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Unix creator lambasts Linux

Linux no more than an anti-Microsoft backlash, claims Thompson

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Ken Thompson, co-writer of Unix, has gone on record to damn Linux as little more than a "backlash against Microsoft" that will ultimately prove to be unsuccessful. Interviewed by the IEEE Computer Society's house magazine, Computer, Thompson was asked for his thoughts on the Linux phenomenon in light of his own experience with the massive interest in Unix. "I view Linux as something that's not Microsoft -- a backlash against Microsoft, no more, no less," he said. "I don't think it will be very successful in the long run." Thompson added: "My experience and some of my friends' experience is that Linux is quite unreliable. Microsoft is really unreliable but Linux is worse. In a non-PC environment, it just won't hold up. "If you're using it on a single box, that's one thing. But if you want to use Linux in firewalls, gateways, embedded systems and so on, it has a long way to go." The Unix guru appears to feel the blame for Linux's poor showing (in his opinion) lies primarily with the open source community. "I've looked at the [Linux] source and there are pieces that are good and pieces that are not. A whole bunch of random people have contributed to this source, and the quality varies drastically." Thompson's open source points are perhaps understandable given his focus on commercial computing -- not from a money-making perspective but from the professional IT world's attitude to quality assurance. That's often missing from the open source world where the approach is more evolutionary than developmental -- glitches are eradicated over time, statistically, as more people modify the code, as opposed to focusing on bug fixing before shipping code. However, his wider claims about Linux are puzzling. In the same interview he points to Unix users' "total control over the whole system" and that fact that his project created "a very small, understandable OS, so people could change it at their will". That sounds remarkably like Linux to us, and while the open source OS has been helped by a dislike of the Windows family, that doesn't negate Linux's value as an OS. Linux does have some way to go, but it's only eight years old -- Unix is 30. Give it a change, Ken. ® The complete Computer interview can be read here.

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