Microsoft Surprises with Linux Hands-On Lab

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-07-10 Print this article Print

The Redmond giant permitted a third party to conduct a presentation at Microsoft's worldwide partner show, allowing attendees to play with Linux desktop software.

Is Microsoft toning down its aggressive anti-Linux campaign, or is the software giant realizing that playing nice can have the same effect? While the answer is unclear, Microsoft Corp. surprised many of the attendees at its annual worldwide partner show here this weekend by allowing a third party to present a "hands-on lab" that allowed attendees to play with a range of Linux desktop software. Titled "Linux and Open Source: Understanding the Competitive Challenge," and run by Don Johnson, an electrical engineer from Techstream Inc., the lab let attendees, many of whom were not familiar with Linux, experiment with KDE (K Desktop Environment) as well as see the Apache Web server in action.
In addition, Johnson, who has been a system administrator and is familiar with both Microsoft and open-source solutions, gave them an overview of some Linux concepts and what he believed were the key tradeoffs between Windows and Linux.
However, it was clear that his bias lay firmly on the Windows side for the most part. Johnson did clarify at the start of the lab that he was not anti-Microsoft and offered kudos to the software giant for allowing him to offer the lab. Click here to read more about Microsofts "Get the Facts" campaign. He also highlighted the difference in emphasis between the two operating systems: Windows, which focuses on integration; and Linux, which is flexible and modular. There are essentially three key Windows/Linux tradeoffs, "which can be spun either way, depending on the application," he said. The first is integration versus flexibility. The Linux operating system is far more flexible than Windows, he said, as the source code can be changed and then recompiled. "But the price for that is the issue of complexity and a lack of customized integration for the Linux user," Johnson said. The second issue focused on whether the operating system is user-friendly or expert-friendly. Linux has been written for those who have more IT expertise and knowledge, whereas Windows is designed from the ground up to be user-friendly: "There is a steep learning curve associated with using Linux," he said. The third tradeoff for users is the matter of a proprietary or single architecture versus an open one that runs on several hardware platforms. "Linux runs on just about anything, whereas Windows has a targeted platform focus," he said, adding that one of the main reasons people started looking at Linux was to avoid vendor lock-in. "But the different Linux distributions, particularly those from Red Hat and Novells SuSE Linux, also essentially lock them in as switching from one to the other is by no means easy, although probably not as difficult as migrating from Windows to Linux. But it is a lot more difficult than many of the distributors allow users to believe," Johnson said. Read more here about how Sun has called Red Hat Linux "proprietary." Open-source software design clearly favors modularity and flexibility over integration, and Linux users will not be able to escape some of the complexities of Unix, like knowing where the command line is and how it works, he said. Device drivers are also problematic for Linux, Johnson said, because while there are several hardware vendors committed to Linux solutions and to releasing device drivers, a lot of this device driver support lags for Linux and is often almost immediately available for Windows, he said. To read more about how Microsoft is overhauling Longhorn, click here. "Device driver support is still an issue for Linux and its users," he said, pointing to the fact that it is still hard for some users to install and upgrade Linux device drivers. Many open-source applications, like Apache, now also run on both Windows and Linux, "which is something to bear in mind," he said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.
Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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