Trapped in a dream

The comedian Steven Wright reported dreaming that everything he owned was stolen and replaced with an exact duplicate. If you replace Windows with Linux as your organisation's preferred desktop OS, your end users just might feel as if they're trapped in Wright's dream, except the duplicates won't be exact and perhaps not quite as good either.

Management Speak: We are reassessing our strategy for this product while we focus on our core markets.

Translation: We're dropping it like a hot potato.

-- This week's anonymous hero reassessed the meaning of this bit of obfuscation.

The comedian Steven Wright reported dreaming that everything he owned was stolen and replaced with an exact duplicate.

If you replace Windows with Linux as your organisation's preferred desktop OS, your end users just might feel as if they're trapped in Wright's dream, except the duplicates won't be exact and perhaps not quite as good either.

The conundrum of Linux is that for the most part it's a me-too OS. Innovation happens elsewhere -- on Windows and the Macintosh for desktop applications and OS enhancements; on Netware, Windows NT/2000 or a commercial Unix for servers -- and someone says, "Hey, I can do that on Linux!" Then, through a quasi-Darwinian process, the open-source community quickly refines and debugs those applications and platform extensions it finds useful.

But can the open-source licence model support true innovation, or is mimicry the best it can do? We don't really know.

So long as Linux fails to gain dominant market share, this question is unimportant. But imagine for a moment that it succeeds. What then?

One school of thought says the innovative energy now directed at the Windows platform would switch to Linux, following the marketplace wherever it leads. This is a reasonable expectation for a free-market economy.

The distance from reasonable expectation to reality, however, can be pretty long, and another school of thought holds that in a mature marketplace such as that of the PC, the open source model doesn't promise enough profit to support the risk of investing in truly innovative concepts.

Of course, just because Linux is an open source OS doesn't mean applications that run on Linux have to be open source as well, but once you start buying non-open source software for Linux you're back where you started: MS Office XP for Linux, if it existed, would have licensing terms just as onerous and risky as does MS Office XP for Windows (and presumably for Macintosh).

When Adam Smith first wrote about market-based economics, we were a nation of merchants and farmers. Affluence was the most anyone aspired to -- the establishment of a wealth-based aristocracy was a century in the future. The open-source movement is, in a sense, a return to this merchant-based economy (not a communistic plot, as its extreme detractors claim). The open (source) question is whether or not, in the 21st century, affluence is enough anymore.

Affluent? Send money, or at least an email, to Bob Lewis. Lewis is president of IT Catalysts, a consultancy specialising in IT effectiveness and strategic alignment. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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