Metcalfe's column: Benchmarks, no Unix certification undercuts Linux

(07/26/99) - It feels as though millions of readers have responded to my two recent Linux columns at www.infoworld.com/printlinks. So how can I stop now?

It also feels as though the open-source software movement has launched a new marketing campaign. In response to Microsoft's "Where do you want to go today?," the movement has been saying, "Linux -- because Microsoft is an oppressive monopoly." But now, responding evermore persuasively to the concerns of corporate America, the open-source movement's marketing message has become, "If you don't use Linux, you suck."

And then, contrary to doctrine, Linux recently ran slower than Windows NT in benchmarks conducted by MindCraft. When it came out that the tests were sponsored by Microsoft, PC Week oversaw a rematch. Alas, the outcome reconfirmed that NT is actually faster than Linux (at least between crashes). See poor MindCraft vindicate itself at www.mindcraft.com.

Speaking of craftiness, there's NetCraft, which counts server types on the Internet. Open-source believers love NetCraft because most of the six million servers it probes run the open-source Apache Web server on the open-source Linux. See www.netcraft.com, which is cool.

NetCraft, not MindCraft, is quoted widely in open-source circles as to the truth about the dominance of Linux. Why isn't anybody weighting servers by how important they are or craftily counting servers behind firewalls?

Speaking of benchmarks, Linux and the open-source movement got another boost last week from Bill Gurley, who is now a venture capitalist writing columns for Fortune.

Gurley wrote, "Open source works. ... The leading open-source operating system, Linux, is also gaining steam. According to Red Hat Software, there were 12 million Linux users at the end of 1998 ... [It] turns out that you can make money off freely available software code. Perhaps the best example of this is Red Hat Software, a company that packages, distributes, supports, and, more importantly, brands a version of the Linux OS."

In the fine print, Gurley disclosed that his firm, Benchmark Capital, is an investor in Red Hat. See www.benchmark.com.

Turns out Benchmark owns nearly 10 per cent of Red Hat, which filed to go public in June and raised nearly $100 million. So we're left to wonder whether Gurley has put his money where his mouth is, or vice versa.

Anyway, this makes Linux an inflator of the current Internet stock bubble, which I've predicted will burst on Monday, Nov. 8, 1999.

Eric Raymond (www.tuxedo.org/~esr) is one of open-source's most effective champions. He complained that I'd confused the Free Software Foundation (FSF; www.fsf.org) with his Open Source Initiative (OSI; www.opensource.org).

OK, sorry, I should more carefully distinguish the freeloaders at FSF from the free marketers at OSI. Trouble is, I'm not alone.

Then I asked Raymond two haunting questions. First, why is Linux not certified Unix? He answered, "Because so far, nobody in the Linux community has ponied up the money for The Open Group's certification process. ... Equally, The Open Group's process has a lot of built-in assumptions that are a bad fit to the way our community is organised. ... There were some negotiations last year; they seem to have bogged down after the proprietary Unix vendors got wind of the idea. I'd personally like to see it happen, but the Linux community as a whole doesn't care much about [Unix] certification." See www.opengroup.org.

Next, I asked if any next-generation OS could emerge from OSI. Raymond answered, "Something will eventually replace Linux ... probably a persistent-object system like Jonathan Shapiro's EROS. And yes, it will come from the open-source community because, by the time Linux nears the end of its life cycle, trying to build critical infrastructure software in closed source will (correctly) be regarded as the height of lunacy."

Technology pundit Bob Metcalfe's fortune, from inventing Ethernet and founding 3Com, is a significant fraction of a milliGates. But, to avoid conflicts of interest, it's kept in a blind trust. Send e-mail to metcalfe@idg.net, but, please, no stock tips or Linux flames

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