April 18, 2006

Bruce Perens has become a distraction

Author: Lee Schlesinger

Once a loud and effective Linux advocate, Bruce Perens has now become, at best, irrelevant, and at worst, a distraction and impediment to the success of Linux.

Last week, Perens asked NewsForge to post a blog entry in which he announced OpenSourceParking.com, a place domain registrars can park users' newly registered domains on a site that uses all open source software. On the face of it, that's a noble idea. In the real world, it's a quixotic waste of time and energy.

First, the rationale behind the move is questionable. Perens claims that domain registrar GoDaddy's switch from Apache and Linux to Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 has resulted in a 5% shift in market share on the Netcraft report, and that "of course" this report "influence[s] managers." I question that assertion. I don't know a whole lot of IT managers who check market share statistics before signing purchase orders. Market share is a minor factor when it comes to gathering product candidates, but features, performance, and cost are key determinants for actual purchases.

But the real issue isn't a 5% dip in a single project's market share based on a single company's decision. The real problem is that the community has better ways to spend its time than helping Perens test his new project.

OpenSourceParking.com is a nice idea that almost no one will use. Domain parking happens automatically through domain registrars. It doesn't really matter to end users what software is parking their domains -- the net result is a Web page that looks like any other page. So in order for this project to be effective, Perens has to convince registrars to use his site and nameservers. Most registrars will prefer to use their own, because they can better control what they own, and they must control things like these that have a material impact on their business.

If this one project were my only issue, I'd just shake my head and move on, but it's another data point on a trend line. Consider UserLinux. Two years ago at a Desktop Linux Consortium meeting that I attended, Perens announced he was creating a new Debian-based consumer distro. Read the story on the announcement, and compare his remarks then with what he says now.

His remarks then about unnamed corporate backers and his explanation now of his "independent entrepreneur" state raise a credibility issue. Even then, I wondered why the world needed a new distro, rather than having the community rally around one of the fine existing ones. Diffused effort is a real problem for the community, and Perens' efforts have exacerbated that. Announcing UserLinux was akin to what other companies do when pre-announcing new products with attractive features to paralyze the market for their competitors.

I was amazed to read in the same recent interview Perens' statement, "I don't believe that Linux distributions are a natural fit for for-profit enterprise." That was a left-handed swipe at Ubuntu, the distro that has succeeded at exactly what UserLinux promised to be. A statement like that from someone considered to be one of a handful of recognizable voices in the open source community must gladden the heart of all of Linux's enemies -- no matter that it's so easy to refute, as NewsForge does every week with case studies of companies that prove the opposite conclusion.

I have not met Perens, and I have no personal ax to grind with him. He has certainly done more for the community than I ever will. He is an effective promoter, but lately his most effective promotion is himself. He isn't doing much good for the community.

Lee Schlesinger is executive editor of NewsForge.com.

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