Unreasonable debate slows Linux

Please forgive me if this column seems a bit 'snippy', but what follows must be heard and understood soon by the Linux world.

As an independent consultant and close follower of development issues, it's my job to offer clients reasoned, practical advice about technologies that can help them and their companies today and into the future. These clients live in the real, complex, difficult world of end-user computing, and they come to me for help, not to hype particular technologies.

I'm not actually interested in the intrinsic moral goodness of one solution over another, and indeed though even this notion will cause offense to some, the 'technical superiority' of one solution over another is sometimes a fairly moot point when both solutions can do the job.

I can't afford to take a subjective stance to technology. For starters, my clients are too smart to let me get away with it. And second, they'd laugh at me and then go somewhere else for advice.

So why am I saying all this? Well, whenever I say ANYTHING about Linux I get flamed by one group or another. Sadly, I have to say (as I don my asbestos suit just in case), the majority of the flames come from people that are Pro-Linux. It seems that all I have to do is say one vaguely negative thing about Linux and suddenly I'm getting messages from our SysAdmin that my mailbox is full. I'm immediately accused of being stupid (which to be honest is something I can live with) or of being a Microsoft double-agent (which really irritates me). What irritates me even more though, is that I've long been a loud and strong supporter of Linux.

I actually use it. I've installed it, tinkered with it, even done some development (admittedly more of the 'Hello World' type of app than beefy business solutions) on it. I've used a bunch of distributors, from RedHat to Caldera. And I am a fan. Linux is great, and it's going to be even greater.

BUT! The growth in popularity, and the pace at which Linux improves technically is being held back by the dreadfully low quality of debate that surrounds it. Frankly, I want to be able to engage in reasoned debate about Linux, without fear of obscenities filling my inbox. I want to be able to state my strong concerns about Linux as a desktop operating system, or as a 'windows killer', engage in a sensible discussion about those concerns, and discuss what improvements could or should be made to Linux.

I want to be able to state my firm belief that Linux is very close indeed to offering a viable alternative to the 'Big Unix' offerings from the likes of HP and Sun and be challenged over this belief. I want to challenge claims about the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) that seem to forget that OS cost is usually a very small percentage of the 'Total' cost.

I want to be persuaded, by reasonable people, when I'm wrong—and I want a chance to persuade other reasonable people when I think they are wrong. Who knows? Perhaps, if more people felt able to state their misgivings and point out areas for improvement the Linux community might learn something?

Surely, this isn't too much to ask?

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About the Author

Gary Barnett is IT research director at Ovum Ltd., a United Kingdom-based consulting firm.