The Love of Linux Chapter 9: The Love of Linux — A Lesson for Business
Why have so many people invested so much for this thing called Linux? When you consider that Linux has been a volunteer effort for the most part, you really need to ask why so many would give so much to write and share their efforts with others or why companies like Caldera would put so much time and money into Linux. The question needs to be answer, not just to understand the motivations behind Linux, but to draw much broader conclusions to answers that are plaguing businesses in many different industries. I do not propose to know all of the motivations but I would like to explore just a few for the benefit of what can be learned from them:
1. To make a difference and change the world
2. Reaction to Microsoft
3. Just for the Love of it
4. To participate in a revolution
5. To make money
To make a difference
While I have tried to categorize some of these motives for the purpose of discussion, the truth is most people’s motivation is a combination of these and others. I listed “A chance to make a difference” as the first because fundamentally, I believe those who have been working with Linux even from the very beginning felt that Linux was different. The model of collaborative development was so compelling and liberating. Nearly everyone in the IT industry have worked with companies who made such major trade offs on quality to ship a product. Those developing these products have wanted to do more than their company’s permitted them to do. In some ways, the rigid, hierarchical management structures of business have stymied creativity and innovation. Many decisions are made strictly on dollars or for self serving motivations. Many good people want to do more. They recognized that there are so many needs in the world that can be fulfilled that are not because they do not have a specific profit motive or benefit. The open source model of Linux opens the door to creativity and empowerment without the political and financial constraints that keep good people from doing the “right thing.” I am not saying the business constraints are “bad,” they are not. However, so much that is done in business under the name of fiscal restraints are based on self serving motives or tradition. Consequently, many people would like a chance to do the “right thing, for the right reason at the right time.”
I remember sitting in the audience when the first President of the United States addressed Comdex, the largest IT trade show in the United States. Bill Clinton came to Comdex and spoke to the group about what he called the “digital divide.” I do not like a lot of what Bill Clinton did and stood for personally, but I really enjoyed what he had to say to this group. The “digital divide” is basically, that here in the United States and around the world within blocks of each other, there are students within one school who have all of the tools and equipment to participate in the “digital” world. And yet, sometimes within 8 to 10 blocks away, the students in another school have little or no opportunity to get the training. President Clinton was making a plea to the individuals to do what they could to help fill in the “digital divide.” I sat through the presentation and could hardly keep my seat. I was either sitting next to “Maddog” Hall or I ran into him right after the speech and we both agreed that the answer to the digital divide, in a large degree, was Linux. Linux can run on older hardware or on very inexpensive hand held devices. Linux had all of the features to get the under privileged kids or underdeveloped countries on the Internet for pennies on the dollar. Taking the new hand held computers; wireless and satellite technology, schools and countries can be online and participating with the rest of the world on the Internet for very little investment.
Linux has also helped educate students and enthusiasts on Linux and Internet services. While I cannot speak for Linus, I believe his primary interest in writing a terminal emulator to improve Minix but the terminal emulator “grew legs.” Since it evolved into more of an operating system, he wanted it POSIX compatible. Minix, and now Linux, because the source code was open, has helped computer students and enthusiasts learn not only Linux, but many different Internet protocols and services. Some of your best programmers are self taught and under 20 years old. I remember flying to Phoenix to speak to a group of businessmen. During the lunch I spoke with a man whose main programmer was a kid in high school who had taught himself Linux and Java. Linux has and will continue to make the world a much better place. I also believe that the principals unleashed by Linux and open source have and will yet significantly change the computer industry and the world. Center 7 another Canopy company with a very large data center was testing the 4th fastest computer in the world that was all based on Linux clusters, super computer capabilities on commodity hardware. Using wireless and satellite and commodity PCs or even the new hand held devices, Linux can help bring the world together, lower the barriers to participate and fill in the digital divide.
