Mixed Messages, Linux and XP

When Microsoft released a new version of Windows last week, Rob Malda — one of the creators of the Linux community site Slashdot — posted this message online in response to a comment about XP:

“I find it amusing that I didn’t really even notice (that Windows XP had arrived) until I saw this submission. I know this affects a fair number of users but for the life of me I just don’t know why ;)”

Microsoft’s marketing budget for XP is reputed to be one of the biggest in software history, but like Malda, some in the Linux community are suggesting that the new operating system’s release doesn’t make a whit of difference to users of the open-source operating system.

It’s curious, then, that Michael Tiemann, Red Hat’s chief technical officer, sent a two-page essay to Wired News that reads like a bill of particulars against XP.

“Let’s get out of this vicious trap the way we got in: by controlling what we do with our money,” Tiemann suggests.

“If you are already running Microsoft’s products, do the sensible thing and BOYCOTT THE MONOPOLIST. Let Microsoft’s latest products sit in warehouses until Microsoft comes to their senses and removes all the eXtra Proprietary technologies they’ve been engineering over the past several years. Wait until Microsoft offers a level playing field to other operating systems, applications and network service providers.”

Tiemann’s is an impassioned call, certainly, but it’s one that his company does not overwhelmingly support.

“He speaks from the heart in that article,” de Visser said of Tiemann’s comments. “But you have to see that as different from our corporate strategy. By and large, Red Hat is focusing on the enterprise class of computing. The thing that interests us is how Linux is moving into the enterprise environment — and we don’t run into Microsoft as much there.”

A representative for Red Hat said Tiemann was traveling on business and could not be reached for comment.

De Visser is careful to calibrate Red Hat’s position on Microsoft as one of benign disapproval. “It surprises us somewhat that people would choose it — move over to XP and give up the choice they have,” he said.

“Corporate buyers look at their monthly payments to Microsoft and they see it increase, so the progress that has been made with our desktop applications in the consumer space is pretty amazing. But our business model is not based on the collapse of Microsoft — we have plenty of business opportunity in front of that.”

That’s about the same tone that Miguel de Icaza — the co-founder of the Linux desktop company Ximian — reserved for XP. The Ximian Desktop (which is based on the Gnome desktop) is about the closest thing to the Windows user interface available on Linux, so XP would seem to be real competition — but de Icaza calls XP “a nice OS.”

“They have some nice features,” he said. “They have done some improvements on the user interface. I think the UI is more consistent (than previous versions of Windows).”

He did add that “if it comes to consistency, I think Mac OS is ahead of both Gnome and XP,” and that “licensing-wise we are a better deal.” Also, de Icaza doesn’t like that XP “pushes you to use Passport — it annoys me that my computer can’t get the fact that I don’t want it to do something.”

But overall, “I don’t want to sound like a whiner,” de Icaza said. “I do think that Win XP has a lot of cool stuff that we should integrate into Gnome. Many of these were pioneered by others, like Eazel’s Andy Hertzfeld, but that doesn’t matter.”

Still, de Icaza said that as much as he may like Windows XP, its release doesn’t affect his business at all.

“We’re not competing head-to-head with Microsoft in the consumer market,” he said. “I would love for that to have been the case — I would love for it to have been a meaningful announcement to us. But sadly, it was not.”

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