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|Originally Published: Monday, 27 September 1999||Author: Stephen Adler|
|Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles||Page: 1/1 - [Std View]|
Bob Young Speaks at LXNY
This article, which originally appeared on Stephen Adler's Web site, contains pictures of the event.
The multicast packets were going out the tunnel but not in. Hmmm... I'll kill mrouted, and change the TTL threshold on the tunnel to 1 in /etc/mrouted.conf. Restart mrouted, kill it with a USR1, and check the routing tables it just dumped to /var/tmp. Hmmm... Again, packets go out, but not in. Ok, let's ftp the very latest version of mrouted (beta version number increments by one), recompile, kill the running version of mrouted and startup the new one. Ah, now I have mrinfo with this package to help debug the multicast tunnel I've setup. New version of mrouted but same problem; packets go out, but they don't come in. I've managed to fully configure a one-way multicast tunnel....
It was September 7th, 1999, and I was counting down the days to a crazy event which will occur in less than one month. Open Source/Open Science 1999. My life has been turned totally upside down trying to get this conference together, and setting up this multicast tunnel into the Internet is a vital step. The conference will be broadcast onto the Internet come hell or high water! But, another very important event was happening that day. Bob Young was taking time away from his schedule to go back to an old haunt of his, LXNY, and spend about 4 hours answering questions and later going to dinner with his old user group. So I spent the day fighting the multicast tunnel dragon, a fiery beast which spewed out multicast packets with deadly force. I defended and attacked with my source code armor and sword, deflecting those deadly packet attacks with emacs, GNU make, gcc and lots of greps and mores. The meeting started at 6:30pm and this time I was damned if I wasn't going to catch the 4:05pm train into the city. 3:30pm rolled around and the multicast dragon hurled one last fierce round of flaming packets at me. Emacs, man, grep, make and gcc couldn't deflect them and baaam! I got a direct hit. Ouch. With that, I laid down my sword, grabbed my notebook and car keys, and ran to catch that 4:05 to Penn Station. I'll take up the battle with the multicast dragon tomorrow. For now, I had a very important users' meeting to attend. (Important on a historical level...)
I got to the Ronkonkoma station at 4pm on the nose, with good time to walk (not run as I usually do) to the train. As I got close to the tracks, I could hear a muffled announcement which sounded like they had just canceled the train into the city. I got closer and my intuition was right. No LIRR to NYC because of a gas leak somewhere between here and Penn. Back to the car, and on down the LIE where I took a rather circuitous route to avoid possible parking lot traffic conditions ahead. All in all, the trip into the city was uneventful. The hour and a half drive gave me a chance to reflect on the state of the Open Source movement that day.
The big event in the Open Source world was, of course, Red Hat's IPO, which took place about a month ago. This capitalist rite of passage catapulted some senior members of Red Hat into billionaire status. At least on paper, or more virtually, on the text composed by my web browser. Red Hat's market cap was sitting at over 5 Billion that day. One share of Open Source/Freedom software (i.e. NASDAQ:RHAT) started trading that day at about $85 and by the time I headed into the city it was up to over $90. All the closed source marketing hype and FUD coming out of other software OS companies cannot refute the hard cold facts of market forces. The old phrase "free software, you get what you pay for..." rung especially hollow that afternoon. I was totally dumbfounded by the new heights shares in NASDAQ:RHAT was reaching. I remember reading one of those e-trade news blips that NASDAQ:RHAT shares had reached "nose bleed territory." This was when a share in RHAT fetched a cool $50 the closing day of the IPO. Now that it was trading at over $90 a share, how would those financial reporters describe this territory? "Brain edema territory"? Or maybe "total outer space vacuum territory." Forget the nose bleeds - your whole body explodes from the inside out!
Take a step back and think of this IPO phenomena. A company with something on the order of 10^2 employees packages and distributes free software, offers services on getting it up and running on your PC, offers only about 10% of its shares to the public and is now worth over 5 billion dollars! Red Hat's driving force, like many other companies', are its employees. Therefore one can put a market value on each one of those employees at about 10 million dollars a head! Think about this: the free markets of western civilization value an Open Source employee at 10,000,000. That's a lot of zeros.
The unbelievability of the numbers behind Red Hat's IPO dominated my thoughts as I swerved over to the Southern State, down the Southern State, then onto the Cross Island, back onto the LIE and finally handing over my $3.50 to the toll booth guy to pay for my passage under the East River at Midtown.
