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Linux exec: This isn't revolution

TalkBack! By John S. McCright
April 18, 2000 1:31 PM PT

CHICAGO -- Ransom Love is no Tom Paine.

Indeed, the president and CEO of Linux distributor Caldera Systems Inc. sounded more like Charles Darwin today in a keynote address here at the Comdex/Spring 2000-Linux Business Expo.

Love threw a damp towel on the revolutionary sentiments surrounding the open-source operating system and instead espoused an evolutionary approach to building momentum behind Linux. His fear is that in pushing the overthrow of the existing technological infrastructure, many options could be silenced.

"In the revolutionary's mad rush for total upheaval -- the 'out with the old and in with the new' -- many who are conscripted into the revolution are left without a voice, and many are left without a vote on the change," Love said.

Then, quoting an anonymous early American, he added, "Truth -- and we could say freedom -- is seldom found in extremes."

The centerpiece of Love's speech was an argument that Linux is both open source and proprietary -- and that that is a good thing. To show that ownership of software is not necessarily anathema to the public good, Love pointed to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: SUNW) Star Office suite of Linux-based applications, which is not open source. By its popularity (the suite has been downloaded more than 2 million times), Star Office has done more for Linux than just about any other application, Love said.

Open source does not necessarily mean non-proprietary, Love contended. Users who make changes to software such as the Gimp image manipulation software must publish those changes under various open-source licenses, but the mere fact that there is a license obliging users to share code means that someone has set proprietary parameters on the use of the software.

Using this logic, Love described the Linux operating system itself as a proprietary platform.

However, unlike other proprietary platforms, Linux has provided developers with open access, and that has made it more flexible and more suited for the challenges of Internet computing.

"The key is, we need open access for a level playing field, not an entirely new playing field," Love said.

Citing the rough and tumble of the market, Love called for an evolution of Linux from a diverse platform to products that businesses would buy to improve their productivity in specific tasks.

Love's road map for that evolution would take Linux from being a packaged OS to products that include a subset of all the OS features, products that make installation of the OS easier, and tools that make management and administration of Linux easier.

Ultimately, Linux must offer directory-based administration to keep track of the thousands and potentially millions of devices that will be attached to the Internet. Such a tool would require that the devices report what they have running on them to a central repository or directory.

Love envisions Linux tools that will enable service providers to remotely administer Linux systems. But instead of the ASP model, in which the systems run at the premises of a third-party company that pipes the processed data to the customer, Love's delegated administration model has the Linux systems running in a customer's own offices and administered remotely by the service provider.

To that end, Caldera will offer a product that offers browser-based administration of Linux with a GUI, Love said.

Linux will thrive by offering open access, not through a too-strict demand that every part of the Linux infrastructure be opened, Love said.

"Some open-source licenses may go a little too far," he said. "It's one thing to facilitate open access, but another to demand it. That's what you are trying to get away from."

In the end, revolutionaries could do more to marginalize the operating system through zealous adherence to a misguided interpretation of the open-source movement.

"There is no need for a revolution," Love said. "Those who cry for revolution will limit your choice in the end."

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Love is an Ignoramous. He needs... - Matt Dillon
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