INDUSTRY ANALYSIS

Eight IT Textbooks, 4,031 Pages, 17 Mentions of Linux

Want to know why most business analysts and venture capitalists simply don’t get it with respect to Unix? Take a look at the computer books they study while working toward their MBA, financial analysis certificate or accounting designation, and you’ll understand that their ignorance isn’t entirely their fault.

Each of these professional qualifications is directly or indirectly controlled by some group that sets minimal educational standards, including things like “IT competency maps” — lists of things graduates are supposed to know about IT. Schools work to these standards. Thus, nearly every curriculum leading to a business designation of some kind features at least one, and usually several, introductory IT courses.

This, of course, creates a market for textbooks. Among these, the eight listed below comprise about 4,000 pages of text and influence somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 students and their instructors each year.

  • Steven Alter, Information Systems: The foundations of E-business, Prentice Hall, 2002.
  • James O’Brien, Introduction to Information Systems: Essentials for the Internetworked E-business Enterprise, McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2001.
  • Stephen R. Gordon and Judith R. Gordon, Information Systems: A Management Approach, John Wiley & Sons, 2004.
  • Stephen Haag et al., Management Information Systems, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2004.
  • Leonard M. Jessup et al., Information Systems Today, Prentice Hall, 2003.
  • Kenneth C. Lauden and Jane P. Lauden, Management Information Systems, Prentice Hall, 2004.
  • James A. Senn, Information Technology: Principles, Practices, Opportunities, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004.
  • Efraim Turban et al., Information Technology for Management, John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

The 587-page Alter book has three entries for Unix in its index, one for Linux. Three of these four point at a list headed “examples of operating systems” where Unix and Linux are mentioned along with seven Microsoft products. The remaining entry points at this paragraph from page 494:

“For example if vendor A’s product runs on the UNIX operating system and vendor B’s runs on Windows NT, vendor A may try to influence the company to view the UNIX platform as a requirement. Simultaneously, vendor B might try to include features that are difficult to obtain through Unix.”

From this, our future MBA or CPA learns that Unix people are bigots and Windows offers more features.

Contenders for the Throne

O’Brien’s book is only about 530 pages, plus some appendices. Unix doesn’t rate an index entry at all, but Linux gets three. Two of those point to an extract on page 153 from a BusinessWeek article in which the authors have this to say about Linux: “Linux is good at serving up Web pages, but it isn’t as effective as Windows 2000 at handling more complex jobs.”

The third entry, however, points to a full-page miniature case compiled from multiple Computerworld stories on the use of Linux in a computational grid at Amerada Hess. It says positive things about Linux on x86, although it perpetuates a Computerworld editorial standard by running down RISC-Unix.

Gordon & Gordon find room to mention both Linux and Unix once in the index to their 426 pages. These references point to adjacent paragraphs on page 96 from which the student learns the following:

“A variant of Unix called Linux became popular in the late 1990s. A Finnish graduate student named Linus Torvalds developed the software and purposely disclaimed any rights to it, leaving it in the public domain, with the condition that its code and all future versions developed from it remain open to view and change. Several companies, most notably Red Hat and Caldera, modified the software and then created versions having the same system calls and user interface to operate on many different types of computers.”

Gnome? GNU? GPL? IBM? SuSE? KDE? Minix? Open Source? None of these exist. This bit of half-digested pablum is what the future MBA or CPA needs to know about Linux.

Incredulity About Unix

Haag and coauthors don’t have any entries for Unix in their index, but they have one entry for Linux, finding room on page 406 of their 524-page text to mention it in a list with four minor Microsoft OSs and Mac OS.

Lauden and coauthors have three index entries for Unix and three for Linux in their 534 pages. In both cases, the first entries point to mentions of Unix and Linux with five different Microsoft OSs in a list on page 195. The second entries point to two paragraph discussions on page 196 where the authors see no contradiction in telling students the following:

“Unix also poses some security problems, because multiple users and jobs can access the same file simultaneously. Vendors have developed different versions of Unix that are incompatible, thereby limiting software portability.”

This kind of explains the horror and incredulity with which new graduates greet Unix, doesn’t it?

