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Leading items and editorials

Linux is the number-two server operating system, according to the latest IDC report. The report itself is not publicly available, so the information most people have comes from articles like this one in News.com.

According to the report, server operating system sales in 1999 broke down as follows:

Windows NT38

The folks at IDC had predicted that Linux would get up to the number two position - in 2002 or 2003. So the revolution would appear to be well ahead of schedule.

A lot of the standard objections can be brought to these figures, of course. IDC is only counting Linux sales. Downloads do not figure into their results, and multiple installations from a single CD are also left out. It is hard, after all, to get a handle on those numbers, while sales are easily quantified. So one might think that the Linux figures are understated, but it is hard to say by how much.

Also interesting: Linux has 4% of the desktop market, according to this study. Linux is frequently criticized as not being a desktop operating system, but that result puts it just one percentage point behind MacOS (at 5%), which most certainly is considered to be a desktop system. Linux on the desktop may be closer than a lot of people think.

More surveys: The latest Netcraft report is out. This survey turned up over 11 million sites - and 58% of them are now running apache.

After the gold rush. Here, for your reading pleasure, is an essay on the state of the programming field by Gary Chapman, which was posted to the excellent Red Rock Eater News Service mailing list. Chapman, quoting extensively from a book by IEEE Software editor in chief Steve McConnell, makes the point that all of the money in the software business has pushed companies and engineers into a "code first, design later" mode. Code is bashed out, then debugged to a "good enough to ship" state. But the software is fundamentally flawed, and sooner or later collapses under its own weight.

The development of the Netscape browser is cited as an example of where this model can lead. The programmers involved were pushed to the point of exhaustion, and the quality of the final product, well, speaks for itself.

Solutions mentioned in the article include certification of engineers and a return to traditional design practices. Good design is crucial, of course, but LWN would like to suggest that this article has missed an important path toward quality software: open source. Think about it:

  • Open source projects have, to a great extent, managed to avoid the ridiculous deadlines that characterize so many proprietary software development projects. Free software ships when it is ready, not before.

  • Open source projects stress good design - at least, many of them do. Consider Netscape as an example again: one of the reasons Mozilla has been so slow to come out is that the developers realized they needed to step back and start over with a better thought out approach. The result is the Gecko engine and a number of other modules that are starting to generate some real excitement.

    Much of the competition between GNOME and KDE, once you get past licensing battles, has been based on design. And the Linux kernel is a classic example of a project stressing design and long-term maintainability over immediate features.

  • The openness of the open source development process brings out problems early - hopefully before they ship. Open source developers are not lacking in willingness to speak their minds. Or to walk away, for that matter. A free software project that is obviously flawed will either get fixed, or will lose developers to better-run endeavors.
None of the above points are being made for the first time. But they are worth repeating. Much of the software development world has still not noticed that there is a better way of doing things.

UCITA looks set to become law in Virginia. UCITA, remember, is the "shrink wrap license law" that promises to outlaw reverse engineering and to enable a lot of other unpleasant things. The sad thing is not just that this malevolent law got through the Virginia legislature, but that it happened with a unanimous vote. Getting a more acceptable result in the other 49 states does not look like an easy thing.

Our U.S. readers need to start thinking about how to educate their state governments. The Virginia legislature evidently didn't know that there are serious problems with UCITA. Legislators in the other states should not be allowed the bliss of that particular ignorance. It's time to start making phone calls and writing letters. It should be possible to stop this thing.

EFF seeks nominations for Pioneer Awards. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has put out a call for nominationsfor the 9th annual Pioneer Awards. Nominations are due by March 15. While Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds have already received Pioneer Awards (in 1998), there are many other free software figures that may be deserving of one. Jon Johansen, poster of the DeCSS code, comes to mind...

Eric Raymond responds to editorial. Eric Raymond has sent us a response to Scotty Orr's editorial on VA's purchase of Andover.Net that ran in LWN. "I think the community instinctively understands that we can't afford to mess with Slashdot; it would be suicide to try. That's a brute fact. Your editorial is all hypotheticals, second-order stuff, what might happen to this perception if that perception changes. Your concern is, IMO, understandable but way too fine-spun."

Review: DocBook: The Definitive Guide. After a long hiatus, LWN has added a new entry to its Book Review Page with this look at O'Reilly's DocBook: The Definitive Guide. We conclude that this book, which is under an open content license and is also available from the net, is a high-quality reference, but that beginning DocBook authors will struggle with it. The world still needs an introductory book for this important documentation standard.

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: ISPs and DDOS attacks, security-related kernel patches.
  • Kernel: Softnet and devfs join 2.3, Scheduled Transfer Protocol, Capabilities in ext2.
  • Distributions: Linbox Network Architecture, Debian Bug Horizon.
  • Development: Openflow, new weekly reports from AbiWord and Lyx.
  • Commerce: Inprise and TurboLinux do a deal; a whole set of Linux-embedded consumer products.
  • Back page: Linux links and letters to the editor
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

This Week's LWN was brought to you by:

February 17, 2000


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