Originally Published: Tuesday, 18 May 1999 Author: Daniel Ceregatti
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Linux success its own worst enemy?

It's almost a daily occurrence now. Linux in the news, Linux stories on major web sites. If you're an IT professional and you haven't heard of Linux by now, you're living under a rock.

But as Linux is touted on the internet by bandwagon jumping columnists and praised by hordes of newbie followers, those who have freely devoted their time to develop the Linux kernel, applications, and drivers, are finding that the the luster of Linux may be dulling....


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It's almost a daily occurrence now. Linux in the news, Linux stories on major web sites. If you're an IT professional and you haven't heard of Linux by now, you're living under a rock.

But as Linux is touted on the internet by bandwagon jumping columnists and praised by hordes of newbie followers, those who have freely devoted their time to develop the Linux kernel, applications, and drivers, are finding that the the luster of Linux may be dulling. The commercialization of Linux may be causing the hard-core shop keepers of the Bazaar to look at alternatives places to showcase their wares.

Only one of a few open source operating systems, Linux has always been about the freedom of developers to mold it into a tool to fit their needs. Many of Linux's early developers adopted it and contributed to it because it gave them a sense of camaraderie, a meeting ground where they could mutually contribute to an increasingly robust operating system with a diverse array of applications. Lately, it's become a darling of the media, the "Microsoft Killer". Few dispute that Linux has earned it's place in the operating system hierarchy, but at what expense?

Derrik Pates, one of the contributing developers of X11amp, an open source X11 mp3 player, states: "Far as I'm concerned, if Linux becomes a commercial interest, my code ends up as little more than a tool for some company to gain customers, since the average computer user cares little for the purpose or meaning of free software/open source." Opinions like these have been echoing in Linux circles lately.

But this sentiment is not entirely shared by every linux developer. Walt Boring, developer of Ksniffer, an open source KDE network traffic monitor, says: "I would still code for linux because it's GPL Open Source. If the linux community doesn't like what is happening to the commercialization of the kernel/apps then they would just change it. I think there are some fears of a big company becoming the source of a distribution of linux, but the kernel proper will always be in the Open Source community's 'hands'. For now, I think the commercialization of linux can only help it mature in the long run".

The Linux community seems to be more fearful of one distributor of Linux becoming the de-facto supplier of a "standard" commercial distribution. Many seem to feel that Red Hat is on their way to becoming just that. And with IPO rumors floating around, who can blame them? Red Hat is the most popular Linux distribution, but does that make it a Microsoft? Any other distributor in its place would probably receive the same criticism.

The biggest fear of Linux developers should be the forking of the Linux Kernel code by a Linux distributor. The unified Linux kernel is probably the single most important factor that has kept Linux together. If the kernel were to fork, we would see history repeating itself. It could only serve to allow a distributor to get an advantage over the others, especially if the industry standardizes on this distribution. Hopefully the GPL is strong enough to keep that from happening.

Although some developers feel that a commercial Linux is A Bad Idea(tm), it must progress to the next level. That level, the level of enterprise commercial computing, should be a goal of the Linux community. Otherwise, what would be Linux's usefulness? An operating system used by university students to learn how to write device drivers? An operating system used by ISP's who simply don't want to spend any money? If the people who support Linux today by volunteering their time to write the kernel, drivers, and apps decide to go elsewhere, all that means is that other people will be put in charge of doing just that, but they'll probably be getting paid by a commercial Linux vendor.





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