Articles / Response to Bill Gates

Response to Bill Gates

In today's editorial, representatives from Linux-Mandrake rebut Bill Gates's recent comments about Linux and Open Source. Bill Gates recently said three things (in addition to many others) in an interview with "Australian IT"[1]. First, he said that Linux is just hype and cannot compete with Windows on ease-of-use. He also said the Open Source model doesn't offer any great benefit in terms of reliability, and then said the same about security. Even if we can feel a twinge of satisfaction that Microsoft seems to be concerning itself with Linux's existence, his remarks deserve a loud response because they're blatantly false. Much of what Mr. Gates said is commonly referred to as "FUD" (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt [2]).

About the so-called "hype"

What Mr. Gates calls "hype" is actually a worldwide, grass-roots, fundamental change in how computing is performed. This evolution (revolution) had its modest beginnings in Finland in 1991 and continues to enjoy a phenomenal growth rate. The truth is that thousands of new users are discovering Linux each and every day and finding it a complete replacement for Microsoft Windows. Many of these new users have grown weary of relying on an operating system that is unreliable and has a tendency to crash regularly for no apparent reason. Many of these people are tired of the forced uniformity, tired of having no control and no power to fix the many bugs and shortcomings faced while performing everyday computing tasks, distrustful of waiting for answers that never arrive, exhausted from the endless cycle of paying and paying again for an operating system and applications that always seem to do what they need -- but only in the next release.

The truth, according to IDC figures, is that Linux is now the second most widely-used operating system in the world[3]. The truth is also that the most widely-used Web server in the world is Apache[4], which is Free Software. The truth tends to be quite a bit different from Mr. Gates's claim of "some single applications and Web servers".

About ease-of-use

Linux is still considered to be harder to use than MacOS and Windows. Why is this so? First of all, Linux has inherited a great deal from Unix, which is often seen as a complicated system -- not particularly because it's hard to use, but because it is VERY fully-featured and different in many ways. People discovering Linux are always surprised at the great many things that can be accomplished with Linux, especially the power that lurks behind a seemingly simple shell command line which can be used to read and write email, edit files on remote servers, talk to friends on the other side of the world, listen to MP3s, burn a CD, and compile an application -- all at the same time.

Until recently, addressing these ease-of-use issues was difficult because the issue is actually two fold, based on the presumption that security and ease-of-use are mutually exclusive. We don't ever wish for Linux to become unstable as the cost of making it easier to use, just as we never want Linux to become unsafe. People who regularly use Windows are accustomed to system crashes and viruses as a normal daily concern -- this is not the way computing has to be! With Linux, this situation largely doesn't exist because of the fundamental architecture of the system, which consists of independent layers that have specific features and strict permissions. Additionally, normal users have a strict and limited role on a Linux system; it's only the "root" user (administrator) who has the power to expose an entire system to possible danger. With DOS, Windows 95, and Windows 98, users have the ability to do anything to a system. This is a dangerous scenario in these times of widespread Internet access and extensive networking. With Windows NT and Windows 2000, Microsoft introduced some mechanisms that LOOK like Unix features such as authentication, permissions, and others, but they don't remotely come close to the same level of security that Linux provides.

Linux-Mandrake, in particular, has always focused on ease-of-use issues and has been working hard on this particular challenge of blending common sense security features while maintaining the same user friendly operating system that has become so popular with Linux users. With a Linux-Mandrake system, you can choose a level of security for the system based on its intended use, while maintaining a very friendly system at the same time.

"Ease-of-use" seems to have come to mean graphical interfaces for everything. While it's certainly not true that a nice interface instantly means something is easier to use, it is true that users have come to expect and appreciate slick-looking interfaces to do their work in. This is one area where Linux lagged until KDE[5] and GNOME[6] appeared. Now, Linux is extremely easy to use day-to-day with these great desktop environments.

One of the remaining issues we in the Linux community need to address is the refinement and polishing of the wonderful tools we already have at our disposal. For example: It's true that most applications don't use anti-aliased fonts for display purposes, which might cause a user to think, "Well... it doesn't look as good as Windows; I wonder what else it's lacking." Of course, this single point doesn't mean that the application doesn't contain all the features that would make this user extremely happy, but people's perception is their reality, so it is a valid issue to consider.

About reliability and security in the Open Source model

Reliability and stability have long been major benefits of Linux, and this is proven every day by the thousands of Linux servers that run for months and sometimes even years without as much as a hiccup. Security has also been an important feature of Linux, not only because it is one of the fundamentally most secure operating systems itself, but also because of the way security flaws are handled. When a security issue is discovered, it doesn't take very long for Linux vendors to release an update. Sometimes, a fix can take a week; often, it takes a few days or even a few minutes, depending on the bug. The Open Source model provides an extremely efficient process for handling these types of matters that can't be matched by a proprietary software maker such as Microsoft, which often takes weeks, months, or even years to fix a problem.