I was driving around Midtown at 5:30pm, this being record time for me. So I decided to find a parking lot close to the IBM building where the LXNY meeting was to take place. The first parking lot I found was going to charge me $35 bucks to park. I backed right out of that parking lot. I drove around some more and found another parking lot which had a special: $25 for 3 hours. "How much for 4 hours?", "forty dolares" replies the attendant is broken English. "40 bucks?!" I backed right out of that parking lot as well! After spending 45 minutes driving around in circles through Midtown Manhattan, I finally gave in. The third parking lot was a mere 32 bucks, (or $40 after tax I found out when I went back to pick up my car. Sigh...)
The rain from hurricane Dennis was now coming down over Manhattan rather hard. I got only slightly wet this time, as I dashed over to the IBM building. Knowing that the remains of Dennis were on their way to NYC, I was wise to bring my umbrella along.
There was a small crowd of people waiting at the main entrance to the IBM building for the rain to stop. At first I thought they were all there, waiting with baited breath to glimpse Bob Young for the first time. I imagined this grand long black limousine pulling up to the building, the driver quickly running over to the passenger door to open it for Bob. I never saw such a limo drive up and I strongly suspect that Bob arrived in a yellow NYC taxi cab. As a matter of fact, I think only about 3 or 4 people, of the 20 or so standing out front, were waiting to get into the IBM building to attend the LXNY. The rest were taking cover from the rain under the entrance way into the IBM building. I had a chance to meet one of them, who introduced himself as a journalist. After some small talk we both headed in, got our stick-on badges, and headed up to the 6th floor.
The meeting room was a large one. There was ample room to fit at least 100 people. When the journalist and I arrived, there were about 20 people there. I got to work handing out fliers to my Open Source/Open Science conference and also took some pictures.
I saw some familiar faces from VA Linux show. There was one guy with a very nice VAIO notebook running Quake. Jim Gleason of VA Linux was promoting his Linux demo day event. A day where a bunch of guys get together and play Quake all day on a bunch of VA Linux PC's attached to an OC-48 fire hose into the Internet. (What ever happened to sex, drugs and rock 'n roll?)
I noticed the door to the meeting room close and went over to try get it to stay open, figuring people showing up may miss the meeting if the door is closed. As I was futsying around with the door, I turned to find Bob Young looking to get into the room. "Hi Bob" I said, "Welcome to New York." He cracked a smile, returned the greeting and went in to mingle with the rest of the gathering crowd. I followed him in.
By this time, there were closer to 40 people in attendance. Mike Smith, one of the co-organizers of LXNY, was there, writing information down on a large paper pad which sat on an easel about the various Open Source/Free Software related events going on about town. He was also waiting for his counter part, Jay Sulzberger, the other LXNY co-ordinator, to show up and start the meeting. Jay never showed. So Mike called on everyone to listen to a bunch of announcements he had, as the meeting formally got started.
Mike started with "LUNY is meeting ... ", "The NYLUG is doing ...", "WWWAC is having a ....", "NYSIA panel discussion will be on ...", and on and on. Finally one guy sitting on the far left of the seating area, exclaimed, "What are all these user groups for?" in a rather grumbled note. "Why do you have so many? Shouldn't one be enough!?" Jim Gleason took that question. He explained that when he was in San Francisco, there were so many user groups that one could find a meeting of some sort any day of the week. When he showed up to NY, the number of groups was small in comparison so that he figured he would start the New York LUG. With that, this man at the end of seating area said, "Well, we want to announce the Amiga Users Group (AUG?)!" And with that announcement, Manhattan just got one more user group narrowing the "user group count gap" between the east and the west coast.
With the announcements finished, Bob got ready to address this particular user group. He haggled with the seated crowed about how he was going to structure his talk. He settled on giving some old LXNY stories and then take questions from the audience.
Bob started by talking about the amount of travel he was doing lately in promoting Red Hat to private industry in the pre-IPO days. Those days were long and the travel extensive. The same presentations were made over and over to the point that he had a hard getting his mouth just to form the words during these presentations. Through this ordeal, he learned the truth of the equation "opportunity - sleep = trouble." He was also amused to realize that the corollary also held true, "trouble + sleep = opportunity." A neat equation of state in the world of sales. During his travel many mistakes were made and this was done under high pressure situations and little sleep when he and other Red Hat management types were pitching Red Hat to heavy weight investors. He recalled one time when they were scheduled to be in New York on such a day, and someone had scheduled a meeting with just one investor in Dallas the day before. He and his colleagues who were touring the country, did not want to go to Dallas, give their presentation in front of just one investor, and then have to fly that night to NY getting there at 2am, and then try to be fresh for a really big, high pressure pitch to a bunch of NY Wall Street types the next day. So they decided to play a trick on this poor Dallas investor. During their presentation, they were going to redo all their mistakes they made during all their other presentations to date. Bob continues, "I got up and gave my introduction, going through all the mistakes I could remember while I gave my talk, I then handed the floor over to Matthew Szulik, (the current president of the company.) Matthew started. 'We at Red Hat are committed to bringing and supporting the best software Open Source has to offer to the Amiga platform!'" Well, maybe you had to be there to get the irony of the story.
