Monday, January 26, 2009

Microsoft debunks Linux myths

Finally Microsoft - in the person of vice-president Jim Allchin, amongst others - speaks the truth. Not because they want to, but because they are forced to. The quotes in this article are taken from the exhibits 7168 and 7175 of the "Comes vs. Microsoft" case, which were published by Roy Schestowitz. Note that these protocols were made in 2002, when Linux was much less mature. The same applies to Windows, of course. It is up to you to decide how much progress each platform has made since then.

Linux is just as expensive as Windows
Cost is a first thing on everyone’s mind right now given the economy and pressure on cost reduction. (..) We really need some here. (..) If the IDC report won’t cut it, then we get another one done. Some customers know that Linux isn’t really free, but we need to help the other customers see this.

Microsoft admits that Linux is cheaper than Windows since it is willing to "investigate" this over and over again until it gets the results it wants. Yes, this was the start of the classic "Get the facts" FUD campaign. It also shows that Microsoft has no scruples whatsoever to buy fake reports or to bribe editors and journalists in order to obtain the publicity it so desperately needs.

Windows is just as capable as Linux
So what I want to know is how, from your perspective, are our products not matching up today; what should we, in your opinion, be doing about it?
Linux is getting in some places based on the fact that customers are trying to scale up and they can’t run applications independently/safely on Windows.
Customers are very smart about the problems (eg., registry issues, lack of support from 3rd parties (..), etc.)
Customers are very disappointed (outright angry!).

Microsoft states several times that their products are seriously lacking in various aspects and Linux is fully capable of filling that gap, since it doesn't have these problems in the first place.

Linux is difficult to use
So is Linux going to be harder? I disagree with you. (..) Click, click, click you’re done. Same thing with Linux.
It’s going to get even easier. It will catch up with utilities and so on. And it’s already there. So I think it’s very close to being there.

Yes, Microsoft says "Linux is easy"! So, don't take my word for it; ask the "experts"!

Windows is just as secure as Linux
What can we do - what’s the number one problem with Microsoft that you have? Security.
And like I said, there’s nothing we can do to - every time we try to - we got the FBI involved, but our hands are tied.
I mean, it’s not like Linux or Solaris or - you pick your system.

Microsoft acknowledges that Windows has a serious security problem, unlike Solaris or Linux systems. In the same sentence they also debunk the myth that Windows problems are solely due to their marketshare. The funny thing is that they try to "fix" their problems by pursuing the perpetrators. Although that is not a bad idea, it won't make Windows any more secure.

Linux is not a threat to Windows
My conclusion: We are not on a path to win against Linux We must change some things and we must do it immediately.
I have more and more clients asking me about it.
Is it something to worry about? I believe so.
We feel a huge threat from Linux.
I am scared.

Your honor, I rest my case.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Why Windows users are still whiners

"Oh, you Linux lovers are just a bunch of whiners. You can use absolutely zero useful applications on Linux. All useful software is made for Windows, and a little bit for Macs. Linux is dragging along cause of Java and its servers uses. But seriously, get over it. Why not waste your time making the Linux experience better rather than whining like babies about how no one wants to use your supposedly almighty and all purposeful Linux."

Just an ordinary comment on an ordinary website, less than a year ago. This is the sort of comment we, Linux users and developers have to put up with each and every time. Linux is useless, just a toy, no applications worth mentioning. So how have I survived the last ten years, how did I get my work done? Those trolls claim I've been using the CLI! I've surfed the web using Lynx, used Mutt to read my email and typed raw LaTeX in Vi. I've installed Linux by endlessly editing /etc files, writing my own device drivers and compiled and tweaked the kernel until it fit.

This kind of FUD (some use the term SOFUD, "same old FUD") is used until this day. And as usual, we should sit back and relax. Well, not on my watch, so I decided to write "Windows users are whiners". This article repeats the same FUD all over again and provides some arrogant answers to settle this once and for all. It says "Dear developers, you've done an excellent job. It's not your fault people don't want to change. People don't want to change because they want an effortless transition". Because changing Operating Systems takes some effort. You may have to convert or edit some content. Hell, sometimes you even have to recreate or reformat content. If you don't want to do that, that's alright with me, but don't blame it on the system. Linux will never be a Windows clone. If you want a Windows clone, wait for ReactOS.

