Not Yet

by Tom Adelstein

As a Linux advocate or should we say a bigot, I recently correlated enough of a survey to recognize that the Linux community has not arrived fully. Of course, if you want to discuss the issue of arriving, you also have to define the destination. I have a reference for meeting the goal and that came from Linus Torvald's speech in March 1999 in San Jose when he uttered the words "world domination".

Then, I also have my own itinerary. At one time, I felt angry toward and betrayed by Microsoft. So, during the Justice Department's anti-trust suit, I had hope that the Redmond gang would meet with a break up. Someone dashed my hopes after George Bush's assumption of office in 2001. That's a little off topic.

I created an itinerary where Microsoft fell under the weight of Linux and free software. I envisioned the major vendors working together to hurt the giant of Redmond. And why not, I reasoned that free software mostly dumped on the users of the world by the National Science Foundation would see massive adoption.

But, let's forget my itinerary and Linus' world domination statement and look into the world of enterprises. Hey, guess what, Linux and free software haven't made it. Not much demand for Linux people exists. Speaking with a bevy of recruiting firms convinced me. Here's a few bullet points:


  • Rarely do recruiters see job orders for Linux administrators. Those that do see a few live in the top tier.

  • Demand for Linux admins seems concentrated in the ISP/Hosting market where Linux has about a 60% of the business.

  • Advertisements for Linux skills on job boards and classified listings tend to say "Linux experience a plus".



You didn't read anything so far saying that Linux is losing, failing and not gaining any ground, etc. Linux has captured some technology markets. Unfortunately for the rah-rah crowd, Linux has not made much progress at capturing desktop market share. Where Linux has an advantage has not produced technology to benefit the desktop. In other words, the advances in Linux benefit servers and embedded devices and not the desktop.

I once proposed that someone create a DVD player with a daughter board. I thought that one could create an embedded device to accompany a DVD Rom using Cyberlink's products to allow Linux desktops to play DVDs and other proprietary formats. I even thought about a PCI card that had the Cyberlink products on it. That's not a stretch.

I also suggested that one of the major Linux vendors start a distribution and license Cyberlink's audio and video products. That distributor could sell a stand alone version of the software as an add-on in different formats. People could buy that components alone. That would put Linux on even footing with other desktop operating systems.

So far, we have no takers.

I have concluded that Linux cannot expect to remain 100% free software and gain market share on the desktop. People will want features not available as free. That begins and ends with the current rave in music and video. We can give that fight up to the money people.

Last night, my DVD player failed. I own a RCA box that attaches to my Hitachi Television. In the middle of the story, the DVD player just started making ugly pictures and skipped tracks. Having no other choice, I booted up the computer my wife uses at home with the same OS she uses at her job. I finished watching the DVD on an Intel computer with an Apple Studio Display running XP.

I would have liked to have used my Linux desktop. But alas, I live in the US and we don't get to use the Win32 codecs or the DeCSS DVD-decryption tools. We're video and audio challenged.

I wonder. If Linux could perform the functions available on the Windows desktop, then would we start seeing jobs for Linux skilled technicians? I think so. Instead of just desk side support for Windows, companies would need to support people for Linux too. That would cause some growth.

In the mean time, I have given up my disdain for Microsoft. That's right, I don't feel strongly about them one way or the other. They're just there and I will deal with them when I do.

As far as Linux and the demand for Linux system administrators, the US job market sees it in the server area but not on the desktop. At least, not yet.

22 Comments

Scott
2006-06-17 12:17:25
Yep, I couldn't agree more, you get what you pay for.


As long as Linux is dominated by zealots that demand all software be free, Linux will never gain traction in the consumer desktop market. There's just too much technology that people are more than willing to pay for, myself included (as in, "what you offer has value to me, you should be compensated for it"). DVDs and their associated decryption routines are not free. They cost money to produce and develop. Using DVD technology requires paying it's developers a royalty (you can argue the business case for letting anyone play DVDs anywhere, anyhow, but reality is what it is). When you use Free software, no royalties are paid. Therefore no DVD playback. If you want the DEPTH and BREADTH of PhotoShop or M$ Office, you will either have to pay for it or wait (and wait, and wait, and wait) for someone to develop it in their free time. Why would Adobe spend millions to give it away for free?


