Originally Published: Monday, 24 July 2000 Author: Nathaniel Jay Lee
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Penguin or the Egg?

Linux isn't a singular business. It doesn't depend on R&D money nearly as much as software businesses. It depends on users creating software, which bring in more users/developers, which create more software, which bring in more....

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Pete Goodwin wrote on comp.os.linux.advocacy:

"The Linux market is trapped in a chicken (or perhaps penguin)-and-egg situation, as suppliers wait for users to show serious interest in Linux based enterprise applications and users wait for suppliers to produce the goods", writes John Leyden.

I always find stories like these humorous. Why? Because the assumption is that Linux is just another business like all the big name software is now. People try so hard to fit Linux into their pre-concieved notion of how software has been developed, that they don't understand how Linux intends to (and in many ways already has) break out of that mold.

Linux isn't a singular business. It doesn't depend on R&D money nearly as much as software businesses. It depends on users creating software, which bring in more users/developers, which create more software, which bring in more....

This process started slowly, and continued to increase. Yes, some commercial companies have taken interest, but the underlying OS and a lot of the software that runs on it are still based on the Open Source/Free Software ideals that launched and maintained it up to now. Linux isn't Windows. Linux isn't Microsoft. They are nothing like each other. Linux has a large following and that isn't going to go away. The chicken and the egg problem is strictly a concern for the commercial businesses that are into Linux. Some of them may fail before Linux truly makes it to the top, but Linux isn't going to disappear because a few of the companies interested in it do.

Linux also doesn't fit the traditional sense of market and market share the way software houses and businesses do. How do you proclaim market share for something that is basically free? I have no idea, and really, no one else does either. It can be downloaded, bought on a CD that can be installed on hundreds of computers, bought on a CD that is never installed, bought from an OEM (and installed on other computers), handed out at trade shows, etc.

There is no way to say there are "X" number of systems running Linux today and I don't think that will ever happen. Nor will it ever be possible to say the exact number of systems running Linux. However, it will continue to turn a profit for consultants, help desk type support companies, resellers, bundlers, book publishers, and other businesses. Traditional software companies will also begin to see a profit returned from some of their Linux ventures. Whether that happens immediately upon entry into the Linux market isn't certain, but as it gains mindshare (one can't really say market share) it will be a bigger money maker for software companies.

As far as, us needing big business to succeed, I'm reminded of the scene in towards the end of Braveheart where William says, "we need the nobles to succeed!"

His friend and the others around him wonder why. They made it that far without them, why would they need them now? Then William walked off and was betrayed by the "nobles" in order for them to have greater success in court. Now, again, why do we need big business' attention now? It will come eventually if Linux keeps developing in the way it is now. Eventually may not be tomorrow, but it would be best of business came slowly after seeing real world performance from Linux rather than jumping in and trying to take over.

Some businesses are already coming over on Linux's own terms. IBM comes to mind as one huge part of this. Oracle, Sybase, Informix, and others are all coming to Linux in one form or another. Sure, they all aren't jumping in head first like IBM is doing, but let them approach slowly and see what they are getting into. There will be more satisfaction all around if they do so. If they jump in head first and totally try to absorb the Linux culture/software all at once, they will behead themselves. The whole chicken and egg problem isn't nearly as big a problem as what some would make it out to be. GNOME grows, KDE grows (each with their own free office suites), MySQL and Postgres grow (and add features), all levels of the software we 'need' are coming along slowly from within the community (and from donations outside the community, like Helix Code on GNOME). It's happening just like it always has. If all commercial interest stopped today (not something I see as being likely) the community would continue, because to most of them it is a labor of love, not work.

The chicken and the egg problem as it is presented by the press is just a part of the growth of Linux. A couple of years ago the press would say, "What the hell is Linux?"

Today they are saying, "Linux can't succeed because of the chicken and the egg problem." In two years time....(left to your imagination).

Linux has succeeded up to this point because of the driving force behind it. It's developers and users are people that love the system, and push it forward. No amount of marketing or news is going to make that community disappear, and it will continue to grow. Slowly? Or quickly? It doesn't really matter. It's not going away. It's not going to "take over the world" anytime soon, but that's OK too. We (the community) just want to see it continue to succeed in exactly the way it has up to this point. Keep growing, keep building, keep adding to the community, keep developing. The best thing for Linux and the community around it is to ignore the little blurbs coming at it from all sides and concentrate on what it always has concentrated on: continuing to build momentum behind itself through growth and learning. Let the press say it will never succeed. In the communities opinion, it already has, and will continue to succeed in the way that only it can.

Nathaniel Jay Lee can be reached at leenat@willinet.net.

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