting that Linux is the kernel. The distribution is the various packages wrapped around the kernel. Think of it like the warp engine. Even though the class of ship  and purpose of the ship changes...it is still powered by the same warp engine.

Star Trek recently released a new movie that has proved to be immensely popular and has reignited interest in the space adventure. My hope is that somehow we can engineer a marketing campaign that not only ignites even more interest by the corporate world in the superiority of Linux and the community method, but passes along an understanding of what Linux is and what it can do. Windows did not dominate the world's IT infrastructure by being the better OS...it did it by effective marketing. Google wrote good, smart code...but they effectively marketed themselves. Watch how they will market Chrome. We need to do this with Linux.

Now before you claim "Damnit Kryptikos, I'm an engineer not a marketer!" just stop and think about it. It's our job as engineers and developers to guide the starship safely to destinations. We do that by telling the captain what the ship can and cannot do. It's the classic conversation between Scotty and Kirk: "Scotty, you're as good as your word." -- Kirk, "Aye sir, the more they overtech the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain." We need to do a better job of marketing our OS (regardless of distribution...although like everyone I have my favorites) and keeping the business units from overteching. The overteching stops up the drain which then causes the end user to think the starship is not worth its weight. 

Ultimately I think Linux will continue to grow and build muscle. It may be a while before IT shops change out all of the blue screens for the penguin, but with effective marketing and proof of concepts we'll have our little bird at lightspeed in the time it takes Linus to say "Make it so".

Cheers - Kryptikos

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