.com strategies and .org forays at LinuxWorld

by Andy Oram

Related link: http://linuxworldexpo.com/linuxworldny03/V40/index.cvn





Today's report from
LinuxWorld
covers such disparate issues as:





Why Linux?





It might go without saying that most companies at LinuxWorld are not
selling Linux, but rather selling products that run under Linux, on
Linux, or with Linux. So I amused myself over the past three days
asking them--why Linux? Here are some responses.







  • John Sarsgard, VP of the Linux Sales Program at
    IBM,
    focused first on the widespread ports of Linux. By offering products
    that run on Linux, IBM can offer them for an unusually broad range of
    hardware--whatever the customer has.



    To Sarsgard, Linux (which can be used for the DB2 database engine,
    among other products) and Apache (which underlies WebSphere) are
    contributors to the IBM focus on solutions rather than individual
    pieces of software. If free software projects fill a need, IBM is
    happy to use them.






  • A staff person from
    Metrowerks Corporation
    explained the appeal of Linux (along with Java and, for the GUI, Qt
    Embedded) for the
    OpenPDA
    recently announced by
    AMD.
    Metrowerks likes the way these standards (and other free software)
    work together to make a platform that's easy to develop for and a
    system where it's easy to download and run the resulting
    applications. The staff person also praised the speed of the AMD
    processor, which allows unusually high-quality video displays on the
    PDA.







  • Stalker Software,
    which puts out a mail server and drop-in replacement for Microsoft
    Exchange called CommuniGate Pro, is outflanking Microsoft by
    supporting a wider variety of operating systems: Linux and the Mac in
    addition to Windows. Linux is the system used by over 30% of
    CommuniGate Pro users (which constitute some 28 million active seats
    at 6,500 customer sites). CommuniGate Pro won the LinuxWorld award for
    best network server application.






  • Phillipe Roussel, CEO of
    Arkeia,
    a company with an enterprise network backup product that runs on many
    platforms, called Linux an "honest operating system" where you know
    what it does and can go in to fix it if necessary. He thinks that his
    product, like Samba, provides an underground channel for introducing
    Linux into an organization whose management is not sympathetic to
    Linux.






  • Staff at
    BakBone software,
    which also offers a backup system for many platforms and was a
    finalist for the "Best Storage Solution" prize at LinuxWorld, went
    into more detail about the technical merits of Linux. Its flexible
    block size lets them define blocks of up to 256K, leading to faster
    data transfers. Other features, including the standard Unix memory
    mapping calls, make it one of the fastest systems for doing back-ups
    to disk (with the option of subsequently storing to tape).






Neck and .NET





It was notable that two very different speakers at sessions I attended
made the same claim: that Linux is not yet taking market share from
Microsoft.




The first speaker, Jeremy White, CEO of
CodeWeavers
(a company that makes the popular Wine-based product CrossOver Office,
which I depend on routinely to run Word and PowerPoint), claimed that
the majority of conversions to Linux are former Unix users, not former
Windows users. He also offered the candid reminder that Wine, for all
its successes, is still pre-beta software and runs only a moderate
percentage of Windows applications.




The second speaker, Dan Kusnetzky of the well-known research firm IDC,
pointed out that Windows is steadily increasing its market share along
with Linux, both doing so at the expense of Unix and the Mac. In
fact, Windows server sales are increasing. He said, "Linux is not
competing with Windows in people's minds; it's competing with Unix."




Kusnetzky estimated that training costs would be so high for a switch
to Linux that cost savings would not be noticeable until five years
had passed.




I've heard it before--that it will be a few more years at least before
Linux is ready to replace Windows for average users. But I don't know
whether that's the only story. There is too much anecdotal evidence to
the contrary.




For instance, Ali Liptrot of Stalker Software (mentioned earlier) said
that potential customers are constantly saying they want to mix
Windows and Linux at their sites, or (especially recently) to replace
Windows with Linux.




Even more impressive are the success stories told by adopters
(carefully picked, to be sure) of the
Linux Terminal Server Project.
The need for system administration went down precipitously when
Windows systems (or sometimes other stand-alone systems) were replaced
by thin Linux clients. Schools found the migration particularly
valuable. One administrator said that students could become productive
after a single training session on the Linux applications at the
beginning of the year. (Teachers, he admitted, showed more resistance
to change.) And another administrator replaced thousands of Windows
systems and just let the students loose. Soon enough, they showed a
preference for Linux even in environments where both Windows and Linux
were available.




The LTSP press conference was attended by one of the fathers of the X
Window System, Jim Gettys, who said that LTSP was fulfilling the
promise that Project Athena and other networked solutions proposed
decades ago. What's different now is that we have a "basic critical
infrastructure" of applications average people want to use on these
systems. LTSP also won the LinuxWorld award for best open source
software solution.




The testimonials by LTSP adopters, even if they are unusually
enthusiastic, suggest to me a potentially industry-shaking role for
LTSP that goes even beyond the disruptive potential of Linux
itself. All it takes is the presence a single educated and intrepid
system administrator (because more and more of them are becoming
comfortable with Linux) for an organization to make the switch. While
my own conservative nature conditions me to agree with the observers
who grant Microsoft a long lease on the desktops of America's
corporations, I suspect they don't take all the relevant factors into
account.




