November 23, 2004

Linux is doomed?

Author: Joe Barr

Commentary: Frank Ottink, COO at YEALD, recently opined that given Sun's recent moves, the Linux movement is dead and will only recede from its current market position. No, really. It's true. I saw a link to the story on Slashdot. Fortunately for Linux fans, Ottink's opinions seemed to be based on equal amounts of pre-revolutionary and wishful thinking. He may be a great guy, but he definitely doesn't grok free software and what drives it. UPDATED

Let's take a closer look at Ottink's reasoning. He lists five reasons why Linux is doomed. I'll deal with each of them in order.

  • The Solaris software is of proven quality and at least equal or better then Linux and the open source model will assure that it stays up there.

    The first part of this claim may very well be true, but the second reveals Ottink's ignorance of the the free/open source worlds. Perhaps he thinks that a large, vital, worldwide, dedicated group of highly skilled Solaris kernel hackers is going to appear out of nowhere and make it so, simply because Sun has hung the "Open Source" sign out on Solaris 10. Sorry, just making the claim doesn't make it so. To paraphrase a politico: I've met Linus Torvalds, and McNealy is no Linus Torvalds.

  • By making it work with competing hardware platforms, there is no reason anymore to switch software to facilitate lower hardware costs.

    I agree that making Solaris x86 compatible is going to make Solaris more competitive with PC based platforms. At the very least it will mean more users stay with Solaris longer than they would otherwise. But a mass migration away from Linux towards Solaris? That's not a justified conclusion.

  • Sun with Solaris has already a large installed base and by becoming free and open source there is no reason for existing Solaris users to switch to Linux.

    Perhaps not as much reason, but exactly how free and how open will Solaris 10 be? The jury is still out on that. As free as Sun has made Java? Unless it is truly free software, it's not going to get the cachet it needs with open source developers, and without that, it's not going to thrive.

  • Sun has a proven reputation in terms of quality of support. This should be at least as good or better then that of the Linux.

    If quality of support is a wash, that doesn't make a compelling reason to leave one platform for the other, period.

  • Because Sun by default is the only designated party managing the open source software, there will be no risk of a version bonanza with multiple incompatible versions.

    This last argument is simply FUD, but it does once more reveal the superficial level of understanding of open source that Ottink is working from. If Sun is managing the "open source" software, it's not open source, is it?

    There isn't much danger of Windows forking either, but I don't hear too many people calling Windows free and open.

    He should get points for irony, though. A proprietary Unix spreading FUD about the danger of Linux forking? Please.

So on closer examination, there isn't as much meat on Ottink's claims as he might wish. I think it's a safe bet that Linux will survive Solaris 10. A much safer bet than the opposite. In the end, Ottink's thinking misses the mark because he is trying to measure a social phenomenon with economic metrics.

If it's possible for Sun to build a community of kernel hackers who will lavish their care and love on Solaris for the joy of making McNealy money, then Linux is indeed in danger. But short of that rather unlikely turn of events, it's not. Not from Sun Solaris, at any rate.

Let's come back to this in a couple of years and compare the community of Linux kernel hackers with the community of Solaris 10 kernel hackers. If the Solaris "community" is as large, skilled, and productive as the Linux community, I'll eat one of those Red Hats.

UPDATE

In a class move, Frank Ottink has retracted the opinion addressed in this piece. Not as a result of this story, but because he heard from many Linux developers trying to explain what it was he was missing. Read about it here.

Click Here!