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Why people don't hate Linux

September 22, 1998
Web posted at 5:20 PM EDT

by Nicholas Petreley


(IDG) -- When I first wrote about Linux in the Sept. 5, 1994, issue of InfoWorld, I had no idea the Linux phenomenon would progress as far as it has in four short years. The rate at which Linux has gathered momentum is remarkable.

I predict it's only going to intensify. According to my sources, a major database company will be announcing plans to distribute Caldera's OpenLinux with its product. Expect that announcement to come in the next few weeks. I've also heard two major software vendors and two venture capitalists will soon be investing some cold hard cash in Red Hat Software, another Linux distributor.

And look at all the recent press Linux has been getting. Linus Torvalds, the originator of Linux, appeared on the cover of Forbes magazine. The San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, The Economist, and several other publications have run prominent features on Linux. National Public Radio has even covered the Linux phenomenon.

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The idea itself doesn't surprise me. It's the spin -- or, rather, the conspicuous absence of it. The recent Linux coverage lacks pundimosity. No, you won't find "pundimosity" in the dictionary. It is an invention of my own. It stands for the animosity many pundits exhibit toward technologies outside the mainstream. If you want historical examples of the inflammatory rhetoric that is pundimosity, go to your local library and search trade publication archives using keywords such as OS/2, OpenDoc, and network computing.

Perhaps one reason you can talk about Linux without wearing an asbestos suit is that there is no single leader to vilify. The network computer was vulnerable to pundimosity because its primary evangelist, Larry Ellison, is the kind of public personality people love to hate. As another example, anti-Java pundits were fond of accusing Scott McNealy of wanting to replace Bill Gates as software platform dictator. (As if there's something honorable about sticking with Windows because Gates' competition wants to make money.)

In sharp contrast, it is impossible to paint someone like the Linux creator Torvalds as a megalomaniac trying to unseat Gates. Working on Linux isn't even his regular job.

It is also difficult to undermine the credibility of Linux advocates. They are perceived as the good guys. The ones who charge you for buggy software and keep the source code secret are the nasty black hats. The white hats keep source code open and often donate their time and effort for the good of the cause. As a result, to quote Red Hat Software President Bob Young, "attacking Linux devotees would be like attacking Mother Teresa." Any effort to do so would surely backfire.

The only line of attack I can imagine is to perpetuate the misconception that you can't make money off of Linux. But this is perhaps the most ludicrous of all misconceptions. If anything, Linux makes the idea of purchasing Informix or Oracle at full price more attractive than it already is. You get the same results if you implemented these products on a commercial operating system. But you save thousands of dollars you would otherwise pay for the operating system server and user licenses.

So what do you say? Is Linux invulnerable to pundimosity? Or has the battle only just begun?

Finger tapping tip

Here are four things you can do while you wait for 100 percent Java support in Internet Explorer: Find Jimmy Hoffa; find out if it is true that when you dig straight through the earth you end up in China; reconstruct every scene from Gone with the Wind using pipe cleaner people; and devise a new language made up of words containing only the letters Q, X, and Z. This tip comes to you courtesy of New Zealander Keith Uhlmann. I have only one thing to say to your suggestions, Keith. "Qxzzqqx."

Former consultant and programmer Nicholas Petreley is almost employed. Reach him at

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