September 14, 2002

Commentary: Windows to a Linux world

-By Adam Doxtater -

OK, I can go on all day about how Linux is so great, can't get enough, wish everybody would convert, etc., but I'm not going to bore you with that. I'm sure you are all
aware of the multitude of reasons that Linux is your OS. I don't
need to waste your time telling you things you already know. What I
do want to discuss is the reasons Linux fails as an OS replacement to
Microsoft's offerings.

Linux, by design, was not meant to interoperate with Microsoft's proprietary trash code. This simple fact inhibits it from getting anywhere in the mainstream market. To tell you the truth, I kind of enjoy it being an underground OS, but its time is coming, and we all know it. It has gathered too much attention and too much corporate support to turn
back now.

What Linux developers need to focus on is Windows interoperability. If we can get this OS to work reliably with Microsoft code, Linux will stand a greater chance of survival, and if Linux survives, it means that more and more money will filter
down the ranks. That's what it's all about, isn't it? Money. Green. Bread. Pesos. Compensation. We all want to get paid for the blood, sweat, and tears we put into our projects, and once Linux hits the mainstream, the demand will be there to support
it financially.

I understand that this is a difficult task to undertake, since Microsoft has a titanium
chastity belt around their proprietary code, but I know it can be done. I firmly believe in the Trojan horse theory here; Linux is not the horse itself, but the warriors inside of it. The proverbial horse in this scenario is actually the look, feel, and
interoperability of the OS. Windows admins and end-users (is there
really any difference?), by nature, are timid creatures that do not
like to venture outside the walls of their cozy, fuzzy, cute little
operating system. With our Linux warriors waiting inside of the
dolled up friendly horse, they stand a better chance of coaxing the
Windows folks out to play.

Let's look at a couple of key features and issues that need to be addressed:

Networking -- Samba has bridged most of the gap here, but there is so
much more to do. For instance, a GUI-based administration utility that could provide a means for everyday Windows admins to easily set up shares and set their respective permissions. Such a utility should also provide for user and group administration. You get the idea. Basically, your typical Windows admin should be able to pick
it up and use it without having to dig through man files to figure it out. The same type of application should be made available for end-users to map drives and share files with fellow user and/or co-workers. When it comes down to it, think of Network Neighborhood and its functionality. Lycoris Desktop/LX is coming close to this
functionality at the time of this writing.

Office productivity suite -- Sun StarOffice and OpenOffice.org are
a couple of supreme choices. Though they are almost 100% compatible with Microsoft's alternative, they still lack some necessary features and are considerably slower on launch. The average PC user does not have that much patience, no matter how free the product is. Once again, the overall success of such software is going to be measured by its usability and operability with Windows-driven software.

Email -- One important piece of the productivity suite is email; hence the need for its own paragraph. Microsoft Outlook outweighs all of the competition on the desktop in this category also, and it is one of the most critical goals to gain complete functional duplication. Without it, your suites will amount to nothing.

As of this moment there is only one client available that even comes close: Ximian Evolution. The developers at Ximian know what makes the corporate world tick: email. Not only is the email functionality there, but the calendar, tasks, contacts, and various other facets of the program function, feel, and look like Outlook. The
only thing lacking is the ability to natively import and/or make use of PST and PAB files directly from Outlook. Once this feature is in place, Evolution can also be taken seriously. Don't get me wrong; I use Evolution myself, but I also know what it will take to turn heads and change minds in the corporate world.

Desktop appearance and control -- The desktop environment should
match a Windows desktop as closely as possible. This includes look and feel of icons, context menus, "start" menu system, and mouse behavior. Control of these items and their corresponding preferences should be easily accessible through the use of a
configuration utility similar to the Windows Display Properties interface. KDE, Gnome, and Ximian have already made great strides in this area. I am not implying that Linux needs to be "dummied up," but that needs to be an option. Believe me; I like Linux
just the way it is. Maybe Red Hat or Mandrake can offer "Windows
User at the Wheel" as one of the install options where you are asked to choose your install type.

Standardization -- Without a standardization of Linux, all of this is just
frosting and no cake. I fully understand and support the concept and functionality of the Open Source community, but a standard has to be realized. Let's face it, there are too many distributions running amuck out there without a common thread binding them, short of the kernel they run on. The Linux Standards Base (LSB), located
at http://www.linuxbase.org, is the current location for all that is standard in the Linux world. LSB's scope of standards include (from its white papers): libraries, system commands, filesystem hierarchy, system
initialization process and scripts, POSIX compliance, plus glibc extensions, sockets, X11, basic software installation, and object file format. When LSB's goals are realized, all code that adheres to its standards will be assured of cross-platform and
cross-distribution compatibility without hindering or impeding the
advances and innovations in the Linux community. What this all means
is that an application written for Red Hat, for instance, will run
on other distros such as Mandrake, Turbolinux, etc. With that said,
it will no longer matter how many distributions are out there, as
long as they can all read and write the same standard.

That, folks, is everything in a nutshell. There are other concerns that I
have, but none as great as the ones I have mentioned in this article.
I cannot stress the importance of Windows compatibility enough. It is
job Number 1 as far as I am concerned, and you should make it top priority.
If we are to conquer the Windows world, there is no other way.

Speaking in terms of money once again, your future depends on it. As
time goes by, you will start seeing Windows administrators being
replaced by Linux sysadmins around the world, and the only way to
survive in this field is to stay on top of the game.

To keep it etched in all of your minds, remember these three simple
words:

  • Imitate -- We must first identify the enemy and do the best to
    blend in with the crowd, no matter the cost. Look, act, and operate
    just like the natives.

  • Infiltrate -- Penetrate deep into their ranks and replace the code
    line by line. Replace operating systems machine by machine until
    there are no more left to replace. Annihilate the enemy.

  • Dominate -- Sit back and relax, my Linux friends. You own the world,
    and the future.

Category:

  • Open Source
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