On the other hand, these authors do offer up two-thirds of page 197 for a fairly positive minicase on adopting Linux, and they offer the fairest description of Java I found in any of these books:

“Java is a platform independent, object oriented programming language developed by Sun Microsystems. Java software is designed to run on any computer or computing device, regardless of the specific microprocessor or operating system it uses. A Macintosh PC, an IBM PC running Windows, a Sun server running Unix, or even a smart cellular phone or personal digital assistant can share the same Java application.”

Jessup and coauthors find no room for Unix in the index to their 410 pages, but they do have one entry pointing to a mention of Linux on page 260. This turns out to be a minicase constructed as an abstract of an approximately 1,250-word original article on Darwinmag.com.

Somehow, however, they find room in their reduction of this to about 280 words to add a warning comment: “As long as proper testing has been conducted, and companies are aware of the downsides of Linux, this operating system can definitely become one of the most popular and cheapest systems software in the future.”

And yes, the bad grammar is theirs — right along with the deep thought it reflects.

Stunning Insights Abound

In 615 pages plus appendices, Senn finds no cause to include Unix in the index, but he does have a whopping six entries for Linux, all of which point to paragraphs where Unix is also mentioned. The first of these points to page 53, where Linux is listed, along with three Microsoft OSs, as among “other popular operating systems.” The next two point to similar lists of OSs that run on the PowerPC and OSs that support Borland’s Interbase, respectively.

The next two entries, however, point to a two-page discussion of open systems starting on page 474, and the last one points to a couple of paragraphs of continuation on page 501. Unfortunately, this contains such gems as this bit from the discussion on page 474 of interoperability as a benefit of open systems:

“One reason Microsoft’s software is the de facto standard is because it is available to run on a variety of computer systems. Recognizing the desirability and benefits of interoperability and software portability, Microsoft’s Windows products are designed to be used on many computers besides desktop systems (servers, for example). This is not only a wish of Microsoft, but it is also the wish of many IT professionals responsible for developing and supporting enterprise systems.”

As stunning insights go, that one’s certainly worth the $96 our future bosses, users and investors are asked to pay for the book, right?

The Hidden Upside

Turban and coauthors have no entries for either Unix or Linux in the index to their 771-page text. However, both Linux and Unix are included in lists of operating systems provided in the 60 pages or so of downloadable tech guides that go with the book.

To be fair, I should point out that the index entries aren’t exhaustive. Most of these books have unindexed mentions of Unix. But in total, BSD, GNU, Linux, open source, Solaris and all of the rest warrant roughly one word per thousand among the 2 million in the books — and much of that coverage is negative.

Believe it or not, there’s an upside for the Unix community here. Simply try to remember, next time you run into users who think Microsoft invented computing, bosses who are surprised to learn that not all computers run Windows, or venture capitalists whose idea of “adult supervision” is to take your network-computing idea to Windows, that they got those beliefs from their textbooks — meaning that they aren’t necessarily as moronic as their opinions and that you can hope to reeducate at least some of them.

This rant reflects a much longer and more serious piece I’m developing on problems with IT textbooks. If you have something to contribute to that, please take a look at the draft paper and use the forum there or the talkback link below on LinuxInsider to give me your comments.


Paul Murphy, aLinuxInsider columnist, wrote and published The Unix Guide toDefenestration. Murphy is a 20-year veteran of the IT consultingindustry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.


5 Comments

  • This analysis of open-source-blindness in textbooks on e-business is very interesting, but perhaps a little out of date now that business is in fact starting to take up Linux quite widely. I have an e-biz textbook of my own out (published in Oct 2003 here in Britain, in December 03 I think in the USA) which devotes a full chapter (out of 14 chapters) to Linux and the open source movement. Now that business and government computing is increasingly starting to adopt open source, I’m sure that other authors will follow suit.
    Geoffrey Sampson, http://www.grsampson.net

