One Linux, Under Linus...

Linux falling apart? I don't think so.

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
Sm@rt Partner

August 30, 1999

With Red Hat's IPO sensational success, business leaders who wouldn't know Linux from the Loch Ness monster are seriously considering Linux for their IT needs.

For Linux integrators, that's the good news. The bad news is that those leaders still don't know Linux from shinola.

I think that that's especially clear when it comes to executives' 'understanding' of what's what in Linux. Many really seem to believe that with Red Hat's stock win means that Red Hat will now come out with a proprietary version of Linux to consolidate the company's market leadership. Then, one theory goes, the Linux vendors will fall out among themselves like the Unix vendors of yore and Linux will join Unix as a 'niche' operating system.


It ain't going to happen. Every part of this argument is based on false premises. While Linux vendors are getting a lot more aggressive with each other-especially in education, certification, and feature sets-by the operating system's legal foundations no one can make an exclusionary version of Linux.

Could someone make another Unix-like operating system that does enable proprietary features? Sure. It's already done. The open source, Berkeley Software Distribution-based operating systems like FreeBSD and Berkeley Software Distribution Inc.'s BSD/OS already do that.

In fact, for integrators with customers who want to add their own particular twist to operating system level functionality, the BSD operating systems are a better choice than Linux. But, for reasons having more do with timing and marketing, and nothing to do with technical superiority, the BSD operating systems labor in relative obscurity.

Indeed, instead of Linux fragmenting, the President of Open Source Initiative, Eric Raymond, argues in his recent essay, "The Re-Unification of Linux," that with the rise of Linux, "Unix is beginning to re-unify itself."

I'll buy that. While, SGI is not abandoning its Irix operating system, Linux will be its major operating system of tomorrow. SCO has also got Linux fever. Heck, even the Monterey Project team, SCO, IBM, Intel, Sequent Computer and Compaq, is reporting that they see Linux as the future Unix operating system for workstations and Internet servers. It certainly looks like a Linux future to me.

Besides, Unix vendors of the 80s and 90s started out as direct competitors. Their vicious infighting caused them to lose what chance they had to compete with Microsoft at the desktop and low-end server market. Linux vendors aren't dumb. They've seen the errors of their forefathers, and they're starting from a co-operative, rather than competitive, position.

Don't get me wrong; there will be nasty wars between the Linux vendors. With money talking, the warm "we brave band of brothers" feeling of the early days of Linux is going to erode. But, the cold legal facts of Linux's foundations will keep Linux from ever shattering into incompatible versions that made Unix application reselling such a pain in the neck.

Despite Unix's past problems, despite the popular perception, Unix was never a niche operating system. Sure, the Microsoft PR machine has many CEOs and CIOs thinking that Windows is the be-all and end-all of operating systems, but smart resellers and IT staffers know better. While it never grabbed the headlines of magazine stand, PC publications, Unix was, is now, and will continue to be a profitable and popular operating system. What Linux has really done is given Unix players a chance to make more profits in 21st century computing, a lot more profits.

So, enough worrying about whether Red Hat is going to take over the world. You've got better things to do-like getting more accounts with Linux or BSD based solutions. Go for it!

Copyright 1999