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10/5/2004
03:53 PM
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Gartner Rounds Up The Usual Suspects

Research analysts get their workaday kicks from two things: free booze at industry conferences and seeing their names in print. Gartner analyst Annette Jump must have been delighted with the publicity she earned last week, although Linus Torvalds isn't likely to pick up her bar tab anytime soon.

Research analysts get their workaday kicks from two things: free booze at industry conferences and seeing their names in print. Gartner analyst Annette Jump must have been delighted with the publicity she earned last week, although Linus Torvalds isn't likely to pick up her bar tab anytime soon.

Jump is the author of a Gartner report linking growth in the desktop Linux market to rampant piracy of Microsoft Windows. She claims that a growing number of firms are buying cheap, pre-installed Linux PCs only to replace free copies of Linux with free (and illegal) copies of Windows. As a result, Jump concludes that the growth of Linux in the desktop PC market is largely an illusion--or, more accurately, a fig leaf that can't hide the ugly truth.

I'm shocked--shocked!--that so many firms would replace a quality Linux distro with a bloated, bug-riddled security menace that sometimes passes as an operating system. Okay, I'm not shocked--in fact, I'm not surprised at all. But when Jump goes on to claim that in some countries up to 80 percent of pre-installed Linux PCs will run pirated copies of Windows, I have to question the assumptions behind her analysis.

Gartner analysts use standard research methodologies to forecast trends; in fact, the company's data-gathering and analysis activities are among its most valuable assets. Gartner recently allowed me to study its operating system forecasting methodology, and it's impressive--as far as it goes. How, for example, can Gartner gather accurate software piracy statistics, especially when the sample consists entirely of businesses with a lot to lose if they get caught?

Therein lies one problem. I won't fault Jump's conclusion that software piracy is endemic, especially in the developing world. I also don't doubt that some companies buy cheap Linux PCs and then promptly pack them with purloined Microsoft products. But I do wonder about Jump's (and many other analysts') desire to swaddle these assumptions in a blanket of statistical certainty, whether or not they deserve it.

I also have a problem with Jump's not-so-subtle linkage of desktop Linux systems to Microsoft's ongoing piracy woes. We all know that Linux causes baldness and bad breath; now, apparently, it leads to kleptomania as well. As the Australian Open Source Industry Association (OSIA) recently pointed out, Gartner analysts may as well blame Microsoft Office piracy on the fact that millions of PCs come pre-loaded with Windows. This reasoning also reminds me of the Business Software Alliance's bug-eyed (and wildly exaggerated) software piracy estimates, all based on the nutty belief that every piece of unlicensed software equals a chunk of lost revenue for the developer.

It's too bad that some people in the open-source community, including the folks at the OSIA, are taking extreme positions against the Gartner report. It makes sense to me, for example, that some vendors prefer to ship Linux PCs with a wink and a nod, instead of facing Microsoft's wrath for selling "naked," OS-free PCs. Believe me, there are plenty of ways to pick apart these research reports without having to invent new ones.

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