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[June 27, 1999] Linux.com - Weekly Columns -- BELLUM LINUXUM - A Historic Parable
[June 26, 1999] Linux.com - Weekly Columns Andrew Leonard (email@example.com) the senior technology correspondent at Salon.com.
No question, Mandrake is pretty neat--proof once again at how fast the Linux community is moving. Basically, Mandrake is a souped-up Red Hat optimized for Pentium processors, with a really nice installation set up that allows users to seamlessly choose between the latest KDE and GNOME desktop releases, as well as other window managers. I was able to install it with lightning speed, though I'm not sure whether that's due to my own increasing comfort with Linux or to the cleverness of Mandrake's coders. (Such is the tragedy of falling in love with Linux--I'm becoming less and less able to relate to my former "stupid user" self.)
In general, judging from Mandrake, news from the Linux front would seem to be good--KDE 1.1.1 and GNOME 1.0.9 are both solid improvements. GNOME, in particular, is considerably less buggy. But as I twiddled around with Enlightenment's themes and kick ass screen savers, I began to wonder just what a development like Mandrake entails for the overall commercial viability of the open source business model.
Given the recent announcement of Red Hat's intent to go public, the question of commercial viability is more relevant than ever. Any newcomer to the free software world is likely to be perplexed at the fact that a vendor like CheapBytes can copy Red Hat Linux wholesale and sell it for whatever price it wants--and it's all perfectly legal. You naturally wonder how Red Hat can make a profit facing that kind of competition. The answer, to some extent, is that Red Hat has a name brand, and promises to back up its products with the kind of support services and documentation that are worth spending money for.
But what happens when a competitor comes along, like Linux-Mandrake, adds a little value here and a little value there to the basic Red Hat package--and, perhaps, also starts selling support services and providing documentation? Their expenses are likely to be much lower than Red Hat's--in effect they are using Red Hat as their own research lab. And after piggy-backing on all of Red Hat's hard work, they add a few deft twists of their own, and end up with a product that is more appealing.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing, at least certainly not for us end-users. This is why progress in the open source world is so breath-takingly fast to begin with. Everyone gets to benefit from everyone else's work. Onward!
But to be successful, commercially, in this kind of environment, is going to be very, very tricky. Competition will be fantastically intense, and profit margins are bound to be incredibly low. Red Hat's CEO, Bob Young, is frequently quoted as saying that Red Hat's goal is to "lower the value" of the operating system market. In other words, Red Hat has no plans to charge Microsoft-level prices for its operating system, but they'd be quite happy to force Microsoft to lower its prices.
Problem is, Mandrake could say the same thing about Red Hat--which, by the way, significantly raised the price-tag for Red Hat Linux with the 6.0 distribution. How many vendors of Linux--each piggy-backing on each other--will it take before the value of the operating system is effectively zero?
Perhaps this is why Red Hat's SEC filing makes such a big deal of its plans to become a Web portal for Linux--advertising, rather than software sales, may be the company's best bet for profit. But the portal competition is going to be just as intense as the software distribution race.
I love my Linux-Mandrake distribution--it's the flavor of the week for me. But I'll switch in a second if the open source grapevine starts hinting that another distribution has done a better job. And I don't think I'm alone. Why bother with brand name loyalty in the era of open source? The smart decision should be to go with whatever the community as a whole comes up with, piggy back upon piggy back. May the best distribution win!
Andrew Leonard (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the senior technology correspondent at Salon.com. He is working on a book about free software.
[June 26, 1999] Microsoft and the Art of War v1.00
However, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that instead of slapping together a Linux distribution they could just as easily put out MS BSD. Think about the advantages for one moment. No so called "GPL Virus" to contaminate any of Microsoft's crown jewels, a strong developers base, binary compatibility with Linux, superior networking, and it can be modified internally without having to release any source code back. Besides, we all know that Microsoft loves to steal great ideas from Apple, right? I suspect that Microsoft would probably gravitate towards FreeBSD as it is currently the most optimized on the x86 platform.
Using a BSD variant would potentially create a schism in the free software community. The BSD camp would feel gratified that their code was being used by Microsoft, while the GPL camp would probably look on the whole event in horror. Perhaps later, Microsoft could strike back at Intel for their investments in Redhat with a Microsoft BSD for the Compaq Alpha. It's too difficult to say without knowing more about the internal relationship between Intel and Microsoft.
[June 21, 1999] Slashdot: GPL vs BSD -- analyzed in ../Social/copyright.shtml
[June 18, 1999] CNET News.com - Wyse beefs up Linux-based network machine. Wyse managed to fit Linux into 8.5M of flash memory. Terminal is essentially thin client computer and use modified Slackware version of Linux.
[June 17, 1999] Open Source Advocate Invited To Microsoft -- Eric Raymond has been invited to speak to a group at Microsoft Research.
