February 1, 2002

LinuxWorld: Attention! Linux is real business now!

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -
IBM's banners around the show floor at LinuxWorld 2002 in New York
City are proclaiming it: Linux is Real Business. But it's not just a message to
consumers -- it's a clarion call to the Open Source community. And believe it or
not, it's good news.

If there had to be a theme for the first of this year's two
LinuxWorld Expos, IBM nailed it. Linux is real business. From Hewlett-Packard CEO
Carly Fiorina's keynote on Wednesday morning, to the panel discussion led by
OSDN's Jeff Bates and the Boston Consulting Group on hacker motivations,
everything pointed to a cementing of the adoption of Linux and Open Source by
the corporate world.

Fiorina talked about 2002 being the "breakout year" for Linux, and shared HP's
plan for the "mainstreaming of Linux," and how she sees her company's role as
helping to give credibility to Open Source software. "We want to help our
customers take full advantage of the open standards of Linux," she said.

She compared HP's first invention, the audio oscillator, which was used by
Disney for the classical music soundtrack of Fantasia, with HP's
partnership with Dreamworks SKG, using Linux to create the complex animation
used in films like Shrek and the upcoming Spirit: Stallion of the
Cimarron
. There are many implications in this comparison, but the most
interesting one was the inference that Linux has a claim to fame now that
Hollywood deigns to take advantage of the power and cost savings of the GNU GPL.

The grassroots are still taking a stand for traditional freedom at
LWCE

Interesting and deliciously ironic that directly after Fiorina's rousing cheer
for HP and Linux and Hollywood (hurrah!), that IDG should award $25,000 to the
Electronic Freedom Foundation for its efforts in maintaining our digital
freedoms and privacy. After half the audience and two-thirds of the
journalists had exited the room, EFF's executive director, Shari Steele,
received the award and pointed out the conflict that everyone else seemed to
miss: While Dreamworks is happily taking advantage of the freedoms Linux
provides, the studio, along with the rest of the motion picture industry, supports the
removal of our digital freedoms and the conviction of teenagers like Jon
Johansen, arrested
simply because he wanted to be able to play his DVDs on his
Linux machine.

On Thursday, we heard from the Open Source Development Lab about its plans to
move from just providing resources to Linux development, to providing guidance --
a move leaders there said they pondered long and hard before implementing. Loads
of corporate involvement from IBM, Compaq, HP, Red Hat, and Nokia in this
"Carrier Grade Linux" effort seems to say, "OK hacker dudes, we're here to lend
you some credibility and keep you on track so you can help us make lots of
money." At the same time, the Free Software Foundation, .org booth neighbor to
the OSDL, was waving its banner of software libre, reminding us of
the roots of GNU and the GPL. Bradley Kuhn, v.p. of the Free Software
Foundation, said he was there as an ambassador to preach freedom as in speech.
Richard Stallman, always true to his principles, would not be attending LWCE,
said Kuhn, because Stallman doesn't patronize events that don't use the term
"GNU/Linux."

Hackers are teaching old corporate dogs new tricks

And last night, there was that panel discussion led by Bates, Bob Wolf of the
Boston Consulting Group, and Karim Lakhani of
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They surveyed hundreds of developers, a.k.a.
hackers, culled from projects on Sourceforge.net and the Linux Kernel mailing
list, and found that, for the most part, these coders aren't running a crusade
against Microsoft and their primary goal isn't to defeat proprietary software.
"Their energies are positive," said Lakhani. While 34% of the survey respondents
said they believed that "code should be open," only 11% said they hacked because
they wanted to "beat proprietary software." The two top reasons for
participating in Open Source coding projects that these hackers gave, each with
43.2% of the vote, were: because coding is "intellectually stimulating," and it
helps them "improve their skills."

The study also found that hackers are motivated by the potential for
expressing their creativity and that they are most productive not with
traditional leadership, but with what the survey termed "peer leadership,"
which initiates dialogue and provides vision, but doesn't manage, recruit,
and delegate in the traditional fashion. The conclusion, according to Wolf
was that "the community may have lessons for innovation, organizational design,
and leadership that extend far beyond just software." The surveyors believe that
the incredible productivity of the volunteer Open Source programming community
leaves important clues that big business can perhaps integrate into its human
resources planning.

Judging the big picture by noticing what's missing

The atmosphere at LWCE wasn't the same this year. As we've
already noted, there was no big IBM blowout. But you know what else was missing?
The booth babes. At least, there didn't seem to be any of the fancy,
hired-out-from-the-modeling-agency booth babes. Some booths had pretty girls,
but they weren't the leggy, toothy, ethereal kind hired specifically to
mesmerize young and old men alike into signing on the dotted line.

There weren't even any fun-loving BSD daemon babes around for guys to have their
picture taken with. There were no Chucky daemon horns with flashing lights, no
slinky red devil tails, not a one.

There was also a serious shortage of penguins at this LWCE. Last year, we made
note of the myriad
incarnations of Tux to be found
. This year, the cutesy stuffed bird, just
like the cutesy girls, is mostly out. I found one giant blow-up Tux, one big
stuffed Tux, and one little tiny Tux ... and that's it. Things were buttoned-down
and serious, even subdued. Exhibitors seemed to be saying, "We're not here to
party like children, we're here to make deals and conduct business like
grownups." I can just imagine the few dozen hAx0r-party-kids in attendance
declaring "LinuxWorld suxx!" as they head out the door.

This "mainstreaming" is a good thing

We hope Fiorina is right and that 2002 will be the breakout year for Linux.
We think it is a good thing that companies are adopting Open Source
methodologies in a way that will really present Microsoft with a challenge.
We're proud to know it is the Open Source community who are
making it possible for competition in the technology industry to thrive. And we
are proud there are so many in the community, like Steele and Stallman and Kuhn,
with the perseverance to stick to their principles and keep on pricking the
conscience of corporate leadership. Because while big business might be able to
"mainstream" Linux, it's going to continue to be up to the community to keep big
business honest in its dealings with Open Source software.

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