It doesn't matter if Linux wins

Linux is doing extremely well in the server market these days. But Linux needs to conquer three things next in order to stay alive in the server space: the desktop, the desktop, and the desktop.

Linus Torvalds himself recently said that the desktop is king. But I get the impression he simply sees the desktop market as a competitive challenge. To many of us, the thought of Linux dominating the desktop is truly an escape from tyranny.

We don't care if we end up running one brand of Linux, several brands of Linux, or a big mix of Linux and the various free BSDs. Simply put, what drives us most is the desire to see Microsoft lose its control over the desktop. We'll all be happy to let Microsoft Corp. own a piece of the desktop market and even make billions in the process. But we do not want to allow Microsoft a controlling majority.

Statements such as that always trigger a wave of e-mails from readers who are eager to accuse me of bashing Microsoft. (When have I ever?) Many of you will undoubtedly defend the quality of Windows 2000 as compared to Linux or previous versions of Windows. But if that's what you think this is about, you're not getting it. This is not about hating Windows.

This is not about hating the talented folks at Microsoft. This is not about hating Bill Gates. It is not about punishing a successful business. This is not even a war about the quality of operating systems. This is a war about control.

Now, the war between Windows and OS/2 -- that one was about quality. If we gave it any thought, we OS/2 fans knew darn well that if OS/2 replaced Windows as the default desktop operating system, IBM Corp. would leverage its OS to force as many people as possible to buy IBM server operating systems and IBM hardware. We OS/2 fans were simply resigned to the fact that we were going to be forced to buy something no matter what. And if we were going to be stuck with something, we'd rather have been stuck with OS/2 than Windows.

But the war between Windows and Linux (or between Windows and any other open-source operating system) is not about quality. At the very least, it is not about quality alone. It truly is about freedom from tyranny. With Linux or BSD on almost every desktop, you can use whatever you want at the server, including Windows. Free operating systems are not controlled by a single megalomaniacal corporation that wants to rule the world. Free operating systems were designed by people who are forced to assume a heterogenous environment. So these operating systems are designed to be inclusive by necessity.

In sharp contrast, as long as Microsoft controls the desktop, we know that Microsoft will do whatever possible to use its desktop dominance to extend its control to the server and everything in between.

Microsoft's goal is simple: create a proprietary feature or technology that depends on adoption of Windows at the server, and then add that feature or technology to the Windows desktop and get customers hooked on it. Microsoft has tried things such as user profiles, active directory, and hybrid proprietary technologies -- its version of Kerberos authentication, for example. Microsoft has leveraged its Office productivity suite as well. And now it is attempting to do the same with its .NET strategy.

So far nothing Microsoft has offered has been irresistible enough to convince a significant portion of the market to commit to an all-Windows environment at the server. But don't forget that Microsoft is the most tenacious corporation on the planet. It operates under the assumption that it must not stop trying to rule the world until either it or its competitors are dead.

Therefore we users and contributors to free operating systems should operate under the assumption that we cannot be assured any longevity in the server market unless we reduce Microsoft's desktop share to a manageable minority. Then and only then can we expect the business world to be truly free of Microsoft's tyrannical approach to computing at any level.

Nicholas Petreley is the founding editor of LinuxWorld (www.linuxworld.com). Reach him at nicholas@petreley.com. Now you can get The Open Source free by e-mail each week. Sign up at www.iwsubscribe.com/newsletters.

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