Linux, mini OS vs. maximum exploitation

Originally published in the Multimedia section of the French daily "Libération" >, November 7, 1997.

Linux, mini OS vs. maximum exploitation

by Jean-Claude Guedon and Bernard Lang *

Publicity floods us... ...with the theme of progress. In 1985, MS-Word 1.0 only existed fot the "Fat Mac", with its enormous RAM size of 512 Kb. It fitted comfortably on a 400Kb diskette, side by side with the operating system. Page layout, footnotes and automatic pagination fulfilled most of the essential needs. Today, with a minimum of 16 Mb of RAM, a gigantic hard disk, an overpowered CPU, the average user writes identical texts, while complaining about "imposed" functionalities that are as useless as burdening. The increasing power of equipment has given birth to FatWare.

The logic behind this process is as simple as it is perverse. Impossible to wear out and omnipresent, since easily copied, mass digital products would make a poor ratio in an economic system based on rarity and work. Instead of creating work -- large software editors create few direct jobs --, they at least try to preserve profit by artificially creating needs and lack of products. Using mass-marketing, poltics based on organized obsolescence, and systematic destruction of the mecanisms of free competition, a pseudo-progress is imposed which tends less to exploit the possibilities of the hardware than the resources of our bank accounts. As a result: -- a new administrative "wisdom" -- the computer stock should be renewed every three years.

How obvious, Mr. Gates! And the Road to the Future, that is, your personal fortune, is indeed well traced. If Linux is neglected. With Linux, the king Gates is naked, and the taxes that he collects from world economy become completely meaningless. Distributed at more than 5 millions copies, as powerful as Microsoft's Windows NT operating system, running comfortably on affordable hardware -- it makes a great Internet server on an old 486 --, available on all platforms (PC, Mac, Alpha, Sun, ...), Linux is an operating system that doesn't exploit people since it is "free", and thus freely available. Its reputation lies on its reliability, the efficiency of its "support-by-user" support, particularly in the Usenet News, it can be found controlling elevators, factory assembly lines or orbital space experiments.

Where does this marvel come from ? From the cooperation of thousands of international experts throughout the Internet. What is it missing ? Microsoft's main contribution to the computer world: marketing and publicity. Without financial profit, it is more difficult to flood the press and television with publicity, to own a legion of columnists preparing pre-digested articles for specialized publications, to massively siege schools and universities, offering them sparkling deals concealing a hook for the whole economy, since the training and teaching of young people creates the reflexes of professional and privates customers to come. But one litte push from public administrations would make it possible to balance the choice of equipment, rather than leaving all the eggs in the same basket.

The resistible ascension of Microsoft is an expensive gamble on the future. Linux is an economical solution, technically proven which, like the Internet that has seen it develop, calls for the participation of all -- volunteer or commercial. It is the garantee of technological independance of nations, and of computer science at the service of many. In other places, in the Southern countries, it is the garantee of efficient and available computer technology.

(*) Jean-Claude Guédon is a professor and researcher at Montréal University, and Bernard Lang is a research director (senior investigator) at INRIA -- French National Research Institute in Computer Science and Control.

Translation by Philippe Regnauld