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Let's Talk About the Competition

Phil Hughes

Issue #30, October 1996

It isn't about Linux. Or is it?

I had planned to write this column about what has been happening with Linux since 2.0 was released. I was going to cover the updates, as of today, to Linux 2.0.7. But, I forgot—updates in a stable chain are uninteresting, as they are just bug fixes.

Fortunately, three pieces of news caught my eye, and I now had topics that are both current and of interest. But, it isn't about Linux. Or is it?

Where is UnixWare Headed?

First, for newcomers to the Unix racket, UnixWare is a product of Unix Systems Labs (USL). AT&T sold USL to Novell and last year Novell sold USL to SCO. So, UnixWare is what remains of what many considered “Real Unix” from AT&T.

In the ITbits newsletter published by Implements, Inc., Norton Greenfeld comments that the UnixWare Technology Group (UTG) is being dissolved. SCO (the guys who now own UnixWare) will form an internal group to take its place. What's wrong with this? UTG was reasonably independent, and its decisions had to do with the entire Unix industry. Independence is no longer the case, as SCO has just put themselves in the position of being on all sides of any decisions. For later reference, note that a little company in Redmond named Microsoft owns a reasonably-sized chunk of SCO.

On to Windows NT

I just received a release (called an alert) to journalists and analysts from Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly & Associates titled NT Workstations 4.0: Bad News for Web Servers. The title immediately got my attention, but it turns out that rather than a warning that NT Workstations 4.0 will destroy your web site, it was a call for political action. The gist of the alert is that this new version of NT is designed to limit performance so that you can't use it as a web server. This means you will have to purchase NT Server (for $999 instead of only $290 for NT Workstations) if you want to run a web server. Tim goes on to quote web site developer Bob Denny: “When I first started developing web servers in 1994, nearly all web serving was done on the Unix platform. Considering that companies such as O'Reilly & Associates, Netscape and half a dozen more, pushed hard in the fight to legitimize NT vs. Unix as a web server platform over the last 18 months, Microsoft's actions are pretty extreme.”

What Does This Have to Do with Linux?

In case you haven't caught on to where I am going with this—it isn't where Tim was going. He thinks this is bad; I think this is an opportunity. A few days ago I was talking to a vendor of Alpha systems running Linux. He told me that even Digital was surprised at the number of systems he was selling. Many of these systems are for web servers.

Linux people, now is the time to strike. Linux is a great operating system for web servers. Our own web server is a 486DX4/100-based Linux system. Our site has grown in popularity to around 80,000 hits a day, and the server continues to perform flawlessly. By the time you read this we should have the secure version of the Apache server running on it.

For a higher-powered web server an Alpha-based Linux system offers more performance at a lower cost than NT. In other words, everything that NT can do can also be done by this system.

We have a chance to show the big guys that we know what we are doing. Selling a Unix-like platform to the Internet community isn't hard. After all, the Internet grew up on such platforms.

When MS-DOS was the $100 answer against the $1000 Xenix answer, people were picking MS-DOS. Note that I am ignoring capabilities and performance. Capabilities and performance seem to seldom enter into mass marketing efforts anyway. (Remember Beta VCRs offered superior performance at the same cost.)

Today the game is different. While Microsoft is trying to get $1000 out of your pocket, Linux offers a much less expensive alternative that generally performs as well or better.

Remember DR DOS?

DR DOS is/was the MS-DOS-like system that was developed by Digital Research. It was bought by Novell, had a significant following for a while and then faded away over the last two years.

Well, Caldera just acquired DR DOS from Novell, where “just” means July 24. What does this have to do with Linux? A lot. Aside from the fact that Caldera is a Linux company, part of the DR DOS package was a lawsuit (filed on July 23) against Microsoft.

Microsoft is accused of “illegal conduct ... calculated and intended to prevent and destroy competition in the computer software industry.” Of particular interest to the Linux community are the deals that Microsoft has cut to get OEMs to include MS-DOS with the computer. While I doubt anyone reading this is very excited about having DR DOS as an alternative to MS-DOS on their new system, this action could open the way for other operating systems (for example, Linux) being more widely available. (For more information, check out www.caldera.com/news/pr001.html.)

A Call to Action

What do I want you to do? Sell Linux. By that I mean talk to your boss who is considering setting up a web server. Talk to your ISP. Point them to some examples. (www.ssc.com is our web server, but don't stop there. Our ISP, running Linux systems can be found at www.aa.net/. And there are certainly more.)

There may be a lot of copies of software by Microsoft out there, but Linux is a significant influence on the Internet and now is a good time for us to make sure it stays that way.

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