I have been to China several times and have been incredibly impressed with the people. They are extremely bright. I remember once I was asked to speak at a key note in Beijing. Before the talk, I met with a group of press and analyst. They had brought in a professional translator. After answering a few of their questions, I realized that none of them really needed the translator. They understood my English though they were a little embarrassed to speak it. More importantly, they asked more intelligent questions about what was happening in the United States IT market than some of the United States analysts had. Since then, I have investigated a little more. The Government has stressed learning English in all their schools and have brought in many English speaking teachers into their Universities to give them the opportunity to learn to hear it spoken. I believe there are more English literate people in China than in the United States; they just have not had the opportunity to speak it. When I went back to China recently to attend Oracle World, I met two college students on the Great Wall and had a wonderful conversation in English. On the Internet, using email, they will not need to speak English, just read and write it. Given how much Linux lowers the cost of computing, China will leap frog many other more developed nations tied to old infrastructure. What will that mean? What about Eastern Europe, Latin America and many other areas of the world? Language, religious, governmental barriers will come down as the Linux and the Internet facilitate communication and the principles of open source empower these individuals to really make a difference. What about the students down the street who now can afford to get on the Internet? The Internet and the up coming onslaught of web services have and will make location irrelevant. Companies and individuals will be able to offer their services from a shack in the middle of China. While this is a wonderful thing from a humanitarian perspective, it will also heighten competition and continue to cause change in the business environment. Linux has permeated nearly every educational institution around the world. When those students go to work, they will take Linux with them. It has and will change the world dramatically. Linux is about giving back, sharing with others who are less fortunate. It is about collaboration and innovation. It is about removing political and financial constraints and unleashing the power of the individual to do something or give something back to make the world a better place.
Obviously, Linux can solve many of the technology problems facing the world and it will be a solution to a great many problems, but the real power of Linux is in the model that unlocks the power of those who created Linux. This freedom and empowerment offered by open source, allows great minds to solve great problems in an environment of collaboration and in the absence or at least reduced greed and politics. This power is not in the open source license as some propose; it is in the principles that are partly incorporated in the license and in the methodology of Linux. If these principles were adopted in a business environment and a similar environment of empowerment could be created, that company would be both financially successful and make the world a much better place. The age old proverb that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish applies. Linux, the technology is like the fish. It will do a great deal to satisfy hunger, but the principles that made Linux successful are the most valuable to understand. Linux will make a significant difference as a technology, but the principles by which it was created could revolutionize business and the world if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.
Reaction to Microsoft
The second major reason for participating with Linux is a reaction to Microsoft. Many individuals and now companies see Linux as the only real alternative to Microsoft, however, Apple sure has made some inroads over the last few years. In many ways, Linux is the antitheses to Microsoft’s business model. I once gave a talk about how much Mircosoft had influenced the creation and continued to provide a major motivation for Linux. This is not a personal attack on Microsoft. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Microsoft is held up as the epitome of American business. In many ways they are the epitome of what some people hate about business and others covet. They practice the business doctrine of the end justifies the means and they have been incredibly successful. Those who criticize their tactics are accused of being jealous. Unfortunately, many of those who do criticize Microsoft are jealous. These competing businesses would do exactly what Microsoft has and continues to do if they were in Microsoft’s shoes. This is evidenced by the way they do business today in their respective businesses. Regardless, Microsoft is an American business icon and there are many good people who would really like to see a viable alternative to the way Microsoft does business.
I know that at Caldera, we were looking for a way to compete with Microsoft by changing all their rules. IBM had proven with OS2 that you cannot beat them at their own game, so change the game. Many programmers are also fed up with the junk that Microsoft released. Microsoft would always hype the market and then deliver something so inferior. It was just good enough to sell. They would finally get it right on the third or fourth release. The other complaint was that Microsoft would focus on the appearance and they would have little or no depth to their products. Developers, I had explained to me, enjoy depth. They like to buy something because it was really neat, but then weeks latter they love finding out what more it could do that they did not even realize it could do when they bought it. Microsoft’s products had a great appearance and gave you a great sense of expectation, but when you got under the covers, it was very superficial. Scott McNeally, of Sun Microsystems described Windows once as “dog manure with whipped cream on top.” For those who pride themselves on quality, they get a little frustrated that consumers would buy such poor quality products. Another anti-Microsoft reaction was the injustice of having to compete against them when they did not play fair. Not only were they the 500 pound gorilla, they played by the rule the “end justified the means.”
