Get On With It

The Wicked Witch is dead! Now, go back to work.

Ding dong! The Witch is dead. Which old witch? The Wicked Witch! Ding dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.

By the time you read this, you’ll likely know that the greatest threat to Linux and open source in its entire history has been vanquished. The Wicked Witch is dead. The dragon has been slain. The Army of Undead has been vanquished. Godzilla has been pushed back into the sea. Enough monster metaphors? Yeah, I think so.

But while the good guys prevailed in this battle, the war is far from over and we’ve been distracted nonetheless. Through fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) the Wicked Witch and her evil minions set us back about three years and surely slowed enterprise adoption of open source.

In the meantime, instead of standardization, we managed to fracture the landscape even more. There is still too much variance between the popular distributions, and despite the best efforts of projects like Portland (http://portland.freedesktop.org) and the Linux Standard Base (http://www.linuxbase.org), we have no unified API between the GNOME and KDE desktops, and lack a common infrastructure to enable cross-distribution application development, respectively.

Sure, we’ve got universal support for stuff like DBUS for interprocess communication (IPC), but have we seen the tangible benefits of it yet? And in the long run, is it really a good idea to devote energy to two different desktop platforms when the effort could otherwise be amassed into one really good one?

Sure, in the last three years, some great things have been accomplished. Ubuntu has become an incredibly popular distribution, and even Dell has started selling Linux-based systems. Red Hat is making significant progress in displacing legacy Unix systems, Fedora remains strong, and SLES and OpenSUSE have also made significant inroads. Debian released Etch, finally.

But for every major milestone I can think of, I can think of a half-dozen things that still require a lot of attention. Let’s start with one of my biggest pet peeves — the Linux desktop. Ubuntu is wonderful and all that, but getting it (and just about any other major Linux distro) tweaked to the point where a Windows or Mac user gets an equivalent is something different entirely. Oh sure, you can install something like Automatix (http://www.getautomatix.com) but as the community recently discovered, it can have long term effects on stability and can literally break your operating system install.

Ubuntu (and effectively all other Linux distributions) doesn’t officially support packages in third-party repositories, and most of the goodies you need to install to make all that fun multimedia stuff work is illegal to use on Linux anyway, including all the cool browser plugins that you need for a rich Internet experience (see “Plug in Your Browser– http://www.linux-mag.com/id/3131/ ”).

And how about our office suites? Sure, OpenOffice.org is a great open source productivity suite, and its usability has improved considerably in the last several years. But I still am reticent to use it to interoperate with Microsoft Office users. Of course, I can import documents just fine from Office, but export a complex Word or PowerPoint file to its native format and expect it to come out looking like the way it started in Office? Fuhgeddaboudit. For all its great user friendly interface and polish, OpenOffice.org is still not a drop in replacement for Office. StarOffice performs import/export better, but not significantly so. We still have a long way to go before switching off Microsoft Office in an enterprise environment.

On the server, we also have a number of things that still need to be addressed. Open source Active Directory integration, while better than it was three years ago, is still not enterprise-quality.

The commercial solutions, such as Centrify and Vintela VAS, are still superior to the Winbind features built into SAMBA and are far easier to configure and administrate. Xen, for all its promise, still lacks the polish and manageability features of VMware, although hope springs eternal that XenSource’s new corporate masters, Citrix, will mold it into a true enterprise-worthy virtualization solution.

However, OpenVZ and the kvm project looks to further fragment the landscape and make true open source virtualization solutions that much less appealing than the commercial alternatives. I also don’t even want to go into the fact that open source and scalable enterprise messaging solutions seem to be mutually exclusive. For all the promise of stuff like Zimbra, OpenExchange, Scalix, and a half a dozen other messaging and communication gateway players, no organization seems truly interested in displacing its Exchange or Lotus Notes infrastructure for something based on open source, because there’s just no clear cut standout in that space.

So yes, my fellow munchkins in Open Source land, the Wicked Witch is Dead. Now, get the hell back to work!

Jason Perlow is disgruntled because his job in the Emerald City was sent offshore to Treasure Island. You can send employment opportunities to class="emailaddress">jperlow@linux-mag.com.

Comments on "Get On With It"


Yes, yes, yes and universal binaries (klik2?).

I think a more appropriate tile might have been “we have met the enemy and he is us”. “Us” being some 362 acive distros followed on DistroWatch.org with 192 on the waiting list. Having choices may be good but too much is well, too much. Consider the effort that goes into the packaging, programing, customizing and releasing all these different versions and what that effort could accomplish if it was focused on a considerably smaller number.


Linux needs the flavors. A single unified linux may be too robust for older machines. Size of hard drives may vary greatly. Personal preferences, command line knowledge, and programming skills vary greatly.

