Subject: Excuse me, but Linux is winning, not losing
From: adam@yggdrasil.com (Adam J. Richter)
Date: Sun, 22 Sep 1996 01:47:57 -0700 (PDT)

Peter Deutsch writes:
>The problem is not the technical quality of the bottom
>level of the software pyramid: Linux is vastly better than either DR DOS or
>MS-DOS, and has been around for years.

	Linux has been evolving rapdily.  For example, it has only
been about one year since the first major Linux distribution based on
the ELF binary format (Fall 1995 Yggdrasil Plug & Play Linux).

>The problem is that the free
>software community has never succeeded at (1) establishing reasonably stable
>API standards above those of Unix and X, (2) creating user-attractive
>applications in any significant numbers, or (3) working with the unsightly
>de facto standard file formats (such as Microsoft Word and Excel) essential
>for use of existing investments in data.  Of these, (2) is the most
>significant; in my opinion, (2) is the reason why Unix blew a 15-year
>technology lead over the PC.

	Your first sentence begins with "the free software community",
and your second setence ends with "Unix", which is a piece of software
whose marketing has been under the control of proprietary software
companies (even if we use "Unix" generically to include the free
unix-like systems, this statement was still true until the end of
1992).  If you believe that your criticisms of "Unix" are based on the
freeness of the software, then you need to explain why the proprietary
model has apparently not worked either.  This same comment applies
to Mr. Fickes's recent email as well.

	Your second sentence talks about "Unix" losing to "the PC."
Unix is software.  It runs on many platforms, including PC's.  PC's
are hardware.  They run many operating systems, including Unix.  The
success of one does not spell failure for the other.

	Perhaps you are claiming that unix is losing its fraction of
the installed base on PC's?  If so, I'd be interested in seeing some
statistics on this.  I would be very surprised if that were the case
when you include the free unix clones, such as Linux.

	I would also like to address the underlying implication in a
number of messages that I have read on this forum that Linux is
somehow losing some kind of marketing battle.  That is baloney.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of where the Linux shockwaves are
begining to be felt are the recent price changes to SCO and SunSoft
operating system products:

        Old street   New "noncommercial"   
	price        price                   URL
Solaris $504         $49   Sorry, can't find URL
SCO	$788         $19   http://www3.sco.com/Products/freeopen.html
OpenStep n/a          $0   http://www.sun.com/solaris/press/openstep-fcs.html

"SCO" refers to SCO OpenServer Desktop System plus SCO OpenServer
Development System.  Street prices were taken from
http://www.sparco.com.  OpenStep is only partially analagous, but I
think that its being made free for noncommercial use can be attributed
to a recognition of the success of zero-price distribution policies
elsewhere, possibly including Linux.  It certainly is in the same
category as Caldera's OpenDOS announcement.

	With estimates of the number of Linux users ranging from 1
million to a few million, it is probably the case at this point that
Linux is the most widely installed PC unix-like system.  With Linux
ports to the major RISC platforms becoming available, I think that the
future of unix-like systems is GNU/Linux, whatever that future may
look like.

	If Linux is the future of Unix, the question is: where to
after that?  It is easy to envision GNU/Linux eclipsing
OS/2 in installed base and becoming the main alternative to Microsoft
within MIS departments, without major enhancements to GNU/Linux.
However, after that, when you have to target non-technical users, then
I think your (Peter's) concerns about user interface issues become
much more important, and I do agree with some of them.

	I will grant you that the unix/unix-alike market (not
particularly concentrated on the free software side) has been harmed
by elitist hackers who do not understand the importance of
consistency, queing, or other user interface issues.  On the other
hand, I think a suite of alternative but different applications to
Microsoft Office may not be the most effective way to win the desktop.
The Macintosh, NeXT and GEOWorks have user attractive applications but
have lost desktop market share.  The issue with any technological
improvement is compatibility with the installed base.  Nobody wants to
retrain their secretaries.  In my opinion, WinE (the free windows
emulator) will become the most important free software project when it
comes time for GNU/Linux to make a push onto "naive user" desktops.

	So, in summary, free unix clones are winning, and we're really
only just getting started.  I agree with Peter that more should be
done for the desktop, but I think the emphasis should be on emulation.

Adam J. Richter				  Yggdrasil Computing, Incorporated
(408) 261-6630				  "Free Software For The Rest of Us."