Linux is a great, stable, secure, clean slate for the generic PC market and has a lot of potential (heck, just getting rid of 20 years worth of M$ legacy baggage makes it worth the effort). But as long as the zealots keep screaming "FREE" at the top of their lungs, commercial software developers are going to steer well clear.

Anonymous
2006-06-18 17:55:20
Tom, how is your environment?


I live in another country. I can watch DVDs on Linux right now (I'm just an user), but that's not the most impressive thing. People can buy Linux-preloaded machines fairly easily over here, for 90% of the price of a Windows one.


I don't know if they use pirated software afterwards, but some, I suspect, experiment with the new OS or already have learned about Linux in public internet access centers.


Companies are seriously adopting Linux for business desktops (e.g., POS machines, self-service "kiosks"). Magazines and books are sold with titles containing the Linux word -- or Openoffice.


People who rejected Openoffice in the past -- a Linux admin, who would believe it -- now use it happily, not as much because Oo.o 2 is lighter than 1.0 (is it?), but because machines got powerful enough.


And what about inertia? Do you think this is what keep people on Windows? No, it's not! PHBs are spending considerable resources to avoid Linux usage on the desktop: it came to a point where manager stubborness is the single remaining obstacle to Linux adoption. Sometimes users _want_ free software, ask for it and are offered proprietary software instead, just because. And no, there's no dirty business involved, the explanation is far, far more simple: it's just about elephant-sized egos.

Tom Adelstein
2006-06-18 18:35:15
>Tom, how is your environment?


The enterprise customer swamps everyone else when it comes to uptake in operating system adoption. They use Windows. Some white box manufacturers do sell Linux but I don't see much action compared to sales of computers with Windows installed.


Server sales are high. We get reports from the large ISP web hosting companies about a 60% uptake in Linux and mostly Red Hat.


In the community, people see one adoption event and believethe market has responded overwhelmingly. That's wishful thinking.

William
2006-06-19 07:31:05
I don't know what software you are using, but I can play any DVD I like with vlc, ogle, xine or mplayer. I can view or edit GIFs, listen to or create MP3s and use win32 codecs. Some of these technologies are encumbered by IP baggage, but if I didn't already know that, I wouldn't know it.
Tom Adelstein
2006-06-19 08:16:01
William


In the US, ignorance of the law is not a valid defense. Do you think disclosing on a public site that you're using illegal software is a good idea?

chromatic
2006-06-19 11:56:58
Tom, it might be fair to characterize some uses (and disclosures of use) of software otherwise-encumbered by patent and trade secret protection as willful disobedience. Certainly some people consider the legal protections to these technologies as very suspect and unsustainable.
Tom Adelstein
2006-06-19 13:21:32
Chromatic: I would say that uses (and disclosures of use) of software otherwise-encumbered by patent and trade secret protection falls under the concept of willful disobedience. As a free software advocates, where do we draw the line? Perhaps we might say that it's all or nothing? If that's the case, then we stand the chance of having nothing. I don't see a non-partisan position.
William
2006-06-19 17:34:58
Tom, I'm not in the US, but I do know that the argument regarding manipulation or rendering of GIF or MP3 files is quite murky -- too murky to provide me with any serious concerns. Similarly, since the first, celebrated case against the young developer of decss, there has not been any effort to put that particular genie back in the bottle.


As for the win32 codecs, it can be *argued* that encapsulating these binary blobs is not fair use, but it has not been proven. I think that, between the lack of clear case law and the difficulty in extradition, that "normalizing" the use of the technology in this way creates a body of standard practice, which is one of the ways that emergent law is ruled and created.


DRM issues such as the restriction of decryption technology are not cut-and-dried, and by creating a body of uses that can be seen as non-infringing of the underlying rights (I buy a DVD, and watch it in a manner not condoned by the manufacturer's lobby group, but not in such a way that I am undermining the fundamental intellectual property rights of the creators and distrubutors) but are merely infringing a set of rules which can be argued as anti-competative, I help create an environment where reexamination of those rules can be done both in the courts and the public theatre.


