Ransom Love Interview and Caldera Systems, Inc at Comdex Fall 2000
Caldera BoothLWN visited the Caldera booth at the Fall 2000 Comdex Linux Business Expo and explored some of the Caldera offerings. We also had the opportunity to interview Ransom Love, CEO of Caldera. The Caldera booth was a busy place, containing a presentation area and several Caldera Solution Partners. Here are a few highlights:
LWN Interviews Ransom Love
After touring the booth, we went to a small room behind the LBE exhibit hall to interview Ransom Love, CEO of Caldera Systems Inc (CALD). We were joined by David McCrabb, Caldera president.
LWN:Could you give us an overview of Caldera Systems, Inc?
RL:If you look at Caldera, our whole focus has been on business, on how to make Linux a more viable comprehensive business solution. That's one of the reasons we acquired SCO. We intend to use Linux not just as a web server or a client workstation. We ask, how can we get Linux to be embraced by the entire business community and become a viable total alternative to the Microsoft environment?
The compatibilities between SCO Unix and Linux are very high. Unix and Linux are not competitive technologies at all. Unix is being deployed as a database and back office solution, but not so much in networking. One out of three web servers is running Linux. If you combine those two operating systems with a common application environment, businesses can have a single environment from the client to the database, and can develop for a single environment. That's one of the things we were looking at with the acquisition of SCO.
For corporations to deploy Linux, they need a global infrastructure. You can't have Linux installed in a few remote parts of a company, you need a globally supported infrastructure. With the SCO acquisition, we have sales, marketing, and support in over 80 countries. We have local phone support and local language support.
You need applications. Linux needs a tremendous amount of business applications. The SCO platform brings us thousands of tested and true business applications. You combine that with all of the excitement around Linux itself and you take Unix with its design centered around the database and back office and combine that with the new Linux open source Internet development to create the business platform.
We also have to embrace Java. You work with Java and optimize that for the business platform. You can pull together a very strong set of applications. We have the Unix kernel and Linux, and the common application environment is Linux. We have developed a technology called the "Linux Kernel Personality", that's an internal technical name, we've made Linux applications run on the Unix kernel, it's fully LSB compliant. SCO has two Unix bases, the Open Server base and Unix Ware, the USL Unix source code tree and the application base from the Open Server base.
LWN: What are Caldera's new projects?
RL: One new product is Volution. We've been developing that for the last 14 months, it is a product who's time has come. With the proliferation of all of the Linux devices, especially if you look at embedded devices, you are having to go to each one to manage it, which is ludicrous. Printing has always plagued Unix and still plagues Linux. We have made printing Internet aware and Internet scalable with the Volution technology. Volution helps to facilitate the whole management infrastructure that we want to deploy.
LWN: Contrast Volution to the Red Hat Network:
RL: Caldera has 22,000 partners who are deploying business solutions based on open source and Unix/Linux technologies, it's probably the single largest non-retail business channel for Linux.
DM: We have a different philosophy that represents an understanding of the commercial world versus the developer world. It's very clear that Volution was developed for a commercial implementation. It deals with the issues that systems administrators in a commercial businesses deal with, such as the logistics of how to deploy and manage systems around the world, versus a desktop-centric developer world, I admit that I am not that familiar with the Red Hat Network. Where do you start things philosophically? We start with commercial companies.
RL: In our SCO staff, we have the guys who originally created Unix, we still have some of the core USL, and before that, AT&T engineers with the background and legacy that they provide, and we have rich networking expertise from the Novell engineers. Our whole approach is more focused on the commercial environment. We rely on many of our business customers to create the "last mile". They have the business interfaces, applications, and solutions. Volution enables them to participate, we can push changes to them and they can participate with what is pushed to their customers and their clientele. We don't try to take that away from them, we enable value-add that you don't get from point to point management solutions. Volution is a complex and extensive platform.
LWN: Linux and other tech stocks have had major ups and downs in the last year, how has this affected Caldera?
RL: We actually have done well from a value perspective. The industry needs some leadership, they need to ask: is Linux going to be a successful commercial alternative platform? I think Linux is on trial and I think that's OK. I think that we are putting together the pieces that will allow businesses to embrace it and deploy Linux. We have a whole set of professional services that we can use to help people deploy Linux. We also have educational programs. We have all of the pieces, with the SCO acquisition, to provide the business opportunities, which I think will bring confidence back.
People want to know, "How are you going to make money on Linux?", our view is: people don't buy technology, they don't buy a service, they buy a solution, and we have very much a product focus. We are going to continue to innovate. We are going to contribute back, to help to utilize open source as a way of creating ubiquity to drive more infrastructure. So we'll innovate and provide that back.
In some cases like Open SLP which is a component that we developed, we clearly contributed it in an open source fashion just because that helps build that infrastructure. We're committed to open source, but we also are committed to a value proposition because that's what our customers, and our larger resellers need.
DM: The other thing that I think is fairly safe to say is that the stock market does not understand what Caldera International is, it's not their fault. Once we can clearly say here's what we are as a company with the size and breadth and financials, a year from now will be a much better time to judge the value.
LWN: What would you say to investors who bought Caldera stock after the IPO?
