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3/1/2005
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Getting FUD Up? Get The Facts

For every geek who thinks open-source is the cat's pajamas, there are probably five corporate bureaucrats who eat Microsoft FUD for breakfast. Those are tough odds, especially when these people are often armed with the same fraudulent facts and sock-puppet research Microsoft promulgates in its "Get the Facts" campaign.

For every geek who thinks open-source is the cat's pajamas, there are probably five corporate bureaucrats who eat Microsoft FUD for breakfast. Those are tough odds, especially when these people are often armed with the same fraudulent facts and sock-puppet research Microsoft promulgates in its "Get the Facts" campaign.

The next time a Windows bigot slaps you around with lies, damned lies, and statistics, get ready to hit them back with a few blunt truths: David A. Wheeler's jaw-dropping essay, "Why Open Source Software / Free Software (OSS/FS, FLOSS, or FOSS)? Look at the Numbers!"

Wheeler's work is the best compilation of qualitative data I've ever seen to support the use of open-source software. Better yet, it's free. Perhaps best of all, the author keeps his work scrupulously current, including, according to his change log, nearly 20 updates during the first two months of 2005.

I might pick a more fetching title for Wheeler's work, if only to ensure no one sprains their tongue trying to repeat it. That's a small nit to pick, though, since you'll forget about the title as soon as you begin reading Wheeler's study of open-source market share, reliability, security, ownership costs, and an amazing array of other hot topics. It's all backed with credible data, in many cases from multiple sources, and packaged with prose that makes the whole thing clear, accessible, and relatively fun to read.

Besides its encyclopedic grasp of the available research on open-source software, the essay is important for several other reasons. Wheeler asserts that he's not an open-source zealot and that he uses both open-source and proprietary products; the goal, he writes, is "to show that you should consider using OSS/FS when you're looking for software, based on quantitative measures." More to the point, Wheeler doesn't hesitate to point out areas, such as total cost of ownership, where the data doesn't support the easy answers that both proprietary and open-source backers claim to provide. While he's clearly out to ensure that open-source software gets a fair shake--as if Microsoft needs volunteers to make its case--he rides an even keel that makes his work a great source for people who simply want some straight information about a topic that justifies every curse ever uttered against lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Wheeler deserves immense credit for providing another service in his essay: exposing sock-puppet researchers beholden in some way to the vendors whose products they cover. This is a growing problem for the IT world, and Wheeler either excludes cooked data completely from his work or (far better, I think) warns readers about reports whose authors dispense "research" the same way a candy machine dispenses Twix bars. While it's probably impossible to expose every sock-puppet report--for every publicized example, how many escape notice?--the fact that Wheeler brings together so much data from so many different sources will also dilute its effect.

I don't know David Wheeler, and I'm still wondering how he finds time to make a living, sleep, and have anything resembling a life while he keeps his FUD first-aid kit up to date. But I do know that the next time some poor sod tells you about a report he just read that exposes the secret Illuminiati-GPL connection or lectures you about the thousands of people killed every year by Apache Web servers, you'll be glad you can hit them over the head with something as heavy as Wheeler's work.

Matt McKenzie is editor of Linux Pipeline.

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