1995: My first post on Linux
By bblfish on Jul 04, 2006
It's nice to see that Google Groups has preserved my first thought on the topic of linux, which I published in 1995. What is even more comforting is to see that it was not badly argued at all, and still holds up well. Here it is:
I have read many reasons for and against Linux and Unix but I have not yet seen the following argument. The main problem, still, everybody knows, with Unix is that, unless well set up (and even then) it requires time to learn, requiring always, at some stage or another, technical advice, and quite possibly a lot of that. But why is this a problem? The reason is simple economics. To buy Unix you not only need to buy the system (which in the case of Linux is free) but also, and especially, the expertise to run it. On big systems, with many users, the economics of scale prevail, and Unix has its place. On small systems, on the other hand - ie. your small buisness - the same economics have favoured Mac Os and Windows (or Windoze). And will continue to favour them in many areas, and for a long time: Bill Gates and the like act as your world wide Computer Support Staff, in effect. The lack of flexibility of these systems is compensated for by their size. The lack of flexibility at the lower level is compensated for by the increased flexibility billions of dollars provide. What Linux brings to this equation is not as obvious therefore as some may think. The two types of systems cannot be compared for flexibility in the same way. The cheapness of Linux ( = 0$ to buy) has to be compared with the time it takes to learn to use it properly and the cost of the teaching involved (certainly compared with Mac OS) which in the Technologically Developped World does not come cheap. But here comes my point... In many regions of the third World labour is cheap and money is scarce. I heared that 75 people could be employed in Malaysia for every person employed in Japan (at least). These same countries often are very short of money - if they are not massively in debt. For these countries then labour cost is not a problem but hardware and software costs are. For these countries the competitive advantage of Windoze and System 7 is near nil. The competitive advantage of LINUX is overwhelming. -1- it costs nothing -2- it runs on cheap hardware (hardware that will be soon thrown out of windows in Economically plentifull countries). Just think: do programmers in the 3rd world really X? How many VT220's could be hooked up to one 386? 486? Pentium? for data entry purposes? (Please could someone answer this question) Next fact: Where are most of the programmers in the future going to come from? Fot a start: Where do most people in the World live? First World or 'Third World'? What will these programmers do? -Program. What will millions of more programmers do? -Write 1000000 of progs. Which operating system will be the best serviced, then? This seems to be on overwhelming argument to get the big Unix vendors to promote Linux in the Third World countries. They can't afford a sun Station now... but wait and see how they grow. So, what is being done at present to get Linux know in those countries?
I had in fact heard of the Open Source movement perhaps a long time before that in the early 1980s when the Centre Mondial de l'informatique, created by Jean-Jacques Servan Schreiber and located in Paris was still open. There were lisp machines, VAXes and other computers there that everyone could just come in and use. The center was too expensive to run, and so died out in the end. In any case at the time it was very difficult to explain even to oneself what Open Source was about as the world was in the final stages of the cold war battle, and any such discourse of free got clobbered by the overarching East versus West meme. The communist versus capitalis debate died, but the open source meme remains, is strong and vigorous.
A lot has changed since I wrote that article.
The ease of use problem is clearly no longer the problem it was. Apple after the take over by NeXT Step, has brought all the ease of use features to their version of Unix, and Linux has improoved in that area dramatically too. Apple still remains the winner on ease of use, but more fully Open Source OSes on flexibility.
Every major Linux distributor has since taken on the role of a friendly Sys admin, so that package installation is no longer the problem it was at the time. Though Red Hat did a good job at the time too, as I, novice that I was, installed it on my fathers 40Mhz DX2 a few months later.
So the main argument that remains is perhaps the one that always caried open source along is that it is the guarantor of freedom. Open APIs, Open specs, Open interfaces and Open Source all are ways to guarantee that we don't become slave to a vendor. The only acceptable constraint is freedom.