Bob went on to talk about the origins of LXNY and his work in the Free Software world. Bob claimed that he was a sales guy through and through. "After the revolution" he said, "I'll be out there selling fuller brushes". (What ever they are...) Bob was very clear to cast himself as the "entrepreneur." He went into sales right out of college and has stuck with it since. He started in the computer industry in the leasing market. He would rent computers to companies who didn't want to pay loads of money to add computing power to their IT systems. The computer leasing industry was about $100 million strong back then and he ended up moving to New York City. He said he ended up in middle management for this leasing company and to him it was clear that the writing was on the wall. During his stint in NYC, he started a computer news letter. He was also active in one of the Unix user groups. Unigroup, I believe it was called. He heard complaints that the Unix user groups where shrinking in membership. "We announce the meetings, but fewer and fewer people show up", Bob recounted one user member's complaint. The solution for Bob was simple. You had to attract attention to these meetings. The newsletter he was working on needed a unique angle in order to attract the attention of the local computing community. Bob was up against some well oiled machines like Ziff Davies and IDG (Infoworld). These were well established media groups in the computer industry with huge budgets, staffs of reporters etc. Bob needed to find a niche which these other magazines didn't cover. This niche was Free Software.
Talking to the computer users at the time, it became clear to him that Free Software had something important to offer. He recalled how people would wax poetic about the wonders of Free Software. It was much more stable and reliable than its commercial counterparts. Thus Bob featured Free Software articles in his newsletter. He didn't tell the audience if his newsletter was a success or not, but Bob had found his niche.
So Bob started down the Free Software path. This was sometime around 1992 or 1993. Being the entrepreneur he claimed to be, he started to research the Free Software market. He would talk to people about this concept of trying to make money from "free" software and the consistent answer was that no, you could not. Bob found this strange. Everyone he talked to about it raved about how good it was, and yet you could not make money from it? This struck an odd chord in his marketing and sales intuition. The whole idea of a free market economy is that you look for a need, and you work at fullfiling it. He was doing this to some extent by publishing a newsletter on free software. The next obvious step was to somehow make this free software available to those who wanted or needed it.
His research on free software and the ability to turn a profit from it led to a meeting with Richard Stallman. At that time, he joked that this free software stuff was somehow a Trojan Horse from Redmond, Washington. Once he met with Richard Stallman, he realized that the two formed the two extremes of a bipolar system in the software world. Bill Gates at one end in the closed source software world, and Richard Stallman, at the opposite end in the open/free software world.
At that time, Linux was making its way into the free software world, and Bob saw an opportunity to exercise his entrepreneurial skills. In grand entrepreneurial style, he hooked up with Mark Ewing, and started up Red Hat, which he ran out of his wife's sewing room. Some time later, he and Marc moved to North Carolina where Red Hat is no stationed.
Bob was clear about one point in his venture into the free software world. He and Marc (and the rest of the free software industry) were up against Microsoft. And the only way one can take on a giant like MS is by not playing by its rules. Any company who tried to compete with MS using the closed source model was doomed to fail. And many did. Once MS decides it will take over some kind of application, be it a web browser, multi media player, compiler, or whatever, it will either buy the competition, or release its own version and thus kill the competition. How can you compete with the guy who owns the operating system you're writing software for? This left only a rather bleak choice for your software company to either being bought or broken by the OS giant.
Bob then made some comments related to this train of thought regarding Richard Stallman. People who compare Richard and Bob would conclude that it's these two who are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Bob wants to sell free software, or more accurately sell services in the free software market, while Richard's goal is to keep software free. (Remember, "free" as in "freedom", not free as in a "free lunch.") But the end result, either Bob trying to turn a profit by packaging a free OS and selling services for it, or Richard, keeping the code free, was the absolute necessity of keeping the source code free and open. Bob made it very clear. As soon as one starts to dress up a Linux distribution with closed source "enhancements", like a partitioner and boot loader applications, a window manager/desktop, or even the installation tools, your are starting to play right into the strengths of Microsoft and the closed source software school. And when you do, you lose! Therefore it is an absolute necessity to keep every bit of code you package and write free and open.
