Windows, Linux race risks OS variety

The race for operating system domination may end in a draw, according to an open source code expert.

OpenBSD project leader Theo de Raadt says a duopoly could occur in the OS space where binaries only run on Windows and source code only compiles on Linux.

What worries de Raadt is not the recurrence of Unix's fate of the 80s, but an emergence of a duopoly, with Microsoft and Linux firmly entrenched.

"I don't think [the different Unix flavours] was a bad thing," de Raadt said.

"Everybody's afraid of the Windows world because Microsoft programs only run on Windows," he said.

"What really makes me afraid is that we are starting to see source code that only compiles on Linux." Part of the open source movement, de Raadt is in Melbourne this week as a guest of the Australian Unix User Group (AUUG), for a gathering of open source promoters.

As the project leader for the development of OpenBSD, de Raadt has seen many flavours of operating systems spring from the university-led open source code movement of the late 70s.

"The University of California, Berkeley, developed BSD [Berkeley Software Distribution] releases for many years," de Raadt said.

When this research group disbanded, three different versions of the free code were maintained by three different projects, one of these was OpenBSD.

OpenBSD is generally regarded in the open source community as being far more secure than Linux, with its developers concerned mainly with security, code reliability and integration of cryptography.

However, de Raadt sees this variety in the OS space as a boon rather than a burden. In a world where there is only one brand of product, contends de Raadt, "that product becomes less reliable over time and starts costing more, because there is no variety in the market place.

"In the world of source code, there are thousands of software packages out there that pre-date Linux," de Raadt said.

"Some of those software packages no longer compile on operating systems other than Linux. That's a worry," he said.

De Raadt also points out that there are already some 240 incompatible versions of Linux in the market place today with different libraries, programs, options and compilers.

"I don't think that's ever going to change," de Raadt said. "We are always going to have to contend with incompatibilities and variety."

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