Ubuntu is easiest to upgrade and plays well with others. Mandriva has better hardware support. Suse has the coolest desktop, but doesn’t play well with windows and other distros. Fedora doesn’t play well with other distros, either.

Linux distros need plug and play wireless support and native cross-platform ability.

If Ubuntu can solve the wireless compatibility problems and incorporate cross-platform capability, then Windows won’t continue to share space on my personal machine.


Linux needs fewer flavours. Or it requires a base system with the flavors being add-ons.
In the base system would be the support for technologies such as telecommunications (tcp/ip) and wireless, video, sound, keyboards, printers,

The other than base system would be our choice of KDE, GNOME, or other software.

As far as illegal software, my understanding is that it is not illegal for use, but to distribute, and that latter limitation depends on the country of origin. So, livna, freshrpms and the other sites are offshore from the USA and are perfectly legal in their country. And as far as I know, it is perfectly legal for me to download from these sites.


I don’t agree at all that there are too many GNU/Linux flavors, or that KDE and Gnome should be unified, or that GNU/Linux must necessarily resemble or displace Windows or some other system. Linux works very well. Many, many medium and small companies can use it successfully with only occasional issues exchanging MS files with others. BTW, exchanging MS Office files has always been a problem between MS Office versions anyway. MS hardly is a head and shoulders better alternative.

Diversity and choice are strengths and the raw material of versatility. If you need to be told what to do or need to have one single choice in order to make the right decision, then you are a fool. Linux is not for fools.

Vive la difference!


The whole “open source/whole world included” paradigm is going to be the winner. All this hand-wringing in the present time is unnecessary. When the Big Fold-Up comes (30 hours, 30 years from now) outfits like MS will be living the Big Fold-Up, i.e., non-existent. Hopefully the Internet stays up. Let’s hope computers make it.


Yes, we all need to keep working to make things even better than they are. However, I would suggest to Mr. Perlow that he is looking from an incorrect perspective. If I’m not mistaken the initial premise this editorial is based on is that Linux needs to be more like Windows so that the users won’t notice the difference. This is fundamentally flawed. What we don’t need is a Windows version of Linux. We need to push for open source apps on Windows. When all Windows users are running Open Office the whole compatibility issue is moot.

As for commercial apps being better than their open source counterparts? So what? Let enterprises use VMware or whatever. Xen will catch up, of course, but it’s not a stopping point for deployment.

It doesn’t matter whether there are 500+ distros. A good portion are specialized and already becoming the default for their niches.

I know from first hand experience that the only users that have trouble adapting to Linux on the desktop are the power users. “Normal” users need maybe a week or so to get acclimated. The real impedance to adoption is in the minds of management. And as we all know, management does not like change.

as a side note to belltoller, wireless is extremely easy on any Linux box. You just get an
ASUS WL-330gE Wireless Access Point
, or something similar, and you’ll never have wireless access problems again.


P.S. Who is the Witch and how did she die?


Joe, I’m glad you asked the question about the witch. That part went way over my head. The only OS witch I know is Microsoft and it’s going to take more than a bucket of water to melt them.

Anyway, the whole point of open source is that it’s a bazaar not a cathedral (credit Eric Raymond). The variety and choice is necessary because what open source is really doing is innovating. The best way to innovate is to just try a whole bunch of stuff and eventually you’ll get something that’s better than what you have.

Open source isn’t about toppling Microsoft or your favorite proprietary nemesis. It’s about innovating. Yes, it’s inefficient and messy and uncoordinated. That’s the point.


If I’m not mistaken the initial premise this editorial is based on is that Linux needs to be more like Windows so that the users won’t notice the difference. This is fundamentally flawed. What we don’t need is a Windows version of Linux.

I’m not saying that Linux should be more like Windows or the Mac. What I’m saying is that people who are migrating from those platforms need their “equivalent functionality” and those equivalent applications and features needs to be as robust and well-designed as their Windows and Mac counterparts, otherwise there is little impetus to migrate to Linux as a desktop platform in the first place


I would have to somewhat agree with Joe, it’s the power users that have trouble not with adapting per se, but with gathering the perfect tool set to work with.
Considering that it took 20 or so years for me to gather that set with “windows/dos” it’s coming quite nicely with Linux if I do say myself and I can definitely wow people with spinning boxes and wiggly semi-transparent windows on my openSuse choice arrived with extensive experimentation (for my style each to their own) Vista has been a liberation from my habit of stagnation.

After all if I have to learn a new way of working why not do it with Linux as least this way I can have it my way, so thanks M$ I’m back to having fun again and I just remembered how much fun learning is.

