Thursday, May 15, 2014

Corporate Adoption of Linux and OSS

Why would a corporation use Linux?

Today, it's obvious.  A few years ago, it was avant-guarde. Before that, management would question your sanity and judgement (they did mine!).

Most of those that I worked with, and especially my management earlier in my career (1980's, 1990's) did not grow up with computers.  The first time they saw a computer, it was the corporate DOS computer or Windows computer.  If they saw a mainframe terminal, it was a green screen, slow and ugly, text only.  If they saw a UNIX computer, they saw a command line, a flash back to those slow green screens.  Their options were that the new, modern, cheap Windows computers with pointy-clicky graphical user interfaces were the solution to all our problems and would replaced those legacy, command-line, green-screen obsolete, expensive, hard-to-use techy old systems (even when they worked well for the intended applications).  For example when banks moved to GUIs it caused long lines at the tellers and took much longer to service customers; I guess no one at the bank understood queueing theory.

These managers saw UNIX and Linux as DOS-like operating systems with a text interface; a regression to the pre-GUI days of Windows 3.1!

I supported Linux starting in 1993, basing my argument for the use of Linux on experience designing and building critical applications for multiple customers, for example stolen vehicle recovery system software, government data collection systems, and fleet management software with emergency alarms (Seattle Metro, Baltimore).

Starting in the mid-1980s, I questioned why ANYONE would want to run a critical application on a Windows or DOS computer.  They weren't stable or reliable.  The file systems were fragile and insecure (leading to viruses).  The networking stack was flaky and had serious issues like the infamous ping-of-death.  The reason that folks WERE running critical software on Windows was simple -- MARKETING (and often direction by clueless management).  Since Windows 2000, the O/S is better, but still has lots of issues including security.

In 1984 I began to use Xenix for mission-critical systems.  It was from Microsoft, but it was a stable, 32-bit environment on a UNIX-like platform and it would run for months without problems.  Every time I tried to build a system using DOS, Windows, and even Windows NT, I could not build a stable, reliable system as good as what I had in the mid-1980s.  In the early 1990s, I discovered open source, mainly Emacs and some utilities.  Then in 1993, a co-worker showed me Linux and I was hooked!

Soon after seeing Linux, I saw its advantages and how it WOULD change the world.  However, I did not step outside of my comfort zone, so I only drove its adoption with my team and customer. We were able to leverage it for several multi-rack test and demonstration systems, flying below the radar of those demanding all systems shall adopt Windows....

During this time I was able to attend Comdex.  In about 1997 I spoke with a "suit" in the elevator, commenting that I was surprised there wasn't more Linux at COMDEX that year.  His response:  "No self-respecting business would bet their business on software designed by hackers."  I wonder how he would answer today (Google, IBM, Oracle, Red Hat, etc.).

Even a few years ago, Linux was still not widely accepted.  Since I used Linux in some special applications, my management viewed overall Linux adoption as "special purpose" or not widespread.
For example, in 2009 I was asked by my management to brief them on the answers to the following questions:

1) How do I use Linux/open source for my customers?
2) Are any other groups supporting my customer or other customer groups use Linux/open source?
3) Are any other groups in the company are using Linux/open source?
4) Are any of our competitors are using Linux/open source?

I briefed them on many uses of OSS and Linux across the board, most of which were
totally new to them.  The revelations were a surprise and opened up several opportunities.

Today, we have many open requisitions that specifically include Linux.  We have staff
using Linux and OSS for "Big Data", virtualization, cloud, and embedded solutions....  It

Linux is here and here to stay (at least until something better comes along).


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