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Can Linux avoid Microsoft's NT trap?

MS wants to fight Linux on ground of its choosing, so accept the challenge, but change the battlefield

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Opinion Microsoft's spinmeisters are no doubt highly satisfied with the progress of their assault on the Linux community so far this week. The 'put up or shut up' challenge is of course a trap - but yes, what is the Linux world going to do about it? Discussions of this so far seem pretty rational and realistic. It's generally accepted that Linux will perform better on low-end systems, so the Microsoft-Mindcraft offer of testing at this end is welcome. But it's also accepted that the PC Week Labs-hosted tests proposed will quite possibly show NT beating Linux on bigger systems. If it did so, that would allow Microsoft and Mindcraft, whose previous study came under heavy Linux fire, to say they'd been right all along. So what do you do? If you accept the challenge you'll quite possibly lose, and if you duck it you lose too. Microsoft has already accused the Linux community of being "slow to respond," so if nobody accepts on Linux's behalf (as has been pointed out, the notion of a community responding is pretty weird), Microsoft will just scream this louder. So far so good for the spinmeisters, but let's think for a moment about the narrowness of the battlefield, and who's choosing it. It's being pitched by Microsoft as a shootout between Linux and NT, with greater emphasis on scalability than is currently convenient for Linux. Other systems beat NT in scalability (that Ray Anderson of SCO mailed us just this morning boasting about UnixWare 7 doing this), but if you don't take them into account, and fight on ground favourable to NT, then you get a result that says "NT is the clear winner!" This is not rocket science. The scum of the software business (i.e., practically all of them except Ray) set up their benchmarks to show their products in the best possible light against the competition. They can set the tests up brutally, tuning one installation and not bothering too much about another, and this is what the Great and Good of the Linux world say Mindcraft did for its first, disputed report. But even if they don't do that, they can still choose the 'level' playing field that best suits their product. And why not? You're not going to pay for lab tests that show your product stinks, are you? Well, not deliberately, anyway. Think about how this works in the commercial world, and the possibility of a viable answer to the Microsoft challenge begins to emerge. Microsoft has chosen the territory it wants to fight on, but if it had challenged, say, Oracle or Sun, how would they respond? They would of course point out that the shoot-out was being planned deliberately for ground that favoured Microsoft, and fire back with alternative conditions and their own 'totally impartial' test data that showed how great their stuff was instead. But no, Linux doesn't have to be that despicable. Linux is likely to perform better and more cost-effectively at the low-end, so there has to be more weight insisted on here. As currently proposed by Microcraft, the low-end aspect looks like tokenism. Then there's cost of ownership, uptime (Microsoft's dangerous references to how good at this NT is have been remarked on elsewhere, and could be exploited) and so on. There's the whole artificiality of tests of this sort too - Linux does well in the real world, so some real world factors ought to be brought in. And instead of agreeing to Microsoft's narrowing of the field, why not broaden it out drastically? Why not say, 'look, if you want to prove NT's so great, why don't we turn this into a proper tests that shows the good points and bad points of all of the players? Why don't you let Novell, Sun, Oracle and SCO play too?' Put up or shut up? ® Related Stories: MS declares war on Linux MS marketing spins on Linux

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