  • <p>
    This column got slashdotted – meaning that something over 600 people offered some comment on it. In many cases those comments were perceptive and valuable – others, of course, had little or nothing to do with the issues.
    <p>
    Several other sites offered comment as well but of all the comments and treatments I’ve seen so far, this one on groklaw seems the most reasonable:
    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20040404010720380
    <P>
    As regular readers know I have a lot of difficulty telling bias from reality and find myself caught between two horrible biases (realities?) here. On the one hand I usually think of groklaw as an unpaid and unacknowledged shill for IBM; on the other hand this story has to be right (right?) simply because the writer quoted my stuff sympathetically.
    <P>
    I really don’t know what’s more difficult to rationalize – finding myself agreeing with Ted Sampley (http://www.usvetdsp.com/jf_kerry.htm ) on John Kerry or finding an intelligent and well thought through review of some my work on groklaw. [expletive deleted]! maybe not all good guys are all good, or all bad guys all bad?
    <P>
    Seeing things through simplistic filters like "good guy" "bad guy" affected many of the slashdotters too, but -overall- the comments
    received from many sources were extremely valuable
    and I want to thank all those who contributed – whether I agreed with them or not.

  • I read this article with interest, but at the risk of veering away from the main topic (the textbooks) I wonder about the wisdom of taking an open-source approach.
    Sure it may look good on paper, but I wonder if these guys have thought about the opinion of the general public of Open Source/GNU/Linux etc.
    I have been involved in the marketing (dirty word I know!) of software and hardware to non-technical people for a number of years. The consultancy group I work for numbers many of America’s top blue-chip electronics and software corporations AM ong its clients, I have over 11 years experience of marketing, and 4 years experience of software development (VB) and systems administration (NT 3.51), in addition to a marketing science qualification from one of America’s top business schools – so it’s safe to say that I know what I AM talking about when it comes to computers and marketing.
    I have been keeping an eye this forum for quite some time now, as part of my daily intelligence gathering, I find the robust exchange of views, and technical arguments make an interesting diversion from some of the other corporate bullshit I have to deal with in my working day. I also read corporate intelligence reports from the Gartner group, Forrester, the Meta group, and Olsen Online Business Intelligence Services.
    LinuxInsider has often proved to be far more accurate when it comes to the technical details,and I AM often AM azed at the incredible levels of intelligence and insight shown by its readership, some of whom demonstrate a knowledge of Linux and Operating systems far in advance of anyone I have ever met, even in the IS department of major corporations. For this reason, I feel I should contribute my 2c to the debate about the future direction of Linux and the whole Open Source movement in general.
    I feel I can do my bit for the Open Source community by offering (free of charge) some of my hard-earned knowledge straight from the bloody trenches at the front-line of tech-Marketing. Normally I would be paid over $4000/day for my perspective, but Slashdot – this one’s on me. You people can think of it as my small and unworthy attempt to "give something back" to the Community.
    Why Linux/Open Source has an image problem in major US Corporations and what the community can do about it. Like any movment, political or religious, Open Source/Linux has its Leaders, High priests and Gurus. These high profile individuals represent the public face of the organization. Like it or not, these people are associated with the product in the eyes of the buying public. One of the first things the Linux movement must do in order to gain acceptence by middle-America and Joe-and-Jean Sixpack and their 2.4 kids, is to develop what we in the Marketing profession call a "Happy Face".
    When Joe Sixpack drives past a McDonald’s, he associates it with the smiling face of Ronald McDonald the clown,and quality food served quickly. When he is choosing a collect-call company, the smiling face of Al Bundy (of TV’s Married with Children) springs to mind, and when he thinks of fried chicken in large capacity bucket-like containers, it is the image of the happy-go-lucky avuncular Colonel with his associations of good old Southern hospitality that sticks in his memory. (In marketing terms this is known as a "positive association".
    Because the image puts the consumer into a "buying-receptive" mental state).
    Linux/Open Source lacks any kind of "Happy Face". Now this in itself is not a problem, were it not for the fact that Linux has several extremely high-profile advocates who are the exact opposite of "Happy Faces" in that they invite negative associations into the consumers head and put him/her into a state known by Marketers as "passive-aggressive sales-message rejection"
    (In layman’s terms they don’t want to buy the product).
    Now, I will not lower the tone of the debate by naming names. I will give a few brief profiles and community members will know who I AM talking about.
    In reverse order of harmfullness we have the laconic, dour nothern European. Not known for his sense of hunor, and with far too many nights spent coding when he should have been out partying he creates an image of Linux as the OS of choice for "friendless geeks who never got laid". (note – I do not subscribe to this viewpoint, but trust me some of my focus group members do).
    Then we have the good old gun-toting libertarian self-proclaimed open source guru. Although M.R. studies show that 78% of PC owners show right-wing bias this person is too wacko and off-the scale for them. He alienates them, and in the worst case scares them that they risk being physically harmed if they don’t agree with his fundamentalist libertarian "philosophy".
