Microsoft or Linux: De facto vs Real Standards

When it comes to compliance with standards, Linux wins over Windows hands down, says Computerworld community member Charles A Bushong. IT managers had better get ready for a transition.

The "Nothing But Microsoft" community has become very vocal recently in stating that Linux isn't, and will never be, ready for enterprise use. Not only am I seeing it in the industry rags and online, but I'm also hearing it from colleagues.

Within hours of reading "Linux Falls Short Of Becoming a Mainstream OS" by Michael Gartenberg, one of my clients approached me with a question: "One of our trading partners wants to know why we are using open source instead of the industry-standard solutions. What should I tell them?" The trading partner has a Microsoft-only consultant who was really asking why we aren't developing in Visual Basic on Windows NT with SQL Server.

I told him, "We are using the standards. POSIX, X-window, SMTP, POP3, BIND, FTP, TCP/IP and IPSec are all industry standards. C++, Perl, Emacs and CORBA are industry standards. The question is: Why doesn't Microsoft implement more of the standards as written?" The answer is that the company's incompatibility with standards improves sales if everyone else is using the "incompatible" products.

Is Microsoft's dominance of the desktop arena in the 1990s really a good enough reason for an IT professional to continue to recommend the company's products today? Do we really want to perpetuate a monopoly from a company that has gone from being a market leader in innovation to being the "spewers of feature bloat?" I say, "No."

What the pro-Microsoft lobby forgets is that there are a huge number of small- to medium-size businesses out there that are warming up to the open-source movement. According to the Small Business Administration, 99.7% of the almost 6 million employers in the United States in 1998 were classified as small businesses (fewer than 500 employees). In addition, there were more than 10 million self-employed individuals. (Source: 1999 Small Business Profile: United States.)

Those statistics add up to approximately 16 million businesses that are likely to care less about the "enterprise capabilities" of an operating system. An 8 TB storage-area network array is cool, but does the law firm of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe really care about that much storage when their entire law library will fit on the hard drive of the secretary's PC? Does Joe the plumber really need to have the processing power of the first Cray supercomputer? Nope. Linux would work nicely.

Microsoft Windows isn't a standard because a standards committee decided it was the best choice. Microsoft made great strides because it was good enough and the company marketed well to the masses. That's a powerful combination, and Microsoft knocked IBM out of the top slot with it. Linux is now good enough and being marketed to the masses: a powerful combination.

I'm not religious about open source. I haven't begun installing Linux on every computer that my friends and family own. Casual computer users are more comfortable with Windows, because it's what they use at work. However, times are about to change.

There are so many applications for which Linux and Linux-based programs are suited that it no longer makes sense to assume that the "industry standard" is the best choice. IT professionals have begun to discover that continuing to do what we've always done isn't a guarantee of success. It never has been. Expensive, proprietary solutions have always been abandoned by a portion of this industry when a newer, less expensive, more open technology comes along. Microsoft discovered this with DOS, which became the standard of the '80s. IBM realized this when it launched the closed MicroChannel Architecture, which ultimately failed. People want to have information about the pieces of their systems solutions, and Linux and open source are the pinnacle of that sentiment.

Decision-makers need to at least consider Linux-based systems when looking for "standard systems," especially if you work near my company in Ohio. Your boss may one day come to you and say, "XYZ Company down the street just brought in a guy named Chuck to install their new network and servers. They are about the same size we are, and their entire cost was less than what we paid for Windows and Microsoft Office. What is Linux? Did you consider it? Why didn't you tell me about it?" If you can't answer those questions, I'll look for your resume on Monster.com.

Is Linux the new standard? Head to the Computerworld Operating Systems Forum discussion to review the issues with the author.

Charles A Bushong is a systems integrator and analyst in Northeast Ohio who uses Linux for everything from network infrastructure to servers to workstations.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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