My key point is that by behaving in ways that are non-rivarlrous to the primary litigators, I help create an environment where lobbies for the public good can gain traction.

Tom Adelstein
2006-06-19 18:02:17
William: This is the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) DVD Cases Archive


http://www.eff.org/IP/Video/MPAA_DVD_cases/


Toward the end, you'll see additional links.


Most of the activity lies below the radar because violators and accused violators tend to settle out of court. We don't see much published any more in the newspapers in the US because it backfired on the BSA. But they're still out there filing lawsuits and collecting money.


I don't want any of it.



scott_R
2006-06-19 21:03:25
I agree. Entertainment should be enjoyable. When you buy a DVD, CD, or other media, it should just work. You shouldn't have to jump through hoops, technological or legal, to be entertained.


However, I'm not sure how this is Linux's fault, as it currently affects more than Linux or F/OSS. Some [cheap] DVD players don't include the capability to read some of the newer DVD formats, and the situation will likely worsen as time goes on. The RIAA encourages formats that don't play, even on MS Windows PCs.


Realistically, there isn't much anyone can do about this, as the media companies are also the ones that bless, if not manufacture, the devices that media can play on. It probably puts me into the zealot crowd by some, but if the MPAA prefers that I don't view their products on my Linux computer or cheap DVD player, so be it. I won't waste my somewhat hard earned money on their products.


I might lose out on a few quality movies, but my hunch is while the rest of you groan through mostly hack movies, I'll be doing something more productive. Perhaps reading and posting another [potential] revenue generating comment on your fine site. In the context of supporting your family, how important is that DVD compatibility? :)

Caitlyn Martin
2006-06-19 21:55:42
Tom,


I looko at DICE and Computerjobs.com and I see many, many listings for Linux administrators and Linux skillsets. Linux isn't always the primary skillset but it's a requirement. Usually it's coupled with other commercial UNIX skills (Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, etc...) as Linux hasn't displaced the commercial *nixes on big iron.


You move on to talk about the desktop and I see a huge disconnect here. Desktop support people are usually just one notch above help desk. Those are low paying jobs for the most part. Systems administrators, network engineers, and security analysts (I've been all three) support corporate server room infrastructure. That is where UNIX/Linux professionals make a serious living, myself included. I know of many companies looking for solid Linux/UNIX talent.


In my experience Linux, as you point out, has not made significant inroads on the desktop. Yes, I can name several companies from my days working for Red Hat that do use a Linux dsktop but they are the exceptions, not the rule. However, again, for skilled administrators I am not sure that matters. Linux presence in the enterprise server room is estimated at anywhere from 30-38% depending on whose numbers you believe. Microsoft's share isn't growing. That is very significant progress both in terms of market share and in terms of running many large and small businesses.


In any case, I feel you are raising two distinct and only tangentially related issues. More Linux desktops won't translate into more admin jobs and I am, in fact, disputing your claim that those jobs aren't there. Indeed, there is more money to be made in UNIX/Linux on average than with a Windows skillset. Having *both* skillsets is ideal, of course.


-CMM

hanumizzle
2006-06-19 23:03:32
Linux is a great, stable, secure, clean slate for the generic PC market and has a lot of potential (heck, just getting rid of 20 years worth of M$ legacy baggage makes it worth the effort). But as long as the zealots keep screaming "FREE" at the top of their lungs, commercial software developers are going to steer well clear.


Tell me, do you make your strawmen at home, or do you buy them at the store?

hanumizzle
2006-06-19 23:05:35
Tom, how is your environment?


I live in another country. I can watch DVDs on Linux right now (I'm just an user), but that's not the most impressive thing. People can buy Linux-preloaded machines fairly easily over here, for 90% of the price of a Windows one.


I don't know if they use pirated software afterwards, but some, I suspect, experiment with the new OS or already have learned about Linux in public internet access centers.


Companies are seriously adopting Linux for business desktops (e.g., POS machines, self-service "kiosks"). Magazines and books are sold with titles containing the Linux word -- or Openoffice.