A common sentiment in the Industry was that Microsoft would first partner with you simple to find out how you did things then duplicate them and put you out of business. They were the bully. I recall Ray Noorda mentioning that Microsoft offered to buy Novell at least twice only to get access to their books and then call off the deal. They did things just because they could and then would merely laugh at the law and anyone who accused them of wrong doing. To this day, I still do not understand how some companies and individuals who has been convicted of breaking the laws of this land can walk away with little or no penalty. The truth is everyone has bullies like Microsoft in their lives. Unfortunately, many are encountered in business. Many managers, CEOs and others are almost narcissistic. There is a common criticism among journalists who are favorable to Microsoft that the competitors are just jealous of Microsoft’s success. In many cases, I would have to agree. In many of my experiences in the industry, if the tables were turned, Microsoft’s competitors would do exactly what Bill Gates had done. Linux was a chance to take on the bully and fight him on different terms and it continues to be a motivation for many who participate with Linux. Linux provides a since of justice that cannot be had in a court of law. It is justice in action and it gives the individual power to do something.
Just for the Love of it
Having worked with many computer programmers over the years, I believe they are in many ways frustrated artists or engineers. They feel very strongly about the work they do. It is more then code, it is art. They love to create, but a beautiful creation that no one sees looses a great deal of its value. A civil engineer or architect creates something on paper like a building or a bridge and then are able to point to the structure and say I did that. That’s why we have museums. To share the great art of the world so everyone can enjoy its beauty. Open source is the world’s museum for programmers. Traditionally, when we compiled source into binary code that the computer needs to function (the hardware only understands 1s and 0s, but programmers write in near English sentences. Compilers translate what is written into 1s and 0s. There is nothing pretty about 1s and 0s), we hid the work of programmers from the world. They could only talk about it at the water cooler, like the infamous fish stories of the one big one that got away. No one could appreciate the beauty of what they had accomplished except sometimes a peer who happened to work by them. Open source changed that for ever. However, it is not just publishing the source that makes it attractive to developers. There are many open source projects that have little or no support. Linux has gained International attention. Thus, if you can contribute to Linux and get your code accepted, it could literally be seen by hundreds and even thousands. The world can now appreciate the art. To programmers working on Linux, the proof was in the code. They did not have to win the argument in words that were spoken in meeting after meeting. They could just code it and prove that it could work. Consequently, Linux is honest, gets rid of the debate and provides for open expression and recognition.
At a time when world wide productivity is at an all time low, how do we motivate people to not just do what is required but to go the extra mile? Linux is a shinning example of people going the extra mile for something and therefore offers some strong lessons. Clearly, businesses must allow their people to feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. “Built to Last” suggests that every company should have a Big Harry Audacious Goal or BHAG. Contribution to something that will make a difference is a tremendous motivation. The environment within the business must have a sense of fair play and justice. It must be a part of the culture so that it becomes self culling. Again, “Built to Last” suggests that culture plays a major role in the success of a company long term. Managers, employees, cannot be allowed to bully. Also, empowering them so that they can contribute without the red tape and layers of administration or approvals or feeling that they have to go into management in order to influence the direction of the company is a significant motivation. In the open source world, each programmer who contributes code participates in a group of contributors. Each is given an opportunity to critique the submission. The self appointed head of the group will listen to the discussion about the best approach and then make a decision. Everyone accepts the decision and the group moves on. This is basically a council process described above and can be implemented effectively in business to empower and engage the companies best thinking.
Like Linux work groups, in business, when a contribution is made, we must find a way to compensate, reward and recognize that contribution. That would do a great deal to motivate our employees. Finally, finding a way to enable all to participate and contribute even when their ideas are not exactly main stream empowers and motivates.
