Sunday, April 16, 2006

Initial Impressions of Novell Linux Desktop



I am going to post my impressions throughout the day as I experiment with Novell Linux.

Here's my first delightful discovery: 39 urgent updates and probably hundreds of suggested updates.
I thought Linux was inherently more secure than Windows...

Novell Linux 10 Critical Updates


And here is a screen capture of Novell's email client, inexplicably called Evolution. It sure reminds me of some other prominent email client.

Novell Linux 11 Evolution-Outlook

Novell Linux 12 Evolution-Outlook



One of the open source arguments I've heard against Microsoft is that they suppress innovation. In contrast, the open source movement lionizes itself by saying that they are the true innovators. Yet, when I look at Open Office and Novell's Evolution I see not innovation but artless, blatant mimicry of Microsoft's GUI and functionality.

This leads me to conclude that the open source camp expects people to just eat their assertions and arguments. We are supposed to simply accept the idea that the open source development model is inherently more secure, that Microsoft suppresses innovation and that open source unleashes it. I've challenged the open source advocates in my life to show me examples of how Microsoft suppresses innovation and the only remotely satisfying answer has been, "Well, Microsoft doesn't develop its own solutions; they go out and buy someone else's product and rebrand it as their own."

So, apparently if a company develops all its own functionality, that's innovative but if a company goes out and buys technology, that's just corporate relabeling. How come Oracle doesn't get eviscerated by the open source crowd for buying peopleSoft's functionality? What about Sun's acquisition of StorageTek? Oh yeah, I forgot: only Microsoft suppresses innovation by buying functionality. Everyone else is giving innovative solutions a chance by bringing them into the fold of a larger company. Can you spell myopic double-standard? I knew you could.

Sorry kids: Microsoft is producing some of the coolest, innovative and secure software out there. All I have ever seen from the open source crowd is high-horse-posturing that doesn't deliver substance and unoriginal mimicry. I just don't buy any of the core arguments offered by most open source zealots. Only Sun's COO Jonathan Schwartz offers a take on open source that is stated not in anti-Microsoft terms but in a postive statement of the value of open source, particularly as open source relates to intellectual capital rights in developing countries.

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A visitor made the following comment on my primary blog:

"Your comments show that you trully do not understand software engineering, or the open source development model.

One obvious reason why outlook/evolution or open office/microsoft office have the same skin is to present a commen interface that users can understand. They are quite different underneath.

You seem to have skipped over the fact that the security through obsurity model has failed and will continue to fail. "

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To which I responded (with added edits from the original post to improve clarity):

The commenter's argument is incomplete and it's representative of the standard open source zealotry playbook. He tosses out some common talking points but doesn't offer a cogent response.

GUIs have design philosophies. The intent in a design is to expose the underlying functionality to the end user. Well-designed GUIs present functionality in an intuitive manner, while unintuitive, like Novell's god-awful GroupWise, enable people to "do email" but not well. The GUI of Office 2007 is a radical departure from the traditional menu-driven GUI's exposure of functionality. The ribbon is an amazing design that presents the user with exactly what they need at the moment. The contrast between the GUIs of GroupWise and Outlook, for example, reveals a significant difference between design philosophies. This difference is experienced in the way functionality is exposed; one has a level of quality better than the other.

So, to say that Evolution and Open Office are designed to give a user a familiar interface and yet have them be "very different" underneath is disengenuous. This is because it's a straw man: most people cannot asess the qualty of code between an open source app or a commercially-developed app. But what people do see is the functionality that is exposed through the GUI.

Further, the underlying code is irrelevant to the user experience. Pretty code or code that flows from a favored ideology is completely irrelevant to the end user. What matters to the user is the experiece of interacting with the program. How easy is it? How intuitive is it? How natural is it? If people fail to code with the end user experience in mind, they are completely missing the whole point of writing software in the first place.

If the commenter is implying the classic open source argument that open source code is inherently more secure than proprietary code, then he needs to catch up to 2006. This is a stale accusation that had merit with Windows 2000, Exchange 2000 and IE 5. The current versions of Microsoft products are substantially more secure and as open source has gained prominence, they have created a more enticing attack target. Go to www.secunia.com and talk to me about inherently more secure code. Secunia lists a stunning array of security issues for the IT industry and in doing so, proves that security holes exist in all applications and always will. Inherent security by virtue of a development model is an illusion and a misrepresentation. And as I have commented in my blog numerous times, if anything, the exposed nature of open source code actually makes it more of a security risk because hackers have a 100% accurate map of what to exploit.


The commenter is correct: the obvious reason for the similarity is to give user's a commonly familiar interface. What an incredible concession on the commenter's part! It is an implicit admission that open source has no innovation to offer the end user. How can an application be innovative and mimic Microsoft Office and Outlook at the same time? The very notion of innovation involves a creation that is different from its predecessors either in design, conception or functionality. Mimicry cannot lead to innovation.

The commenter is absolutely correct: they are quite different underneath. The open source versions of Office are actually subsets of Office. The open source product offerings are wanna-be applications that don't even come close to the functionality of MS Office.

Open source zealots claim to have the market cornered on innovation. I don't see it. All they do is parrot Microsoft. From a marketing perspective, this makes great sense. But open source continually claims the moral high ground by asserting Microsoft suppresses innovation. They disparage Microsoft for buying functionality and use this as evidence to ostensibly support their assertion that Microsoft suppresses innovation.

So, I challenge the open source crowd: SHOW THE WORLD WHAT INNOVATION LOOKS LIKE. Quit replicating what MS does and write something unique. Oh and make sure it integrates with the corporate intranet and back end servers and the rest of the office suite to provide great functionality like Office 2007, Windows, SharePoint and SQL 2005 provides. Develop a killer app that is not only cool but is also desired by the open market.

And don't whine that MS has an advantage because they know all the internal hooks and API's into the platform. MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN HOOKS. INNOVATE! CREATE! ADAPT! BE GENUINELY CREATIVE. BACK UP YOUR WORDS WITH SUBSTANCE.

I don't really understand the commenter's mention of security by obscurity. He certainly cannot be referring to Microsoft security since the entire Microsoft product suite is under constant attack, which paradoxically, makes it more secure than less ubiquitous products. He might be referring to open source programs though since they do not weather the same intensity of security attacks as do Microsoft products.

I don't think the commenter understands what security through obscurity means. His mention of it makes no sense in the context of the article.