    Finally we have a bearded Communist hippy. Do I need to say any more ?
    So the normal consumer associates Linux with a sucicidal friendless nerd from some godforsaken corner of Northern Europe, a plainly insane right wing lunatic, and an "alternative lifestyle" Communist throwback to Woodstock with a facial hair problem. Is it any wonder that time after time, the message comes back from my focus groups that Linux is for wierdos ?
    Here are a few example comments from a focus group session from Q3 1999 in response to a question about their attitudes to Linux and open source software, you’ll get the general idea.
    "Linux – that’s that geek system right ?"
    "I tried Linux but it was too hard for me to install, then that guy flamed me on the newsgroups"
    "I don’t want any Open Source software because it is written by communists and I AM concerned about security"
    "My boss says Linux was written by Communists and Gun-Nuts"
    "Linux is used by Communists who hate capitalism and Microsoft"
    "Open source software cannot be any good because it is written by college students and hackers."
    "Linux is not compatible with my USB peripherals"
    "I would like to try Linux but my buddies would think I was a Commie"
    I could go on and on with these genuine responses, but I think I’ve illustrated my point well enough. Linux has a serious image problem.
    What to do about it is more problematic. Open Source proponents and Linux advocates are fiercely independent and proud of their alternative stance. They see any form of marketing as "selling out to da man" or "not groking it" or becoming a "suit" Any mention of money or financial rewards is derided, and developers are supposed to be content with "Kudos" from the community. Whilst this might be ok at college, or if you are tremendously wealthy, it cuts no ice with Joe Sixpack who was raised on Microsoft and associates Bill’s millions with the quality of the software his company puts out. From the focus group again:
    "If Bill (Gates) is worth that much money he must make the best software in the world."
    "Microsoft must know what they are doing – the whole world uses their software."
    "The best programmers work for Microsoft – they have the most tech-savvy hackers there."
    "Microsoft spend millions on their software I think it is the best in the world. (referring to IE5)
    Again the message is clear: Microsoft is winning the hearts and minds not only of Joe Sixpack, but also Juan Sixpack in South America, Jean-Paul Sixpack in France, Jeroen Van der Sixpack in the Netherlands, Nkwele-Olamu Sixpack in West Africa, Mohammed-Al-Sixpack in Iran, Kulwant Chandrasekhera Sixpack in India, and Boris Sixpack in the Russian Federation.
    Their message is powerful, international, and presented relentlessly with no internal bickering and bitching.
    What can be done ?
    There are no easy answers. The Linux/Open Source community has proved unwilling or unable to accept critisim (even constructive criticism such as this) gracefully, preferring to mount foul-languaged assaults on the personal integrity of anyone who steps out from the party line.
    I offer no easy solutions, however here are a few pointers:
    1) As a damage limitation exercise Linux/GNU should appoint itself a "Marketing Spokesperson".
    This person would be the "official face of Linux/GNU/Open Source". First and Foremost, they would wear an expensive suit, especially when talking to the press or when dealing with high-profile major corporation with deep pockets and $$$s to spend. I realise this is ridiculous from a technical perspective, but with my blend of tech-savvy and marketing exprience, I realize the importance of presentation over technical merit.
    It goes against the grain of the community, but if we are to become the next Microsoft (and why else would we be in this game if not to win it at all costs), we must fight them on our battleground, but with the same weapons they use against us.
    2) The Penguin logo MUST go ASAP. Although it seemed "cute" and funny at the time, in the eyes of the corporate MIS department it just looks juvenile. Linux needs a new logo, preferably one of those kind of eliptical ones with a swoosh that in the eyes of the public can mean one thing: Hip and cool DOTCOM Corporation. The logo should be bland, yet robust, non-controversial yet ahead of the curve, and toned in serious businesslike colors such as gray, silver, and white. It should transcend culture and religion to be internationally recognized like the Coca-Cola image is all over the world.
    3) Downplay RMS, Linus, ESR, etc. They are technicians with zero understanding of the general public, or of software consumers in general. Indeed many of them only write their program for themselves to "scratch an itch". This is hardly the way to gain public acceptance.
    4) Direct X – A MAJOR stumbling block on Linux’s road to world domination is the lack of Direct X support for Linux. This trivial omission means that most games will not run on Linux. Linux could gain 1000’s of new games by simply implementing the DirectX api. This is a no-brainer. Kernel support for XML would be a big performance booster too in the B2B and B2C application area, and would make Linux buzzword compliant for XML.
    5) Finally FOCUS GROUPS. Before you think about starting that new open-source project, (be it a new web browser like Mazola, or simply a new front-end for the cdplayer application) Get a focus group together. Use a few minutes of your non-tech-savvy friend’s time. If you don’t have any friends like that, try your folks, or your grandparents. Ask them what they would like to see in your new program. This way, you will gain "market perspective" on the likely acceptance of your product by the "normal people" of the world.
    Thank you for your time

