Ask Humorix: Tell Me the Future

Feature written by James Baughn on Tuesday, July 13, 1999

from the no-wagering-please dept.

Anonymous Coward wants to know, "Recently there's been a lot of speculation about the future of Linux: will it achieve world domination, will it be squashed like a bug under the Microsoft marketing machine, or will it lose its soul to corporate interests and then flounder miserably? What kind of future do you predict for Linux, open source software, and the nerd community in general?"

Unfortunately, the Humorix Oracle is currently on vacation in some alternate dimension. In his absense, the Humorix staff decided to organize a panel discussion consisting of fortune tellers with Linux experience. The following people made the trip to Humorix World Headquarters to participate in our informal panel discussion:

  • Starla Jones, owner of the Main Street Mysticism Temple in Keokuk, WI

  • Bob Grimaldi, fortune teller who successfully ported Linux to run on his crystal ball

  • Madam Cosmos, founder of the 1-900-SIGH-KIK soothsaying service

  • Jon Splatz, Humorix's pundit and social commentator.

A condensed transcript of the event is attached below.

Moderator: Well, I suppose we should start off with the father of the free software movement, Richard M. Stallman. What do you all think the future holds for him?

Starla Jones: Stallman's radical views about software will further alienate him from the rest of the community he helped to create. He will slowly lose his mind as other leaders gang up against him. There's going to be quite a bit of tension surrounding RMS, especially at upcoming Linux conventions...

Bob Grimaldi: Indeed. At the next Atlanta Linux Showcase, RMS will get worked up about a clueless reporter who said "Linux" instead of "GNU/Linux". The whole convention hall will get eerily quiet as RMS starts into one of his lectures about freedom and the evils of proprietary software. Tim O'Reilly and Eric Raymond, acting like parents upset that their child is throwing a tantrum in public, will sneak up behind RMS, shove him into a handy Oriental rug, and dump him outside. "Crazy Uncle Stallman" will literally be swept under the rug.

Madam Cosmos: What kind of stupid prediction is that? Microsoft Bob could foretell the future better than that. Your crystal ball must be running Windows 98...

Bob Grimaldi: Hey! My crystal ball is running Red Hat 6.0!

Madam Cosmos: I predict a promising future for RMS. The Vatican Church will upgrade its computer systems to "morally pure" GNU software, saving a vast amount of money in the process. As a result, the Pope will canonize RMS as the "Saint of Free Software". As such, "Crazy Uncle Stallman" will become "Respected Saint Stallman".

Jon Splatz: I haven't heard a single prognostication that sounds half-way reasonable.

Moderator: Enough! Let's move on to something else, Slashdot. What's in store for everyone's favorite geek watering hole?

Jon Splatz: Everyone's favorite? Yeah, right. Slashdot is getting too big; it won't be able to cope. I expect a "site fork" within the coming months, with a group of disgruntled ex-Dotheads forming a renegade "News for Real Nerds" site. Maybe they'll call it Alterdot, or Crashdot, or SlashDONT.

Madam Cosmos: I see a similar future. People will start to think of Slashdot as the Microsoft of the geek community; it's an oversized monopoly that dominates the entire "News for Nerds" market. The site crashes a lot, just like Windows. Its underlying HTML is bloated and not-quite-standard, just like Windows.

An "Anything But Slashdot" campaign will mount, and alternative geek news sites will form, all with GPL'd content preventing another evil Slashdot Monopoly from forming...

Bob Grimaldi: Hey, Madam Cosmos, if that is your real name, why are you so anti-Slashdot? Based on your "prediction", it almost seems like you want Slashdot to fail. I think you're the one with the broken crystal ball.

No, I see a rosy future in store for Slashdot and Taco Boy. Slashdot will set the de facto standard in "new media" websites, with Rob Malda giving seminars worldwide about online journalism. In addition, thanks to an unprecedented write-in campaign led by a group of Dotheads, Paramount will cast Rob Malda as Wesley Crusher in the new Star Trek movie "The Rednecks Generation".