Bob went on to describe how the railway monopolies of the beginning of the 20th century were broken. They were not broken by other companies building better trains or tracks, they were broken when the interstate highway system was built and truckers could deliver goods from door to door, rather than from region to region. In a similar fashion, the software industry will have to use Free Software to break the monopoly held by Microsoft which it enjoys now.
At some point during Bob's discussion on his analysis of Free Software, Jay Sulzberger came in. Jay, in typical Jay style, made a rather entertaining entry into the meeting. Jay was wearing a jacket and tie, but the tie's really not tied right, (on purpose,) along with some rather ragged shorts. He had with him some baked goods consisting of a cake, some eclairs and Mediterranean sweets. He exclaimed "You must always bring gifts to the rich!". Unfortunately I can't remember all that Jay said at that moment. Be it that it was boisterous, in good humor, and we all had a good laugh along with Bob.
Bob had some more points about Free Software which need mentioning. He talked about how the market for overnight package delivery changed. When Federal Express entered the market, their goal was to reduce the cost of delivering a package overnight from $200 down to $10. "What happens when you do so?" You change the way people use overnight delivery by expanding its use tremendously. And we see this today, with everyone and his uncle sending or receiving packages overnight. Now with e-commerce, the overnight delivery volume is just going to get bigger. Bob segwaied into this thought, what will happen in the OS market if you change cost of an operating system to $0? "You will change the way people use it," implying a great expansion in the use of Free OS.
The final major point of Bob's introductory talk was his thoughts on where the Free OS market was going. Being a businessman, he had to keep in mind the bigger picture of whatever business he's in. For example, when he was in the computer rental market, he knew when his company went from a startup to a major player. This market grosses about $100,000,000 a year. If your company grosses $10,000,000 then you can consider yourself a mature company. There is a term for this (which I can't remember now) which means that you have gone from a startup to a major player in the market, thus your quarterly revenue increases will start to taper off. That is, you grow by a factor of 2 a year and once you become a "mature" player in the market, you will only grow by a few percent a year since you have in effect saturated the market. Bob has been trying to apply this analysis to Red Hat in the Free Software market. How big does Red Hat have to get in terms of gross income before it can consider itself a "mature" company in the field? The answer to this date is that he has no idea. No one knows. From my own personal perspective, one can look at Microsoft's market capitalization. Right now it stands at about $500,000,000,000: that's five hundred billion dollars. And Red Hat stands at a puny $5 billion, 1% on the scale of Microsoft. This means Red Hat has another two orders of magnitude to grow before it can be considered a "mature" player in this new market of Free Software. But then, if Red Hat and other new members of the Free Software market are going to change the way people use software, as in the example of how Federal Express changed the way people use overnight delivery, then you have to factor in several orders of magnitude in the expansion of Free software on top of Microsoft's market cap. So if you consider Microsoft a "mature" company at $500 Billion, and you consider say 1 order of magnitude increase in the use of Free Software because of its $0 cost to install and distribute, then Red Hat may look at becoming a "mature" company when it hits a market cap of $5 trillion? (Yow, these numbers are so large it's scary.) But then, we are talking about software which is in every PC (not just Intel,) in every network appliance (refrigerators, toasters, fuller brushes...) in every country around the world, tied together by the Internet, so $5 trillion just may be the right scale. Paraphrasing Linus Torvalds, "This is total world domination."
At some point the meeting turned form Bob talking about his experiences and analyses of the Free Software market to a question and answer period. There were lots of questions which varied from asking about his new book, "Under the Radar," to what he thought about making money off others people's software. (He took his coat and tie off to answer that question which he started by saying, "We are standing on the shoulders of giants..."). One thing that I noticed during the question and answer session was the urgency of those who wanted to ask their questions. As time went on, more and more people were raising their hands trying to get a question in. There was an active dialog going on between Bob and the LXNY users group. The question I wanted to get in, but couldn't, was what would be Bob's advice to someone who wanted to enter this new Free Software market. I'll pop the question to him the next time I see him. He did tell me that he was going to attend my Open Source/Open Science extravaganza at BNL, so maybe I'll corner him then...
The night was getting on and I could tell Bob was getting tired from all the questions. The LXNY meeting is a rather long one. It goes from 6:30pm to 9:00pm with dinner at Kaplan's Deli afterwards. It was about 8 or 8:15 and Bob wanted to know how much longer he should take questions. (I think he was hinting that maybe it shouldn't be too much longer) "Another 1/2 hour would be great!" Mike, the co-organizer of LXNY tells Bob. So Bob continued the question and answer period for at least that long.