  • This issue is much more than what a handful of authors choose to publish. Its a vicious circle in many ways. Publishers will publish popular topics. Topics that sell. Business schools have always gravitated towards Windows based products. Regression is taught using Excel, not KSpread. Database skills are taught using Access.
    Publishers look at this profile and encourage authors to write along these lines. As a result, we hardly see any open source books from Prentice Hall or McGraw Hill. We see O’Reilly books on all the open source topics, but they are hardly used as MBA texts. Perhaps if O’Reilly published MBA texts?
    I have these conversations with my publishing reps every semester. The end result is that "we are not there yet". For the time being, its Windows, and that’s what we’ll sell. Other publishers such as Course Technology sell Linux books, but those are generally for "step-by-step" approaches. I think its a bit early for the Business EDU market to move to this camp. Maybe a couple more years?
    Hopefully, things will change in the near future. In the meantime, I AM happy hosting my MBA class site on PHP+MySQL+Apache on Linux. You should come to my classes and talk to my students 🙂
    Sameer Verma
    sverma@sfsu.edu

  • I cannot believe those texts rag on the *nix O/S so much. I have used Windows since I began using a computer, around 5 years. Around 3 years ago I purchased a distro of Linux (SuSe) because the company I work for moved me into the IT department. I had until that time only heard of Linux and knew nothing of it. I bought it so I could use it at home and learn the O/S as I learned Windows. I was truely AM azed at the level of control over the system that Linux offers the user. Unlike the hidden world of Windows, Linux is wide open. When you update a package or install a new package, you know exactly what is being installed. Under Windows you have no idea what is being put on your system. Seems to me these people forget that over 90% of the internet is *nix of some sort. If Unix, Linux, BSD were that abissmal to use and that proprietary *cough* WINDOWS, then would that many admins implement the O/S? Many of our systems at my job are Linux controlled. We seamlessly use Linux, Windows, and SCO together in our network. There is very little if no maintence. As for learning Linux, with no prior knowledge of networking or knowing anything of the TCP/IP protocols, it took me all of 90 minutes to integrate Linux into my home network and configure a Samba client to share Windows files. For the neigh sayers of Linux I submit this. If Linux truely is the poor O/S "requiring more testing before being put into business use", then why was I unable to share an internet connection between two Windows boxes ( even using the ICS wizard ) yet I was able to do it through Linux within 5 minutes using Squid? Pound for pound, ounce for ounce Linux is without a doubt the absolute best O/S that I have used. I enjoy the level of control over my system it affords me. I still use my Windows box, but only to play games. Anyone thinking of converting to a new O/S, give Linux a shake. It is worth the $80 I paid for my distro. Plus you get a ton of extra software. Mine came with 7 cd’s of software. The best part of all I saved for closing. In 3 years of using Linux my system has locked up on me a total of 5 times, as opposed to 5 times per use on Windows.

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