The Quiet Revolution

Some readers have written to me to complain about my negative attitude. Really folks, I'm not down on Linux -- I'm simply cynical about Linux. Of course, I'm cynical about all technology, so that shouldn't alarm anyone.


Some readers have written to me to complain about my negative attitude. Really folks, I’m not down on Linux — I’m simply cynical about Linux. Of course, I’m cynical about all technology, so that shouldn’t alarm anyone.

No operating system, application, chip, or game ever lives up to its hype. You want to know why I actually like Linux? It comes closer to fulfilling its promises than any other operating system I’ve ever used. And folks, when it comes to operating systems, there are very few I haven’t tried.

I cut my teeth on IBM’s MVS operating system; my first “PC” ran CP/M-80; the first LANs I administered ran 3Com’s 3Share, and the first “servers” I worked with were PDP-11/70s running V7 Unix. Since then, I’ve run VAX/VMS, the whole lousy Microsoft family, OS/2, NetWare, Amoeba, pretty much every x86, 680×0, and RISC Unix out there, and a host of operating systems I suspect no one except the developers, some really unhappy customers, and myself remember. What can I say? Some people collect comics — I collect operating systems.

All have left me disappointed to some degree — even Linux. However, Linux is fast, Linux is stable, Linux requires little in the way of system resources, and Linux has a wealth of applications. It also has a low total cost of ownership (TCO). Although I’m fond of today’s BSDs, Linux remains my operating system of choice.

If I were ever hired as the CIO or CTO of a company, every server in the place would be running Linux as the OS, Apache as the Web server, IBM’s DB2 for Linux as the DBMS engine, qmail for the mail server, and IBM’s WebSphere with Sun’s Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) for Web services by the end of my first year of employment. My company probably wouldn’t be all Linux. While I like Linux, what I like most is having the right tool for the right job. For high-end servers, I’d probably run Caldera’s OpenUnix (formerly known as SCO UnixWare), IBM’s AIX, or Sun’s Solaris, depending on the specific task at hand. For firewalls and bastion systems, I’d go with OpenBSD 3.0. On the clients, I’d place Caldera’s OpenLinux WorkStation 3.1 with KDE 2.2.2 retrofitted to it for those who can handle Linux, MacOS X for the creative side of the house, and either Win4Lin 3.0 with Windows 2000 Professional or Windows 98SE for the rest.

Windows? Hey, I’m practical. Like it or lump it, Joe and Jan User in accounting and legal can work with Microsoft Office but will stare at Star Office dumfounded. Sure, they can learn, but in today’s economy, who’s got the money to pay for the time it’ll take them to get up to speed? Give me a solid, positive cash flow for a couple of quarters and I’ll think about weaning them from their “Windoze.”

So, what’s my point? My point is that while this is how I’d set up my imaginary company’s technology infrastructure, real companies are already doing this.

In the past, when people talked about companies moving to Linux, they’d use the one big example of Burlington Coat Factory; other than that, well, there was not much — just a tiny company here, a start-up there, and a bunch of SOHOs. Things are finally changing.

Sources at IBM tell me they have got real customers who are actually deploying — not just thinking about buying — enterprise-critical Linux systems on both the mainframe and x86 platforms. The mid-range iServers, better known as AS/400 minicomputers, and the pSeries servers, formerly the RS/6000 or Power3/4 line, seem to be sticking with native OS/400 and AIX operating systems. Still, the bottom line is that corporate customers are moving to Linux.

Some big companies, like Amazon, are willing to go on record that they are moving some of their backend services to Linux. Although they won’t say exactly what they’re moving to Linux (for competitive reasons, companies are growing increasingly reluctant to reveal what’s actually behind the server room doors), a friend at Amazon IT tells me that it’s serious infrastructure that’s making the move, not just a server here or there.

And it’s not just businesses. China, as most of you already know, has been moving government servers to Red Flag Linux. France and Germany are also moving secure servers to Linux. Why? Because, as Margareta Wolf, Germany’s Minister for Economy and Technology, says, “Security through obscurity is the motto of yesterday. The slogan of today is security through transparency.”

My slogan for today is while I can always find things to be critical about in Linux, both technically and, more importantly, in the marketplace, Linux is coming into its own. And frankly, when compared with other OSes, it deserves to.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is a long-time Unix guru and technology writer. He can be reached at

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