John Chamberlain
Developer Diary
 Developer Diary · You Heard It Here First · Tuesday 27 January 2004
Stealth Penguin
Linux World completed last week and Tom's has some brief coverage. Originally LinuxWorld Expo was barely distiguishable from a trekkie revival but in the last three years it has really gone mainstream. All the major companies show up. This year Sun had a big todo about its Java Desktop for Linux (gag me). There is still some existential angst, but the overall trend is unmistakable: Linux is growing. With 10,000 attendees LinuxWorld is one of the fastest growing tech conferences.

Measuring Linux market share is notoriously difficult, especially because many users dual boot to Windows. Nevertheless studies seem to be unequivocable about its growth (for example). By my own yardstick Unix is definitely growing. It started last year when we wanted to release our product on the mac thus obliging me to fumble around in Darwin. Recently our Linux / Unix distributions have been getting more attention and I'm starting to read books on shell programming. It feels kind retro. Reminds of when I took some CS courses at UMass. The bay campus of UMass is a vast jumble of concrete cubes out of which cavernous rooms have been carved. My last strong memories of unix where sitting in one of these bunkers laboriously pecking away at a processor simulator.

I keep hearing that unix is so much faster and easier to operate, but so far it has not been true for me. Particularly annoying is coping with the long, space-laden directory names found in Darwin. I feel stupid copy and pasting directory names. Control-Meta what? The whole system is kind of achy. People might say I just don't know what to do, but I have carefully watched my coworker Dan who is a Linux regular and he stumbles along often enough that I cannot be far wrong.

The strength of unix is that it is free, more transparent and is evolving faster than Windows. When you have umpteen scrambling little companies all trying to make the best distro it moves the whole beast forward. Installation and startup are light years ahead of where they were back in the trekkie days. Likewise the driver and disk formatting issues. On Monday I actually cared enough to get the Linux side of my Win2000 / Linux dual boot laptop working again (with Dan's help). Who knows I might actually start using Linux. Now that would be scary.

Even though Linux continues to grow there does not seem to be much of a fuss about it. It just goes along and quietly grows. It is sort of a stealth penguin.

I think the one factor which is most critical for Linux is what might be called the inverted simplicity phenomenom. Previously Windows was vastly simpler to operate than any variety of Unix, but this has been changing. With patches upon patches and more complex configuration problems especially in the network department the simplicity gap has been shrinking. Windows gets more complicated and Linux gets simpler. The reason for this is that Unix is a networked operating system and Windows is not. As we move into wired world this factor become more telling every year. The A-number-1 reason why I would use Linux is to get access to network tools like dig.

When the day comes that Linux is not only free but also easier to use than Windows a lot of things are going to change.

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