So how exactly does the Open Source model excel? Even if Microsoft had the best and brightest engineers in the world, we have the power of numbers. When a serious bug is discovered with Linux, hundreds (possibly thousands) of experienced users and developers can spontaneously work to fix the problem because they have access to all the sources. And we, as Linux vendors, quickly receive patches from the community or develop a solution ourselves. This patch is then validated (or not) very quickly, so an update can be released in record time. This extremely efficient process is impossible in the proprietary/closed software model; it's simply the nature of that beast.

Once upon a time, there was a young boy and a PC...

He couldn't do much because he only had DOS/Windows installed on his computer. He was very saddened to realize that he had to buy additional software to actually do anything with his new pride and joy. But since he had already spent most of his money on the PC, he unfortunately had to copy some proprietary software. This wasn't an ideal solution, because then he couldn't get the documentation for the software. This was extremely unfortunate, because he was very interested in learning programming but couldn't find any information about the libraries that were shipped with the C compiler that a friend had copied for him. Furthermore, the operating system calls that he used were apparently undocumented and there wasn't even an assembler provided with the system. He really couldn't understand why he didn't have the opportunity to create his own software for this computer and operating system that he already paid for.

That was 1990. Five years later, this young boy discovered he could run Linux on that 386 -- and it was free! Well... he just had to buy 50 diskettes, and he was with his new OS. This operating system provided several full-featured compilers and all the documentation he needed to enable him to program anything for his computer. It was then that he realized how limiting Windows had been for him all that previous time and how it stifled his personal desire to create. He realized that Linux couldn't even be compared to that other operating system.

Linux provided the freedom this young man needed -- the freedom to control the technology at hand and also his own future. Linux provides the opportunity to express one's self through creating code, and empowers the individual, which is where power best belongs.

The Future will be Open... or it won't be

People know about icebergs. They know that unless they're swimming underwater in that sea, they're seeing just a little bit of the iceberg. That's similar to how it is with Linux companies and the Open Source model. Linux companies won't ever be as rich as traditional software companies because they offer much more than proprietary software does, and nearly for free. But this doesn't mean we can't all make a living with Open Source software and live well. Mandrakesoft, Red Hat, SuSE, Turbo Linux... all these companies will tell you that they grew a great deal this year, they also grew the previous year, and they will grow again the next because there are ever increasing numbers of people having their own personal discovery with Linux. These people will buy a Linux pack, then their friends will purchase a pack, as will more and more enterprises, who will also require services and support. These Linux companies and this wonderful community we're all a part of are helping change the way people use software and directly affecting people's lives and how we all work.

So, when talking to potential new Linux users, just tell them they can have a full operating system for their PC that contains an office suite, a Web browser, just about everything they could want... for free. This is the first step to entering the Linux world. This will put them on the road to discover for themselves what the "Free" really means in Free Software. With time, they'll also come to know what we already do, the same way your mind evolved between the first day you decided to get Internet access -- no matter whether it was because it was a "fashionable" thing to do or you really wanted to know what it was -- and the day when you first browsed those personal Web pages, to the day of posting your first words in a forum.

All readers who switched definitely from Windows to Linux are welcomed to give their feedback about their experience in the Mandrake Forum on http://www.mandrakeforum.com/article.php3?sid=20000918042153.

Notes:

  1. "Empower the people: Gates' vision" -- read the article on http://www.australianit.com.au/common/storyPage/0,3811,1184200%5E501,00.html
  2. FUD -- see http://nofud.linuxtoday.com/MainTOC.html
  3. Linux second server OS (1999) -- see http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-200-1549312.html?tag=st.ne.ni.rnbot.rn.ni
  4. Apache first Web server (2000) -- see http://www.netcraft.net/survey/
  5. KDE -- see http://www.kde.org/
  6. GNOME -- see http://www.gnome.org/


GaŽl Duval, Co-Founder of Mandrakesoft, and Phil Lavigna offer this essay to be freely improved and redistributed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.


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Recent comments

28 Nov 2003 20:40 Avatar renyi23

Easy ... the new problem in linux

Linux is not easy to ue as someone pointed out, becuse its so complex and powerful.


I'm not sure howto put this, but the effort to make Linux easier to use, easier for newbies, make Linux look more like wind0ws is actually bringing up new problems.


One good example is my n00b experience while configuring a network with my Mandrake distro. The GUI is so simple to use, that I donno what changes were made, or not made, were activated or not activated. Some changes require u to restart X, some this some that blah blah blah. In the end I just reboot the pc.


Linux used to be good for these things, reconfigure whatever you need without rebooting. This is really frustrating. I have lots more encounters with these "GUI that look good and easy to use" problem that I can list here. Now I'm just sticking to console like my good old MSDOS days.


Wizards are to aid users, not to hide and simplify everything to nothing like M$ ppl are doing. Some users might be stattisfy when the stuffs that they want to do are working, but some still want to know what's happening in the background and have some control over it.


The point is, stick back to linux roots. Learn Linux the correct way, or you'll learn nothing at all .... Try asking the new linux desktop newbies to use consol for a day, I'm sure they'll switch back to windows.


