I’m jealous of political pundits. They get to write about global warming, economic protectionism, and cloning (for example) without any particular expertise in the relevant disciplines, influencing public policy in the process.

Not me. All I get to write about is how to run IS. My writing about Zippergate, for instance, would be about as classy as the Hollywood actors who make political speeches during the Academy Awards (although that may be preferable to the current practice of thanking everyone in the telephone directory).

That’s why I’m so thankful for Department of Justice vs. Microsoft. It lets me comment on a major issue of public policy without straying from my purported area of expertise. Here’s my comment: As of this writing, Microsoft seems to be counting on one of three legal possibilities: Either 1) It isn’t really a monopoly because even though it is right now it won’t be forever so that makes everything OK; 2) the antitrust laws are a bad idea so don’t enforce them; or 3) even if it’s found guilty, the penalty won’t hurt very much. The “consumers haven’t been hurt” argument is, of course, irrelevant grandstanding – the question is one of using its monopoly for competitive advantage, not one of price-gouging.

The biggest impact of this trial, of course, is all the free publicity it’s given Linux. Ain’t irony grand?

Last week’s column presented a simple formula for predicting the success and failure of new technologies and technology products, using past products as examples. This week we’ll apply it to the current technology scene, starting with Linux.

The formula, you’ll recall, was customers/affordability/disruption – a successful new product must do something worthwhile for the customers (the people making the buying decision, as opposed to the consumers, who use the product); it must be affordable; and it must not disrupt the current environment. (Disruption, by the way, is a big reason companies like Microsoft, which dictate the architecture in particular environments, have the incumbent’s huge advantage.) Let’s start predicting!

Linux (as a server) – Main customers: Webmasters and underfunded system administrators. Benefit: Runs reliably and fast. Affordability: Free, or nearly so. Disruption: As a Web server or file-and-print server, it integrates invisibly into the network (unless Microsoft can make it disruptive through proprietary server-side innovations like Active Server Pages). Score: Perfect – Linux is a winner.

Linux (on the desktop) – Main customers: End-users. Benefit: Fast, less-crash-prone PC. Affordability: Free except for the (not overwhelming but not trivial) time needed to learn it. Disruption: The office suites for Linux don’t reliably read and write the Microsoft Office file formats – that is, there’s a significant delay before the Linux suites catch up to each new Office release, and even then they’re glitchy. Score: Iffy.

Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) – Main customers: End-users. Benefits: Lightweight, carries around essential information, IS doesn’t get to say what users can and can’t do with it. Affordability: Very. Disruption: Unless an installation goes south, they’re invisible to IS. Score: Perfect – PDAs are a winner.

XML – Main customers: IS developers. Benefits: Universal, awesomely adaptable file format. Affordability: Open standard, learnable without needing tensor calculus. Disruption: A complicated question. As meta data (think data dictionary on steroids) there’s no significant installed base to disrupt. As an office-suite file format, either Microsoft’s XML tags will do the job for everyone or it won’t get off the ground. As a replacement for HTML it’s highly disruptive until it’s built into the browser. Then it’s nondisruptive. Score: Very High – XML has enough different applications that it’s bound to succeed in at least some of them.

Java – Main customers: IS developers. Benefits: Nicely designed object-oriented language, automatic garbage collection, possibly portable (the jury’s out on this one). Affordability: As affordable as any other programming language. Disruption: A complicated issue. For established developers it’s disruptive – having some of a product in Java and the rest in a compiled language is messy, and probably won’t happen. For new developers it’s non-disruptive, except for the performance issues compared to any compiled language. Score: Adequate – Java will become just another programming language.

Well, there you have it. Like a good math text, you now have a formula and examples. Go forth and prognosticate.