Linux Desktop - An Analyst's Nightmare

by Tom Adelstein

Many historic examples exist where whole societies subscribed to some inaccurate belief. People of the early 21st century may think themselves immune but when it comes to some technologies the earth has neither motion or roundness. Regardless of the esteem with which an analyst may be held, many will share a similar place in history as those that spoke against Galileo Galilei: forgotten.

Analysts who deny Linux's place in the enterprise as a desktop have either failed to interrogate the system thoroughly or have a bias. Few, if any other explanations exists. People either consider their habits more important than rational observation or their beliefs superior to others.

If one will simply take a set of tasks required of a desktop and investigate the leading operating systems, then Linux will accomplish the most. Additionally, Linux will have better response time, will use less resources and requires less administration.

So, how come so many analysts and members of the media challenge Linux's place in the enterprise and among consumers? First, you might ask if that question has any relevance. You might as well ask how come so many people have an IQ of less than 100. Or why do medical doctors think they should be master pilots with ten hours of lessons?

People who have mastered the craft of writing, don't necessarily qualify as expert analysts. I know few who can write and analyze an operating system. I know few people who can analyze an operating system and carry a conversation with another human being. Have you ever heard a writer say, "I'm not technical?" How about a technician say, "I'm not good with people?"

Linux desktops give many analysts problems because it's their worst nightmare. To do the system justice they would have to admit that they don't really know what they're doing in the first place. If you cannot figure out Linux, you have no place pontificating about information technology.

Good analysts usually have excellent written and verbal communication skills. They socialize easily and can politic with the best. They generally make lousy technicians.

So, they hire others to do the job. What do they look for in junior technical analysts? They look for communication skills and someone who can explain things to them. So, when a young man or woman comes into a meeting and throws around the latest buzz words from the technical farm, suddenly a top analyst puts his or her trust on the shoulders of the next fool.

Last week, one of the Linux luminaries discussed media bias against Linux and took some heat for it. I read one of the media target's responses and wanted to write him. I just couldn't think of a diplomatic way to engage him in an interaction that would make a difference.

John Terpstra made a grand effort at explaining some of the myths in the media about Linux in an article at Search Enterprise Linux. I have a high regard for John. He's one of the few people I know that can explain technical issues for an hour without putting an audience to sleep.

John's premise dealt with IT decision makers' tendency to purchase products without doing due diligence. No doubt, John made salient points. Many have seen the same thing in corporate offices.

I would build on John's premise by saying that I don't think IT decision makers could actually perform due diligence objectively. Oh, they could go through the motions and fill in forms and ask questions and cover themselves. But can they actually handle the standard body of knowledge?

If those in charge of IT decision making and their analysts could perform due diligence, then they would use Linux already. Call it a pathology if you want. Most of us in the business already know that we often work for people less capable than us. So, that proliferates the field.

I read this morning that a chain of stores in South Africa has decided to stop stocking Novell Linux Desktops. They said that their customers found it too complicated. Perhaps the sales people may have thought that. My research indicates that Novell's Linux Desktop is easier to use than Microsoft Windows or the Mac OS X.

A national retail chain in my home town advertises $150 computers bundled with Linspire. I have made several trips to their stores and asked for a demonstration. Each time, the sales people attempted a bait and switch. They say something like, "for a couple of hundred dollars more you can buy a similar system with additional memory and Windows XP home edition".

A thumbnail of the recommended upgrade system used to appear on the signage of the Linspire bundled machine. The salesman would point to the sign. That suddenly stopped when I spoke to the manager of one store and explained the law against false advertising. I bought one of those computers at the same time, got a nice discount and used it in a conference presentation. It worked well.

If you pay an analyst to advise you about Linux desktops and they say that Linux is not ready, consider a second opinion. Ask someone on your staff that uses Linux at home. That's what IBM did about five years ago before they began selling it.


2005-09-19 11:40:05
Really ready for the desktop?
This is something that I waver back and forth on. I desparately want Linux ready for the desktop, but it's not at the point where I'd give it to granny. Well, maybe I would if all she's going to do is browse the web, do email, maybe want to watch some multimedia files (or DVDs), and code Python. I dunno, so maybe it's for complete tech idiots who are going to totally rely on friends for support on one end of the spectrum and tech savvy folks on the other end of the spectrum. What about the middle? When people start buying new hardware and just expect it to start working when they plug it in, they may walk away disappointed with Linux. Or when your wife does some desktop publishing and is not as happy with Scribus as she is with MS Publisher.

I know, you're talking about corporate users. Well, that may be an excellent target for Linux use. Especially if you have an IT staff who threatens to break users' fingers who install new stuff - software or hardware. If all the apps are available for the users, you can find a machine that will run it.

Anyway, good comments on how analysts analyze things. Seems kinda dilbertesque.

2005-09-19 15:06:27
Countering bias with bias?
You talk about 'discrimination' against Desktop Linux and NDL, but yet you draw lots of conclusions without telling us how you got there. (i.e. "my research shows...") Really, reading this argument doesn't tell me why Linux is 'ready', it only tells me you think it is, and perhaps that it is ready *for you*, and that everyone else is wrong due to 'bias'. But you never *prove* the critics wrong with facts or evidence, so you give me little reason to believe your perspective is any more 'valid' than the people you say are biased, etc.

