May 2011 Archives

16 of 20: Personal Artifacts from the Early Years of Linux

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As the story goes, in 1991 Linus Torvalds, then a student at the University of Helsinki, began work on the core component, the kernel, of his own operating system based off of Andrew S. Tanenbaum's teaching operating system MINIX.

Since releasing the source code 20 years ago, and under his guidance ever since, the Linux kernel has become central to the development of devices from smartphones to super computers.

But for most people, when they think of Linux, they think of Linux distributions, software that includes the Linux kernel and supporting resources that complete the basic requirements of an operating system.

A few weeks ago the Editorial Staff posted an article on one of the earliest distributions of Linux, Slackware. That in turn got me thinking about some of my early exposure to Linux in the late 90s, and what media I might still have from that time.

My personal copy of Andrew S. Tanenbaum's Modern Operating Systems from my Computer Science days along with Daniel A. Tauber's The Complete Linux Kit and Randy Hootman's Linux - Installation and Beyond 

A quick scan of my bookshelf revealed a couple of interesting artifacts. One is a copy of a book, "The Complete Linux Kit", a 1995 title that included a CD-ROM with the Slackware Linux distribution1 that was compiled by Daniel A. Tauber and printed by Sybex.

The second is a video, "Linux - Installation and Beyond" which is described as a "three hour seminar showing installation of Red Hat Linux, Slackware Linux, Yggdrasil Plug-and-Play Linux" featuring Randy Hootman and was distributed by Yggdrasil Computing. Alas while Red Hat and Slackware still exist, in one form or another, the Yggdrasil distribution is no longer maintained and the company no longer exists.

In a small effort to share what Slackware was like, "back in the day" I offer this copy of Randy Hootman's tutorial on installing and using Slackware Linux version 2.3:

As a small bonus, and because I personally worked for Red Hat, once upon a time, here is Randy on Red Hat Linux v2.0:

GNOME Linux Desktop v1
Speaking of Red Hat, a screenshot of my Linux Workstation in 2000, running GNOME v1

[1] Where the CD has since gone to, I'm note sure . Probably in a book of CD-ROMs in the storage.

The Beginning of the End of the Ballmer Era at Microsoft?

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Something has been puzzling me for awhile now. I've been wondering, where is the outrage, the angst and the out right hostility toward Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer? I mean where are the industry pundits, Wall Street analysts, shareholders and Microsoft insiders calling for his head?

And then I saw Ben Brooks' blog post this past week entitled The Ballmer Days are Over and I realized, here it is, the beginning of the end of Steve Ballmer at Microsoft.

What am I babbling about?
Microsoft is Microsoft because of exactly two pieces of software, Windows and Office. Without Windows and Office there would be no Microsoft. No Xbox, no Windows Phone. Nor would they have been able to buy their way online with Hotmail or Skype.

But Microsoft has a problem. The market for its crown jewels have matured. The PC industry has stagnated. Sure, Microsoft can release a new version of Window or Office every few years, but customers, individuals and businesses, no longer feel compelled to spend several hundred dollars on the very latest version of either product.

Worst yet, sentiment seems to have turned away from Microsoft, if I'm replacing an old PC with a new one, the consumer thinking seems to go, why not just go ahead and get a Mac?1

So, what is Microsoft's future, if not Windows and Office upgrades?

The Internet Tidal Wave
Since May 1995, Bill Gates' company has set its sight on a future dominating the online world in a manner similar to the desktop. But from AOL to Facebook, someone always seems to beat them to the punch.2

That in itself probably explains their $8.5 billon acquisition of Skype, beat Google or Facebook for once.

But beat them to what exactly? As Andy Ihnatko pointed out on his own blog, there are three reasons why Tech Company A might buy Tech Company B. Note that none of them are "beat Tech Company C to the punch."

The closest justifiable reason from Ihnatko's list is "Company A gets to 'level up' instantly without having to spend years engaged in a long, expensive and uncertain dungeon crawl."

Yet, it is not like Skype is the hot new it online and as Brooks hints at, how many mistakes would Microsoft have to make to make $8.5 billon a reasonable trade off to "level up"? Surely nobody thinks "Apple spent anything close to $1 billion dollars building FaceTime?"

Sure Microsoft gets a technology it can instantly drop into Windows and Office their by given users a reason to upgrade. But, if they had developed something on their own, dropped that technology into Windows and Office for free, they could have tens of millions of potential paying customers of their own online conferencing service instantly for potential a lot less money.3

Yes, of course the business unit that makes money off of Windows and Office upgrades loses money on a free upgrade, but remember Windows and Office are the past, online is the future.

Well, maybe online is the future? Here's the rub, and why I've been thinking Ballmer's days are numbered for awhile now, Microsoft doesn't know what exactly their future online is. Don't believe me? Take a look at this:

Microsoft is chasing everybody online and gaining on nobody, they a literally losing millions of dollars each quarter. Add in the setbacks Microsoft has had in other business areas; mobile, with Zune and Kin and the challenges ahead for the next generation of gaming consoles against their one true success, the Xbox and well, one has to wonder, how much longer does Steve Ballmer have as CEO of Microsoft?

[1] Apple loves to tell people that since the opening of their stores 10 years ago, the majority of customers walking out with a new computer are first time Mac owners.

[2] Think about it, Internet Explorer the answer to Netscape, MSN and Hotmail was Microsoft's answer to AOL, Bing to Google, et al.

[3] Of course, we can't forget the legal trouble Microsoft got itself into the last time it tried to integrate online features into the core of Windows.

About the Author

Paul is a technologist and all around nice guy for technology oriented organizations and parties. Besides maintaining this blog and website you can follow Paul's particular pontifications on the Life Universe and Everything on Twitter.


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