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Pluto isn't a planet; Domino Doesn't Scale; and other stupid things people have said.

By Andrew Pollack on 07/31/2005 at 12:26 AM EDT

From reading this article about the confirmed discovery of another large mass orbiting our sun, further than Pluto and having more mass, I'm reminded of a really stupid presentation given at a Lotusphere BP day a few years back in which a prominent person from the science community made his point that "Pluto just isn't a planet and we'd all just need to get over it." Of course, the metaphor at the time was intended to be an unsubtle message that we'd better all get used to other unpopular truisms, like moving to WebSphere. We all know how that turned out.

In this case too, scientists disagree on the naming of this body as a planet. You see, just like that argument, this article points out that the debate isn't about Pluto at all.

“We either have eight planets or we have several dozen in our solar system,” said Brian Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in an e-mail. “Nine or ten is not an option.”

The word planet, in this sense is meaningless without definition. If you define "Planet" based on the mass of a body in orbit, there are indeed more objects that have sufficient mass to be consider planets. If you don't include mass, is each asteroid a "small planet"? What about a comet? Must the orbit be highly regular and thus a comet cannot be a planet because those tend to have elliptical orbits? How elliptical is too elliptical? Is it simply a matter of mass, in which case who makes the arbitrary determination?

You see, these scientists will never agree on where to draw this line because ultimately the distinction is meaningless. The only reason for the argument is that planets are somehow more important, and thus the discovery of one has more value academically. We instill more importance on planets simply because they're big, but frankly isn't an errant comet much more important to our survival than a fairly stable planet which never comes close and never will?

As meaningless as this argument over an unnecessary classification over planets is, so too have most people now realized that its meaningless to insist on a sole winner in a battle between Websphere and its progeny (by which I include Portal Server, Workplace, etc.) and Domino and its suite of products. There need be no division. They're all software packages with different characteristics and each is important for its own purpose. Microsoft has products too -- some good ones. These are also members in the overall cosmos of our I.T. environment. Its foolish to think we might only ever need one kind of product suite.

Websphere (and its offspring) is BIG. Big like Jupiter. It can do BIG THINGS. So, if you have BIG THINGS to do, you should be looking at it. The thing about Jupiter is, its very mass makes it very difficult to make it the source of useful things for the day to day work of expanding the human race out into space. Lots of smaller, more easily accessible things out there are very helpful however. Things like comets, things like moons, maybe even some small planets -- these things have the day to day stuff we'll need in a way we can access them. If you're following the overworked metaphor here, I'm talking about Domino.

Things like water -- that most basic thing of all for us -- are easily available on smaller bodies. No matter how important we decide Jupiter is, we can't get anything useful done unless we take full advantage of our moon, the comets, the asteroids, and Mars.

If my late night rambling doesn't come off as completely insane, then maybe some of you out there in the press will stop this incessant war-style reporting about who is going to steal who's partners and which product will bury the other ones. The solar system is a balanced system. Those that were not have long since disappeared and been recycled as other systems a billion times until another balanced one comes around. So too, the I.T. environment must be a balanced system. Those who don't get that are destined themselves to end up recycled a billion times until they find something with balance.


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