Discovering Redmond

Some readers of this blog know that I recently moved my family from North Carolina to Virginia. The move went smoothly and I now find myself employment with a Fortune 500 company as a project manager. Therefore, I am in both unfamiliar territory as well as familiar territory. Familiar because there is a complete lack of Linux in this entire business; which is something I’ve read about considerably across many Linux websites…and also unfamiliar because I thought that reading these same articles allowed me to know the scope of Microsoft in business. I was dead wrong.


Unveiling the Beast

How could I have been so blind? I ask myself this question often now… Other new IT Professionals finding employment in corporate America might have asked themselves the same question. My conclusion is that Microsoft is far larger than I had EVER imagined. It’s model, its business presence, its structure, and its existence in IT. Straight massive. They’re everywhere IT is…no matter how large an operation or how small it is, Redmond is staring back at you from every neck of the woods. It is so large that I can’t even get a firm grasp of every market it is in or every area it encompasses, nor every niche it has found foothold. Microsoft has a department for every new technology and every standard currently being developed. They also have the largest piggy bank in the world and they don’t hesitate to raid it.

You’re saying, “Yes, Yes, we know this. Everyone that uses Linux knows this.” Perhaps some OSS users get it. But I don’t think everyone truly grasps how large Redmond is and how far its tendrils thread out in business…a majority of Linux users don’t have the whole sprawl of Microsoft in front of them daily to allow it to ‘sink in.’

Most Linux users have to settle for reading about this “whole sprawl” at a technology website or hearing it from a friend of a friend whose brother works at Microsoft. In these situations, reading or hearing about something and actually seeing it put to action are two separate things. With this line of thinking, most Linux users may not fully comprehend the size, involvement, and area that Microsoft currently has.

Realization
Being a project manager here has enabled me to see each and every area that Redmond has infiltrated in corporate America. It’s everywhere. And not just in my company, it is also ingrained in every other company that we work with. It’s everywhere and in everything. I was flabbergasted and knocked for a loop when the realization hit me. No longer was it David vs. Goliath. Microsoft is much larger than Goliath could ever hope to be. Nay, it became a spec of dust vs. the sun.

I was completely sunk for about a day. I looked at the Linux business desktop (mainly Suse 9.3 and Red Hat) and then back to XP with all of its enterprise and server manipulation tools staring at me on my work computer and I physically dropped my jaw and slumped my shoulders in disappointment. The Linux business desktop is far inferior in abilities to Microsoft and is conversely inferior to corporate businesses because of its lack of features and abilities. I do understand that this isn’t the fault of Linux but rather, because most vendors develop third party applications to run using Windows. The lack of third party server admin applications and enterprise manipulation tools on the Linux desktop is painfully evident and completely understandable as most vendors do not support *nix desktops. I’m sure that there are many active projects in this area right now. That’s the beauty of Linux…when something isn’t present and there is a need for it, a project springs up and developers begin to remedy the situation.

Optimism
I firmly believe that, despite being at a disadvantage on the business desktop and inferior currently to Windows, Linux will make progress there. It is the nature of Linux and open source to overcome obstacles and persevere. Unlike desktop systems of the past such as GEOS and OS/2, Linux will not fall out of the limelight nor be bullied into non existence. Two factors dictate this: 1. Linux has no central company for anyone to attack or discredit so it cannot be undermined and 2. When you take out one Linux based company or a Linux programmer/coder, another picks up where they left off.

I’ve heard some Microsoft supporters say that Linux is a virus. In the sense of how Linux spreads and the philosophy of open source, they are right. But Linux is far superior to any “Virus” a programmer could write. It will continually perpetuate despite attempts to thwart it and with each thrust it turns aside it becomes smarter. Inevitably, Linux will push forward and improve because users take pride in that which they create. Since most users don’t own a stake in Microsoft, they are uninterested in making improvements to any Windows desktop…in this line of thinking; proprietary software is its own worst enemy while Linux reaps the benefits of user pride and involvement.

The Internal Enemy
Only one enemy prevents Linux from making major headway in the struggle against Redmond. Linux itself.

