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'Tis the season for Linux wishes

December 15, 1999
Web posted at: 1:44 p.m. EST (1844 GMT)

by Joe Barr


(IDG) -- Whether in celebration of the winter solstice, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or Christmas, this is the season of lists: mailing card lists, gift lists, wish lists, Y2K2Do lists, best/worst of the year/decade/century/millennium lists -- all manner of lists.

This week I would like to join in the spirit of the season by sharing my personal wish list for GNU/Linux and the Linux community. Some of my wishes are large and some are small, but all are sincere. Here they are, then: twelve things I hope will come to pass in 2000.

  • First, I want to be able to go into CompUSA and look at the latest and greatest printers, be they color, laser, portable, or whatever, and pick one out, secure in the knowledge that my Linux machine will be able to make full use of all its features.


    Hewlett-Packard is one of the mainstream firms who has been heard making Linux/open source sound bites, and this area is its big opportunity to show that it can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. This is Carly Fiorina's chance to show the world that she's in touch with her geek side.

    Unfortunately, this wish may not be coming true anytime soon. I've asked HP for a comment on this issue and the only song the company's sung for me begins, "Hello darkness, my old friend."

  • Second, I want to see a revolutionary OS-installation utility released as open source, one which will flawlessly install Linux and which can be tailored for all the major distributions.

    Such a program would offer a choice of command-line interface or GUI installation, and would be governed by laws similar in nature to the three laws of robotics as given by Isaac Asimov in I, Robot. It shouldn't destroy data or partitions or MBRs (master boot records) without the user's say-so. It should never guess about a peripheral or configuration, but should instead display the results of its probing and allow the user to confirm or override its findings.

    The installation would work from an open database of biometric identifiers of devices, a database that could be updated by manufacturers and others as new peripherals appear, and downloaded by the user so that the he has the latest information just prior to installation.

  • Third, I want to see the convergence of Java and Linux become the touchstone for a world of open architecture. I want to see the products that emerge from this meeting of the minds become so fundamental a part of personal computing that a single person or firm will never again have the power to turn the spigots of innovation and creativity on and off as it benefits the bottom line. This melding of brainpower between Java and Linux developers can be the force that once and for all commodifies PC operating systems, and thus brings down all the barriers to application development on everyone's operating systems of choice.

  • Fourth, I want to see a settlement reached between the federales and 19 state attorneys general on the one hand and Microsoft on the other. Such a settlement should put an end, once and for all, to the cold, dead hand of monopoly that stifles innovation and creativity in the industry. On that happy day, we ought to be able to walk into Fry's (or Circuit City, or Best Buy, or Sears) and purchase machines from major OEMs with Linux preloaded.

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    No longer would hidden, predatory pricing force Dell, Compaq, IBM, and others to preload Windows and only Windows in order to remain competitive in the marketplace. No longer would Gates rig the market behind the scenes and then come out in front of the curtain to declare that the consumers have made their choice.

  • Fifth, I want to see SuSE and TurboLinux and Corel and other commercial distributions continue to grow and thrive in competition with Red Hat. The heat generated by the friction of this competition speeds the maturation and sophistication of Linux. Each competing distribution brings forth advancements in its latest offering which, once proven, becomes standard for all the distributions thereafter. An all-Red-Hat (or any other commercial variety) world of Linux would definitely not be a good thing for the community as a whole.

  • Sixth, I hope that the Gimp and Apache and GNOME and KDE and all the other world-class open source projects out there continue to improve, and continue to inspire and instruct a new generation of open source developers. This doesn't mean that members of the current generation should sit back in a beanbag chair and describe to the young 'uns how they had to modem back and forth, uphill both ways, to newsgroups all over the Internet in order to learn what others were doing; rather, they should hand down information on what works and what doesn't, and keep an eye open to see what can be learned from the new talent as well.

  • Seventh, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman continue to lead the revolution with the same style and grace with which we've been spoiled thus far. Though these two men often appear to be walking different paths, it is the synergy between them that has created the software story of the century.

    In spite of the petty sniping among the various camps, and regardless of the license envy which sometimes erupts into flames around the Internet, the combination of their styles has proven itself; since it ain't broke, it don't need fixing.

  • Eighth, it would be wonderful to see an open source client for AOL. Not because I'm hankering to learn whether or not I've got mail, mind you, and certainly not because I'm a fan of AOL; but it would certainly serve as a mark of how far the movement has come.

  • Ninth, we need to see benchmarks from trusted sources, with the testbeds not rigged in favor of one side or the other, but simply reflecting real usage on real-world equipment, comparing Linux and Windows in performance, reliability, and scalability. Let the results fall where they may, but let's get real data for ourselves and for the rest of the world so that we all can make the best choices.

  • Tenth, I want to see Miguel de Icaza do a keynote at a major Linux show and wow the crowd with what he and the other members of the GNOME project are doing -- just like he did in that small, crowded room at the Open Source Forum in Austin, Texas earlier this year.

  • Eleventh, I want a choice of world-class browsers to use with GNU/Linux. Mozilla, Opera, and Mnemonic are coming, but they won't get here soon enough for me. I'm tired of Netscape 4.x and its seemingly endless list of problems.

  • And finally, for the twelfth and final item on my list, I'm going to change gears. Enough of my "me! me! me!" mantra. Even though I'm asking for all eleven preceding items on the list for all of us in the Linux community, and not just myself, I still feel like it's been all take and no give.

    So to close this holiday wish list, I'll choose something that brings me closer to the spirit which abounds this time of year. I simply hope that this year, all of us can find new ways to give something back.

    Whether that giving takes the form of helping others get aboard, problem solving, advocating Linux in the workplace -- or even writing documentation, narration, or (Baud forbid in my case!) code, it is without a doubt the most important thing on my list.

    Happy Holidays!

    Joe Barr is a software professional, writer, and self-proclaimed dweeb. He has been working in the industry since 1974 as a programmer, analyst, consultant, and manager. In 1994 he began writing a monthly column called Papa Joe's Dweebspeak Primer in Austin, Texas's Tech Connected magazine. The column exists today as an ezine and newsletter at, which has run on Linux since its inception.

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