Questioning promises at LinuxWorld

by Andy Oram

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The Statue of Liberty reopens to great fanfare today, while the Afghan government announces it is readmitting former Taliban members. Thus do the symbols of freedom get promoted with increased zeal while its reality vanishes.

Promises of freedom with Linux are being promoted a great deal these days. At LinuxWorld 2004 in San Francisco, I'm going to be exploring the promises and trying to find where we lie along the scale of reality. In many areas, the important foundations have been laid--but a lot remains to be done.


Linux provides a wonderful foundation for the desktop; the number of applications it can simultaneously run without halting makes it an ideal platform. I have occasionally had my screen freeze while running a desktop on Linux, but the system itself never crashes. Questions I'm asking at this conference include the following.

What are desktop and application developers doing to avoid bloat? How few features can they get away with?

Do applications work smoothly together without the user having to think about it? If I click on an .html link in an email message, will the right application pop up? How about a PDF? A WMA audio file?

Will all the accelerator keys work when I run a graphical application?

Will 2.0 resolve the promised list of Microsoft Office compatibility problems? Will it run Windows macros or permit them to be converted easily to macros?

Will free software developers break open the Exchange protocols so that Linux systems can interoperate with Exchange, and perhaps even replace it entirely?

Will free software developers get past the proprietary restrictions on new power management systems and allow them to work on laptops?


Linux has reached an enviable state among operating systems: hard to penetrate and even harder to subvert. Crashes almost never occur and bugs are fixed quickly. The job now rests on applications (as well as general-purpose utilities such as OpenSSH) to avoid buffer overflows and other flaws. One assumes Oracle is doing their part. Questions I'll ask include the following.

Are the filesystems up to handling massive and demanding database management systems?

Is it easy to configure logical volumes and SANs? To add capacity?

Can Linux protect the other, more vulnerable systems lying behind them from viruses and the exploitation of software flaws?


Linux is poised to meet the needs of the enterprise and the laboratory: it has been ported to 64-bit chips and its symmetric multiprocessing is almost uniformly implemented.
I'll be asking the following questions.

Are major applications being ported and compiled on 64-bit chips? How good are the compilers?

Can 32-bit applications see a substantial speed-up on 64-bit systems?


Linux is growing in popularity on embedded systems, and a number of consortiums have lined up behind embedded Linux. These tend not to be present at LinuxWorld, but if I can find representatives of these companies or developers I'll ask questions such as the following.

Can Linux get small enough to be useful on a wide range of systems?

Will developers take advantage of the features Linux has to offer: networking, multiprocessing, graphics?

Will a fully open and usable real-time system be offered for Linux?

Will Linux conquer its promised lands, such as consumer electronics and telecom?


What happened to Walmart Linux? Why is it so hard for major computer vendors to break away from the Windows monopoly?

What distributions will be available to people who want to run something more demanding than a desktop, who don't want to run distributions that make them flip the switches on their machines with their teeth, who can't afford enterprise-level licensing fees, but who simply need something stable and easy to manipulate?

How easy will it be to install a bug fix or a new application on one thousand systems at once?

Will free software advocates persuade schools, non-profits, and others among the general public that access to source code is a right?


Can people get training--or more commonly, retraining--for using desktops on Linux?

While certification programs really mean something? Will employers recognize what the certifications legitimately can and cannot promise?

At LinuxWorld, I'll be educating myself on these questions--and I'll report back.

What other questions should we be asking Linux vendors?


2004-08-07 03:04:41
You Go Girl!
Great questions. You must have thought hard about it. Is there a logical method to your mad questioning? How do you know that these are the questions to ask? Editor's nose?