August 22, 2003

Penguins, Lawyers, and the Future of Computing

It all started in the mid-eighties. Computers leapt from cute gadgets that did nothing to the heart of home entertainment, education, and mortgage management. In the midst of the upheaval, a graduate student in Finland wondered why multitasking processors were still burdened with a single tasking operating system and decided to do something about it. In the frigid north a Penguin came forth and set out to conquer the world. Linux was born.

Now, a lifetime later, Linux is a major operating system capable of being used on everything from portable phones to supercomputers. Desktops and laptops are both available with Linux pre-installed and ready to run. Corporations like Sun and IBM depend on it both to run their own systems and to keep their customer's systems running smoothly. Not bad for a "free" operating system anyone can have by purchasing a $20 book with a couple CDs glued in the back. My own search for freedom from the domination of all things Microsoft began here: Linux Game Development.

Sadly, the site has not been updated in a year. More ominous yet, a retailer of Linux games, LokiSoft, appears to have gone out of business a couple years ago. The downside of "free" is that no one makes any money, and without money, no one stays in business.

So what brings my meandering mind into this neighborhood on this sunny summer day? This: The Penguin's Progress.

One pro-Linux solutions provider decided that the only way they could survive would be to assert the kind of control over Linux that Microsoft has asserted over Windows. In order to bring this "free" operating system under their control, they acquired all the patents connected with Unix, which Linux is very loosely based on, and for their first legal action took on the biggest player in the Linux world: they sued IBM.

Humor is always the forte of the scorned, and one Linux supporter has "waxed Shakespearean" in a most literary account of the recent "mud"slinging: Blind, Furry, and Signifying Nothing.

Insane fool that I am, I figure there is only one way to resolve this crisis in the computer world. Yesterday I ordered half a dozen books about Linux, two of which include Red Hat 9. By the end of the month I will be running Linux on my clunky HP Pavillion, by the end of the year I will have a brand-new Linux-based Sony Vaio from Emperor Linux. There is nothing I love more than an underdog with nothing to lose and everything to gain. IBM is certain to defeat SCO in their ill-conceived attempt to dominate the free world. Linux will never be as popular or as easy to use as Windows, which makes it the perfect operating system for crazy non-conformists like myself.

The only way to be free is to break the chains that bind you. The only way to break the chains of social conformity is to be lunatic enough to dream of being different.

Open Source world here I come!

Something tells me no one will notice.