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From the Desktop: Fishing For the Right Envionment

Transitioning to End Users

  • September 18, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

One thing I'll give the Kids at Redmond--they certainly are a consistent bunch. After a few weeks of watching a lot of the people in the Linux community snipe at each other, they are likely flush with new confidence in the strength of their latest operating system: Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition (ME).

What's that, you say? Never heard of Windows ME? Join the club. Not since Microsoft Bob has a product launch from Redmond been so limply received by retailers. It's barely stocked in my local computer store--compared to the launch of Windows 95 and 98, when every shelf in the store was covered with sky-blue boxes (interestingly enough, the local store had more boxes of Linux distributions than WinME). WinME is showing up on pre-loaded boxes, of course, so it will slowly enter the PC market, but not with any real speed, that's for sure.

This is not exactly the best forum for making this announcement, I'll grant you, but it can be held in contrast to some upcoming releases that will make the pulse of any Linux enthusiast quicken: Red Hat Linux 7, KDE 2, and most importantly of all, the upcoming 2.4 kernel. In fact, this news is creating a much bigger stir in the general PC populace than in recent years. The reason? Right or wrong, the public perception of Microsoft is of a company that has gone as far as it can go. Linux, it can further be said, is the Next Big Thing--the technology on its way up.

But up to where? What, pray tell, is the ultimate goal of the Linux operating system? For, if we are not careful, Linux could follow Microsoft's example and become a static, bloated entity, waiting for the Next Big Thing to come along and kill it.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe

The recent announcement that Linux would be examined as an entry into the world of enterprise computing is certainly one direction that Linux can go. I wish the new lab boys well and look forward to following their achievements with great interest.

Likewise I look forward to developments in the world of embedded Linux, where Linux is stripped down to its bare essentials and run quite happily on PDAs and Internet devices.

But the platforms that most interest me are the PC client and server platforms. It is here I believe Linux has the best opportunity for growth. And it is this point most people shake their fingers at me and ask me if I am insane. These two platforms are owned lock, stock, and barrel by Windows, they tell me. There is little to no room for Linux, these doomsayers decry. Better that Linux focuses on some other area to grow into.

Right. Let me tell you something about the universe around us: Nature abhors a vacuum. And a vacuum is just what is going to be left when the general public (especially IT managers with some decision-making power) gets the clue that Linux already offers a stable office/home platform right here and now in a far less costly and less cumbersome package than any form of Windows offered to date.

Once this information reaches the correct threshold of influential users, the Microsoft myth will burst like the balloon it has become--leaving a large space for Linux distributions to fill.

I can say this with a reasonable amount of assurance, because I tend to think of Microsoft as a great white shark. It's big, mean, and will try to devour almost anything in its path. But here's the thing about a great white shark: if it stops, it dies of asphyxiation. Period. And guess who's showing signs of slowing down?

That's the good news.

The bad news is that right now the Linux community offers so many choices for people to take, no one knows quite how to start. The water looks inviting, but you can't tell how deep or cold it is until you close your eyes and jump in. To everyone's collective relief, the water's fine when you get in, but it's still a rough transition to make.

So how do we get the transition to be easier to make?

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