It is not very hard to find any Windows related pages where Linux is bashed and the same old FUD is repeated until your head hurts. What surprised me even more when I researched this article is that there are enough pages where Windows proponents are bashing each other with the same vigor as Linux. If you don't migrate to Vista or Windows 7, you are a whiner, because your complaints are just not real. You're obviously doing something wrong, using bad hardware or using bad drivers, because this masterpiece Microsoft has produced cannot be blamed for your problems.

If that is the attitude you have towards your peers, what will you do to your opponents? So next time you want to take the moral higher ground ask yourself this question: what have you done to earn that position?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Your average Joe Tuxpack

Since when are you a Linux user?
Since February 2000.

Was it difficult to do your first install?
Not really. I took a day off to install Linux, a dual boot installation with MS-DOS. At the end of the day about 80% of the functionality I needed was covered by Linux. Nowadays it is much easier to install Linux. It essentially installs itself. It recognizes your hardware and installs the appropriate drivers.

Did you especially select your hardware for Linux?
Partially. Nowadays I do some research before I buy my hardware. Better prevented than cured.

Was there hardware you never got to work with Linux?
A parallel port scanner.

Did you have any prior knowledge of Unix?
Yes, I had worked with Unix before. It helped only a little, since there are so many other concepts connected with Linux. The only moment it was really valuable is when I connected an old Wyse-50 terminal to the serial port.

Have you ever compiled a kernel?

Have you ever written a device driver?

Have you ever compiled a device driver?
Yes once, for a floppy based tape drive. I can't help it, I like old, exotic equipment.

Have you ever compiled an application?
Yes. ./configure; make; su; make install. Extremely difficult. Not.

Does every application have to be compiled this way?
No. When you've done a fresh install of a reasonably new distribution you can pretty much get any application over the net using a GUI. Just tick what you need. The package manager will get the applications you require, resolve all dependencies automatically and install them. You don't even have to click a "Continue" button. If the application is not available, yes, then you have to follow the procedure I described. After about two years your distribution is usually no longer supported, which means newer versions of your applications are not available. You have to follow the same procedure if you want to install them.

Can't you upgrade?
Yes, but it is not without risks. I prefer not to change a running system. Others do a reinstall of a newer distribution. It is a personal preference.

Are you a proficient programmer?
I'm pretty good at C and Forth. I can do some shell scripting, some PHP, some HTML. I can figure out what is going on in most programming languages.

Linux is a FOSS system. Do you have your own projects?
Yes, I have an active project called "4tH". It is a bytecode Forth compiler. I have other projects too, but I haven't updated them in a long time.

You are pretty much a FOSS person. Do you hate Microsoft users?
No!! I've been providing versions of "4tH" for MS-DOS and MS-Windows since the start of the project. I've also created a MS-Windows port for the Arena project. The great majority of FOSS projects support MS-Windows, like KDE4, Gnome, etc. Fortunately, because I use them myself. Note there are FOSS initiatives like Wine, ReactOS and Linux Unified Kernel which most FOSS users do not object at all.

What is your Windows experience?
Personally, I've used Windows up to Windows 98. That is, within a virtual machine, but that seems to count nowadays. Native, I've used Windows up to Windows 3.11. For work, I use Windows every day. The latest version I've used is Windows XP.

Do you hate Microsoft?
I don't hate Microsoft, but I think I speak for many FOSS users if I say we would feel better if its grip on the industry is significantly diminished. Microsofts business practices have been questionable at best and illegal at times. But please don't use the word "hate" anymore. What we feel is an objection, not an emotion.

Are there times you require Microsoft products?
Yes, when absolute compatibility with proprietary MS formats is required, e.g. PowerPoint. Most of the time OpenOffice handles those requirements very well. Internet Explorer runs on Linux.

How much time do you spend on the CLI?
Me, quite a lot. But I do that on both Linux and Windows. My girlfriend hasn't seen a CLI in all her life, including her Linux life.