The final question finally rolled around. Something about really bad support from Dell, which went on for about 5 minutes. Bob's reply was the right one, "Send me an e-mail of your complaint and I'll forward it on to the right person." With that everyone got up and the "after the talk buzz" started. Bob was surrounded for the next 20 minutes by people trying to meet him and get another question in. I walked around taking photos. After a while, Jay in a very loud voice told every one to get out since the building management closes the room at 9pm.
The next hour was spent at Kaplan's Deli. Bob came right along with the group and sat between Mike and Jay eating some deli delight. I was rather surprised that he would take the time to go with the LXNY bunch over to the deli for dinner. He must have many demands on his time nowadays. It was way too late for me, but I wanted to get some photos of the group in Kaplan's. I had my extra lean corned beef, about 3 glasses of water, said my goodbyes to Jay, and took off for home.
If you have read my other articles, you know my routine by now. I hit the LIE east, and start counting exits until I reach exit 68. This time was no different. And again, as I drove down the LIE, (I can almost drive this freeway blindfolded) my mind wandered off into Free Software land.
The event that I just attended I considered to be at the historical level. And unfortunately, comparisons between Bob Young and Bill Gates kept popping into my head. When Microsoft went public, did Bill gather with his old Altair users group to talk about the wonders of DOS? When was the last time Bill showed up to a users group meeting to basically shoot the sh*t with his friends? When will Bob be able to do what he did tonight again? As time goes on, and the free software market expands, Bob's time is going to be more and more in demand and events like this one will just not occur. It's a sad thought but a realistic one, I'm afraid.
Bob, along with Marc Ewing, have started down a quite adventuresome path. Bob clearly has proven that he understands the world of Free/Open Source Software. He and Marc have taken Red Hat to where other Linux distribution and support companies are headed. Build an "ecosystem" of Free Software and an industry will grow from it. The contribution which Red Hat has made to GNOME is what I assume is just the first step. Red Hat has founded RHAD which will be put to use in developing further Open Source projects which my guess is to expand on the "let's make a fertile ecosystem" model, so that others can start writing application software to run on it and Red Hat will make money supporting systems which use it.
One needs to keep in mind that the "Open Source/Free Software," ecosystem has one ace up its sleeve; this ace being the Internet. I keep harping about this fact, so please forgive my repetitiveness. This Free Software/Open Source phenomena was born out of the global connectivity of the Internet. The Open Source nature of Free Software is a by-product of the way software developers work together though the Internet. Another way of writing this is to say that because of the inherent nature of how developers collaborate from far distances, over the Internet, with a goal of sculpting a software package like Apache, GNOME, the Linux kernel etc, one needs to resort to the "Open Source/Free Software" model in order to make this collaborative system work. It's its own culture and a pure one at that, meaning that all of the software which is found in the Open Source/Free Software domain, was written in this Internet collaborative model right from the get-go.
So how does this fact affect the closed source software industry? When software is written in the closed source domain, it will be very difficult to transfer it to the Open Source domain which is favored by the Internet. The simple fact that there is monetary interested invested in a closed source software project will keep it from being opened. So this sets a very polarized stage in the software industry. A company which starts out by paying to develop software in the closed source business model, which it sells and is its main source of revenue, will have a very large mental barrier to overcome in order to adopt an Open Source business model. One could call them pre-Internet companies. These companies now have a dilemma brought about by the Internet. The very nature of collaborative work on the Internet has given birth to this Open Source development model. The Internet and its connectivity will dominate our future at all levels of our social fabric. From the way we do business to the way we meet our future mates. Because of this Internet connectivity culture which is forming around us, these closed source companies will either be forced into the Open Source model or go bankrupt staying in their close source domain. One can view this as a Darwinian economic jungle where the principle of "the survival of the fittest," (or free'est?) applies. This chain of thought then leads to the other side of the spectrum. The only way for a company to survive in the Internet domain, is to start out embracing the Open Source model right from the beginning. The Red Hats, Calderas, Turbo Linuxes, Linuxcares, and other post-Internet companies are the ones who don't have to face the hurdle of taking a large invested closed source software product and turning it over to the Open Source domain. They all started out on the Open Source side of the Internet software development model and they will grow right along with the Internet. Because of the power of the Internet, or better said, the intellectual power that the connectivity of the Internet will harness from a global population, and the fact that it favors (even gave birth to) the Free Software model, then you should ask your self this question. One what side of the Open Source/Free Software - Closed Source fence would you like to be on? Let me give you a hint, NASDAQ:RHAT has now reached $135 a share (just shy of a 1000% gain since its IPO,) and has been consistently selling for over $100 a share since then. Ugly as it may be, those Free Market/Darwinian forces are telling us something....
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