This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 2, 2002

October 2, 2002 - More About Linux

Last week I made what some might have found a surprising statement: "By and by, Windows users still might want to move to Linux." This was even though Windows users might then be using Open Office as a free alternative to Microsoft Office.
Why did I say that?

Because Windows software is inherently less secure than Linux (a free Unix clone).

All computer operating systems have security holes. "Vulnerabilities" are constantly being found and exploited by malicious hackers. That's true for Linux as well as Windows.

But Windows has two problems: the first is its intrinsic design. Consider this statement (from ComputerWeekly) by Brian Valentine, senior vice-president in charge of Microsoft's Windows development. Speaking at a Microsoft Windows Server.net developer conference in Seattle, Sept. 6, he said, "Our products aren't engineered for security." Linux, designed as a multi-user system from the beginning, is.

The second problem with Windows is the usual response of Microsoft to reports of security issues. Consider this excerpt from eweek, September 13, 2002: "Officials at Microsoft are busy investigating the extent of a problem that was reported by several media outlets Friday about multiple versions of Microsoft Word containing a vulnerability that could allow hackers to steal files. An Associated Press version of the story ended up on at least two major Web sites Friday, saying that Microsoft does intend to deliver a fix for the problem, but that the problem is the worst for users of Word 97, and that Microsoft will not deliver a fix for users of Word 97." Roughly 32% of America's business users still use Word 97.

Microsoft's answer to the problem: upgrade. Then wait.

Microsoft does, of course, have to tackle the same issues any business does. It isn't commercially feasible to maintain every product you create. Microsoft is out to make money, after all, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But the issues speaks to another advantage of Open Source software.

There are now hundreds of thousands of Linux programmers, very smart people, who typically solve security problems within hours after they are reported. Why? Because they want the glory of the job well done. They want, and they receive, the respect of their peers.

Microsoft, which employs some very smart people also, just doesn't have as many of them, and they're occupied with other things, for pay. Security breaches, when they're fixed at all, can and have taken months.

I'm also impressed by another Linux performance issue: uptime. Linux keeps track internally of how long it's been running. There are many, many Linux boxes that haven't so much as hiccuped in years of operation. That's remarkable.

Cost, security, stability. Three good reasons to think about a change.

On the other hand, it probably doesn't make sense for you or anyone else to toss out your current hardware and software set-up if you've already paid for it, it does what you want it to do, and you're satisfied that you're at little risk. At least, it doesn't make sense until there are other reasons to think about an upgrade.

And that's exactly the library's interest: financial planning. Based on my research and testing, here's what I've decided: our future purchases will, to the greatest extent possible, be based on open source, rather than proprietary operating systems and software.

Other businesses and not-for-profit agencies might want to consider that course, too.

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