Is Linux really much more secure than Windows?
Absolutely. People say it is because Linux is such a small target, Windows having a 88% marketshare, but that is just not true. That's just another myth Windows proponents play out each and every time. Compare it to Firefox. Firefox is not a small target, but it is much more secure than Internet Explorer.

What is the biggest hurdle to move to Linux?
The biggest hurdle is that you have to learn everything all over again. You have to learn how to use OpenOffice, GIMP, Apache, Linux, etc. Not everyone is prepared to do that.

Is there something you can't do with Linux?
Video editing is still a minor issue, but everything else can be done with Linux. Note that I compile and package my 4tH compiler under Linux. Those packages have never seen an MS-DOS or MS-Windows machine until you install them.

What do you like about Linux?
It's stabile, predictable, great uptime, wonderful latency, a beautiful, state-of-the-art GUI, no DRM and the license is more than reasonable. That's why I decided to convert all my shareware programs to FOSS. It is my way to give something back to the community. I feel that is better than just to provide return to shareholders.

What do you recommend to Windows users who want to convert to Linux?
Start using FOSS applications. There are plenty of those available for Windows. Use Firefox, OpenOffice, GIMP, Dia, LyX, they're all free of charge. The next time you're faced with buying a new system, buy one that has Linux preinstalled or no OS at all. That will save you at least $100 in unused Windows licenses. You can get Ubuntu disks free of charge or you can download the distribution of your choice from the web. It will have all the applications you need or you can download them from the web.

People might find it difficult to choose a distribution.
I know there are so many to choose from. Safe choices are Fedora, (K)ubuntu and OpenSuSE. There is plenty of support for those. That doesn't mean others are "bad", on the contrary.

What desktop should I choose?
Most users use KDE or Gnome. Again, that doesn't mean others are "bad". Personally, I'm a KDE 3.5.x user. If you choose one environment you still can use applications that are written for another desktop environment, e.g. I use Dia and GIMP although they are written for Gnome.

What if I run into a problem?
Use Google! If you still can't figure it out, you can contact the numerous forums and newsgroups there are for these distributions.

I gladly want to switch to Linux, but there is this single application I need to have.
Try to get it to run under Wine. If not, you can always install QEMU or VirtualBox.

Something else?
We don't bite. We just get irritated sometimes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Windows 7 party pooper

Party pooper
- A person who ruins a party by stopping the fun.

Yesterday I published "Why Linux makes Windows 7 obsolete" . In the meanwhile, I've moderated all comments and the storm seems to have died down. So far it has gotten 22 sometimes lengthy comments and at least two feeble attempts to debunk the story, here and here. Sorry, I couldn't resist the temptation to comment these as well.

I haven't blogged that much lately. Sure, I scanned the headlines every day. KDE4 is coming around nicely, Mono isn't getting anywhere (fortunately), Compiz is still the cutting edge window manager, Vista is getting battered by the press all the time, Linus is doing what he does best, that is making great kernels, what is there to blog about?

And then all of a sudden, Microsoft is rushing out a "new" OS, giving it a new name in the hope people won't associate it with the Vista disaster. Yawn. Rob Enderle, a known ally of the Microsoft Corporation, thinks it is the best invention since sliced bread. Yawn. Ron Barrett however, continues the tradition of Byte by declaring Linux dead. We will all ditch our perfectly good working Linux machines and start an exodus to the promised land of Microsoft, led by the (false) prophet Steve Balmer.

Bad call. Sander Marechal of LXer picks up the story, calls it "the FUD of the week" and dares somebody to top that. Well, I'm not quite sure I interpreted this correctly, but I decided to pick up the glove. In the late hours of January 11th, I hacked together my own piece of FUD and posted it on LXer and Linux Today. It didn't take very long until the first comments came in. In the course of the day it quickly became the best read story of January 12th on both websites.

Okay, that was quite funny and we all had a good laugh. But let's analyze what actually happened. In the past, editors of the "major" websites complained they couldn't publish a story on Open Source without being "flamed to hell" by Linux "bigots", "zealots", okay, what else did they call us? It appears that nowadays Windows supporters are just as touchy. Maybe the Vista disaster has caused this change, maybe it was OS/X, I don't know. The point is, they seems to feel they have to defend their choice. That is quite a change from the arrogant attitude they had before. Some even accuse us of being a bunch of elitist snobs!