RL: One of the key things is that we did not go public with the purpose of trying to create instantaneous wealth, we went there to build a business and I think that our actions and what we've done with the resources that we acquired from the public will pay off in the dividends of a very viable, profitable business, in a very short period of time. That's what I think is the key, it is: "What have you done with the resources that you've acquired from the public? Is there going to be a return on that investment?"
I think that we've done a very good job of saying: "You knew that we needed a global infrastructure and it would take years and millions of dollars to create that and we did that with one acquisition." Now we can focus on driving real business solutions and real values with a return on investments by our shareholders.
LWN: What are Caldera's long term plans and how many years do you consider long term to be?
DM: In our five year plan, we decided that we need to have the right partners. We want engaged employees who want to come to work, we want significant market penetration, we want to be big players. We also want to be a good community partner, in the areas where you have local offices and beyond.
RL: An aspect of our mission statement is the concept that we believe in a broad acceptance of Unix, in particular, business use of the Internet is an evolution and so is its effect on the community. We want to be the number one supplier of open network Internet platform technology. We believe, if we do that, we will help provide an alternative in the industry, a very lucrative platform for investors, and give significant contributions to open society.
We have a sister company, another canopy who we've invested in, who is developing a patented satellite router technology based on Open Linux. They build a technology based on a satellite dish that covers about 90% of the globe, that allow you for about $1300 to connect wireless LAN clients. In an hour and a half, you can have up to 250 users on the Internet at up to T1 speeds. Think about the costs. You now have instant Internet at a fraction of what you would pay when you think about all of the normal hidden costs. You can drop that into China, Eastern Europe, South America and developing countries, and they have an instant computing infrastructure. Then you add the management components and they can build computing solutions at pennies on the dollar.
Our forte is on the high-volume hardware platform that lowers the total cost of computing significantly.
LWN: What is Caldera's position on dealing with Microsoft market domination?
DM: I liked Steve Ballmer's quote on stock values, "The problem is not where Microsoft stock is now, it's where it has been recently.".
RL:You take products like Citrix and Tarantella, they work great for accessing that legacy install base known as Windows and moving it towards the Internet paradigm. I think that in almost every corporate environment, people aren't going to replace Windows, they are going to add on to it. You have to coexist and you have to extend it and add value to it.
I think that if you look at what we do, we clearly will provide a platform that scales, a platform that's managed, all based on open standards which will embrace the best of what they have and just add to it. That's true of our resellers today when we embrace Linux and it's true of every corporate environment.
We have the technology and we have the knowledge base to help them now deploy Linux where it makes sense from the client all the way back to the data center and help them work through that. How do we interface with Windows? With Citrix for Tarantella. You can have a very effective corporate environment with very little "learning cliff" and we can fill in that void with education and the technology.
LWN: Is Tarantella splitting into another company?
RL: Yes, in fact. After we purchased the service part of SCO. We still sell the Tarantella product, we provide a bundle of it on Linux and it will continue to be sold through our channels. We have strong relationships with Citrix. We have Ed Yakabuchi, the founder of Citrix on our board of directors. We are interested in all of the technologies that will allow Linux to be embraced by the corporate environment seamlessly so that they can take the best of what they have and we can pull it in and make it a value add.
LWN: Tell us about your choice of KDE now that GNOME is getting the spotlight.
RL: We are customer driven and have been from the beginning. The reason that we embraced KDE is because it was more mature, more stable, and more feature rich, and thus allowed it to provide a business front to the business constituency that we have. We've invested there.
We don't care who wins, it's not an issue to us, we're driven by what is the right solution to provide the commercial quality interfaces that we need to drive the solutions to the business world. It will be a customer choice, if our customers say "we want GNOME", then we will provide GNOME. Its not a religious thing to us. KDE has been a tremendous group for us, we have a great relationship with TrollTech and feature for feature, KDE is right there with GNOME, whatever happens happens.
LWN:Does Caldera have plans for hiring KDE developers as SuSE has done?
RL: For a long time we have employed some of the key developers of KDE. We also have had a strong partnership with the TrollTech people. They helped us develop the first graphical installer, the Lizard technology. Between the two companies, we have a strong relationship with KDE. They have an investment with us and we have an investment with them. I think that Lizard is still the best install for Linux. It is still the easiest install.
LWN:The embedded Linux company Lineo was spun off from Caldera. Do you ever wish that you had hung onto it?
RL: No, if you look at it, I don't think that a single company has the wherewith-all to be all things to all people. As a technology, it's the same thing. If you look at what it takes to create an embedded kernel that's very different from what it takes to create a kernel for a data center.
We are focused, we know right where they stop and we start. Having them focus down into the embedded device side, there is clearly some synergy. They still use Open Linux to do that, they just pare it down and create Embedix out of it, but they use an environment that we developed and extend it to the embedded systems area. There are clearly areas for collaboration between the two companies so that you can have a common platform environment. They are considering using Volution because it adds value to even the embedded devices. We're focused from the PC client up to the back end of an end to end deployment, they're focused from that client down into those devices, and that's a whole different world. It's a whole different set of chips and a whole different set of partners, everything is different. If we were to do that, we would not do as effective of a job in their market, nor would they in our market.
They don't need channels, they don't need partners. It's very complimentary to have the two companies focused, and yet have a common bond.
LWN: Thank you for answering all of our questions.
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