Linuxites: OS/2ers in sheep's clothing?

Maybe the times have changed. Or the market has morphed. But, to me, the Linux advocates -- a number of whom I've heard from first hand in the past year -- are not just Team OS/2ers in sheep's clothing.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

The Linuxites are unbelievably organised for a group that prides itself on its anarchistic tendencies. When there are flames to fan -- a columnist to be challenged, a vendor to be prodded into jumping onto the Linux bandwagon, code to be reworked -- the Linux folks are right there. The Linuxites are also pretty marketing- and PR-savvy. Granted, there's no rule without exceptions. I have been flamed royally by Linux bigots in the past few months. (I can say I have not received any death threats from Linux users -- something with which I was confronted by a Teamer several years back.) And more often than not, as soon as one Linuxite publicly disses our Linux coverage, another magically appears to clean up the damage, apologising for his brother's faux pas.

Less boorish behaviour is not all the Linux guys (and handful of gals) have going for them. The press and other hardware and software players are taking Linux a lot more seriously than they ever took OS/2. On Feb. 21, even the New York Times ran a multi-page magazine feature dedicated to Linux and its followers. Team OS/2, for its part, was little recognised outside of the industry. IBM corporate tried on several occasions to distance itself from the renegade band of OS/2 apostles -- without whom OS/2 would have died a long time ago.

Another difference? The business climate, which favours the Linux backers a lot more than it ever helped the Team OS/2 folks. When Team OS/2 was at its peak in terms of "membership," which I would guess was around '92-'94, Microsoft was the darling of much of the press, the user community and many of the top ISVs and hardware vendors. The fact that the Department of Justice was waging an antitrust campaign against The Evil Empire meant relatively little.

How times have changed! Not only is Microsoft in the midst of a siege by the DoJ (yet again) in 1999, but it has found itself surrounded by lots of other antagonists with which it is engaged in various lawsuits. Even though a number of trade associations and many of Microsoft loyal Solution Provider partners insist the momentum is with Microsoft, ask most "average" citizens and you're likely to hear the contrary. They may not have a very good idea about what the specific charges are, but they can zoom in on the most damning evidence, like Microsoft's two "jury-rigged videotapes" (a charge I heard levied by diners at a neighbouring table just last week).

All of this benefits Linux and its faithful. So when Linuxites embark on campaigns like the Windows Refund Day effort or cross-country Installfests -- tactics similar to those used by Team OS/2 in its heyday -- they may not be ploughing new ground, but they are finding a public far more receptive to the seeds of discontent with the status quo that they are sowing. Are the Linux backers a different breed? Or is the press and public just being snookered?

Editorial standards