Flavors, the more the better keep ‘em coming, each of us can have our own, as for “Office” so soon we forget about Lotus Symphony, Word Perfect, and M$ Word and how well they worked together, NOT! so what else is new.

Remember even a “MAC” is a pc. LMAO


Ditto. It’s been a long time since I’ve read an entire article and have come away clueless as to the meaning of the title. Please explain.



The witch I am referring to has its corporate headquarters in Lindon, Utah. :)


The witch I am referring to has its corporate headquarters in Lindon, Utah
Goes to show how most people didn’t give a rat’s ass what SCO did.


From my perspective the big issue with people who scream “standards” and “fragmentation” in the face of diversity is that they tend to overlook the problems that “standards” and uniformity bring. In a diverse forest you won’t hit all trees with one bug, in a mono-culture you can lose the lot in one fell swoop. The diversity of Linux’ with it’s 8 different packaging solutions, 4 ways of doing init, 5 applications to achieve the same goal is one of the reasons that there’s no sh*t-load of viruses for it. The fantastic integration and automation of MS Operating Systems with their Office application, and a unified platform to tie them together is the reason that my word document can send itself to unwilling recipients that it takes out of my outlook address book …

Oh well. Each to their own – diversity and brains to me.


Poking holes in the OS so that anything and everything that wants to install gets in is bad, having a consistent target API is good. Borrowing one of OSS’s primary benefits for this specific point, how fast would security problems with a standard be found when everyone’s paying attention to the same one? A forest of options is security through obscurity. That tends not to work very well.
Ask your nearest web developer what it’s like trying to get an application to users when their systems vary wildly in how they interact with your work. Standards are good. If they are carefully chosen, they don’t have to dictate all that much about the character of the system.



I find the argument that because there’s so much more diversity that Linux is less of a worm or virus target. It’s much more logical to say that because of the Linux/Unix style architecture where applications are treated as applications and not welded into the underpinnings of the OS (and because the OS is Open Source, thus allowing a faster fix turn around time) that it’s more secure, not due to the diversity. You could just as easily say Solaris 10/OpenSolaris is as secure as Linux, or even the BSDs, because they are Open and have a Unix architecture, not because they have diversity.


I was going to say “I find the argument unconvincing there’s so much diversity…” etc.



Would this be the same Ransom I know and Love? Good to see you — and I always thought UnitedLinux was a great idea ahead of its time.


Goes to show how most people didn’t give a rat’s ass what SCO did.

It might go down in history as a threat that never really had any fangs, but it was a huge distraction in time and financial resources, and it had a significant impact on those enterprise environments which had concerns that they too would be litigated or inherit legal problems by moving to Linux. Many environments didn’t care, but a lot did.


SCO the wicked witch? I think not. At best (worst) they were one of the flying blue monkeys.


I think the biggest problem about Linux Distros is the Package Management.
Why MUST exist a management of packages at all?
Take a llok at http://www.gobolinux.org/ and answer: why do we HAVE to have a Package Management?
It is not easier to have a Program directory and put ALL the aplication on it?


viasb: I think that works fine for PDA and other embedded versions of Linux, when you can run an entire application out of a compressed archive (the original Palm OS Garnet does it this way) but for larger desktop OSes it may be impractical to do this.


Like many others you pointed out that many of the “drop in replacements” are not yet ready.

Also, like many others, you have pointed out that OSS world full of choices is confusing.

Nothing new. And of course no solution provided.

I believe in defined API but not unified Desktop/App. Choices are there for to choose. Bad quality of options should not mean that we get rid of choices.

Specially while I beleive that KDE and Gnome must have a common ground and am a big fan of KDE. But never saw Gnome as to be some inferior option. Its just a different option.

My point being like many apps, KDE and Gnome are two paths to choose with pro/cons coming with it.

While it will be great to have Linux to be a drop in replacement for Win, who says its a wannabe Win clone. Thats not the point.


I think the whole point of the article is that now since SCO has lost this ridiculous battle–we can now all go back to work on making Linux better. Many people, developers and integrators alike, were putting their Linux tasks on hold to see how all this washed out before proceeding. I know several people who abandoned Linux completely and have refocused on OS X.
Our progress, and I am referring to our collective progress on Linux, has been retarded for the past 3 years. Now that the witch is dead (SCO), it is time we pick up where we left off and go forward.


Stop using “Linux” If it tick’s you off so much, don’t use it.

I think people are forgetting.. no they never learned in the first place, that “Linux” is merely the Kernel and all those applications you are using most likely come from GNU… you know the guys that created that software, not to “take out Microsoft” but to bring Freedom to its users..

so if you don’t appreciate the Freedom and its not good enough for you, don’t use it. If your end goal is to make it “compatible” with Windows.. why don’t you just use Windows?

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