Linux Could Rule the World!
© Darrell Young  

As we all know, Linux is the backbone of the Internet. The largest percentage of ISPs use Apache for eMail, and some flavor of Linux on their servers. This Open Source system happily passes all the spam, viruses, trojans, malware right along the internet wiring. It is not the job of the infrastructure to clean up internet traffic, any more than it is the job of a water pipe to clean up the water traveling through it.

ISPs can install SPAM filters, and do install firewalls to cut down on intrusions, spoof attacks, DOS attacks, port scan attacks, and other nasties from the trojans and hackers of the world. But, the ROOT of this problem is indeed with the common user...the endpoint of Internet's traffic flow. Many users, these days, have some form of virus scanner running, and use the new personal firewalls, privacy guards, and malware programs. But, the large majority of users, either in the home, or in the corporate world, are not fully protected, and so, continue to be a point of distribution for the junk that plagues us all.

I am a humble IT guy, and my corporate users are protected from external intrusion by tight firewalls, and server-based virus scanning. On the internal network, each user is now running a virus and malware scanner to protect from the occasional baddy that gets in through e-mail. So, even with Microsoft software it is not too expensive to protect the network. I estimate that about $50.00 per year per terminal is the average cost. Not cheap, but not overwhelming for most companies.

Most of the attacks we experience are from trojans and the like taking advantage of the "vulnerabilities" (massive gaping holes) in Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Windows OS in general. Things have improved somewhat since we replaced all Windows 98 OS software with Windows 2000 and XP. But, the holes are still there, due to the need to remain backwards compatible with old program code. Microsoft is forced to leave hooks into the kernel of the OS, so that old 8-bit and 16-bit code will still run.

The network file-servers are easily configured these days with nice robust Linux. A great workstation solution would be to replace Windows 2000 on the desktop with something like Debian or Mandrake (Mandriva as of 2005), kill Internet Explorer with Mozilla FireFox, and Evolution or Mozilla Thunderbird for e-mail.

Unfortunately, until the home user in general (which includes all the bosses and executives of corporations, who make the final buying decisions) accepts Linux on the desktop, we are going to continue dealing with this nasty internet traffic that makes our lives more complicated. It is a sad FACT that software makers like Pagemaker, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Word, Excel, Access, and all the other Windows-based programs will NOT port their software over to a Linux environment. There are simply not enough users. There are open source equivalents, like the Gimp, OpenOffice, etc. But, people who have spent literally years of their lives learning how to use certain software will not give it up easily, even if the open source solutions are way better and much less costly. As an example, an entire generation of seamstresses and tailors had to die, before the sewing machine was accepted into general use. And, even though digital SLR cameras make better pictures than 35mm film, people still buy film.

In my opinion, what is the primary obstacle to desktop acceptance of Linux? Well, as an IT guy I can install and make Linux work on my home computer, and my work computers. But regular USERS cannot! What is the primary obstacle to the home user using Linux instead of Windows? SOFTWARE INSTALLATION!

Here is an example, from my own use of Linux on the desktop, compared to Microsoft Windows. Last week, I finally became so fed up with the crappy Internet Explorer that I let one of my Linux guru buddies (thanks, Issac) talk me into trying Mozilla Firefox. It was love at first use! I instantly replaced all my Windows users Internet Explorers at the office with FireFox, and everyone is very happy with the speed, lack of errors, and simplicity of the interface. The Windows installation was VERY simple and fast, with full import of all “Favorites” URL links.

So, I decided get rid of the old Netscape running on my Mandrake terminal at home, and switch my own personal Linux box to FireFox. Surely, the installation would be as simple on Linux as it was on Windows, right? NOPE! Not even close! I am writing the following paragraphs from the perspective of a relatively new user of Linux.

I installed FireFox by figuring out how to unzip a GZ file, then created a directory for the installation files. After I successfully installed the software, I happily opened up my KDE menu to run FireFox. What! It is not there on the menu, and no icons on the desktop either. Hmmm! So I opened up my file manager and browsed down to the directory containing the FireFox installation. I clicked on promising files in the plethora of directories, with no results. Finally, I found a file called “FireFox,” which was an “executable text file” or script that runs FireFox. Of course, when I clicked it a little window opened that asked whether I wanted to do the following: Display, Run in Terminal, Cancel, or Run the software. I could run it from there. I finally figured out that I could copy the file to the Mandrake desktop and it would execute FireFox without trouble.

Now, what is the difference? On Windows, I simply installed it and started using it immediately. On Linux, I had to jump through several hoops that a normal computer user would never begin to figure out. Things have improved drastically since the “old days” in which I would have to go out and CHMOD a file or two on every program I installed on Linux, IF, I could even figure out where the installer installed it in the first place.

To many of you full-time Linux heads out there this may sound silly, and you may be inclined to scream “RTFM”, when in fact no manual exists, other than Google. I am a computer tech with massive Windows networking experience (WAN and LAN), and have been in the computer business since the days of the Commodore 64.

My opinion is simple. When Linux (as secure as it is) starts acting like Windows in MORE than the appearance of screens, it could in fact dethrone Microsoft on the desktop. At that point, even normal users would ask for Linux instead of Windows, and software makers everywhere would port their software over to Linux. Even Microsoft would be inclined to do so, since they are all about making massive quantities of money. (Is Microsoft Linux very far away?) Look at the Macintosh. A good portion of the software it runs is Microsoft-based. Do we want Microsoft's software running on our Linux terminals? Most current Linux-heads would scream a resounding “NO!” But, realistically, until enough users switch to Linux to make Microsoft take notice and start thinking about porting their software, Linux has not yet arrived on the desktop. Normal Windows users MUST have their familiar software available, BEFORE they will switch.

Some may say…but what about using WINE to run your Windows software. To this I say, “yeah, right!” Can you imagine a normal user, who can't even find his installation of FireFox trying to do a WINE configuration. Nope! And, that is not to mention the hard-core gamers running EverQuest, Anarchy Online, EVE, Star Wars, Second-Life, and the many other MMORPGs that will ONLY run on Windows.

The OS is of little importance to users. It is the SOFTWARE that excites them. Linux does not have the software yet, because there are too few desktop users. That is primarily because it is simply to complex to install software on Linux. Linux is fast, slick, and beautiful in appearance, and it is stable as a rock. But, it is unusable by a normal user, and so…is dead in the water. Until Linux programmers wake up to the fact that users must install software successfully and make a working installation system, Linux will never move past the server-base where it lives now.

To quite a few Linux users and developers, that's just fine. They have their highly-complex OS that keep everyone else away, and they like it that way! But, out here in the real world, we are plagued with trojans, viruses, malware, demonized Active-X controls, and all sorts of nasty things to kill our data and make our lives complicated and miserable. The majority of these problems are due to the insecure Microsoft world we live in. Please, Linux-heads, help we mere users escape this horrible situation. This is a call to Linux guys with a heart. Please, make us an OS that is secure and that we can use WITHOUT 3000 hours of command-line and script indoctrination.

You hold the solution to the Internet's problems in your heart, head, and hands!

Copyright © 2004 by Darrell Young, All Rights Reserved