February 7, 2001

2.4 kernel: The desktop revolution happening far away from here

Author: JT Smith

- by Jack Bryar -
Open Source Business -
While most of the Western press coverage of Linux 2.4 has been
focused on the kernel's support for the enterprise, there's plenty of
stuff for the individual PC user. But if 2.4 eventually spawns a
revolution on the desktop, that revolution will likely take place a
long distance away from the media spotlight.

A lot of times the most important news isn't reported. There are no
press conferences. No officials speak. No flack sends out "news"
releases. It just happens.

That's likely to be the case for the biggest part of any surge in
Linux-for-the-desktop generated by the 2.4 kernel. The momentum won't
be traceable by the number of corporate announcements. It will be hard to
find in your local newspaper.

The reason is that the biggest surge in Linux use for the desktop
isn't going to happen in the United States, or Canada, or Europe. It's going to
happen in places like Jakarta, Indonesia, and Mumbai, India. And the
reason for this has less to do with the improvements in 2.4 than recent
actions by that company in Redmond.

Throughout the Third World, as elsewhere, Microsoft dominates.
Windows, particularly Win95, is the desktop standard. And MS Office is
a de facto standard there as elsewhere. This has been small comfort to
Bill Gate's bookkeepers. For years most of the copies of Microsoft
software found in countries like India, South Africa, Russia, and the
Philippines were bootleg. Even companies that legitimately purchased
their copies of Windows and Office routinely copied the software on all
their machines across their enterprises.

But no longer. Win95 is being phased out, not because of a lack of
demand, but because Microsoft, faced with a bootleg problem and
consumer resistance to new versions of the operating system is shutting it down. The company will no longer sell the product. Support for Win95 will cost you extra.
The newest version of Office, version 10, won't run on Win95. This
is may be a sore point in places like the United States but in poorer countries
that rely on older hardware, it's an outrage.

Even more annoying to many small companies, the new Microsoft
offerings won't let users use the product on multiple machines.
Microsoft's euphemistically named "Product Activation Technology'' is
designed to limit the number of times a copy of software can be
installed. The result is that many small-to-midsize companies in
less developed countries will have to face the true cost of Microsoft
products for the first time.

Or switch platforms.

The business press in many parts of the Third World have been
suggesting that businesses should do just that. For example, a recent
article in The Jakarta
(Indonesia) Post
virtually pleaded with it's readers to use Linux,
and in an extraordinary column, the writer essentially admitted
staffers had been "sharing" their Windows products across multiple machines, but no
more. The
author had switched to StarOffice
.

He won't be alone. Elsewhere in the Third World, there's an even stronger bias toward Linux.

In South Africa, The Daily Mail &
Guardian
gave Win2000 a tough
review
last spring, and suggested users might want to consider
Corel's Linux distribution as an alternative.

In Taiwan, the government has gotten so serious about Linux
that the country's Industrial Development Bureau established
a task force
to promote Linux use. The reasons? Cost reduction, and
the fact that Linux was Open Source allowed developers of Internet
appliance and PDA devices to get a head start developing software code.
So far 40
companies
have formed a Linux-promoting association. One issue: application software incompatibility. In mobile-crazy Taiwan, consumers complained that they
couldn't transfer files from their PCs to their PDAs. But instead of
migrating their portable devices to Windows CE, customers said that
they were considering moving their applications and their PCs to Linux.

Of all the countries in the third world, perhaps the most hostile to
Microsoft has been India. Bill Gates has been savaged in the
press
. When Gates toured India some months ago, he was effectively
stiffed
by much of the country's political and business elite,
despite Gates' extensive and
ongoing
philanthropic efforts directed toward that country.

By contrast, when SuSE Linux opened up an office in Bangalore last
November, the company encountered favorable press coverage in
India
and in many Indian ex-patriot communities across the world,
despite initial embarrassments like setting up a SuSE Indian Web site mostly
in German
. Overall, Linux coverage in India has been almost
universally positive
. And SuSE, like other Linux firms, has
encountered strong support among Indian computer users. The company has
evangelized Linux through computer user groups and by initiatives such
as "installation parties" where the operating system was installed on dozens of
computers simultaneously.

In India, as is the case in much of Third World, local area networks
are far less common than in the States or Europe. So the interest in
Linux is far more centered on the desktop and on smaller less expensive
portable devices than is the case in the states. As a consequence,
developments in the 2.4.1 kernel affecting the home PC, and
desktop-focused projects like GNOME, are far more likely to resonate in
Delhi than Dallas.

Linux has its problems in the Third World. The tech communities tend
to be smaller, and all of the various installation and set-up problems
that have frightened new, would-be users in developed countries are
serious barriers to widespread adoption here. Just as big a barrier
are issues such as infrastructure. High quality, flat-rate Internet access
may encourage Western users to use online sites to continuously upgrade
their systems as the Linux kernel is tweaked, tested, and refined. This
option is unavailable to users in countries where access is sometimes
patchy, the service is frequently metered, and the price is high.

Still, if Linux "breaks through" on the desktop, it's likely that
the breakthrough will happen on machines in India, Taiwan, Indonesia and
other locations thousands of miles away from Western media
centers.

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