I don't mind being flamed, that's all in the game. If you don't want to be flamed don't post a story like this. Ron Barrett got flamed too, obviously, including by yours truly. Still, I'm always interested where these comments are coming from and an even more interesting question is: why? I've found there are several reasons for Windows supporters to comment.

Microsoft munchkins
Unfortunately, this seems to become a common, accepted business practice. The Dutch consumer TV show Radar recently complained that their forums are swamped by people who work for the very same company they endorse, posing as legitimate clients. Microsoft has been doing this for a long time, stating that the company should "use the Internet, to heighten the impression that the enemy is desperate, demoralized, defeated". Do not underestimate these guys. Some of them are quite smart and can seriously debunk your story with some clever FUD.

Microsoft dependent individuals and companies
Some of the commenters have a stake in Microsofts success. They own a company that is completely dependent of Microsoft technology or have heavily invested in Microsoft education programs. In short, if Microsoft fails, they are out of a job or their professional value is seriously deminished. That is one of the worst things that can happen to an IT professional and for that reason, they have my sympathy. My professional life does not depend on either Microsoft or Linux, so I will never be able to fully appreciate the choices they have to make. On the other hand, life is always uncertain in the IT industry so it might not be a bad idea to bet on several horses at the same time.

I started off as an application programmer using Dataflex. After that, I had to learn dBase. A few years later it was MS-Access, quickly followed by PHP. ITIL is having its third iteration and there are other frameworks like CMMI, ASL, BiSL that gain acceptance. Keeping up is retaining your market value. That's why it is important not to close your eyes for the changing market and cling desperately to one single technology.

The lame and the whining
These are individuals who grew up with MS-DOS, moved to Windows 3.1, queued for Windows 95 and applauded the coming of Windows XP. They gradually acquired their knowledge of the Windows platform and don't want to be bothered with a new Operating System or new applications. The Windows way is the only way and anything else is "alien". The "package management" discussion is a good example. They are irritated by all these people who want to move them to a new platform. Some may have tried Linux, ran into some minor problem and didn't care to put the same effort into solving it as they would when they had encountered a Windows problem.

The ignorant
These are the least vocal Windows users. They probably bought a PC with Windows preinstalled and don't even have a clue that you can install a new Operating System. These are the people who return their computer for repair because Windows failed for the simple reason that they cannot tell the software from the hardware. If you burn down Windows you actually tell them they bought a bad computer. These people are the real moneymakers for Microsoft and would seriously benefit from a preinstalled Linux, although some of them put great effort into learning how to use the computer and feel uncomfortable with an unfamiliar Operating system. They are not the enemy, folks!

I do not claim this list is scientific or exhaustive, people may have a multitude of reasons to flame, but these are some patterns that are emerging. Another lesson that is learned is that Linux is no longer the underdog. Sure, people are still repeating some of the old Linux myths, but those are so easily debunked that most don't bother.

Every new distribution release is easier to install than the previous one, supports more hardware and brings more eyecandy. After the Vista disaster, it is harder to maintain that Linux does not support sufficient hardware. Compiz proved that Linux comes with a very beautiful GUI and we're not typing commands in a shell all the time. Sure, Linux users tend to like the CLI, but that is a preference, not a prerequisite. At work, I use Windows XP all the time and one of the windows that is featured on my desktop is a MinGW shell. This forced Windows proponents to say that they "don't need no stinking cube". I wondered what they would have said when it had been the other way around..

Most Windows proponents are particularly sensitive to WGA and UAC. These are particularly weak points of any Vista installation. The FOSS business model does not require a WGA and the functionality of UAC is elegantly woven into the basic design of Unix. Another point is that Linux is free (as in beer) and you have to add a lot of functionality to make it worth to fork out your cash and move to a closed source platform.

Most educated Windows users I courteously meet IRL always feel they have to excuse themselves for using Windows. Linux is increasingly becoming the talk of the town, something you have to try for yourself sometime.

That is a good thing. Bashing Windows on the web is good, because we as a community still have defend ourselves against vicious corporate attacks like "Get the facts" campaigns, but IRL it is not the most successful strategy. Note there are always good reasons for individual persons to use Windows, not every convert is a victory.

