LJ Archive

Letters to the Editor


Issue #2, April-May 1994

Readers sound off.

Dear Editor,

Thank you for e-mailing the Linux Journal advertising rate card. I am not interested in advertising in the Linux Journal, for the following two reasons.

1. I believe the free software “formula” (give away the software, charge for services) only works if the software being given away generates a demand for services - i.e., if it is buggy, poorly documented, difficult to understand, hard to port, hard to modify or extend, etc., etc. In my experience, Linux is at least the first three of those things (details on request), but I believe my own software (which is given away free with the Linux distribution) is less so: In the last two years, since Ghost script reached commercial quality, I have received almost no requests for such services from the thousands of users on and off the Internet who might have been expected to want them. A lot of people do post questions and bug reports in the gnu.ghostscript.bug newsgroup, but I don't particularly care to have my time nibbled to death answering the same simple questions over and over again, even if I'm being paid for it, so I usually respond to them by including the answers in the documentation being prepared for the following release. (Once a FAQ gets established, I expect the volume to drop by about 80%.) And the news group also contains regular postings from people who have written new drivers or have ported Ghostscript to new environments with no help from me.

2. The people who embrace Linux are people who (a) don't have much money, and (b) are willing to live with a system that, outside its core functionality, is FAR below commercial quality. These are not the people who are going to become substantial customers of my business, which consists of licensing Ghostscript for commercial use at market-rate prices.

“I have gotten so frustrated I am now willing to switch to a commercial system”. I just don't want to put up with the loss of time and productivity any longer. My one experience with pay-for-service was a waste. It may, of course, turn out that the commercial systems are no better; if so, I'll be coming back to Linux.

I am sure the Linux Journal will be valuable to people for whom the savings in up-front cost is more important than having a reliable, supported, productive system, but I don't count myself among them.

Sincerely,L. Peter Deutsch,Aladdin Enterprises

Reply from the Editor:

I wrote an article on Unix on a PC that appeared in the March, 1986, issue of Unix World and have used PC-based Unix systems for almost ten years. Until last year when I decided to “upgrade” some systems to Linux, my work was with products from major commercial vendors. I have found Linux to generally be a better operating system than those commercial products-better in terms of reliability and support.

I don't want to go through a blow by blow description of the problems I have had with commercial products, but let me say that newer commercial products have had more bugs than the older ones. In our office (where we run a network of Linux machines) we have encountered one operating system problem that causes us to have to reboot occasionally. This problem (a serial driver bug that causes ports to hang) is fixed in the current Linux release but we haven't upgraded yet. Note that this bug is virtually identical to a bug that I have been dealing with for four years in a commercial Unix system with a well-known intelligent communications board.

What's the difference? In the commercial system the vendors (the operating system vendor and the communications board vendor) both feel it is in their best interest to deny that a problem exists. The result for me, the user, is that four years later I still have to reboot the system about once a week. Because it is clearly in the best interest of the Linux community to fix all bugs, the existence of this problem was openly discussed and it was fixed very quickly.

This is not to say that Linux is always better than an alternative. But I don't think your experiences are typical of those of most people in the Linux community. Many commercial applications are getting ported to Linux with little or no difficulty-substantially much less difficulty than people were used to in porting to a system such as Xenix and generally much less difficulty than porting to any commercial Unix system.

I also think you are off base with who the average Linux user is. We see more and more people moving to Linux because it does the job for them. Many of these people are coming from MS-DOS because they need the multi-tasking capabilities and ability to seamlessly address memory. Others are using Linux-based computers to replace workstations and X-terminals.

But I feel that once you get more experience with the commercial alternatives to Linux and once Linux gets more experience with commercial users, you will find it is a product that has matured very quickly.Editor

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