The love of Linux is not just fueled by self expression or participating in something bigger than you. It comes from an empowering leadership paradigm that begins with Linus Torvalds. People do not want to be managed, they want to be led. I believe that much of the success of Linux lies in the personality and leadership qualities of Linus Torvalds. Much of what Linus did for Linux seemed to come naturally to Linus. In some ways, his combination of personality and belief systems combined and did the right thing at the right time for the right reason. As I mentioned before when discussing how we got involved with Linux while at Novell, Linus’ approachable, open nature allowed for everyone to contribute their own ideas to him without fear of reprisal or ridicule. Linus would listen or read their inputs and respond in a way that everyone felt like at least he they had had a voice and input in the decision. No one went away feeling that he was arrogant and unwilling to listen. This is not to say that Linus did not have very strong opinion on some subjects. He did. He was not a spineless leader. Rather, he made everyone feel that they were his peer.
I never attended a key note or read an email from Linus where he was not gracious of the contributions that so many had made. In listening to him speak; everyone sensed a real humility, honesty and naturalness to Linus that inspired confidence and loyalty. Another key component of Linus’ successful leadership style was his willingness to not step into things that either did not interest him or he felt were none of his business. Linus did not pick sides in the distribution debates and seldom if ever commented, at least openly, on debates about whether or not things should be charged for. He did support commercialization efforts, and willing gave his interpretation of the license supporting a more liberal interpretation of the GNU Public license to support driver and other efforts. Linus showed very good judgment in his decisions which attracted eventually thousands of extremely talented people who graciously donate time, efforts, energy and real resources in a true effort of love. There were other “open source” alternatives in the market at the time that was far more advanced than Linux. One of the key reasons Linux was the choice of so many people, including Caldera, was Linus’ honest, open, humble, yet strong leadership.
This lesson is so critical in today’s business environment. Much of what is done in business today is done under the “do it because I told you to do it.” Linus shows a shinning example of how to lead, not manage, or coerce people to do great things. Joseph Smith, the first president of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was once asked how he could possibly govern the very fast growing population of the Church. He made a very profound statement, “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” It is not enough give lip service to the principles or guiding core values of a business, they must be practiced. I honestly believe that people are crying for leaders who they can follow. Many of the leaders in business lack integrity or are so self centered. Linus has demonstrated that type of integrity that inspires others to follow willingly.
In his pamphlet entitled “Good to Great and the Social Sectors,” published in 2005 as a supplement to his book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins comments on what it will take to be successful in management in today’s information rich environment. He states the following:
The complex governance and diffuse power structures common to non-business led me to hypothesize that there are two types of leadership skill: Executive and legislative. In executive leadership, the individual has enough concentrated power to simply make the right decisions. In legislative leadership, on the other hand, no individual leader — not even the nominal executive chief — has enough structural power to make the most important decisions by himself or herself. Legislative leadership relies more upon persuasion, political currency, and shared interests to create the right conditions for the right decisions to happen. And it is precisely this legislative dynamic that makes Level 5 Leadership particularly important to the social sectors.
Our good-to-great research uncovered that leadership capabilities follow a five-level hierarchy with level 5 at the top. Level 5 leaders differ from level 4 in that they are ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the movement, the mission, the work — not themselves — and they have the will to do whatever it takes (whatever it takes) to make good on that ambition…
The executive versus legislative distinction remains a working hypothesis, awaiting rigorous research. If empirical evidence validates the distinction, it is unlikely to be as simple as “business sector = executive” and “social sector = legislative.” More likely, there will be a spectrum, and the most effective leaders will show a blend of both executive and legislative skills. The best leaders of the future — in the social sectors and business — will not be purely executive or legislative; they will have a knack for knowing when to play their executive chips and when not to.
There is an irony in all this. Social organizations increasingly look to business for leadership models and talent, yet I suspect we will find more true leadership in the social sectors than the business sector. How can I say that? Because, as James MacGregor Burns taught in his classic 1978 text, Leadership, the practice of leadership is not the same as the exercise of power.(James MacGregor Burns, Leadership, (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), pp 9–28.) If I put a loaded gun to your head, I can get you to do things you might not otherwise do, but I’ve not practiced leadership: I’ve exercised power. True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to. If people follow you because they have no choice, they you are not leading. Today’s business leaders face highly mobile knowledge workers. The face Sarbanes-Oxley, environmental and consumer groups, and shareholder activists. In short, business executives don’t have the same concentration of power they once enjoyed. Level 5 leadership combined with legislative skill will become even more important to the next generation of business executives, and they would do well to learn from the social sectors. Indeed, perhaps tomorrow’s great business leaders will come from the social sectors, not the other way around. (Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, (Jim Collins, 2005) pp 11–13).
