SETI is one of the world's largest distributed computing projects. If you want to see the potential results, watch Contact or perhaps Independence Day. Over five million computers are connected to SETI. SETI provide statistics on the computers connected to the project. Do those statistics show the success of Linux?
The most important distributed computing project is the protein folding project at Stanford University. They are simulating the way proteins work in our bodies. They have only one million computers connected yet have already simulated the way HIV locks itself in to human DNA. Imagine what they could do if the current hundred million broadband connected computers were all joined in. Perhaps we would see a new Species.
In 1999, Linux was number 2 in the SETI results list. How does Linux rank today? Number 3. Ahead of Linux are Microsoft's NT, Windows, and NT/Windows hybrids.
There are many variations of Linux listed. If you add together all the entries for Linux then you would have to add together all the entries for Windows and you would have to add together all the Unix entries including NetBSD including the Apple version. Linux would still be fighting for third place.
Windows usually wins because there are so many Windows based computers out there. NT trails behind Windows because many organisations used NT only on servers. NT is second in the list and is close to dropping behind Linux. I expect NT to drop below Linux next year because so many companies are downgrading to Windows 2000. In three years time, NT will drop below NetBSD because of Apple's use of NetBSD.
You can now buy a hybrid NT with Windows squeezed in. The hybrid is labelled NT 5 in the SETI lists. NT 5 is more commonly known as Windows 2000. NT 6 is used as the label for Windows XP. I count all the hybrids as Windows, not NT, as the hybrids have all the problems of Windows.
I do not count Windows 2000 as NT because Windows 2000 does not have the performance or reliability of NT. My experience from thousands of NT server and workstation installations shows that NT installed by itself is reliable and predictable. If you install the optional Internet Explorer then the system's reliability drops to that of Windows 98. Windows 2000 is slightly better than an NT infected by Internet Explorer but no where near as reliable as a clean NT. I count Windows 2000 as Windows, not NT.
Lots of people report success with Windows 2000 and some say Windows 2000 is better than NT. They do not say if they installed Internet Explorer on NT. On all the occasions when I found a software problem in an NT based system, it was after the installation of a Microsoft product. Microsoft seemed to like breaking holes in NT so they can run Windows applications without modification. All the other software suppliers rewrote their Windows products to NT's higher standards. Windows 2000 has Internet Explorer's problems preinstalled. You get the problems even if you never start Internet Explorer.
Currently Windows 2000 is only slightly more reliable than the last Linux distribution I tested on the same hardware. Most people will replace Windows 2000 with XP instead of Linux.
Windows XP, listed as NT 6 in the SETI lists, is one step worse than Windows 2000. To make XP useable, you have to spend a lot of time switching off the new features of XP. I count XP as Windows, not NT.
I expect the XP problems to focus more people on security and that will help some people decide to replace XP with Linux. The latest release of OpenOffice is so good that some people will choose OpenOffice ahead of Microsoft Office, which will make an eventual switch to Linux easier. New sales of XP will exceed the conversions for several years.
I am currently using Windows 2000 solely because Microsoft did not release a USB driver for NT. Other manufacturers decided to use Microsoft's driver instead of releasing their own. The move from NT to Windows 2000 was less painful than the move to the Linux distributions then available. If the best minds from Mandrake and Suse worked together on one Linux distribution, the move to Linux might have been easier. Update: I now use Ubuntu Linux
The move from Windows 2000 to XP looks equally painful and has absolutely no benefits. I had to double the speed of my computer to get Windows 2000 running as fast as NT. XP appears to have architectural problems that cannot be fixed by using faster hardware. The whole Windows operating system appears to be doomed by Microsoft's consistent refusal to fix long-standing problems. I expect Microsoft's replacement for XP will make more people jump over to Linux.
Many of my customers are stuck with Windows because of corporate policies. They are allowed to upgrade only to new releases of Windows as that maintains "compatibility". When they change one computer to a new release of Windows, they get compatibility problems and Microsoft's advice is to upgrade all computers to maintain compatibility. The problem becomes worse with each release of Windows. Unfortunately Linux does not offer a solution as Linux is constantly upgraded. The once per year pain of Windows is still better than the many times per year pain of Linux. Both operating systems are switching to automatic online updates that will hide the pain and make both operating systems look equal.
Linux or Windows?
At the time I switched from NT to Windows 2000 there were no stable Linux distributions that installed on my full range of hardware. I stopped testing Mandrake Linux distributions when they had the great LG drive disaster of 2003. Lots of people recommend Suse as the best Linux distribution but Suse uses one distribution for workstations and a different distribution for servers. I need one bootable DVD for both.
OpenOffice, Gimp, and an editor will decide the operating system for me. I replaced every application except Microsoft Office and Paint Shop Pro with open source applications that work on both Linux and Windows. I use OpenOffice for some work and expect OpenOffice to completely replace Microsoft Office on my machine some time next year.
I have not had the time to learn Gimp. Paint Shop Pro remains easier to use for the image editing I currently perform. My next requirements are raw file processing and 16 bit colour depth, both currently available in Photoshop. If Gimp has these features by the time I finish replacing Microsoft Office with OpenOffice, I will switch to Gimp and Linux. Update: Gimp now has raw input and I use it all the time.
I have not yet found a good replacement for Allaire Homesite (taken over by Macromedia then Adobe) and am using a less than satisfactory open source code editor. The open source code editor is actively maintained and needs only a few small corrections to work beautifully. Unfortunately the editor is not yet available on Linux. The Linux equivalents are not yet 100% equivalent. One of the best open source Linux editors, for my work, is both based on the proprietary Java. Why would I bother replacing the proprietary Windows with the proprietary Java?
The Linux or Windows question is answered almost entirely by the applications we use every day. Of the sixty applications I use daily, only six are Windows programs. Half of those six have open source equivalents that are useable. Linux is close to replacing Windows but that will not happen everywhere until a few more applications are replaced by open source equivalents. Large organisations will not replace Windows with Linux until all their major applications are replaced. OpenOffice will decide more operating systems than the best Linux distribution.
NT will die out leaving Linux at number two position. Apple's use of Unix will not push Unix head of Linux. OpenOffice adoption will eat in to sales of Windows and narrow the gap. Asia will adopt Linux first then Europe. Most of Asia and Europe will not connect to SETI because of high telecommunications costs. SETI's computers will come from the Windows dominated western countries where telecommunications are cheap and broadband is always on. SETI is not a good guide to the current large scale uptake of Linux.