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Linux's '60s technology, open-sores ideology won't beat W2K, but what will?

CLOSING THE EIGHTH International World Wide Web Conference, I predicted the Internet's stock bubble would burst on Nov. 8, 1999. A thousand people hooted at my specificity.


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Next, I predicted that the Internet would gigalapse before the end of Y2K. I said I wouldn't eat my column, again, if the Internet doesn't gigalapse, so the audience booed.

Then, having just sat through a ceremony honoring open-source software guru Richard Stallman, I predicted that Linux would fizzle against Windows like all previous Unixes have. The audience, which I'd expected to run me out of town on a rail, fell suddenly silent.

Taken aback, I stopped, looked around, and asked, "What?"

A few long seconds passed before a single, sad voice answered, "We are in mourning."

That sad voice was not Nicholas Petreley's, whose column hangs above mine. Petreley disagrees about the fate of Linux and his beloved Open Source Movement. He is editorial director of LinuxWorld. He's written that Windows will be Linux roadkill. He won't quietly mourn this column.

Why do I think Linux won't kill Windows? Two reasons. The Open Source Movement's ideology is utopian balderdash. And Linux is 30-year-old technology.

The Open Source Movement reminds me of communism. Richard Stallman's Marx rants about the evils of the profit motive and multinational corporations. Linus Torvalds' Lenin laughs about world domination.

Disagreeing even on how to pronounce Linux -- "leenucks," says Torvalds -- they flip the collective finger at Bill Gates, the software Romanoff whom they'd like to trap in a basement somewhere. Eric Raymond breaks with Stallman, like Trotsky waiting for The People's ice pick. A Soviet Linux lies ahead, with successive five-year plans every three.

OK, communism is too harsh on Linux. Lenin too harsh on Torvalds.

How about the Back-to-the-Earth Movement? How about Linux as organic software grown in utopia by spiritualists?

If North America actually went back to the earth, close to 250 million people would die of starvation before you could say agribusiness. When they bring organic fruit to market, you pay extra for small apples with open sores -- the Open Sores Movement.

Stallman and Torvalds would have us return to the time when software was so new that one person working alone could change the world over the weekend. But modern software, like feeding 6 billion people, is more complicated than that.

Stallman's EMACS was brilliant in the 1970s, but today we demand more, specifically Microsoft Word, which can't be written over a weekend, no matter how much Coke you drink. Multinational corporations are themselves technology invented to get big things done, things that sustain us in the complicated modern world.

Unix and the Internet turn 30 this summer. Both are senile, according to journalist Peter Salus, who like me is old enough, but not too old, to remember. The Open Sores Movement asks us to ignore three decades of innovation. It's just a notch above Luddism. At least they're not bombing Redmond. Not yet anyway.

The hard part of being down on Linux and the Open Sores Movement is worrying about that menace hanging over us at year's end. No, not Y2K, but Linux's nemesis, W2K, Windows 2000, the operating system formerly known as Windows NT 5.0.

W2K is software also from the distant past -- VAX/VMS for Windows. But it will overpower Linux. NT, now approaching 23x6 availability, is already overpowering Linux. NT and NetWare constitute 60 percent of server software shipments. All Unixes make up 17 percent, and Linux is a small fraction of that. When W2K gets here, goodbye Linux.

Let's hope there's something coming soon that's better than both Linux and W2K. What would that be? Java or what? Let's be looking.

Internet pundit Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet in 1973 and founded 3Com in 1979. Send e-mail to metcalfe@idg.net or visit www.idg.net/metcalfe .

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