What country is this? *.in? *.th? *.cn? (I seriously want to know.)

hanumizzle
2006-06-19 23:09:13
As a Linux advocate or should we say a bigot, I recently correlated enough of a survey to recognize that the Linux community has not arrived fully. Of course, if you want to discuss the issue of arriving, you also have to define the destination. I have a reference for meeting the goal and that came from Linus Torvald's speech in March 1999 in San Jose when he uttered the words "world domination".


The only change that comes passively is bad change. Don't expect change to happen automagically. Be the change you want to see in the world. And if one avenue doesn't work, try another.

Stomfi
2006-06-19 23:14:47
I agree that Linux should run proprietary software to gain market share. I use Runtime Revolution, an easy script based GUI builder for running bash shell scripts, and as the resulting binary builds are freely distributable I get the best of both worlds.


Our local Technical College here in Brisbane, Australia runs Linux for Beginners, quite a change from the usual MS only fare, and at least 5% of magazines in out lying towns and suburbs are Linux titles. Quite a few students of the Linux course are PC shop technicians which may show a desire to support Linux for their clients. although I also know of many MS PC technicians who use Linux to repair Windows faults.


We know that embedded Linux is making big inroads into entertainment and media black boxes, (my badged hard drive TV recorder uses a custom Linux OS) and I think we are going to see radical changes in the home entertainment market when the Sony PS3 gets into the hands of the Linux hacker community, although that could take a few years to trickle down to the conservative masses, unless a better interface was part of the result.


The main complaint everyone I know has with Linux is interoperability with Windows/MAC add on applications like mp3 pods, games, graphics, CAD/CAM, and SMB accounting packages. There are some notable companies out there who have already ported to Linux, but these are usually in the 10s of thousands price ranges, whereas SMBs and professional users would like something for under 5 thousand like they can get on Windows.


If these Windows/MAC programs could be ported to Linux as binary shareware or payware, the added benefits of Linux security, robustness, performance, and productivity, would leave the powers that be no reason to not migrate to the Linux OS.


If America has a shortage of Linux technicians and engineers I am sure us Aussies would like to help them out.

hanumizzle
2006-06-19 23:49:08
If America has a shortage of Linux technicians and engineers I am sure us Aussies would like to help them out.


Unfortunately, America has ironically become the 'doom and gloom', 'woe is me' country when it comes to technological progress.

Dale
2006-06-20 16:09:35
I use Linux for home and much as I can in the corporate setting. I'm a technologist and can get away with using Linux with most things, but my company is a windows company mostly and I have to support windows.
I have come to the conclusion sometime back that Linux is the disfunctional step-child of the computer industry.
It's alright to want everything free, but they say you get what you pay for.
m.o.s.
2006-06-20 17:26:41
Unfortunately, America has ironically become the 'doom and gloom', 'woe is me' country when it comes to technological progress.


Ok, what exactly do you mean by this?

hanumizzle
2006-06-21 09:10:21
I use Linux for home and much as I can in the corporate setting. I'm a technologist and can get away with using Linux with most things, but my company is a windows company mostly and I have to support windows.
I have come to the conclusion sometime back that Linux is the disfunctional step-child of the computer industry.
It's alright to want everything free, but they say you get what you pay for.


Interesting anecdote:


Someone I know who worked at a supermarket once showed me the difference between the generic peas and brand name peas: viz., none. He peeled back the label on a can of the brand-name peas and guess what stared back from underneath? That's right: a can of the generic stuff. The difference was nothing more than a label! The supermarket made a sneaky buck off of prejudice and snob appeal.


'You get what you pay for' is a meme, and it's a damned stupid one at that. Yes, it's true that sometimes you don't want to go with the low-bid product, but this has generally not been the case in my experience.


Of course, nothing is free. With free software, someone has to put in a lot of TLC. Fortunately, there are people who step up to the bat. I just started using SLIME (Superior Lisp Interaction Mode for Emacs) with SBCL a couple days ago, and it kicks ass. I swear it reminds me of one of those CADR machines they had back in the 1980's.