The focus of the Linux desktop is the home user and the gootools for it are developed accordingly. A home user doesn’t often need business management solution software such as Altiris. This lack of applications and tools on the Linux business desktop is preventing it from making headway in corporate America. There isn’t anything wrong with this either because Linux is developed by home users FOR home users. No one wants to develop robust business management software to maintain a 4 computer network nor do they want to do it for free.

It’s a catch 22 situation. Very few companies use Linux for their business desktop (I’m speaking large corporations here) so it isn’t in the interest of a software company to develop applications for it…but in order to get a software company to want to develop for Linux, we have to get businesses to use the Linux desktop. It fast becomes evident that we’re stuck in a vicious cycle. For this reason and for the time being, the Linux business desktop will be sparse in this area of business software applications and will continue to be inferior to a third party application filled Windows desktop.

More Optimism

There are bright spots on the horizon such as Novell developing robust management systems like Zenworks 6.5. This software allows management of both Desktop and Server for both Windows and Linux. This is a small step in the right direction and will do much to speed adoption of the Linux business desktop. However, even with Novell and even Red Hat’s help the business desktop for Linux is pushing slowly uphill. Mandriva is a welcome addition to help Red Hat and Novell push the large stone that is adoption up the hill Microsoft sits atop currently. Perhaps all of these companies together may spark a revolution? Time will tell, and I’m hopeful that these three companies are heading in the right direction.

While I don’t think home users can make a chink in that armor, I do believe that companies such as those mentioned above can by invading the business desktop and developing apps for business software management. If big business is attracted to applications on the Linux business desktop…coders will be as well. Then we’ll all reap the benefits of having resurgence in application development for Linux.

What can we do as programmers, coders, and users? More than you’d think. Giving feedback to developers and their programs or distros is a necessity. If you know of an application that is only available in Windows and the open source choice for this application is lacking in specific features…make a specific request to those developers. Communication is key. A feature won’t add itself to a program or distro. In order to get things where they need to be, we need more feedback from users to tell developers exactly what is good or bad about a certain program. Be courteous and to the point and the developers will appreciate the feedback. After all, when was the last time you gave feedback to developers on say, your email reading app in Linux? Or you desktop window manager? Can you remember the last time you submitted a bug report or gave a developer a heads up on what would work better for a feature? If not, why not? Let’s pull together and work on making apps we have better and more feature rich.

Pulling a 360
I’ve constantly fought against business adoption of Linux as evident by previous articles here on Yet Another Linux Blog. I’ve been adamant about companies taking more than they give to open source. I’ve consistently trumped for Linux to remain geared toward home users. Since unveiling Redmond in the past couple of weeks at my new job and seeing the full stretch of Microsoft, I must revise my previous notions.

I see now that Linux on the home desktop won’t be a resounding success unless it is first adopted by business. If Linux gains steam on the business desktop, a large PC manufacturer such as Gateway might be more willing to adopt Linux in a line of PC’s for home. This will never happen unless Linux is already making vast headway in the business desktop sector. So while I still do think that many companies are only worried about their own agenda’s and care little for open source, it is evident to me that without those companies, Linux will not gain widespread adoption.

Conclusions
Sure I was worried when I viewed the beast that is Microsoft from behind the corporate curtain…but what supporter of Linux wouldn’t? If you had no idea about the reach of Redmond, you too might have audibly gasped at the pure volume of involvement present in these large companies. You might have done as I did and remain in a stupor for some time wondering how Linux could even compete. You might have come to the same conclusions as I have…that Linux can compete in the desktop if businesses show that it has a value and place there. Then again you might not.
It does me good to remember a few certainties to put things into perspective. First, Microsoft may a huge behemoth in IT but even the giants topple. When giants do, it doesn’t take much…just a small crack in the armor that allows something through and the giant will fall. And secondly, with the lull before the Longhorn storm, now is the time for Linux to strike. Thus far, with more than three large vendors offering business desktops, Linux is ready to answer the call. The question is…will businesses be calling? I hope so.