Instead, you just fall into the typical justifications, like "If you cannot figure out Linux, you have no place pontificating about information technology." Or praise Linux on its benefits while ignoring its faults. Nothing I haven't heard before, and words are less convincing than my own experiences.

I ran into the usual problems when I tried Novell Desktop Linux, though overall the experience is one of the better ones I've had with Linux distros. It did handle i18n fairly well, and a lot of stuff worked out of the box. But I quickly ran into the problem that, outside possibly of their subscription package service, there really weren't many NDL packages out there. I don't mind paying for my OS, but heck if I'm going to pay a subscription fee just to be able to install software on it. Nor am I going to install everything from source - I've got better things to do with my time. Also, their media player choked on a LOT of my files, even standard MPEG ones, meaning I was quickly on the hunt for third-party software to fix this. Then I realized it wasn't really worth my time when I have perfectly good boxes running other operating systems. So I found myself (once again) back at my Win/Mac boxes pretty quickly.

There is no way that I could use NDL as my primary desktop. It will work in the enterprise, where IT depts can lock down unnecessary functionality and focus on email/web and office software. But for the average user, there are still a number of rough edges compared to Win/Mac.

I'm glad it works for you, but you might want to seriously investigate what's wrong before blindly concluding that everyone must be biased or stupid if they don't see how great Linux is.

2005-09-19 16:56:20
Countering bias with bias?
If you couldn't use NLD as your primary desktop, then you can't do what a patient recovering from neorologial surgery did. In fact, that person not only found it as an aid to recovery, but also was offered a system analyst position at a major hospital. Prior to that, the same person could not master OS X or Windows XP before the illness.

Thanks for grain of sand in an endless desert of remarks from trolls on the Internet.

2005-09-19 19:34:15
Countering bias with bias?
Wow. Are you serious? :) So my 'practical' concerns and dissatisfactions with using NDL are nothing because some person, somewhere, who had some sort of problem, can use NDL but couldn't use Mac OS X or Win?

Frankly, you're not only insulting me, you're insulting this person by suggesting that this person was somehow a special case. (i.e. that they are less smart than others, somehow disadvantaged, etc.) Whatever condition the person may have had, s/he must have been in excellent control of their mental facilities and quite intelligent if s/he was offered a systems analyst position. So I don't see the relevance of the surgery part.

Of course, this is all speculation anyways because I don't know who you're talking about or what the circumstances were, nor why the person could not "master" OS X or Windows XP. So this anecdote does not in any real way prove the 'superiority' of NDL, and I don't even see what it intends to prove, except perhaps how you feel.

If you think you can sell managers and enterprises with a moving anecdote, "it works for me" reasoning, and a focus on attacking the messenger whenever criticism is raised, well, good luck with that.

2005-09-20 09:28:56
Countering bias with bias?
I am both a Linux and a Windows user. I have also over many years examined the nature of prejudice, and it seems to be deeply ingrained in the human condition. Otherwise why would we have these extreme polarizations of human opinion.

These prejudices in most cases are relatively harmless, but then there can be cases where these can be extremely dangerous. Take Hitler who presented rationale for his actions, and even sold this to the general populace and got voting support, so they must have thought his rationale made sense. Here is a sample of the logic: It is OK to dispossess the Jews of their property because that is the LAW. But then who made this law??

You think this insanity is all in the past, then look at todays Islamic LAW and the rights of women. Or even some of todays American LAWs. The way I see it with all the flaming that goes on on the internet, that prejudice and insanity is alive and well. It is that just as long as it is focused on OSes, it may not evolve into road rage, or war, or something more harmful.


2005-09-21 15:57:39
I agree with 'bigpicture' - resistance to 'something different' is just the typical human herd behavior. Guess what - the herd aren't responsible for improving the world, no matter what they think.

At my former workplace we had 3 IT people - (this may sound like something from 'Dilbert') - one manager, one UNIX sys admin, and one MS Windows admin. The MS admin constantly bleats in praise of microsoft and poo-poos Linux; he seems to memorize and repepeat (on endless loop) all the latest MS propaganda. Annoyed by his bleating, I asked him how many Linux systems he'd set up and run. Zero. Well, I told him to shut the hell up because we scientists have no time for uninformed bullshit. Now the world is full of people like that sys admin, so there will always be opposition to Linux. As far as individuals go, if you're part of the herd, then Linux isn't for you.

As for not giving linux to your granny - is that YOUR choice or granny's choice? Success depends a lot on attitude; a few years ago a friend of mine, who was 73 at the time, downloaded and installed Debian despite my telling him it wasn't particularly friendly to users. He never had any problems, and he was an electronics repair man by trade, not a computer whiz. I learned one very important thing from that event: some people DO read the manual, and they do OK. Most others rely on what they've been trained to do at school - click this button, now click that - I call them 'click monkeys', but they refer to themselves as 'experts'.

The point of Terpstra's original article wasn't that everyone should use Linux (with other open-source software on top) - after all it's only a tool and you don't use it if it's not the right tool - but that many people making the decisions really aren't evaluating things properly. Translation: they're incompetent. Ooh, it hurts doesn't it? Too bad, if you're a monkey then jumping up and down and hurling abuse won't change the fact that you're a monkey.