Time for Linux bigots to take a back seat

commentary Linux and open source software has always been dogged by a kind of University campus idealism that is brutally incompatible with the harsh realities of the commercial world. That idealism unfortunately manifests itself most often in online diatribes against Microsoft, in particular, and proprietary software, in general.

commentary Linux and open source software has always been dogged by a kind of University campus idealism that is brutally incompatible with the harsh realities of the commercial world.
Iain Ferguson, News Editor, ZDNet Australia

That idealism unfortunately manifests itself most often in online diatribes against Microsoft, in particular, and proprietary software, in general.

Gartner analyst Brian Prentice said recently the "flaming Linux bigots" who were prone to hyperbole and religious debates to advance their cause actually impeded the growth of Linux and open source software.

"People with strong ideological views are good for the community, [but] at the same time that ideology is prone towards hyperbole and religious debates around things," he told a conference in Sydney. "Those don't help us make sound business decisions."

However, heading into the new year, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Linux and open source software community can ill-afford the luxury of diluting its message to business and government communities. While significant ground has been made this year in winning broader acceptance, most notably by in securing a level playing field in competing with proprietary software companies for lucrative government procurement deals, Microsoft for one is not taking the situation lying down.

For one, the company's massive revamp of its security position two years ago -- requiring programmers to take training in secure coding -- is starting to pay off, with exploits of problems in Microsoft products coming down. This effort -- combined with the increasing frequency at which problems are being found with Linux and open source code -- is quickly undermining the Linux and open source community's argument that Microsoft software is high risk when compared to alternatives.

Secondly, Redmond is likely to step up its efforts to warn customers that deploying Linux and open source solutions could expose them to litigation over patent royalties arising from the use of shared code. (However, the effectiveness of this argument could be blunted if the so-called Open Invention Network -- a company formed by IBM, Sony, Philips, Novell and Red Hat -- is effective in its intention to buy up Linux patents and offer them royalty-free to Linux developers).

In addition, Microsoft is likely to continue to aggressively protect its market share, leveraging its incumbency and size to ensure it loses as little ground as possible to its smaller rivals. The business cases presented by sellers of Linux and open source software -- both large and small -- are going to have to trump Redmond on value for money and fitness for purpose, as well as overcome the innate conservatism of information and communications technology purchasers. A tall order indeed.

The message is pretty clear when it comes to the growth of Linux and open source software in Australia. The ideologues are going to have to fade into the background and keep their philosophical debates within the confines of the community while the sharp and commercially savvy deal with the hard reality of winning business contracts.

What do you think is the outlook for Linux and open source software in Australia in 2006? Is Microsoft going to build on its dominance or will Linux and open source vendors continue to erode its market share? E-mail us at edit@zdnet.com.au and give us your thoughts.

Iain Ferguson is the News Editor of ZDNet Australia.

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