September 7, 2000

King of the Mountain

Author: JT Smith

by Emmett Plant
NewsForge Columnist

When I was growing up in Doylestown, we used to play a game in the snow
called king of the mountain. Basically, someone would run to the top of
a snow-covered hill and scream "king of the mountain!" Then the others
would do their best to dethrone the king by knocking him off the top of
the hill. The Linux industry is playing now, and it's much too soon.I blame business. To play the modern business game, you need to play king
of the mountain, and play it really well. Not only do you need to fight
everyone to become king of the mountain, you also need to convince
shareholders that you're going to be the king of the mountain. Investors
make money from betting on the bigger kids. Companies position themselves
on the hill to make sure they've got a clear path to the kid playing king.

The Linux industry has always been more or less the "let's build a tree
fort" kid, as opposed to the kid screaming "king of the mountain."
Microsoft played king of the mountain, and the Department of Justice
sent them to bed without dessert. For the Linux industry to thrive, it
needs to keep the "let's build a tree fort" ideal of working together and
making things happen through volunteerism. None of the Linux companies are
big enough to play king of the mountain yet. What frightens me is that
it doesn't seem like it'll be too long before Linux companies are playing
king of the tree fort.

I've said it before, I'm going to say it again. Linux is an incredibly
small part of the computer industry. Talk to an Open Source zealot, and
he'll tell you that if you're not a part of the revolution, you'll be
first against the wall when the revolution comes. Eric Raymond wrote a
paper a while back about the things Microsoft would have to do to stay
afloat in business. Hate to break this to you, Eric, but Microsoft has got
enough money to stay afloat if no one buys their products for
years. Investor revolt? Sure. But don't think that Microsoft's business
strategy isn't a good one. They're doing what they need to do to stay in
business. Linux is so small, it's not even worth Microsoft
considering. Linux community people will say that Microsoft's actions of
late have been inspired by Linux, and they're dead wrong. Microsoft
doesn't need to worry about the Linux industry, or the new age of free
software. Microsoft needs to worry about the hardware industry and the
United States government, in that order. Why? Because Microsoft was
playing king of the mountain. Don't think for a second that Microsoft is
actually scared of Linux. People will still go out and buy crappy
hardware to run Windows, dial in to AOL every night, and be happy as a
clam with that. That's fine for them.

The Linux industry needs to worry about the Linux industry, and the good
companies in the business are doing just that. One of the reasons that
Caldera is scorned in the community is because they've cleanly focused
their target on Microsoft, instead of making Linux a better product. One
of the big reasons the community stands behind Debian as a distribution
is because Debian doesn't play with the other kids, stays inside, and does
its homework.

Let's build a great tree fort, instead.

See you in seven.

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