Starla Jones: Wait a minute, I don't think so. Slashdot can't retain its non-profit roots forever; eventually the Suits are going to come in and turn it into yet another portal website. I foresee Slashdot being sold to a media company Real Soon Now, probably Ziff-Davis or Andover News...

Moderator: Uh... Slashdot was sold to Andover News a couple of weeks ago.

Starla Jones: Oh. Well, I've been on vacation, so you can't blame me for not following everything. Still, this just shows that I have the psychic ability to forecast the future and the past. I predicted something that already happened, right? Isn't that worth something?

Moderator: Moving on... What about Linux? Will it achieve World Domination?

(Madam Cosmos starts humming the theme to the "Pinky and the Brain" cartoon.)

Starla Jones: Two words... Microsoft Linux.

Bob Grimaldi: I'm not entirely convinced that Microsoft will pull an "embrace-and-smother" strategy on Open Source, but it would fit their profile. From what I've heard, Bill Gates' personal mantra is:

"If it moves, crush it. If it keeps moving, acquire it. If it stops moving, claim victory and focus on something else."

Madam Cosmos: Enough with the Microsoft bashing. I think Linux will achieve World Domination... or at least World Acceptance.

Bob Grimaldi: I agree; I don't see how Linux could fail. I think the next big innovation for Linux will be automatic software updates via TV airwaves...

Jon Splatz: Huh?

Bob Grimaldi: Let me finish! There's plenty of extra bandwidth available on over-the-air TV broadcasts. Instead of going off the air overnight, PBS stations could broadcast the contents of an entire Red Hat 6.0 distro. Computers equipped with TV-to-ASCII expansion boards could decode the broadcast, and burn the resulting data onto a CD-ROM. Then people with little or no decent Net access could obtain Linux without shelling out US$80 for shrink-wrapped Red Hat.

Jon Splatz: That's insane! What next? A free copy of Red Hat included in selected boxes of Cocoa-Bombs(tm) cereal? A free copy of SuSE included with selected cases of imported German beer? This is ludicrous.

Madam Cosmos: Don't dismiss Bob's idea. There's nothing worthwhile on network TV anyways, so if it's possible to broadcast Linux to the masses, then it's a good idea. Some nerd will figure out how, don't worry about that.

Starla Jones: But what about Microsoft? If this software-by-air scheme is technologically possible, you can bet Microsoft has already acquired a company that's developed the tools to do it. I can see the ads now: "Watch the SeeBS Evening News With Dan Blather with your MS ActiveTV(tm) set and you'll automatically receive the latest copy of Internet Explorer 7 for free!"

Bob Grimaldi: You know, I hadn't thought about that. Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned it.

Jon Splatz: I have a better prediction for Linux: the formation of a worldwide "Geek Disunion". Geeks will band together into a decentralized, non-hierarchal organization to promote Geek Interests(tm), one which is the adoption of Open Source Software. Linux advocacy will turn into a wide-scale revolution against Software That Sucks (read: Windows).

Madam Cosmos: As I recall, there was a horribly outcry against Geek Unions recently on Slashdot. Considering the flare of emotions, it should be illegal to yell "union!" in a crowded Slashdot discussion thread.

Jon Splatz: I'm not talking about traditional labor unions led by corrupt fatcats who make secret deals in smoke-filled rooms. I'm talking about an extension of the Open Source community by geeks for geeks to solve geek problems.

Got problems getting a date? The Geek Disunion can help. Got a problem with a Human Resource weasel who insists on Word format resumes only? The Geek Disunion can help. Got a problem with your neighorhood telco monopoly that refuses to offer broad-band Net access? The Geek Disuion can help. Got a local yokel state representative who wants to force people to obtain licenses before they can access the Net? The Geek Disunion can help.

With such an organization, Linux couldn't fail. Businesses would be afraid to "upgrade" to Windows NT/2000 because their best geeks would call in sick or quit.

Bob Grimaldi: In your dreams. That's a stupid idea.

