Meet Tomorrow’s Venture Capitalists

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.

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