Linux bigots highlight the penguin's failings

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Linux bigots highlight the penguin's failings

There are worrying numbers of Linux bigots around. There would not be any left if Linux was winning.

In the time that I have been involved in computing we have had Acorn and Apple bigots, Amiga and IBM OS/2 bigots. All of them have had two things in common: a desperate desire to convince anyone and everyone that their beloved system is the best thing on the planet and the even more bizarre notion that anyone really cares.

I used to be an open systems bigot. I thought that the world would be a better place if we all moved from proprietary operating systems and networks to Posix-compliant ones and open systems interconnection (OSI) networking. This idea was also dear to the hearts of the US and European governments, including the dear old Department for Trade & Industry.

Ten years ago, Computer Weekly even held Rosa (Recognition of Open Systems Achievement) awards. I was a judge at the awards, and it was in that context that I was heard to declare that "Unix has won" the operating systems war.
If you look at the server side, it has done better than most people expected.

On the desktop, however, things are different. For knowledgeable business users, at least, Windows 2000 is the thing you install without thinking about it. It is not perfect but it makes for a far easier life than Windows 9x or any flavour of Unix, including GNU/Linux.

What is really depressing about this is Unix's lack of progress. Compare Linux today with an early Sun workstation running News or Next's late-1980s Nextstep and it is difficult to see much improvement.

Compare that with the progress Microsoft has made since 1984 - the year when Richard Stallman announced the project to develop what became Linux. Even if we think Microsoft could and should have done better, the development from Dos 3.0 to Windows XP shows a dramatic transformation,

When usability guru Jakob Nielsen answered questions on the Slashdot Web site, he wondered whether it was even possible to create a good user interface for Linux. A lot of smart people have been trying for years to make Unix user-friendly, he said, so "the only data points we have say that it can't be done".

I just hope it doesn't take another 10 years to prove this observation wrong.

Jack Schofield is computer editor of the Guardian

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This was first published in October 2001

 

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