June 25, 2003

The Fud Thickens

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

Along with the SCO nonsense, we're seeing an increase in anti-Linux FUD. Is this a campaign orchestrated by the producers of our favorite near-monopoly proprietary operating system? Or are the FUD-sters simply using the SCO situation as an excuse to spew their venom? Whatever answer you have to these questions, you had better be very polite if you post those answers in a public forum like NewsForge, because if you aren't, at least one industry analyst will take it as proof that Linux is not ready for enterprise use.

In a way, you can't blame the Windows and proprietary software people for fighting as hard as they can against Linux. Their jobs are on the line, and Linux is now the world's fastest-growing operating system.

NewsForge rarely runs "Company X switches to Linux" stories anymore because corporate Linux adoptions are now part of the everyday IT scene, hardly worth noting unless they're in an industry where Linux has not yet made large strides.

As far as Open Source and Free software in general, I doubt that there are many companies and government agencies out there that don't have at least a little bit of it lurking somewhere, even if it's just a few coders running vi or emacs and GCC compilers on their workstations.

Mainstream editorial views of Linux

The Feds Love Linux was about as pro-Linux an article as you're likely to see in a "mainstream" business publication like Forbes. A few days earlier Forbes ran a firmly anti-Linux screed under the title, Why You Won't Be Getting A Linux PC. Forbes has run many stories about Linux lately. On the whole, Forbes' Linux coverage has been more friendly than not.

The most virulent piece of recent anti-Linux FUD that hasn't come directly from the mouths of SCO or Microsoft execs (or their lawyers) was an opinion piece that ran June 18 on InternetWeek.com, written by Forrester Research analyst Rob Enderle, under the headline Linux Is Not Ready For the Enterprise.

One of Enderle's big problems with Linux is that some of its supporters are vehement to the point of obscenity, and often use religion-style "take it on faith" arguments instead of facts. He apparently doesn't see some of the pro-Microsoft, anti-Linux comments posted on NewsForge and Slashdot.

If supporters' vociferousness and flamosity are valid measures of an operating system's enterprise readiness, Windows is obviously less enterprise-ready than Linux (or Mac OS X). Why, Steve Ballmer alone has shown as much anti-Linux vitriol as all the pro-Linux, anti-Microsoft zealots who read NewsForge and Linux.com put together.

Enderle promised to write an InternetWeek.com screed about Microsoft soon, and said it would be no gentler than his Linux statements. Maybe (and I don't blamne him) he's simply tired of loud yowling instead of rational arguments from the most vocal proponents of all operating systems.

There's plenty of FUD out there beyond the few examples I just mentioned. A lot of it revolves around SCO and legal questions, although I believe most of it is just the same old background noise we've been hearing for years, suddenly getting more notice because of the SCO caper.

But for every piece of FUD, there are at least half a dozen pro-Linux or "Open Source now accepted/promoted by [fill in here]" stories being written and distributed by tech publications, the business press, and by mainstream "general interest" media.

The problem is, to you and me the negatives stick out and draw our attention. We don't see them the same way as people who have used nothing but Windows and proprietary software for their entire computing lives and are now thinking, "If Microsoft and all these other fat-cat software companies are so scared of this open source thingie, maybe I ought to check it out. My company's software maintenance costs have been going through the roof lately, and every upgrade seems more expensive than the last, and every one seems to require expensive new hardware. If open source can get me off this damn IT price treadmill, I'll go for it no matter what that Microsoft spokeperson said in [big-time business publication] last week."

Remember, there have been plenty of stories published in the last year with headlines like this one: Microsoft Memo: Some Anti-Linux Messages Backfire.

Here's a quote from the above article:

"Messages that criticize OSS, Linux, & the GPL are NOT effective," the memo reads. "Messaging that discusses possible Linux patent violations, pings the OSS development process for lacking accountability, attempts to call out the 'viral' aspect of the GPL, and the like are only marginally effective in driving unfavorable opinions around OSS, Linux, and the GPL, and in some cases backfire."

A concrete example of a criticism backfiring involved TCO. According to the memo, "When read what was supposed to be a negative OSS message about OSS and proprietary software having a similar TCO, nearly half (49 percent) of all respondents said that having heard this message they were now MORE FAVORABLE towards OSS

(The full text of the quoted Microsoft "Halloween" memo can be found here.)

Note that the statement from Microsoft about the ineffectiveness of, "Messaging that discusses possible Linux patent violations, pings the OSS development process for lacking accountability," etc., was written long before the SCO comedy/drama hit the airwaves.

I'm going to keep using Linux, thank you

I almost called this commentary As the FUD Turns in honor of the endless CBS soap opera, As the World Turns, because FUD has been going on since Linux first started getting popular, and is likely to increase in both quantity and shrillness as Linux gets even more popular in coming years.

I expect Microsoft and all the people who make a living writing SQL server calls and Active-X bits and using other Microsoft-only programming and server tools to fight against Linux and other Free and Open Source software. It's a natural reaction to competition. I expect them to lobby against government use of this new style of software development, and to try to retain their cushy contracts.

Do you think the petroleum industry, internal combustion engine makers, and gas stations operators would all go quietly into the night if, tomorrow, workable room-temperature fusion power plants small enough to fit in cars suddenly hit the market?

Have you studied enough history to have encountered the many laws that restricted early automobiles, including the ones in several jurisdictions that (I am not making this up) required a man with a red flag to walk in front of every car to alert people to the oncoming danger?

The horse and buggy industry was strong and had plenty of friends in high places when automobile production began. And it fought against those smelly, noisy, horse-scaring contraptions with lobbying, campaign contributions, and plenty of what we now call FUD.

Note that you don't see a lot of horses being used as day-to-day transportation in American cities today. Also note that, FUD aside, you see more and more Linux being used by more and more companies, government agencies, and individuals every month, and more serious media attention being paid to Linux now than ever before.

Linux is here to stay. FUD won't make it go away.

(You may want to chant this a few times at your next LUG meeting.)

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