Petreley's column: Linux's formula for success

I recently started two new jobs with the International Data Group (IDG), the mother company of ComputerWorld and InfoWorld. In addition to writing this column and a monthly column I write for IDG's Windows NT World Japan, which is called American Judge Paper, I'm thrilled to announce that I'll be working with the inimitable Bob Metcalfe on the Agenda and Vortex conferences. I also have the distinct pleasure of acting as the editorial director for a newly launched Web magazine called LinuxWorld. LinuxWorld is published by the IDG company Web Publishing.

Now, I wouldn't be this involved in the computer publishing industry unless I felt it offered real value. But let's face it: Anyone with an IQ larger than his or her shoe size knows better than to manage one's company entirely by magazine.

Unfortunately, there are people known as Dilbertian Pointy Haired Bosses (PHBs) who do exactly that. The PHB uses a simple product-selection formula. The quality of any product (Q) is determined by the number of positive comments (P) divided by three times the number of negative comments (N) divided by the article's distance from Page One (D). The formula is therefore Q = (P/3*N)/D.

For example, suppose a PHB reads an article on page 3 about NetWare 5. The article contains six positive quotes from industry analysts, but it ends with the conclusion that "Novell may find it difficult to compete with the NT juggernaut."

In this case, the number of positive comments (P) = 6, negative comments (N) = 1, and distance from Page One (D) = 3. The PHB quality rating for Netware 5 therefore equates to (6/3*1)/3, or 0.67. Tsk, tsk. Not a very good score, even if you average it with better articles appearing in previous issues.

So far Linux has a pretty good PHB quality rating. Linux has appeared prominently in many magazines, and the coverage has been mostly positive. The momentum is building so fast that SCO plans to include Linux binary compatibility in its Unix products. Even FreeBSD will have full-support Linux binaries. (It already does to some extent.)Naturally, all this attention Linux has been enjoying has Microsoft scared to death. The problem for Linux is that Microsoft understands the PHB better than any other company on the planet.

Therefore I predict that you'll see a new story on Windows 2000 (nee Windows NT 5.0) appear in every issue of every weekly trade journal from now until the product's release.

This makes the release date of Windows 2000 extremely significant for Linux. Even if Windows 2000 turns out to be the monumental disaster I predict it will be, the negative coverage really won't build up until the product ships.

Meanwhile, Microsoft will pump up the PHB quality factor to astronomical values with week after week of relentless press releases. By the time Windows 2000 ships, it will take months of bug reports and negative coverage to bring the score back down to a realistic value.

I figure that according to the PHB quality formula, only two messaging systems, Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange, average out to a significant rating. On the surface, it may seem as if this means Lotus Notes can compete with Microsoft Exchange on the Windows NT/2000 platform. But even someone with an IQ less than his or her shoe size knows Microsoft never allows anyone to compete with its products on Windows.

So if IBM can't compete on NT, then the only way Notes can stay competitive in the long term is if IBM uses it to fuel the Linux fire. If IBM is really smart, it will cut a deal with Caldera to resell a distribution of Linux with NetWare, Novell Directory Services, and Notes as a bundle.

Even if IBM has to pay both Caldera and Novell license fees, IBM can still end up in the black. Consider that Windows NT is already more expensive than commercial versions of Unix, such as Sun Solaris 2.6. Windows NT Server 4.0 Enterprise Edition costs $US4799 for a 50-user version. You can get Solaris 2.6 x86 with unlimited user licences for just $3885. If IBM can come in at less than $3000 for its Notes/Linux combo, it could be an irresistible bundle.

After all, even a PHB can count.

Former consultant and programmer, Nicholas Petreley now has too many jobs. Send your comments to, and visit his forum at

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