This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

About

devnet has been a project manager for a Fortune 500 company, a Unix administrator, a Technical Writer, and a System Analyst during his 10 years working with Technology.

  • http://osunix.com Josh

    Linux on a business desktop is usable within a set of defined uses. The real value of Linux to corporate usage is not on the desktop anyway, it’s in the back rooms and server rooms. Look at the adoption rates in those areas, not the desktop of the cubicle-dwellers. Remember too that many of the “business desktop” offerings are still relatively immature products trying to find their way, their “niche”.

    Remember too that a good portion of the reason Windows has become the standard is because it was familiar to home users. I turn, business turned to Windows platforms to lessen training costs for their workers. While I agree that Free and OSS have a ways to go in some GUI management tools, the ability to use things like SSH and a simple text editor to completely change a machine’s behavior are probably more powerful but not well understood by the MCSE’s of the world. That doesn’t mean they’re “worse”, just take a bit of learning to understand that the click “Next, Ok, Apply, Cancel” method of administration isn’t the only show in town. Why do you think Solaris is now “open”? Not because of Microsoft.

  • http://linux-blog.org devnet

    I agree…it doesn’t mean they’re “worse” it means they’re inferior. And being inferior doesn’t mean they’re “worse” either. Linux servers are a whole different cup of tea and I believe they’re far superiror to Windows. But for the home desktop to succeed…I think the business desktop must succeed.

  • http://osunix.com Josh

    Sorry, but I can’t agree. If you define certain segments of users I would say you are absolutely correct in some instances. For the general info worker, secretary, or non-IT management I think the Linux desktop offerings are very valid and should be looked at as possible replacements. Now, in areas where a Windows only app is essential, it only makes sense to run Windows. That doesn’t make either of them inferior; it simply makes them different. I can list hundreds (thousands?) of apps that are in general use that are not cross platform; they’re either POSIX OS apps or Win32 apps. If one of those apps is my “killer app”, then I should run the OS that allows that. The others aren’t inferior, they just don’t fit *my* requirements.

    The point is, the same argument you’re presenting can be applied in reverse also. I use all 3 of the major OS’s (Windows, Linux, and OS X) because I need tools that work best on each one of those. They all do different things well, and should be evaluated for production in that respect. If company XYZ needs FileMaker, should they assume because it’s built for OS X that all other OS’s are therefore “inferior”? If your workforce only needs web, word processing, and email/calendaring why pay for licenses and administration overhead (i.e. spyware/adware removal, virus scanning tools, etc.) you don’t need? Now, if you have to have, say, full Exchange compatibility you’d want Windows. Does that mean everything else is inferior? No, just different; different tools for different jobs. Broad generalization that one specific platform or OS is the cure-all for every environment has led to billions of dollars wasted and thousands of hours of productivity lost. Illusions about which is generally the “best” leads many companies into making round pegs fit into square holes. If Linux desktops aren’t viable for *your* specific company, then cool; go with what you need. That doesn’t make them inferior choices for everyone. That’s my point and I’m sticking to it :-)

  • http://linux-blog.org devnet

    Josh…

    You’re missing my point. It’s not that I don’t think Linux COULD make it in the business world…just that it ISN’T there.

    No that doesn’t make it inferior…BUT…not having the robust applications available…even if they are third party developed…does make it an inferior business desktop. Not ‘worse’ or ‘crappy’ or any other choice words like that…but inferior in the fact that there are no robust apps to use for enterprise management.

    I’d also have to say that you’re walking right into the example I am talking about. If you saw the server management software used in these companies and saw a policy pushed to 20K machines in a few minutes…you’d smack your forehead in disbelief. I equated that to what I’d need to do to get 20K desktops to do that in Linux…and what app I’d use to do it. Bottom line…in this instance…a business desktop…the third party apps used make it the superior choice for the company I work for. Which sux because I know and you know that Linux is more secure, faster, more stable, and plain better. But us knowing this and a subway token will get us on the subway. No business cares. They can’t afford to jump into Linux when there are no robust software apps to use.

