Those who revere Linux can’t imagine why Microsoft doesn’t just give Windows a proper burial. After all, Linux is open, it’s free, it performs beautifully on a wide range of hardware, and there is a massive library of open and commercial Linux software.
environments are on par with Windows. In the minds of open source zealots, it’s absurd to pay for an operating system.
I have no doubt that Linux has a brilliant future in business — but not in the way some advocates expect. Those who want to understand Linux’s potential role should recognize that, to business, Linux is a product. That it is open source software is of almost no consequence to IT. Quite the contrary, the success of business Linux will be
determined by commercial vendors’ skill in minimizing the system’s many low-level knobs, buttons, and commands that open source enthusiasts prize.
Do I advocate gutting something that draws much of its beauty from its breadth of functionality? Not in the least. Linux’s ability to adapt to the personalities and specific needs of its users shouldn’t be sacrificed to elevate its commercial appeal.
When adapting open source software for commercial use, there is always the risk that the vendor will equate functionality with complexity and complexity with customer intimidation. Vendors can’t help but refer to Windows as the gold standard for the abstraction of complexity. In my view, except for desktop applications and metaphors, no commercial Linux or any competing OS should use Windows as a design blueprint. All administrative functions in Windows are a button or a checkbox away, but Microsoft had to limit Windows’ functionality and flexibility to achieve consistent GUI management. Microsoft’s fear of customer intimidation runs so deep that only a handful of administrative functions can be scripted; after all these years, management from the command line is still impossible. That’s a problem that Microsoft will address in the upcoming .Net scripting facility, code-named Monad. But until then, Windows stands as the best example of how not to abstract operating system complexity.
To an extent, Linux frightens business users. They are no longer concerned about its stability or enterprise readiness, or about the availability of first-class support, training, and certification. Rather, businesses looking to get started with Linux or expand its role wrestle with a more basic question: Which of the thousands of components of Linux, including its enormous library of open source apps, would the IT staff have to master?
That’s how commercial Linux vendors will earn their keep. Don’t pull anything out of the OS to
reduce intimidation. Don’t rip out any capabilities for fear that a timid user will stumble over them and think Linux is some kind of Frankenstein.
Instead, vendors should make the system’s most-used capabilities more accessible and guide
customers through the process of deciding what they need to learn at each stage of development and deployment.
In addition, Vendors have other important responsibilities related to the distribution of updates and easy access to validated third-party software, which I’ll address in next week’s column.