...Raymond is well-known for his outspoken views, and has sometimes clashed with others in the open source community. He said he is not worried about any sort of backlash from his Microsoft appearance.
...Another sign of Microsoft's interest in open source comes from user statistics released Monday by Linux.com. Microsoft was the leading corporate visitor to the site in the first two weeks after it opened last month, with 15,000 visits from Microsoft servers.
[June 14, 1999] Open Source® ... not now, never was infamous in March 1999
[June 13, 1999] Slashdot: On Red Hat Bashing... by Miguel de Icaza. email@example.com
So far, Red Hat is the only major visible commercial distribution that distributes all of their development under a free license (LGPL or GPL for their new work, or under the proper compatible license for packages they do not maintain). And they also manage to make money during this process.
Now, making money by giving away your intelectual property is a hard problem. Some people have just given up. Various distributions include proprietary code in their distribution to add a value to their product. The result is of course, a non-free product: you as an end user are forbidden from making copies of it entirely, you might not even get the source code in some cases, and you are definetly forbidden from making changes and redistributing modified versions of it. It comes to mind, the proprietary graphical install programs being shipped these days.
...Many distributions chose to ship the non-free KDE/Qt combo as part of their systems, as it gave them a competitive advantage on the market. Concerns about a free system came in second place. Red Hat instead of going for the easy money, actually devoted a growing team of programmers to help build a completely free desktop: I am sure they lost sales while preparing for this free system to be built, and I am sure it costed them money to pay their GNOME programmers.
Still, Red Hat stood up for the free software community. To them it was more important to have a full open source desktop than making a quick sell. Given that the Qt toolkit will soon be released with an open-source license this is not an issue anymore. I am presenting this exclusively as an historical data point.
See also: Slashdot: Red Hat Growing Pains
[June12, 1999] A software pirate speaks out -- pirates and a kind of independent reviewers of software ;-)
What most of these organizations fail to understand is the fact that we wouldn't have purchased those extremely overpriced applications in the first place, therefore their estimations of profit loss are grossly over-exaggerated.
...Most of us are strictly copying these files to fulfill our curiosity, as well as gain status among our software pirate friends by bringing it to them so that they might fulfill their curiosity. We only want to know ahead of time, what is being held in store for us when we HAVE the money to buy, or HAVE the opportunity to influence a software purchase decision with the company we work for.
Many of us copy this software to add to a vast collection of applications for no other reason other than the sheer excitement of it all. It ought to be looked upon under the same lines as those that collect rare stamps. Why are many stamps held in high regard? Because of the difficulty in acquiring them. In the same way, software pirates collect these hard to acquire applications as somewhat of a digital trophy.
Most pirates don't use those copied applications for business or money generating purposes. Those that do, ARE the ones that are causing these software developers to loose money. Although many pirates that do borrow these applications for money generating purposes, do so, so that they can generate the necessary funds to make a software purchase.
In many ways, the industry ought to look upon us as somewhat of a precious asset. You see those of us that have the opportunity to preview a piece of software before its publicly released get to compare other competing products at the same time. It is common practice among pirates to recommend to others "the superior" of all the products they reviewed.
A successful business person will openly admit to the fact that word of mouth advertising is the best advertising resource of its kind. Because it is common practice among pirates to promote superior products in this fashion, and because most often pirates hold high ranking influential positions within a company, positions which allow them to recommend a specific software products based upon that word of mouth advertising, this serves as one of the last remaining impartial software review methods available today.
In a world when media outlets are often the benefactors of large sums of money from software developers who demand "a positive review" thus stifling innovation from those developers who may not be as powerful. A pirates word of mouth advertising ought to be looked upon as the last remaining unbiased influence that can put a truly innovative product on top.
[June 11, 1999] osOpinion
The concept of open source software implies that the idea of open source code is more important then the product itself. Open source computing is the developer centered approach to free software. The average user does not care that they can modify source code if the need arises. There is a lot of free software with closed source code that users will use just as easily as open source.
[June 10, 1999] osOpinion: -- Vengeance: How IBM is coordinating a full frontal assault on Microsoft by: "Mark Radulovich"
[June 9, 1999] The Problem With Bounty
If you've seen recent offerings for free documentation from the FSF, the volunteer-based Free Software Bizarre, or the recently opened CoSource and SourceXChange corporate ventures, you know what I'm talking about...
...The bounty model encourages people to hide their work from one another. One "Code Hunter" gets all the reward, whereas 2 or more have to split it. So the "many eyes to see bugs, many brains to see design problems" approach is defeated.
...One of the chief reasons that free software is as good as it actually is, is that the developers work almost exclusively on things which they enjoy doing, taking the time to do each step of the process the right way, and under the auspices of making the program intrinsically better. Merely being told to do something because it will reward you, that works, but it produces mediocre results.