    See…the funny part is that someone could make a management suite on Linux that controlled Windows. It could be done. Suse is doing it with Zenworks…but no one else is. Why? Imagine what could be done with it! But it’s not being done because there isn’t an interest to do it. That also sucks because I see it as one of the precursors to acceptance of Linux on the home desktop.

    Bah…I’m rehashing the article. What I am trying to say is that I didn’t know the full scope of things until I experienced them first hand. I saw 20 projects (hardware and software) roll out of our offices and tried to imagine running Linux desktops and doing the same thing to the same number of satellite Linux desktops…it just wouldn’t have gotten done because there isn’t any software that can do it currently. Sure certain setups would eliminate that need to have software to do it…but what company out there knows about it? What company is going to take the chance on Linux on the desktop? Very few so far. Which sux yet again. I’m rambling and I’m tired…I’ll cut it off here :P

  • http://www.dutchrapley.com Dutch Rapley

    I’m glad to see you’re enjoying yourself!

    Actually, it can be done. We’re actually runnging a nice mixture where I work, Novell Netware, SUSE Linux, Microsoft, and MacOS. Windows is actually used for only a couple of things: 1) a citrix server, and 2) a database server dedicated to our accounting software, b/c our vendor will only support the database if it’s on a Windows box. Oh, and Windows workstations.

  • jimf

    Well, very little of this really has to do with any OS being inferior or superior.

    No matter what else is said, Windows in one form or another has been established for some time as the de facto business desktop. With a huge number of programs and specialized apps written, it is sometimes impossible to come up with equivalent Linux apps. That alone may make it difficult for companies to convert to anything else, no matter what advantages there may be in another OS like Linux..

    Secondly, companies, like individuals, are lazy. It is a hassle to switch over to a totally different system. If it works, even minimally, then no one wants to expend the effort to switch. From personal experience, I can assure you that the inertia is massive. We also have to remember that the interface and the Linux system itself is indeed very different from Windows. That means a learning curve for those who want to switch, and it is often harder to unlearn windows than it is to learn Linux. Not a situation that business or individuals want to deal with.

    The up side to all of this is that The Linux Desktop continues to improve. New apps are being created and improved, and the installation is much easier, while the stability and security continues to be superior to windows. Windows, on the other hand, continues to blunder into it’s flawed vision of Longhorn, bloated, awkward and lumbering…. it may end up being Linux’s best selling point. Just don’t expect Linux to win the market overnight.

  • http:..www.lobby4linux.com Helios

    You know Devnet…I had the epiphany you experienced just a short time ago and it was, let’s say; disturbing. Yes, it is a jaw-dropping experience to see what we have seen. I did what I had to do…I went into “survival mode”. I hid myself from the giant and went about my business of making his everyday life a series of bumped shins and banged foreheads…such are the efforts in which I endeavor.

    I am working with schools right now, and yes, their model is completely different then the mammoth systems you visioned…but it’s a foothold. As well, each kid gets a PCLinuxOS disk to take home…parents and siblings see it…a slow, steady head of steam gets built. The OEM factor has produced the results you see my friend. Had MS not taken advantage of this advantage long ago, our numbers would be much closer to equal.

    helios

  • http://danharper.org/linuxdesktopblog Linux

    Yeah, I’ve seend the same Goliath effect in my new job. I’ve just moved from a small company (70 people) to a large(ish) one (1200 people). In the small company, we had Linux server infrastructure, almost exclusively. In the large company, Microsoft everywhere.

    An additional problem to the current standing is the attitude and ignorance of managers in the large company. They are not aware of what Linux even looks like to know if it is a valid alternative.

    Some companies in Australia are taking up Linux, but they are few and far between. Mostly, companies are stuck in a Microsoft mentality.

    There are some things that Linux can’t do in business, project management tools, proprietory Windows only systems, even syncing with a Palm Pilot(!). We have a long way to go and too many issues to solve at the moment to have an equivalent Linux alternative to Windows.

    I think, however, if medium and small companies take it slowly, there are many benfits in Linux. Especially for the simple desktop users there are many gains to be had by switching to Linux. The ones with the right attitude are already reaping the benefits.

    Dan