Linus is a prime example of a Level 5 leader. In fact, nearly all the development managers combine the legislative and executive leadership skills. All of the developers who manage the different components are self-appointed. They volunteer and remain the leader as long as they can effectively do the job. If the load gets to be too much, they step down and allow someone else to take over. Evaluation on how well they do is done entirely by their peers. The collective group solves the problem and the solution is also critiqued in a similar manner. If someone can improve on the work, they are free to do so and then contribute the solution back into the code base. This collaborative or legislative from of management is very close to the “chaos” theories of management that many feel are the utopia. Clearly, from one perspective they are utopia. Every thing is done without deadlines and expectations. It is done when it is done. Contributions are easy to make and ones contribution is easy to see in the code as it still contains your copyright.
The love of Linux and the leadership rather than management paradigm provides a powerful, compelling motivation to participate even without compensation. As Jim Collins suggests, the most successful leaders of the future in both the business and social sectors could learn something from the open source management example. Individuals, employees, communities, companies and nations are crying for true empowerment and leadership. What would be the potential of a company that could offer that environment to its employees?
To Join a Revolution
Finally, there are those frustrated souls who are not interested in change or evolution; they feel the only chance to save the world is revolution. They are not satisfied with making the world a better place through their contributions; they want to force the world to change. They are convinced that their way is the only way and they would do everything in their power to make sure everyone accepts their views. Unfortunately, there are many associated with Linux that have been caught up in the revolutionary cries of some of the more radical leaders of the movement. I do not mean to criticize the efforts or intentions of these individuals. Many of these well meaning individuals have contributed a great deal to making Linux a reality, and for that, I am personally grateful, but they often get in its way of reaching its potential. Revolution in all its forms throughout the ages strikes fear into hearts of the very organizations and businesses that can best benefit from the ideologies they profess. Often revolution results in the destruction of all that is good as well as all that is bad. I have always been a proponent of evolution rather than revolution. Evolution requires compromise. To some, compromise means defeat. I have found, more often than not, that compromise or better yet synergy can actually result in a better solution. Listening to another’s point of view or as Stephen Covey states “seeking to understand before being understood,” results in tremendous solutions. Once you better understand the problem, the two of you can then work together to solve the problem. Regardless, Linux does provide a peaceful way of expression for those whose ideas are better given an outlet.
To make money
The motivation of making money seems very hard for many in the open source developers to understand. Again, some who are involved with Linux are there to exploit it, or make as much as possible with as little as possible effort. Maximize your investment. Many in the Linux industry feel that this motivation is “evil” or that it is taking advantage of the volunteer efforts of others. It is not. Our entire economic system is based on the principles that we are all self motivated. I personally feel that money is a by product of good business and good business is about solving people’s needs and problems. Unfortunately, so many feel that money is the end and therefore all their actions to get money are justified. It is no wonder; the developer is weary of the businessmen. Because the developer has made a significant contribution, they feel they have if not “ownership,” a vested interest in the project. They should feel that they have ownership as it is a key motivator for participation. The misunderstanding occurs when the developer feels that once the code has been produced, that is all that is important. What they do not recognize is the cost of development of a product is often only 18 to 20% of the total cost to get a solution to market and into the hands of the customer who needs it. Open source has been a tremendous innovation on how to develop a technology in a collaborative manner. But, having the development work done primarily by the Internet community does not eliminate the cost of packaging and marketing Linux so that it can be made useful to a business.