Being lazy and being a complete idiot is not the same thing, so make sure the ease of use are targetted at lazy people, not idiots who know nothing about computer, but want to use Linux just because everyone says its better than wind0ws.


I'm not sure if I made my point here, hope you guys can see it, ;p

17 Jan 2001 14:17 Avatar intangr

Marathon+
My mother was seeing a hardware technician two years ago. He used Windows out of FUD of anything else, and to get some sense of security since he wasn't very experienced with software modification in general (mostly hardware). He had to reformat our computer's hard drive several times during his stay with us to solve minor windows software/conflict problems, but that's another point. After a reformat, because of the Dell-specific devices attached to our computer, he'd have to put in a marathon 12-36 hour reinstalling session trying to get Windows to recognize and use our hardware correctly. I have formatted the thing once or twice myself, and even with the fresh perspective and learning from his mistakes, I put in 13 hours installing simple things like our modem and sound card as a general rule.

Then, I bought Linux. I picked up a Mandrake 7.2 distro at Wal Mart for about $26 after tax (Windows ME is $80), took it home, repartitioned my hard drive (which had already been divided into 3 partitions by the hardware guy and Dell themselves), and installed. I'm in day 3 of using Linux and, although I'm still figuring out how to compile the kernel to use my LT Winmodem and OPL3-SA3 sound board, everything has gone more or less much more smoothly than with windows.

I couldn't compile with Windows; their c++ environment costs over $200. Mandrake comes with several. They also gave me MP3 software, CD burners, every IM system I can think of (and some I can't), a full office suite (Office 2000=$300), and about the breeziest hardware support I've seen, for $25. Not $2000, hours of install, and months of tracking down and downloading programs; $25--and about 2 hours.


I'm not a hacker. I'm not a sysadmin. I'm not skilled; I type fast, but so does everyone. I can code-a little-in VBasic, thanks to a college course. My expertise is limited to what I've been able to glean from a couple years of windows application exploration-no in-depth OS exploration, even. And Linux is installed and runs and I know the exact location of a webpage (http://www.linuxnewbie.org/nhf/intel/compiling/kernelcomp.html target=_new) that can tell me how to recompile my kernel(to fix my winmodem) in simple newbie-glish with my new free programming environment.

16 Nov 2000 13:48 Avatar ghopper

linux vs microsoft windows
i'm a new linux user, and the thing i think people should know about is the deal that when an application has a problem or crashes, it's only that application that you have to concern yourself with, in linux. i got really tired of windows having some kind of page fault or stack dump and negatively affecting the whole system.

16 Oct 2000 08:05 Avatar lepus

Linux is NOT easy to use
I have been using Linux for about two years now, and had some failed attempts at trying it earlier as a WinNT addict... ^_^
Actually, what I see in Linux is a powerful and free UN*X operating system, with supreme desktop support in comparison to many other UN*ces.

This is an important thing, one should not see Linux as something it isn't! It isn't a user friendy system. It can't and shouldn't become one. Probably a user friendly system can be _based_ on Linux, as a shell drawn over the eye of the lamer, blinding him from the truth... ;)))))))
The hype around Linux is about trying to make it a user friendly system.

Any Linux which states it is user-friendly is LYING. They are very friendly until you try to USE them.
A friend of my father once got caught up in the hype, and though he is a total lamer (the worst type, who thinks he IS a computer genius), installed Linux. Caldera Linux.
In the first days he displayed the typical syptoms of Linux-hype contamination, like deleting his Windows partition, calling Windows a piece of shit, and saying nonsense thing like "Linux is easier than Windows"... Of course, since that piece of crap Caldera installs without asking a single question of the user, speaks many native languages, and so on... And starts up with KDE.
But of course, after he got on from playing with the various KDE games, and fiddling with the GUI settings, and tried to USE the system... Ugh... (You can imagine... He didn't even understand the difference between Linux and KDE...)
Nowadays all I hear from him is that Linux is a piece of shit, and it can't compete with Windows, and even complete nonsense like it is a dead thing and even I will soon realize that... But he liked the KDE games so much, he installed a RedHat again to play. -_-

All this hype is good for is making people believe Linux is something which it is not, and not something what it is. Like this guy, people will think that Linux is a dead attempt at dethroning Windows. This is the worst thing they can believe. Linux is not an attempt at dethroning windows, and is NOT GOOD at dethroning Windows. If we emphasize on this aspect to the masses, they will think Linux is NOT GOOD.

06 Oct 2000 17:00 Avatar larryadams

A comment concerning Operating Systems
To those that are biased towards Linux or Windows. Relax. Hardly anyone cares. Linux is not easier to use for the nonpower user. Windows does not do serious computing well. The philosophies are different, Linux is derived from a large system, multiuser model. Windows from the PC. Remember, PC is an acronym for Personal Computer, an individual machine that is meant to be used by one person at a time.

A computer is a tool that uses an Operating System. VMS, UNIX, MPE, LINUX, NT, BSD, WINDOWS, or any of a myriad of other past and future operating systems make no difference, as long as the user has very little irritation with it.

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