So I strolled over to the Microsoft area to get an official story
about their presence at LinuxWorld from Microsoft representative Jason
Matusow. He said that, by distributing free CDs of software for
Windows/Unix integration, they are showing that they understand a lot
of customers are using mixed environments and consider integration a
good thing. Second, they think the operating system is of less
interest to customers than the whole "solution stack" (a phrase
reminiscent of my earlier conversation with John Sarsgard of IBM, and
of the Red Hat press conference announcing support for Web software,
which I mentioned in
Tuesday's weblog).
All in all, my exchange with Matusow suggested a Microsoft that is
pulling its punches and trying to present a less "you're either with
us or against us" attitude than some of its spokespeople have in the
past.




Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to attend Tuesday's keynote by
Jonathan Schwartz of Sun, but I sensed that the very name of the
keynote--"Java and Linux"--portended the change in attitude that Sun
has been undergoing over the past year or so about where it should put
its efforts and make its alliances. It is intriguing, though, to set
this shift next to the list of major projects that Red Hat announced
as being at the center of their new strategy. The featured Red Hat
choices are J2SE, Eclipse, and Jakarta--Java projects every one.




It's not hard to guess why Linux has become so important to the
creators of Java, or Java so important to the biggest company in the
area of Linux. The hottest topic in the field of software right now is
Web Services, and the two main contenders there--Microsoft's .NET and
a collection of Java-based technologies--are running neck and
neck. Each side is scared out of their wits at a possible victory of
the other side.




Is Web Services really going to determine the fate of software? Well,
I think Web Services offer a superb opportunity for reducing costs.
Just watching all the paperwork my doctor's office has to fill out,
and the constant stream of faxed referrals, makes whatever pain I have
worse whenever I'm there. If they could run a simple application that
grabbed my data (in ways approved the HIPPA privacy regulations) and
sent an insurance form over the Internet to a database on the other
side, countless hours and dollars would be saved.




So I'm a believer in Web Services, to a modest extent. The grander
vision of businesses routinely searching each other out and carrying
on transactions without the touch of human hands leaves me skeptical.




And I've heard doubts about the ultimate value of Web Services
expressed by some of the old hands in the Web and XML. But if Web
Services don't take off, things are even scarier for those of us still
in the computer field, because what hot new initiative can take its
place?




Well, there's still a strong need for all the traditional services
we're used to. And there's a whole new world opening up of tiny
personal devices. As they shrink the ratio between computing power and
network bandwidth, new areas for application development will open up
too. Individuals will want to control these applications and schedule
their own activities on these personal devices. I hope that scripting
languages--old or new--will fill the programming gap. And both Linux
and open source software may turn out to be the engine behind the new
creativity.



A summit emerges from the clouds





Although the International Telecommunication Union deals in crucial
standards that make the world's satellite transmissions work and its
telephone networks interoperate, most people are perfectly safe
ignoring its existence. Most of us also let various United Nations
symposia go by without a thought. But it looks like one initiative by
the ITU and the United Nations, the

World Summit on the Information Society
,
may be worthy of attention. In a pair of meetings (one in Switzerland
in December 2003, and another in Tunisia in November 2005) they will
discuss such weighty issues as bridging the digital divide, promoting
free speech and access to information, and creating an environment for
innovation.




More and more, I've been hearing references to WSIS and the importance
of people who care about Internet policy to make their voices heard
there. In the past two days, WSIS came up in two different forums at
LinuxWorld by people who didn't even know each other.




The first was a Birds-of-a-Feather session held to promote an exciting
new policy group, the
Open Source and Industry Alliance.
This looks like a real chance to fill the policy vacuum that so many
in the free software and digital rights communities have been unable
to fill; a chance to put lobbyists for these causes in Washington with
meaningful access to legislators and regulators; a chance to make real
inroads against software patents and regulations discriminating
against free software. The group is inspired and guided by the
Computer and Communications Industry Association, which has been
taking good positions and playing the Washington insider game for
years. A list of prominent free software figures who have praised the
new OSAIA and called for support can be found on its Web site; they
are joined by Tim O'Reilly and some other leaders of the movement who
appeared at Tuesday's BOF. One speaker emphasized that WSIS would take
stands on many issues of importance to our communities, and that we
need representatives at their meetings.




The second forum was a meeting of the
Linux Professional Institute,
known for its tests of Linux proficiency. President Evan Leibovitch
mentioned that LPI had applied for the right to represent the free
software community at WSIS (the only other such organization that
applied, to his knowledge, is Software in the Public Interest).




All fired up by my new conversion, I went around the conference
talking up WSIS. The initiative is heavy on the organizational
infrastructure, as one would expect from its founders, so not many
will be able to participate, but we can all watch and comment.




Leibovitch believes that LPI itself is helping to bring computer
technology to underdeveloped countries. In these countries, far more
than in North America and Europe, free software is the only option for
many organizations and individuals. Out of caution or inertia, many of
these organizations say they can't install free software because they
have no way of determining the competency of administrative
staff. Hence the value of LPI.




(I have also heard that recent heightened efforts by Microsoft and
others to cut off unlicensed use of their software in underdeveloped
countries is making more organizations look seriously at open source
software. Maybe the proprietary vendors should have listened to
economists who say that unlicensed use benefits the vendor in the long
run.)




Its credibility is enhanced by it being a vendor-independent
.org. Evan points out that LPI is breaking the common pattern in the
computer field (but nowhere else) where vendors offer certification
for their own products. People don't get driver's licenses from Ford,
nor do doctors get their licenses to practice from Squibb--so why
should you get certified by a vendor with a vested interest?




Many people dismiss the value of certification in the computer
industry, but no one can get around its importance in the eyes of
human resource departments. Whatever you think of certification in
general, it's part of the mainstreaming of Linux--but like everything
else with Linux, how it's being done is critically different from
other systems.