October 29, 2014

Spooky Linux Urban Legends

zombie arm Flickr creative commons

Outside the window, I see nothing but night -- no movement, no light -- as if the universe simply ceased to exist outside these thin walls. The sound, though… the sound was there to remind me of the world that I could not see. The howl of the wind through the forest, the trees around our little cabin scratching and clawing at the rooftop.

“Daddy?”, a soft voice whispered from behind me.

“Hey, kiddo. What are you doing out of bed? Did you have that bad dream again?”

I picked up my son and held him tightly in my arms. “Uh-huh,” he uttered, rubbing his eyes. “The bad man told me that Linux has a higher Total Cost of Ownership when compared to proprietary software offerings.”

We’ve all been there, little guy. Don’t listen to the bad man.

To help you sleep better tonight, I’m going to list off some of the scariest things that mean old bad guys say about Linux… and show you why those guys are just being big, FUD-spreading booger-heads.

Linux is Communism!”

This seems to be one of the favorite pastimes of a few previousexecutives at Microsoft -- to try to fit the words “Linux” and “Communism” in the same sentence as often as possible. I assume there’s a scoreboard, somewhere in Redmond, keeping track.

There’s only one teensy, tiny flaw in comparing “Open Source” and “Linux” to “Communism”: It’s about as real as dressing a dogupasaspider. Sure, it’s big and scary and looks like a spider… but it’s still just a big, cuddly dog (that takes up most of the bed at night).

One of the cornerstones of Communism is the concept of “commonownership”. Which is, distilled to its simplest form, a way of saying “nobody owns anything -- and everybody owns everything”. The obvious implication, when connecting this ideology with Linux and Open Source / Free Software is that, in the Open Source model of software development… nobody owns anything. Thus, clearly, destroying one's ability to control, and generate revenue from, a piece of software.

Fortunately, this isn’t the case. Not at all. Here’s a few quick “fun facts” that immediately destroy any idea that there’s a link between Communism and Linux:

1) The license being used by Linux (the GPL) allows for software to be copywritten. If someone writes a piece of software, they own the copyright to the code they wrote.

2) You can sell Linux if you want to -- in fact many companies do. The only real requirement is that, if you do, you also need to make any changes to the source code of Linux also available to your customers. Not to the whole world (if you don’t want to)… just to your customers.

3) Linux (and Free and Open Source software in general) is depended on, and monetized by, a large number of companies around the world. SUSE, Canonical, Red Hat, Samsung, HTC, Google, Amazon, Microsoft (that’s right, even Microsoft)… the list goes on and on and on.

The truth is remarkably clear. Linux is like lighter fluid on the fire of Capitalism.

Side Note: Part of the problem here is in the name: “Free Software”. Note that the “F” is capitalized and “Free” doesn’t actually mean “free” as in “I got some stuff that I didn’t have to pay for!”. I know. That’s a little confusing and has been a bit of a marketing and image problem for many years (blame thisguy). Luckily that’s all it is… just a naming issue.

Linux is a cancer!”

Microsoft’s CEO (at the time), Steve Ballmer, oncesaid that “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches”.

The basic assertion is that, if you use Open Source software, licensed under the GPL, then all of the software you work on (or your organization works on) must now also be licensed under the GPL. Man. That would be pretty insidious! If that were the case, the GPL wouldspread faster than that virus is that causes the zombie apocalypse.

Luckily for us this simply isn’t the case. You can build closed source software that runs on Linux, including Linux Kernel drivers. No problems there.

There’s a big list FrequentlyAskedQuestions on the GPL that covers all the nitty gritty. But, in a nutshell, the GPL is far less invasive, and far less of a problem, than the imminent zombie apocalypse.

Linux has a higher TCO!”

TCO. TotalCostofOwnership. The idea that the true cost for something can only be determined when looking at all factors (including costs outside of purchasing/licensing said thing) over time. A simple, and obvious, notion.

Well, Microsoft has made a point, over the years, of claiming that Linux -- despite, often, being free of cost to begin using -- has a higher TCO than Windows. They’ve paidforstudies that haven’t quite added up in order to support this claim as well.

And then there’s the following quote, fromthis rather infamous internal Microsoft email, that is rather damning:

“We MUST get a TOC study done… If the IDC report won't cut it, then we get another one done.” - Microsoft VP, Jim Allchin.

Ah, that age-old strategy. If you don’t like any of the existing studies… pay for someone to write a new study that you will.

The long and short of it? Linux has a lower TCO. That’s true today just as it was true adecadeago.

Just ignore the big, mean man.

The truth is, Linux -- and the ecosystem of Free and Open Source software around it -- isn’t perfect. Heck, I regularly giveLinuxahardtime for its shortcomings, myself. But the reality is… it’s absolutely fantastic for both end users and companies building software/hardware solutions alike.

Even Microsoft, a company whose leadership made so many anti-Linux claims, has come around on Linux. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, recently made the rather direct declaration that “MicrosoftlovesLinux” -- and the company supports multipleLinuxdistributions on their Azure cloud platform. A company that was one of Linux’s harshest critics has now embraced the Open Source operating system as a key part of its business. If that’s not a ringing endorsement for Linux and Open Source… I don’t know what is.

And, perhaps most importantly, Linux is certainly not a Communist-spreading zombie-disease with a high total cost of ownership. So sleep tight, kiddo… we've banished the boogie-man.

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