No one buys technology. They buy a solution. To be a solution, it must have applications and be tailored to meet a specific solution or set of solutions. It must be delivered with support, documentation, and through a channel familiar or trusted by the business. The average business man must know of its benefits and they must know of others who have successfully implemented the solution. They must know that there is someone accountable, that they can call if there is a problem who is motivated to resolve his problem because his livelihood depends upon it. Shortly after the announcement of the SCO acquisition, Oracle called a meeting with us. They spent nearly the whole time expressing their frustration with dealing with the Linux community. They had spent much time and resources trying to get some of their changes into Linux in order to have Oracle function optimally. They needed someone to point to and say, we need this done will you do it. The same is true for regular businesses. They need accountability because they are accountable. It is very difficult to run a business not knowing when to expect a finish product and not knowing where the product is going. In reality, seldom do we produce something on time or does the road map we lay out end up being where we end up, but business does need more predictable outcomes.
All of this effort takes nearly 80% of the total cost to deliver the solution. The difficult thing is that this part of the equation can not be done through collaborative methods. Clearly, the word of mouth factor is amplified through the Internet and collaborative methodology of open source. Companies can literally watch and observe the development of the technology unfold. They can and do choose to participate when they feel the technology is ready to be deployed in there companies and then they contact the supplier. Companies, who deploy open source solutions, still want and need the complete product infrastructure. To pay for all of these items, requires money, real money. To illustrate, let me ask the question, why has Oracle announced its own support for the Red Hat distribution? Clearly, Oracle feels somewhat vulnerable without an operating system of its own in a highly competitive environment. Oracle’s original support of Linux was motivated by Microsoft. Oracle was concerned that while Microsoft had an inferior database, with the increasing power of the Intel platform, even an inferior product could be good enough and scale pushing Oracle higher and higher up the food chain. Microsoft’s recent announcement with Novell may have been a motivating factor in why Oracle announced support for Red Hat directly, but the reality is Red Hat as a company does not have a very robust infrastructure world wide to support their own product. This is one of the primary reasons, Caldera bought SCO. We needed a global infrastructure. Even today, Red Hat does not have the infrastructure world wide to provide a complete product solution to its customers or more importantly, to Oracle’s customers to develop that infrastructure is highly costly and the margins on Linux alone make it difficult to maintain, let alone develop, that infrastructure.
In the hay day of Linux, it seemed like money grew on trees. All you had to tell an investor was you were doing Linux and the money came. That was not what it was like early on and especially now. Linux has to be self reliant. The way to protect Linux from those who will exploit it, is for it to be financially self sufficient — that means not just covering the cost of developing the core technology. You have to be able to pay for all of these costs and there has to be enough return to appease the investors. How we make enough money to be self reliant is the next chapter. However, one of the key tensions between the open source developers and the distribution companies is that the developers perceive that someone has been making money at their expense. They do not recognize or appreciate the costs associated with delivering a solution. They are artists. Once they have finished the painting, they are done. They do not appreciated the other costs and contributions made. I do not know of one Linux distribution company that has not contributed far more back than they ever received from Linux. I believe that will change as the market matures, but I know that Caldera has spent millions and millions of dollars with very little return yet.
Some may ask: Why would IBM and Oracle support Linux? Linux is making them money. Linux enables them to either sell more hardware or software which is a legitimate way to utilize open source. Oracle has been trying for years to tell the world that the operating systems is irrelevant, because they do not own one and feel very vulnerable to Microsoft because they do not have one. They love an open source project that they can utilize without having to deal with the company that has provided it. IBM also loves Linux. It has sold many mainframes. The challenge for Linux is that if all the money is being generated from things other than Linux. These motivations are not bad. Linux would not be viable if it did not attract all these players. But, it is vital to understand that the things that generate the money will drive the agenda. If Linux itself is not self sufficient, it will be at the mercy of the things that do make money. I was asked to submit an article on my thoughts on Linux shortly after the bubble burst. I have included it in its entirety because it addresses this issue:
Linux: The Dawn of a new day… Not the setting of the sun
With the downturn in the economy, the drop in Linux companies’ share prices and recent announcements by nearly all Linux companies of layoffs, reduced revenues and management changes, many may think that the sun has set on Linux. They could not be further from the truth. The expectations by some in the industry for Linux are analogous to a parent expecting their teenager to successfully complete college before graduating from high school. Few, if any, have the maturity to make that jump.