I will begin attending college this year for a degree in Comp Sci. When I complete it and start writing more software (I already have my hand in the VASM 2.0 project for VL coz I started it), dollars to donuts says it will be FOSS. "But don't you want to paid a lot of money..." NO. I want enough dollars Baht to get by, and I want people to like me for what I do; even at this early stage, people appreciate the work I do and respect me greatly for my sense of direction. This is more important to me than any financial compensation.


I genuinely enjoy writing software. Money is the middleman IMO. Skip the middleman. I want to use and write awesome software for everyone's benefit, including my own! Share and share alike! This is what motivates free software developers worldwide. Those who serve the Almighty $ just don't grok that.


I could rattle off examples all day... TeX/LaTeX? Emacs? Apache? (Why is it that Apache serves twice as many websites as IIS, and yet suffers less than half the vulns?)


'You get what you pay for'... The fact that people tirelessly mouth the same idioms without thinking makes me wonder if Jedi mind tricks really work...hmm...

hanumizzle
2006-06-21 09:23:13
Ok, what exactly do you mean by this?


I imagined it would be self-evident. Look at those areas of the world where there are massive, public movements to free software. Look at the European Parliament's overwhelming rejection of software patents. And here in the land of optimism, we have these IT workers who work with Windoze, hate it, and think they have no way out. It's depressing to hear them talk. It's like watching Sisyphus roll that boulder up the hill


From #ruby-lang on Freenode:


[2006-06-19 04:16:21]  spatulasnout: I never use windows. I hate windows. I refuse to work any job that requries windows and I get it in my employment contract that I don't have to use it.


[2006-06-19 04:20:05] I'm 18 now and I want knowledge on avoiding wimpdoze in a career setting in advance


[2006-06-19 04:21:35] hanumizzle: hey, hanumizzle... you want to work a job coding windows apps? (correct answer: no)


[2006-06-19 04:22:40] zenspider, yeah, but how exactly do I find a decent job where I can avoid wimpdoze altogether?


[2006-06-19 04:23:10] is there any secret besides having firm resolve? (which is an essential for getting ANYTHING you want in life)


[2006-06-19 04:27:02] hell... I work in freakin SEATTLE and I've not touched a windoze box in 8 years. anyone can do it.


I swear...some people just don't know how to say NO.

hanumizzle
2006-06-21 09:26:40
Sorry, messed up that IRC excerpt:


[2006-06-19 04:16:21] <zenspider> spatulasnout: I never use windows. I hate windows. I refuse to work any job that requries windows and I get it in my employment contract that I don't have to use it.



[2006-06-19 04:20:05] <hanumizzle> I'm 18 now and I want knowledge on avoiding wimpdoze in a career setting in advance



[2006-06-19 04:21:35] <zenspider> hanumizzle: hey, hanumizzle... you want to work a job coding windows apps? (correct answer: no)



[2006-06-19 04:22:40] <hanumizzle> zenspider, yeah, but how exactly do I find a decent job where I can avoid wimpdoze altogether?



[2006-06-19 04:23:10] <hanumizzle> is there any secret besides having firm resolve? (which is an essential for getting ANYTHING you want in life)



[2006-06-19 04:27:02] <zenspider> hell... I work in freakin SEATTLE and I've not touched a windoze box in 8 years. anyone can do it.

Anonymous
2006-06-21 18:14:26
> What country is this? *.in? *.th? *.cn? (I seriously want to know.)


*.br (Brazil)


Linux PCs are sold in retail stores as part of a tax exemption government initiative to make computing and internet more affordable. They're mostly workhorse machines, not state-of-the-art supercomputers.


One PC maker reportedly had a 40% boost in sales after starting to offer Linux pre-installed machines. HP, for instance, offers Mandriva installed (I'm a Mandriva user, so this is relevant to me).


For proof, see some Linux PC ads:


http://compare.buscape.com.br/procura?id=22&raiz=2&kw=linux+pc&ordem=prec&pagina=1


(Whether people install pirated software or not, I don't know. And I really can't see the point, since I find Linux superior).