When the CEO of a major IT conglomerate feels compelled to deliver a written apology to the Linux community for making an off-handed comment about the ‘immaturity’ of their pet passion, you can’t help but realise how serious this teenage technology has become. (Note to hate mail writers — ‘teenage’ is just a chronological metaphor!)
Warning your partners about the “Linux threat” and issuing specific instructions on how to deal with it in the form of a CD, well, that’s almost as serious as fighting terrorism with a fridge magnet. You know, spot a terrorist, run to the fridge and follow instructions. Except, there’s a lot more to Linux-threat than “following instructions” once it — like that elusive terrorist — makes a surprise appearance on your front loan. We know it. Microsoft knows it. And so does the customer.
In economic, emotional and ideological terms, the ‘threat’ of Linux is a lot more palpable than anything the software giant has come up against thus far. Indeed, the mixture of relative technological maturity, low cost of both the technology and related skills, and its powerful ideological message, makes Linux and open source a powerful opponent, as much as it makes it a seductive choice.
We now know that the Munich city government finds it stable, scalable and mature enough to migrate its entire computer network to the platform. Closer to home, South Australia might make it mandatory for its government departments to use open source software if a Democrats-backed bill is passed into law. Their arguments, of course, are purely economic, but in the end it is the economic, not the technological argument that wins the end-user over.
And from the bottom to the top of end-userland, vendors are making sure the cost-effective Linux alternative is here to stay. HP recently launched a low-cost Linux-based notebook into the Taiwanese market, Sony, Royal Philips Electronics and Matusushita (the makers of Panasonic) have formed an alliance to promote development of the open-source system for use in digital AV and mobile devices, Acer has added it to the business PC line up, and Novell, IBM and Sun are all playing along from the enterprise corner.
So, what can a fridge-magnet mentality do to change that? The answer is not much. What we’re seeing is a shift in the way software is not only sold, but also perceived — as a commoditised building component bought and sold to allow for cheaper and more autonomous and flexible technology choices.
Linux may not be mature enough in the eyes of some, but both the market and the customer are — and they want the open source option. Do you?