To move from adolescence to adulthood one must uphold the law, utilize knowledge and experience outside the immediate family, seek specialized training to be able to provide for a family and seek companions that will help them mature faster. Maturation is often very painful because it requires self-discipline as well as accepting responsibility and accountability for one’s actions.
The successes and failures of teenagers as they strive to cross the chasm between adolescence and adulthood do not greatly concern us or diminish their potential in our eyes. In fact, we applaud and encourage them to continue to try because we know that those who are often the brightest, with the most potential will have as many or more failures before they reach their potential.
As a father of seven children, three of which are teenagers, and as a founder of Caldera, I know whereof I speak. The Linux industry is as complex to understand as a teenager. The challenges facing Linux have nothing to do with potential, or even past successes, but rather with maturity. To attain maturity, I suggest the following five things for the Linux industry.
Learn from and honestly evaluate successes and failures
Develop and/or embrace mature business channels outside of retail
Seek compatible companions that will help it mature faster
Evaluate Successes and Failures
The Linux industry and the Open Source development model have had tremendous successes that have changed the information technology landscape for good. The Open Source development model facilitates collaboration and innovation that has few parallels. Linux, as a technology, has matured much faster in its development than any other technology or operating system. However, Open Source still leaves something to be desired — even as a development model.
An Open Source model does not provide a complete road map of where the technology is going as the outcome and timing of Open Source development is even less predictable than traditional methods. Open Source is like the ideal sand box for a developer — lots of technology to play with and no one giving assignments or deadlines. This is great for development but not great for business.
Some are taking advantage of the Open Source model for marketing purposes. Companies have published old or obsolete technology under the guise of contributing back to the community or improving their standing within the community. Others hope to get free development. Some even market the collaborative model so that they can take credit for the work or innovation of others simply by association. Open Source is not a license to steal or borrow ideas from others and take credit for that development. Nor is it a free ride for development. Open Source is a way to collaboratively develop projects that lend themselves to a collaborative model of development.
Even so, Open Source has made a significant contribution to the way software is and will be developed. It has proven to be a method of development worthy of further review and refinement. We can mature the model by developing roadmaps and improving timelines and deliverables.
While the development model shows great potential, the business model for open software needs some additional work. If we want to support the development model of “free” software, we must come to realize that someone has to make money. If a Linux provider does not become profitable, the only companies who will continue to invest will be those who have a different agenda. The money they make will be from different sources and their primary allegiance and motivation will be other sources of revenue. If Linux becomes simply an enabling technology, its interests will be subservient to other industries.
IBM is a prime example. Linux is an enabling technology for IBM. Linux enables IBM to sell IBM’s own software, hardware or additional services. If Linux providers can achieve a successful business model, this is good because IBM provides valuable validation and is an invaluable partner. If IBM is left to provide Linux on their own, the interests of the groups within IBM making money will take precedence over what is good for Linux.
Linux providers must be free to experiment with business models that have a profit motive. The Linux industry is going to have to mature into a real industry or it will be relegated to a catalyst for existing industries like hardware or software. The Linux community must allow the Linux providers to make money or the rising sun will not be Linux. The industry as a whole needs healthy Linux providers or we will return to the fragmented days of UNIX with hardware driving the platform and differentiation.
So what is needed for Linux to mature and reach its potential as an alternative business platform? The answer is similar to the maturation of teenagers. They must first realize that laws or standards are for their benefit, not a hindrance or a restriction. Linux needs to have a standard reference platform and distribution that all developers can develop to and know with confidence that their applications will run everywhere.
The industry has talked about Linux Standard Base (LSB) but the early success of Linux has been an obstacle to adoption. Every Linux provider felt they could be the dominant platform and the tight development cycles needed to compete in the retail space consumed all available resources. The quick development cycles and the developer’s insatiable desire to have the latest and greatest technology fueled self-feeding retail frenzy.
Develop and Embrace Mature Business Channels
This leads to the next point. Just as a teenager must branch out beyond his parents in order to integrate the knowledge and experience of others, Linux must branch out from its retail roots and develop mature business channels. Mature business channels like Value Added Resellers (VARS), Consultants and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are critical to the business customer. These specialists provide the total solution to their customers. No one buys an operating system — they buy a solution to their business need.
