Convince and conquer

Wake up, open source community. The battle is not for the desktop; it is not for the server; it is not for the operating system; it is not for the development environment; it is not about the GNU General Public Licence (GPL) vs. Microsoft's business model. The battle is primarily about who will control user-authentication services.

One of my favourite scenes in the movie "Ghostbusters II" takes place during the taping of a TV show, "World of the Psychic, with Dr Peter Venkman". During the show, a guest named Elaine reveals how she found out the date for the end of the world, "As I told my husband: it was in the Paramus Holiday Inn. I was having a drink at the bar, alone, and this alien approached me. He started talking to me, he bought me a drink, and then I think he must have used some kind of a ray or a mind-control device because he forced me to follow him to his room; and that's where he told me about the end of the world." Bill Murray replies incredulously, "So your alien had a room at the Holiday Inn in Paramus?"

As humorous as that may appear, I have come to the conclusion that one of two things must be true: either Microsoft has a mind-control device similar to the one mentioned above, or some members of the mainstream media are as gullible as Elaine. I can think of no other explanation why people are reacting so differently to Microsoft's .NET than they did to IBM, Oracle and Sun Microsystems' promotion of NC (network computing) a few years back.

I have maintained for years that NC is the inevitable future. I also believe Microsoft knew this to be true even as it fought NC tooth and nail. Once it squashed the real threat - the type of NC that would have been free from Microsoft's control - it simply had to redefine NC as some new plan created by Microsoft. Hence, .NET was born. Now that Microsoft has convinced much of the mainstream media that .NET is something new, all .NET has to do is ride the natural momentum of NC.

None of this would have been possible without the mind-control ray, which has been working beautifully. Compared to the acceptance .NET now enjoys, the reaction to NC was virulent almost beyond belief. Columnists and pundits denounced the centralised computing model and exalted the PC almost daily for the better part of two years.

Although I believe the battle for open source advocates is not one for the desktop, Microsoft is obviously threatened by Linux on the desktop, as evidenced by the rash of articles in various Web and trade publications on this very topic, most of which proclaim that Linux will never make it in this category.

Allow me to punch a few holes in the conventional wisdom.

Item No. 1: You shouldn't choose Linux just because you hate Microsoft.

There are many good reasons to hate Microsoft. Let's start with how the company's lust for control over the market takes precedence over the well-being and security of its customers. For example, Microsoft is hard at work devising ways to lock you into a system where you pay on a continual basis to use a Microsoft application. If that doesn't elicit a feeling of righteous indignation when you get your next blue screen of death or lose data to an e-mail Trojan horse, I don't know what will.

Better yet, look at Microsoft's despicable modus operandi. Microsoft makes it standard practice to say whatever it must to gain the confidence of its prospective customers. What Microsoft says, though, is not what Microsoft does. For example, the company pretends to promote standards such as Kerberos to convince its customers that Windows will interoperate well with other platforms. Actually, Microsoft manipulates the Kerberos standard with proprietary extensions to retain control over the customers it captures.

The operative word here is confidence, which is where the expression "con man" comes from. Con men can only succeed if they gain the undeserved confidence of their prey. If that's the kind of company you want to defend and patronise, be my guest. Who then is the fool - the Microsoft customer who continues to pay through the nose for crappy software, or the satisfied Linux customer who chooses Linux because he or she hates Microsoft?

Item No. 2: Linux is too complicated.

KDE 2.1 is amazingly simple and yet is powerful and flexible. Granted, it is sometimes more difficult to administer a Linux box than a Windows box, but users shouldn't have to administer any box. And Linux makes that easier to enforce than do most versions of Windows. One reason Windows is difficult to administer is because users can easily screw it up. With Linux, I set up a box, create an account, and hand the box to the user. The user doesn't have to deal with the administration programs and doesn't even have enough privileges to use (or abuse) them. Shall I go on? Let me know.

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