IBM's Linux strategy briefing
Bruce Perens was in Denver this week for
and offered to speak to the Colorado Linux Users and Enthusiasts
(CLUE) Linux User Group the night before the IBM event.
The talk was billed as "The Future of GNU/Linux and Free Software," but
Perens talked a great deal about the history of free software as well.
After covering his history with Linux and the open source movement,
Perens turned to current events. He talked a little bit about how many
companies doing Linux-related business suffer from multiple personality
disorder. On the one hand companies like HP are looking to push Linux
and are trying to embrace Linux and do the right thing for the Linux
community. On the other hand, these companies have to maintain
relationships with companies like SCO and Microsoft and participate in
groups like CompTIA that actively
work against open source. Perens cautions the community to pay attention
to everything a company does, not just its support for open source.
We know that both Hewlett-Packard and the other members of CompTIA were
sponsors of the so-called Software Choice Initiative, which works
against open source. So, it's important to watch our friends.
Perens also noted that the next likely legal attack against open source
would be via software patents, and said he thinks its unlikely that
corporations like HP or IBM would help the community in that event.
Though Perens says he hasn't made up his mind yet, he indicated he was
thinking seriously about trying to form a community-driven answer to Red
Hat's enterprise products.
I'm wondering if it's time for a grass-roots enterprise Linux, and
the way I figured I would do this... is first of all take Debian,
why is there a Fedora
project when there's Debian, a ten-year-old project with all its
policies done...with over a thousand developers? That is what the
Fedora project should be. Take that, and get together the
community of enterprise users who depend on Linux and really want a
zero-cost enterprise distribution.
After the talk, we caught up with Bruce for a few minutes one-on-one
to ask about issues not covered during his talk, and to get further
information on the grass-roots enterprise Linux effort. The first
question was about the disagreement between the Free Software Foundation
and the Debian Project over the GNU Free Documentation License (FDL).
Perens has helped mediate between the groups, and says that they're on
their way to working it out.
I wanted to take the emotion out of the whole thing, and it looks like
we're succeeding at that. I'm not tremendously happy to have coverage of
Debian and FSF bickering, we have a lot more important things going on.
I think that it's going to take care of itself more or less now. You
probably will have some conference calls that are exciting... I'm not
asking either organization to compromise with each other, I'm asking
each organization to follow their own rules. I feel that it's not
permissible for Debian to compromise its ethos for FSF nor is it
permissible for the FSF to compromise its ethos for Debian and
resolution of this issue does not call for either.
Perens also clarified his thoughts on a possible "grass-roots"
enterprise-ready Linux distribution:
It's something I'm still thinking about. I think I will go ahead and do
a call for people to work on it. Obviously I'm open for people who want
to discuss it. The project is not yet announced. I really debated this
in my own head for weeks now, and part of the reason was that, I feel
that it's a big personal expense to me to do any large project. On the
other side every open source thing I've ever done has paid back much
more than I've put into it... I feel that I must participate because I'm
one of the few people in the community with the cachet to pull this off,
who can talk to all the people on the executive side and all the people
on the community side and has reasonable credibility with both of them.
That doesn't mean I have to run it, definitely doesn't mean I want to be
its CTO, it does mean I would be evangelizing it publically for quite
I'm thinking about whether it is time for the community... to provide
directly a Linux distro certified to LSB and to proprietary software
providers that are willing to do so, guaranteed to be free software and
free beer, free speech and free beer. A certified distribution that is
zero cost, free software... and I'm convinced that creating a Linux
distribution is a expense-sharing system rather than a profit-making
system, even Red Hat now admits this as they attempt to offload
production of their distribution to the community.
We also asked Perens how he felt about companies that use open source
software, but do not contribute substantially to the projects they use.
I have a scale for commercial collaborators with the community. It has
four points. It runs benefactor, partner, user, parasite. Benefactor:
NASA's a great example. They funded most of Linux's Ethernet drivers at
one time. At that time they were not able yet to make extensive use of
Linux, now they are. They put in more than they got out. Most companies
would not want to be benefactors, it looks bad to your stockholders.
Partner is what companies should be if they expect the cooperation of
the free software community. At Hewlett-Packard, we could not get them
to help us with the IA-64 kernel until we made the printers work. Very
good lesson for companies, we put out 60 printer drivers on Linux
because of that.
User is a company that makes use of Linux and open source that complies
with the licensing, but does not make any contribution unless they just
can't avoid it. The usual GPL. I put Linksys in the user category if
they finish resolving the issues they're working on with the FSF right
now. Linksys is a division of Cisco, a very big company, that's
Parasite, SCO comes to mind. They're making fraudulent claims to get
value out of the Linux and open source community by kiting their stock
and you can quote me on "fraudulent," "libelous," "slanderous," no
problem with that. Other parasites, well who sold Linksys and Cisco that
wireless access point? A chip company with a "B"... a number of
engineering companies that seem to be in Taiwan and Korea, transfered
intellectual property that was not theirs to Linksys and Cisco, in ways
that did not comply with the licensing, leaving these companies whose
goodwill we want out of compliance with our licenses and they don't know
how to resolve the problem. So I don't like it because those Taiwanese
or Korean companies made us enemies with Cisco when we want those guys
to put Linux in their next product, we just want them to comply with the
licenses and they should have been given full directions for doing so
when they bought those WAP designs.
Finally, we asked Perens if he had any thoughts on Eric Raymond's prediction
that Sun is doomed.
Yeah, I wish Eric hadn't written that, actually. At least not quite the
way he wrote it, because first of all not having worked at HP as I have,
Eric doesn't understand how long a company can run on a legacy product
which is an extremely long time. And, secondarily, I think Eric was
angered by things Sun has been saying about Linux not belonging in the
data center and Sun's explicit collaboration with SCO spreading FUD.
However, Sun also helps us. Remember what I said about corporate
multiple personality disorders. They've done $70 million dollar investment in
OpenOffice, and I don't see where it paid off for them. They bungled the
strategic aspect of it, they need help with it, but it was a very large
contribution to Linux and open source. So, first of all, Sun's not going
away, they're not dying. If anything, they'll be acquired. They're still
a company with some value, and obviously their price is becoming more
attractive. Who will acquire them? I think it's either Microsoft or IBM.
We thank Bruce for taking the time to talk with us.
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