Because we live in a global economy, these channels and the company that supports them must be global. Having regional Linux companies is a major disincentive to business customers and major application and hardware providers. These application and solution providers cannot afford to support different relationships to cover their need for global marketing. While many large application and hardware providers are supporting multiple regional Linux providers, the majority of businesses cannot. Even the larger players are losing patience.
Consequently, a Linux provider must be able to offer a global infrastructure for support, marketing and sales. To build a global infrastructure requires tremendous resources, time and capital. With money tight, the current market is forcing the maturation and consolidation of suppliers.
Just as a teenager must seek specialized training, the Linux providers must begin to focus and specialize. Rather than viewing each other as competition, we can partner rather than compete in key areas that would be beneficial to the industry at large. Since there is little or no money in a base distribution of Linux, we can all provide a Linux Standard Base compliant distribution. Specialization can then come from the markets we choose to support or the products areas above the operating system in which we develop intellectual property.
Seek Compatible Companions
Finally, when we are young, we feel that we do not need anyone or anything to accomplish our goals. We have no fear. We are invincible. When we get a little wiser, we realize that partnering with others provides tremendous growth, comfort and enjoyment.
Some in the Linux community have the attitude of doing it all themselves. We have borrowed from the rich UNIX heritage in the way we have designed the system; but we have done everything from scratch. With all of the investment that has gone into making Linux successful, there is tremendous pressure for Linux to mature much faster than may be realistic both as a technology and as a business.
Unifying UNIX with Linux is a way to achieve that maturity in the short term. UNIX as a technology has test suites, application programming interfaces, tools and infrastructure that would be very compatible and complementary to Linux. UNIX has established channels, applications and customers. Unifying UNIX with Linux will enable business application developers and business customers to more fully embrace and deploy Linux into the mainstream business back office. There is clearly a trend in the industry for UNIX providers to begin to integrate Linux. Rather than fight this trend, the Linux industry can embrace these groups.
There are things in the UNIX industry that need to change and there are things in the Linux industry that need to change. However, the marriage of the two could result in the most reliable, scalable, open and useful technology platform the industry has ever known.
My greatest joy as a father has come from watching my teenagers, in both their failures and triumphs, take on the additional challenges of adulthood. For those who conclude from my analogy that they should wait to embrace Linux until it matures, I issue this challenge. If you wait, you may be left behind. Linux has grown and matured faster than any other operating system platform in history. Many of the issues that I suggest for Linux to mature can and are happening with incredible speed.
Like youth itself, Linux is fresh. The development model is new and intriguing. The business model is not fully cooked, but this provides opportunity. Linux and Open Source is a “disruptive” technology; it has and will continue to change the information technology world. More importantly, like the Internet itself, Linux will change the way we do business, the way we develop and deploy technology, the way we package and deliver applications and business solutions.
Get to know this teenager called Linux and you will be richer and wiser, not only financially but also personally. Get to know Linux and see the new potential for change in our industry. Get to know Linux and have hope for a better, more cooperative industry. Linux is the smart alternative, the dawn of a new day.
There is no question that Linux and Open Source have changed the world but Linux and Open Source could do more if they continue to find a model to be financially self-reliant. Enough money must be generated from Linux or Open Source itself. I will talk more about this in the chapter on “The Business Model.” This lack of self-sufficiency is also one of the reasons for the dilemma that faced Linux with the SCO suit which I will address in the last chapter “Where do we go from here?”
The motivations I have tried to discuss 1) To make a difference and change the world 2) Reaction to Microsoft, 3) Just for the Love of it, 4) To participate in a revolution and 5) To make money are not an attempt to list all the reasons why people are willing to contribute or promote Linux. These motivations and leadership principles are not only important to understand some of the forces that have helped compel Linux to be a major alternative in the market, but more importantly, they may help provide the keys to unlocking the potential for businesses struggling to understand and adapt to rapidly changing electronic business environment. These principles empower and may help management move from being a top down hierarchical structure to empowered teams who can make decisions and commit resources.