Deja Vu

Last month, I expressed boredom with the personal computer. Beyond gigahertz, gigabytes, and wireless, I complained, personal computers sold today look and feel a lot like those sold ten years ago.

Last month, I expressed boredom with the personal computer. Beyond gigahertz, gigabytes, and wireless, I complained, personal computers sold today look and feel a lot like those sold ten years ago.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. Over the past decade, PCs have gotten cheaper while the list of standard features has expanded enormously. Indeed, a veritable supercomputer can be purchased readily for little more than a game console, and previously high-end features have become ho-hum: clock speed, RAM, CD-ROM, CD-R, DVD, polygons-per-second, and wireless, in roughly that order.

Of course, the driving force behind commodity pricing and features is, well, commodity. Demand goes up, availability goes up, and prices come down. What is only affordable or usable by early-adopters becomes status quo.

Interestingly, the path of Linux adoption is following an almost identical course. Initially the darling of only gearheads, Linux spread via word-of-mouth to other species of geek, the academics, the scientists, and those perennial tinkerers, the system administrators. Once loosed in the office, Linux crept into the server room as file, print, and web servers, into the backoffice as an application server, and most recently, onto the desktop for personal use. All the while, hardware was becoming even more of a commodity.

The end result? The combination of commodity software, namely, Linux, commodity hardware, and open standards, is repeating history — not only the history of the personal computer, but also the history of Unix.

So, today, while personal computing is rather staid, enterprise computing is downright tumultuous. Young upstarts are challenging and even toppling incumbents — at least those companies too stubborn to leave entrenched products and business models behind.

You could see David vs. Goliath playing out at LinuxWorld.

I’ve railed on Sun Microsystems enough, but suffice it so say that I expect them to be felled with a plush penguin toy sooner or later.

HP is a Goliath, too, yet even more vulnerable than Sun. Plucky Dell and IBM have far more convincing and capable products at the low- and high-end, respectively, and if it weren’t for printers, ink, and toner (a license to print money?), HP may have teetered already.

Novell is a Goliath on Atkins — or maybe just a contestant on The Swan. In any case, Jack Messman’s extreme makeover of the company is fun to watch. Of course, time will tell if Novell’s “diet” turns out to be “die” with a “t.”

IBM has the size of Goliath, but the footwork of David. Oracle is David and Goliath at the same time — Oracle leads many enterprises to Linux, yet has to defend itself from the rope-a-dope of MySQL “Ali” AB.

And what of Microsoft? It’s everyone’s favorite Goliath — including the governments of many developing and foreign countries, who loathe the idea of being beholden to a monopoly outside of their jurisdiction. Too bad the Goliath in Redmond has $50 billion in cash. David? David who?

In any case, I am pleased to see sparks in the IT industry. To the Goliaths, you can take solace in George Bernard Shaw’s observation, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history,” or you can heed the advice of Santayana, who said “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

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Martin Streicher is the Editor-in-Chief of Linux Magazine.

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