...The other motivation for writing free software which has been identified in a number of cases is the "scratch an itch" motivation -- i.e. a technically skilled user/programmer fixing something they have to use every day which doesn't quite work the way they like, and they're both picky enough to care and good enough to fix it properly. This element is entirely ignored by the bounty model.
...Programming, creative writing, music -- all these are in principle accessible and enjoyable to anyone and everyone. But the fact is that the very best programmers who characterize the free software everyone's salivating over are dozens, perhaps hundreds of times more productive, insightful, clever, and just plain in sync with the machines they work on than the "dime a dozen" people. Most of these shining stars that companies want to pick out of the free software community already know how to get contracts...
You could hear the sound of hackles rising all over the Net, a couple of weeks ago, when Microsoft senior vp Jim Allchin was quoted as saying, in reference to Linux, that "the profit motive will end up ruining and tarnishing the altruism people use to promote this thing."
...Sure, it could happen. That's one reason why Allchin's words had such an irritating quality -- they were a sharp stick stabbed right at a sensitive spot. The bigger free software gets, the more pressure will be exerted on it by corporations sensitive to bottom-line concerns. That is certainly not necessarily a win-win scenario.
But altruism is a not altogether accurate word to employ in describing the motivations that spur free software developers to do their thing. What about all those people "scratching their itch," as Eric Raymond puts it, writing hardware drivers so they can get their own brand new video card to work with Linux. Is that altruistic? What about all those internationally based developers, determined not to be beholden to a rapacious American corporation for their operating system needs? Is that altruism, or plain old prudence?
Perhaps one can describe Richard Stallman as altruistic -- he sincerely believes that proprietary code is immoral, and is doing what he can to live up to his beliefs. And certainly, faith and passion are major motivators for free software developers. But what Allchin is wishfully calling "altruism" is often something a lot more basic. I think many free software believers get their kicks from the simple pleasure of being part of a bonafide community. A community defined not by allegiance to one particular corporation, or worship of the almighty dollar, but by a sense that something amazing can be created through cooperation and collaboration.
...Altruism, as Jim Allchin suggests, may eventually tarnish. But there are few signs yet that the ties binding the free software community together are weakening. In the free software world, the community may actually be in the driver's seat -- for-profit vendors who transgress against community values may do so at their peril. Or at least that's been the case, so far. What happens next is anyone's guess. But if enough people join in, for whatever reasons, anything is possible.
Andrew Leonard (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the senior technology correspondent at Salon.com. He is working on a book about free software.
*** Is It Time for Linux Page 2 May 31 1999 -- network Computing pretty objective article about value of Linux for ISPs
You may not want to rip out your
entire NT infrastructure just yet; Samba, like Linux, is still
maturing. But for deployments using basic
Microsoft-based file and print sharing, the potential savings on licenses alone is eye-opening. For example, based on the average street price of $30 for a Windows NT client license, 100 licenses would cost around $3,000, plus the cost of an NT server license (around $600). Compare this to the price of a Red Hat Linux CD, or perhaps even a free download, and the savings starts to approach the cost of a low-end workgroup server. Scale that up to a few thousand clients and you begin to see the savings skyrocket.
At press time, OpenLinux v1.3 could
support a replica of the NDS tree and serve as a NetWare/NDS client,
but NDS was not yet integrated with all the services. OpenLinux v2.2
solves this by introducing PAMs (Pluggable Authentication Modules)
that support NDS, letting any "PAMified" service use NDS
as its authentication mechanism. An amazingly powerful tool, PAM
allows for the separation of services from the underlying OS
authentication mechanism. For example, with a PAMified version of
the Apache Web server, users can be authenticated using a RADIUS
(Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service) server rather then the
standard .htacess file. Using the many PAM modules available,
authentication for services can be directed to LDAP, NIS (Network
Information Services), RADIUS, NetWare, NT Domain controllers or any
other mechanism supported by PAM. The power of PAM gives integrators
and ISPs a flexibility unmatched by any other OS.
[June 2, 1999] The Price of Success -- Red Hat's new pricing policy may lead to troubles for the leading distributor. RH 6.0 is selling much worse than 5.2
[June 2, 1999] 32BitsOnline.com - Forum Commercializing Linux [General InformationForum] -- very interesting. Must read.
[May 20, 1999] Linux Today Behind Closed Doors - microsoft research.see also Microsoft research lab tackles computing's next big tasks
Slashdot: NT to Linux Migration Costs -- forget about migration in a large corporation without replacing current admin stuff of Novel or NT servers ...
CNET News.com - SGI gives Linux a helping hand -- XFS file system will be open sourced
[May 10,1999] Setting Up Shop : The Business of Open-Source Software, by Frank Hecker, a historically very important paper by a Netscape employee (might be the person most responsible for popularizing Eric Raymond's paper "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" within Netscape)
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