The Future of Linux
14 July 1998
More Audience Questions and Answers
Again, these are somewhat paraphrased, either because
I couldn't hear the exact question or couldn't write fast enough. (Then again,
most of this report is paraphrased.)
What if price were factored out of the Datapro survey? How would
Linux fare then?
- Larry Augustin pointed out that Linux not only won overall but
also in specific categories like reliability and technical support (in
which NT was at the bottom).
[See also John Kirch's excellent white paper,
Microsoft Windows NT Server
4.0 versus UNIX, and Nick Petreley's final NC World column,
Will Windows NT develop into a super-OS or an unmanageable
disaster?, for interesting and detailed discussions of costs,
reliability, functionality, and so on.]
- Robert Hart noted that the survey covered hard-core IS folks at
corporate data centers, for whom price would be less of an issue anyway.
There's no consolidated Linux answer source--how can I deal with management's
need to ``feel secure'' about their software?
- Robert Hart note that there's lots of commercial support
available (including from Red Hat).
- Linus Torvalds felt that the question was ``somewhat of a red
herring''--managers just want to have heard of it and are really using
the issue as a weapon, not as a real reason. If a manager is secure
enough about the need for Linux, he'll do so.
- Jeremy Allison: ``I know a fair amount about NT and security
and would convince your manager not to feel secure about NT.''
What about the perception that Linux users don't like paying for
- Robert Hart handled this one; he said it's ``not an issue''--among
other things, Red Hat wouldn't be in business if that were true, since
the $50 Red Hat distribution can be downloaded for free from many ftp
Why is Open Source important to the public?
- Jeremy Allison: It's the same as open government; you can check
up on it.
- Linus Torvalds: The public should be relieved that it
exists--most will never need it, but the option to look at it
is there and provides a level of safety (not just the feeling of safety).
For Linus: who of the major RDBMS's have talked to you about ports?
- Linus Torvalds: ``No one has talked to me about it.'' He
went on to say that, when originally asked, his reaction was that RDBMS's
are ``an example of something so boring that they will never be free.''
(``I was wrong about that--some people find them really exciting. I'm
just not one of them.'')
- Larry Augustin said he thought we'd probably see ports becoming
available over the next year (or something like that).
- Linus Torvalds: ``He's saying that he knows but can't talk about
it.'' [Note the previously mentioned InfoWorld
Electric articles on the soon-to-be-announced Informix and Oracle 8 Linux ports. Also keep in mind that Computer Associates announced a Linux port of
Ingres II earlier this
month, available in September.]
From one of the GIMP developers: what
does the Open Source world do about patent issues, such as the Pantone color
management system and LZW algorithm used in GIF and TIFF?
- Linus Torvalds said that patents, especially software patents,
are ``a can of worms'' and are probably the biggest danger to Open
Source. They do eventually expire, but it's looong time. His suggestion
was to come up with an even better algorithm that's patent-free.
- Larry Augustin asked developers who run into such problems to
make them known to Linux International.
- Jeremy Allison: ``It's really hideous.'' But he noted that the
``most insane'' patents are in the US, which means the US effectively
ends up exporting jobs and development to other countries. Encryption
is a prime example of this sort of thing
[although that's more an
issue of regulation than of patents].
From a C|Net admin: I would like a better BIOS, like Sun's.
- Sunil Saxena said that that's coming next year.
- Larry Augustin said he's got a stack of BIOS-related NDAs on his
- Robert Hart commented that modern BIOS support (e.g., remote
upgrades) is ``really important for 1000-node clusters.''
Will we see wide use of Internet clusters as supercomputers? Will Linux
have a 3D user interface like [vapor-]Chrome?
- Larry Augustin pointed out that 3D apps like POV-Ray and Quake II
running on the Mesa OpenGL clone library were being demoed in the rear.
- Linus Torvalds said that clustering software like Beowulf is great for 3D rendering
[and many large scientific
applications] but not well suited to business apps.
Riedy pointed out on Slashdot that
distributed database systems are one category of business application
for which Beowulf is well suited.]
Will Willows provide a Win32 subsystem for Linux?
- Linus Torvalds said that the software he was looking for is WINE;
it's not perfect (in fact, ``it does very few things perfectly''), but it
does a good job, and there are people using it to run Quicken and Word.
- Jeremy Allison disagreed; he said that WINE and Willows may get
to the point that they're OK for some apps, but Quicken and other old
apps ``are not what people want.'' Samba is OK because it's only based
on wire protocols, and Microsoft can't change those without pissing off
their huge customer base. But ``every app is an OS
upgrade''--Microsoft can mutate the APIs faster than developers can keep
From a web-site developer: I have to have two machines, a Linux-based web
server and a Windows box for Photoshop--how much longer will I have to do that?
Also, a marketing question: there's a Microsoft talking Barney; when will we
see Talking Tux?
- A SVLUG guy took the second question first; he said he knows an
engineer who is hacking the weak encryption built into Barney (i.e., one
will be able to write Linux apps for it).
- Larry Augustin pointed to the GIMP, a free, Photoshop-like application running on some of the
- Robert Hart mentioned Corel's conversion to Linux, including
CorelDRAW 8, and I think suggested that Adobe will have to respond to
that or lose market share.
From a business-applications perspective, what can we do to get Microsoft to
do native ports of Excel, Word, Powerpoint, Exchange, etc.?
- Robert Hart responded: you can already read and write the files
created by those apps; as for Exchange, ``we have something called
Sendmail...'' [chuckles from the admins in the
audience] One of the panelists commented that if Microsoft
ports their apps, ``we've won.'' [Of course,
Apple didn't win...]
How about Linux branding on boxes to assure that shrink-wrapped apps are
tested and safe?
- Larry Augustin: Linux International is considering several such
approaches, including the Linux Standard Base.
There's a proposed change to US state laws about reverse-engineering;
what impact will it have?
- A lawyer in the audience stood up and gave some background:
Article 2B of the proposed update to the Uniform Commercial Code
(UCC), under consideration beginning 26 July 1998, has provisions that
would prohibit ``Fair Use'' copying and reverse engineering, both of
which are currently protected by US law.
[IEEE summary for
software engineers; thanks to Michael Cope for the links]
She also mentioned a bill that supposedly would abolish software patents
and urged the Linux community to become politically active and look up
addresses (postal and e-mail) and phone numbers of government representatives on the web.
[I've searched Thomas for such a bill, and the closest thing I can find is H.R.400, a
major bill to update Title 35. But I don't see anything in either the
summary or the amendments (moving link, sorry) about software
and/or algorithmic patents, so perhaps I misheard or she
- Jeremy Allison pointed out that you can find documentation for
all of Microsoft's file formats on their web site. He also said that in
the case of compound (e.g., linked/embedded/active) documents, reality
and posted documentation differ.
- Linus Torvalds, clearly disgusted with US law as a whole, noted
that the US, like France and Iraq, ``has a reputation for stupidity'' in
such things as encryption (and patents and other legal issues).
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