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7/19/2004
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Linux Is Not Ready For the Enterprise (Opinion)

Enterprises are better off staying away from Linux and open source -- or at least thinking through the possible liabilities, argues guest columnist Rob Enderle.

Linux and other open source projects require too much customization, and doubts about the legitimacy of open source code could get users tangled up in lawsuits. Besides, many Linux supporters are a bunch of potty-mouthed malcontents. Enterprises are better off staying away from Linux and open source -- or at least thinking through the possible liabilities, argues guest columnist Rob Enderle.

By Rob Enderle, Forrester Research

A few months ago I was asked by a major publication to take the Windows side of a Linux vs. Windows debate. The arguments raised by the writer on the Linux side revolved around fuzzy political, almost religious, concepts like freedom of choice and the need to be counted in the battle against the Microsoft monopoly. I found this somewhat entertaining since she is a CIO and IT organizations generally don't give their users a lot of choice.

In my response, I systematically pointed out that the justification was based on something that sounded more like a religious belief than business benefit, and such a justification was a short path to unemployment if it was the basis for a highly critical project and the project failed. This would be true regardless of what platform we were discussing.

The writer on the Linux side objected, not to the facts, but because my article would have put her job at risk. Because of the CIO's job concerns, the debate never ran; this was unfortunate because through debate we gain better understanding of the risks involved in any decision. And we can satisfy the need to develop a solid business case for a decision in case the competency of the decision maker comes into question due to an unforeseen problem later in the process.

As an analyst I have to be able to argue both sides of a position because often we are asked to step in and help justify decisions that have already been made (not a recommended practice but one too often used). The Linux folks can certainly argue, sometimes viciously, for their platform. But when asked to come up with strong, well founded, business arguments, they too often go mute, or begin what often turns into the mother of all flame battles with little real content. This makes it very difficult to have an intelligent discussion, and discussion is critical to a well-considered decision. What follows is clearly not unbiased, it was originally written specifically to be an argument against Linux and, just as clearly, there is a pro side that I will leave for others or a future time. My personal goal is not to get people to stop using Linux but to really think though the decision, and if they decide to deploy the platform, be better prepared to defend it and protect themselves and their company.

Linux is a good platform, well understood, and widely distributed. It is backed by practitioners, particularly students, who defend it with great vigor. It is actively replacing Unix and MacOS as the contrarians' platform of choice and owes its success largely to the failures of these earlier platforms to run on multiple hardware vendors' systems in a consistent fashion. Linux is also attractive because it is not from Microsoft.

However, Linux is in many ways a throwback to more primitive systems. Not only is it repeating the mistakes of its predecessors, it apparently is introducing a brand new set of problems, having to do with intellectual property.

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