January 22, 2004

Bruce Perens expounds 'Open Source State of the Union'

Author: Lee Schlesinger

"He's everywhere! He's everywhere!" Like Chicken Man, Bruce Perens seems to turn up wherever Linux, and especially desktop Linux, is being discussed. At LinuxWorld in New York, Perens spent more than 30 minutes telling a small room full of about two dozen members of the press what he thought was happening in the Linux world.Perens, wearing a blue tie with a Tux pattern and a badge with a streaming LED billboard promoting himself, began with a commercial for his Prentice Hall book series, then launched into his analysis of everyone's favorite punching bag, SCO Group. Perens discussed the evidence provided so far, then declared, "There is an act of fraud in process -- software piracy." However, he doesn't believe SCO has committed any crimes that can be proved against them, because the company must have been careful to not have discoverable communications of their real intentions -- which, he said, is "a stock-kiting scheme." Perens doubts whether the suit against IBM will continue now that the company has presented its evidence to the judge, and called SCO's action against Novell "a nuisance suit."

Moving on, Perens, the executive director of the Desktop Linux Consortium, predicted 2004 will bring serious desktop deployments. "We have the software that 80% of the world needs," he said, including browsers and office applications. This year will see improved integration and bug filtering, Perens said, but he thinks we are at least a year away from a stable Linux kernel for laptops because of flaws with ACPI.

Perens outlined his vision for UserLinux, an effort to decouple Linux from large, highly capitalized companies, aimed at letting enterprises add seats without an incremental cost. The proposed distribution is based on Debian, which, he said, with close to 10,000 packages and 1,000 developers, is larger than Red Hat and SuSE. On top of the software "we're assembling a global support organization" to make UserLinux appealing to a wide audience. Perens still intends to include only GNOME as a window manager in UserLinux, maintaining that it's confusing for users to have two window managers, and a burden to support departments. KDE will still be available for those who choose to use it, but it will not be an official part of the distribution.

Perens feels the biggest challenge to open source going forward is software patents. In the U.S., 50% to 95% of software patents should not be granted, he said, because they are not inventions and are written extremely broadly. He expects that after SCO suit is over, we'll see a number of patent lawsuits brought against Linux. Since one American intellectual property organization he cited estimates that it costs $2.5m for each side to fight a patent lawsuit, any such legal action could be crippling.

In closing, the speaker and author noted that "perens" is the Latin word for traveling. It seemed a fitting appellation for the peripatetic pundit.

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