Moderator: Next topic... Linux stocks. What will happen to Open Source as it comes face-to-face with Wall Street?

Starla Jones: Well, Open Source is a proven development model that produces quality software. Linux is the media darling right now, and everybody is talking about Open Source.

For those reasons, I expect Open Source stocks to fail miserably.

Madam Cosmos: Huh?

Starla Jones: If the past couple of years are any indication, Wall Street has an infatuation with companies that don't have a realistic chance of earning a profit. eBay? Amazon? TheGlobe.com? Get real. Wall Street hates sensible stocks. Red Hat, VA Linux, Cygnus, and SuSE are all sensible stocks -- which means they'll be passed up in favor of some other mediocre company that's operated out of some guy's basement and has no business model...

Moderator: Like Humorix? The IPO is coming up on July 26th, NASDAQ ticker symbol FAKE...

Jon Splatz: Indeed. I expect Humorix's stock to enter the stratosphere.

Bob Grimaldi: Wait a minute! Doesn't the SEC have regulations that prohibit employees of an IPO-bound company from speaking about the stock?

Jon Splatz: SEC, shmec. Who cares? I predict Humorix will have one of the most successful IPOs in the history of Wall Street. It will, after all, be the first IPO of a Linux-related company. The fact that I'm entitled to stock options does not in any way bias my prediction.

Bob Grimaldi: Yeah, right. The only thing I'm going to invest in is an upgraded crystal ball.

Moderator: Let's wrap this discussion up: What about Redmond? What's in store for Microsoft?

Starla Jones: Tourism. That's right, in the coming years Microsoft and the local Chamber of Commerce will attempt to turn Redmond into the "Vacation Capitol of East-Central Washington State".

Jon Splatz: What kinds of tourist attractions are they going to offer? A skyscraper that holds the world record for the most number of windows? A modern art sculpture of Bill Gates made entirely out of discarded Microsoft CD-ROMs?

Starla Jones: No, no, no! Think Disneyland, but with Mickey Mouse replaced by Clippit the Dancing Paper Clip. I foresee Microsoft constructing an "Innovation World" theme park near Redmond.

They'll be a "Blue Screen of Death" rollercoaster that crashes in the middle of the ride, leaving passengers upside down for a few seconds. They'll be a "Kangaroo Court" live action drama that depicts the DOJ antitrust trial (obviously biased in favor of Microsoft). They'll be parades featuring Clippit, the Internet Explorer "e" logo, the ActiMates Barney Stuffed Dinosaur, and other "lovable" Microsoft characters that will travel through the park on a boulevard called "Microsoft Way"...

Bob Grimaldi: Meanwhile, other localities will try to capitalize on Microsoft. New Mexico will establish a "Birth of a Monopoly State Park" near the original site of Micro-soft's offices in Albuquerque. Historical markers will be erected where Bill Gates was pulled over for speeding during the 70's.

Madam Cosmos: Linux will help tourism, too. Dothan, Alabama will erect a monument at the location of the first known yard sale where a Linux CD was bought. California will erect a sign that says "This historical marker in not here yet" in front of Transmeta's offices. And needless to say, Raleigh-Durham will try to cash in on being the hometown of Red Hat Software.

Jon Splatz: Let's not forget about the Microsoft offices in Foster City, CA where the first Windows Refund protest took place. I'm sure somebody will build a gift shop commemorating the event. "Buy your very own replica Obi-Wan Kenobi costume wore by Eric S. Raymond during the historical Windows Refund protest! Only $49.95!"

Moderator: I think I've heard enough tourism ideas. Any final thoughts before we end this discussion?

Bob Grimaldi: Linux rules.

Starla Jones: Linux rules.

Madam Cosmos: Linux rules.

Jon Splatz: Huh? What was that? I was daydreaming about my upcoming book tour. Oh, and I have a job interview with Wintel Shopper Magazine next week. Can somebody tell me what I missed? Hello? Why is everybody leaving? Come back! Please!

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