We still have to fight many battles on many fronts in order to achieve world domination, but on the publicity front we're not doing bad, as "Why Linux makes Windows 7 obsolete" has proven. It has been an interesting social experiment. You think I shouldn't have? The other side doesn't agree.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Linux makes Windows 7 obsolete

"My conclusion: We are not on a path to win against Linux. We must change some things and we must do it immediately."

Jim Allchin, Microsoft Corporation

Okay it is no secret that Vista has not been able to crack the desktop, either at the home or at the workplace. Not to ignored either is that Linux won some desktops last year (a little over 3%), but let’s not rejoice just yet, Windows still owns over 88% of all the desktops according to leading research. But that may change very quickly. Recently the numbers on Internet Explorer came out. We're getting pretty close to a fifty-fifty shootout between Microsoft and the rest of the browsing crowd.

Yes, Vista has been real good for OS/X and Linux. We saw growth figures of several hundred percents. And no, for those of you who think I was born on a Wyse terminal, I grew up with the Sinclair Spectrum, the PDP-11 and MS-DOS. It was working for a decade in this line of work when I typed my first commands on a VT-100 terminal. BTW, I still got a Wyse-50 terminal connected to my main Linux computer, because I can't do without a console.

To real Linux die hards.. terminals rule. Microsoft has realized at last that the serious Administrator needs the usefulness of using command line input to accomplish tasks. Windows Powershell has introduced cmdlets to improve administration of Windows. That means it has taken Microsoft over thirty years to realize that a real system administrator needs something more than a CLI that has been written by a drunk COBOL programmer on a piece of toilet paper while visiting the bathroom. It is sad to say, but whatever Microsoft forks out, it can never equal the awesome power of a Unix shell. Although tweaked and perfected, the Unix shell has virtually stayed the same. After thirty years Microsoft finally understand the only way to perfect their out-dated MS-DOS batch processor is to discard it altogether.

The argument for ages was Linux was free and so was many of the applications you run were actually developed for Linux. Applications like Firefox, Open Office, MYSQL, GIMP.. Now all these applications are now available for Windows, although they're still easier to install on Linux. Just open your favorite package manager, click the appropriate applications and on you go. In November 2008 PC World made a list of the things they would like to see in Windows. One of the things they mentioned was.. package management! Yes, it's true. Most Windows converts miss their installation packages. The truth is, it is far more easier to mark all the packages you want, let the package manager figure out all dependencies and install them all in one go. That it is not perceived as a superior way of package management is because they are not accustomed to it. Now, all that and a zero price tag. Which OS would you choose? Not to mention that I don't have to deal with General Failure, Major Error, Hauptobersturmbahnfuehrer Gates and other spies on my private property.

Let's go back to the eye candy, the mother of OS/X and the father of Vista. Well, most people are simply amazed when I show them this footage and tell them they can have it on their computer too. Yes, if need be you can even have it on your simple netbook. You know, that tiny, inexpensive device that significantly prolonged the life of Windows XP because Microsoft had nothing else that would run on it.

Of course, you still have the same problems with Windows 7 you had with Vista. Probably your old equipment still won't work. WGA, that tiny little program that points out to you that you have bought an illegal Windows version, is still there. His little brother, UAC is there too. Bill, how many times do I have to point out to you that you cannot backfit a feature when it wasn't part of the original design. Oops, I almost forgot to mention that multi megabyte register you have to clean all the time – until it breaks down completely.

As a matter of fact, Microsofts future is squashed between an obsolete Windows XP and a Vista nobody wants. With many home users getting tired to get and maintain the next pirated version of Microsoft Office and many governments moving to ODF I see very dark clouds for Microsofts main cash cows. It may be clear by now that Windows 7 is nothing more than a refurbished Windows Vista. Aero has been polished a bit more, some of the major resource hogs may have been optimized, but all in all it is nothing more than Vista SP2.

Byte declared Unix dead when Windows NT came out. Some 25 years later, Unix is still very much alive.. and kicking! Guys, you have to come with something more dramatic than this makeover to win me over.