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Why Consider Linux, Anyway?

Novell Cool Solutions: Feature
By Scott M. Morris

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Posted: 15 Feb 2005

The growth of open source software in recent years has been encouraging and refreshing. Many firms see open source software as a way to free themselves from the iron grip of a predatory, monopolistic tyrant. In growing numbers of organizations, open source software is gaining high popularity, as outlined in my article from two weeks ago. The main reasons for this trend are two-fold. First, the total cost of ownership is lower when Linux is used. Second, Linux is rock solid, stable, and secure.

So what is holding people back? Why hasn't everyone made the switch yet?

I'm reminded of cliff-jumping with my friends at Lake Powell, in southern Utah. We'd all stand at the cliff's edge, urging each other to jump, but no one wanted to go first. No one wants to make the first jump because of the possible repercussions (What if I can't make it work? What if the boss hates it? What if the endusers hate it?). In this case, it's not really a matter of being first, as several thousands of firms have already made the transition to Linux. Really, it comes down to the question: Do you want to be the last one off the sinking ship? Michael S. Malone has been an editor and author for over 20 years in the IT industry. He was a columnist for the New York Times for two years. In his most recent prediction, he asserts that Microsoft has seen its height of glory, and is in the first stages of its demise.

Does Microsoft consider Linux a threat? Would they be fighting it so hard if they didn't?

A few years ago, they admitted in a company memo that the biggest accomplishment of their critical approach to Linux was to backfire. The company also funded a research poll called Attitudes Towards Shared Source & Open Source Research Project. In this poll, they reveal that "Linux favorability among the Linux familiar was 86%." What does that tell us? One way to interpret this is that proponents of Windows aren't very familiar with Linux. If they were, they'd be on the Linux side of the fence. After all, according to Microsoft, "Those who are familiar with [open source software] and Linux are favorably predisposed towards them."

Why do people who use it love it? One reason is that the very source code of Linux is rock solid compared to the buggy nature of proprietary operating systems. The code-analysis company Coverity released a study in December showing that of the 5.7 million lines of code in the Linux kernel, there were only 985 flaws detected. A typical commercial application of the same size generally has approximately 5,000 similar flaws. It is these flaws that hackers seek to exploit, allowing them to gain access to the computer. Clearly, Linux is a very solid platform. Bill Gates himself has admitted that Microsoft has been outsmarted and outmaneuvered by hackers and other malicious attackers on the Internet. In reference to this, he says, "In some areas, the bad boys are also terribly clever -- and occasionally more crafty than we had expected." A slight understatement, I can assure you. This declaration by Mr. Gates prompted me to do some investigation.

So, I contacted Symantec to see how many threats their software can catch. I was informed that they can currently detect 69,000 viruses, trojans, worms with their software. As far as I am aware, Symantec's antivirus software only runs on Windows. In fact, Symantec's CEO has even been eyeing Linux for his company's desktops. Wouldn't you dump an operating system plagued with 69,000 documented threats, and an extremely slow patch release schedule? Many seem willing and eager to do so. After all, the open source community releases security patches daily to address known problems in the Linux operating system. As a Windows user, I was lucky to get patches and upgrades like this once a month, with new vulnerabilities appearing far more often. The whole thing is summed up wonderfully in this cartoon.

It is important to note all of the world-class firms that are adopting open source as their platform of choice1. Other benchmarks of the open source movement are beginning to fall into place as well. For example, if you plan to make the move to the open source arena, you may wish to have a legal expert on hand. There are several of these available, such as the Software Freedom Law Center in New York. This firm is headed by expert copyright lawyer Eben Moglen. The organization will be pro bono at first, recruiting from a pool of recent law school graduates. As many are quick to point out, the recent litigations with the SCO group are fading. Mike Sheffey, CEO of Versora, a migration products vendor explains, "While still a concern for many, the fear of being sued is decreasing by the day. There is just too much credible information available to the public that shows there is little to no basis for being sued for using Linux."

Or perhaps you need some assurance of the minimal amount of headaches involved in migrating your department or company over to open source solutions? IBM themselves would like to invite you to a technical briefing on March 1 dealing with just that subject. Details can be found on the company's website. (There's an old saying I've heard that that "No one has ever lost their job for following IBM's lead." Open source is the direction they're headed.)

There's also Alacos, the Linux migration client. It migrates Windows desktop settings to a Linux desktop computer. This software was featured recently at the Desktop Linux Summit in San Diego, California. They also offer the Top 10 Reasons to Migrate to a Linux desktop in your organization.

There is still one factor that has kept some from making the transition. This is lack of centralized technical support. Many companies have found the one distribution that is backed by a long-time contributor to the IT industry. This distribution is SUSE 9.2 Professional and its variants, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, and Novell Linux Desktop. Novell has made many strides in open source arenas since its purchase of SUSE and Evolution within the past year. SUSE is the platform of choice for several large-scale movements to Linux. More information on these significant migrations can be found on the Novell Web site.

The bottom line is that Linux is the option that makes the most sense for the widest variety of applications. It is employed in everything from NASA space missions to Formula One racing teams. Overall, it appears that open source solutions are overwhelmingly better options than traditional proprietary alternatives, and the growing number of companies, governments, and other multinational firms is an indicator of the future.

1 Recent migrations to Linux include the city of Rome, Italy; the city of Los Angeles, California; Jordan Commercial Bank; NASA; Amazon; the American Fidelity Assurance Company; the government of Hong Kong; Burlington Coat Factory; and

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