Originally Published: Monday, 31 January 2000 Author: Jerry Hatchett
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Ground Floor Opportunity Knocks!

By the natural order of things, if you're reading this right now chances are strong that you're a Linux fan. Maybe you're a total newbie, just dipping your feet in the water. Perhaps you're like me, a tinkerer who enjoys a little time with the Linux box at night after a long, hard day in the Microsoft World. Lots of you are hardcore developers who are as familiar with the code of the kernel as you are with the route to the corner store....

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By the natural order of things, if you're reading this right now chances are strong that you're a Linux fan. Maybe you're a total newbie, just dipping your feet in the water. Perhaps you're like me, a tinkerer who enjoys a little time with the Linux box at night after a long, hard day in the Microsoft World. Lots of you are hardcore developers who are as familiar with the code of the kernel as you are with the route to the corner store.

The degrees vary, but one thing most of us have in common is some measure of personal passion for Linux. But picture this for a moment: what if you found yourself leading the charge on an Internet startup, and had to remove all personal passion from the decision-making process about which operating system the site would be built around? Could Linux really cut the mustard?

That's exactly the situation I found myself in a couple of months ago. To make the story a little easier to understand, I'll wax personal for just a moment. I've been on the Internet since the early days of the Web, participating in various and sundry online communities and discussions, learning, absorbing. One genre that I've always loved reading about is computers and technology, doing my best to stay abreast of the incredible advances in the workings of the electronic world.

It was this quest to learn that eventually led me to Linux, and convinced me that Linux in particular and Open Source in general were key to the future of the Internet. Over the past couple of years, I've shifted my investments online and since that time the chat rooms and message boards that serve the wired financial world have also become a very important part of my "cyber-activities."

As I used the Internet more and more as an investment tool, it became apparent to me that there is simply no site in existence that truly meets the needs of active online investors. To be sure, there are hundreds of sites out there that attempt to meet the needs, but they all fall short. A series of conversations took place between myself and other investors who felt the same way, talking about what would constitute the perfect community for online investors. And therein lies the beginning of what has evolved into a large-scale venture, with yours truly at the helm as President and CEO. To ensure that we never lose sight of the needs of everyday investors, every single member of management is first and foremost an online investor.

We also vowed to harness the power of the Internet in a way that provides the ultimate in convenience and friendliness for our community members. It was always my personal hope that we would be able to build the site around Linux. But as alluded to earlier, sometimes it's necessary to put personal feelings aside, particularly when the money of other people is being spent. So, I put the technology choices in the hands of our capable Chief Technology Officer, Jim Burt. I told Jim of my own fondness for Linux, but also told him that our charge was to make the wisest decisions for the company at large, period. And then I basically shut my mouth and waited for the findings.

After much evaluation and discussion between Jim and the technicians in his stable, the decision emerged: Linux wins. :-) I asked Jim to share some insight into the decision concerning not only our own company, but also to elaborate on factors weighed as the management of other Internet startups make their OS choices. Here's what Jim had to say:

Linux and the open source movement are a big plus to Internet start-ups. They allow us to develop a full-featured website at a fraction of the cost when compared to using typical generic Seattle-flavored products. Sometimes the speed of the software might not be quite as good as the shrink-wrapped version, but in this day and age where a typical Web server is a (relatively inexpensive) dual PIII 600MHz with 1 GB of ECC RAM, software speed limitations are becoming less apparent.

Open Source software is in general free or has a minimal fee for commercial use. This allows us to test drive a full release (uncrippled version) of a product to see if it meets our needs before we commit to using it. Or, if at a later date we realize that we need another product, we haven't sunk large amounts of capital to the software, forcing us to stick with a specific product line that may have been a poor choice for our needs.

The stability and reliability of the software that runs on Linux is paramount. All of the source code is readily available over the Internet. This allows us to have quick access to software installations and upgrades, and very importantly, allows us to modify/tweak/customize the software to our needs.

Now that I've mentioned some of the benefits, let's not forget the challenges we are faced with by utilizing open source. Even though open source has been around for years, getting people to think outside of the box and accept it on a large production scale can challenging.

Support is naturally a concern. Open source doesn't always have that nice 800 number that you can call when you come across a problem. You can submit a question to a message list, dig through a FAQ, look it up in a HOW-TO, but the answers are rarely as timely as you need them, and the message boards leave you with a response from Joe-Bob. He thinks he had the same problem, he thinks he did this to correct it, and he often ends his post with a "Good Luck" wish. The intentions are good, but intentions aren't always good enough when you're in a crunch for a speedy fix.

On a similar note, open source tends to fall short in a few other areas: GUI, documentation and product integration. Corporate America knows that the end-user wants a product that is easy to use (good GUI), has good documentation, and will seamlessly work with other products (a la any "suite"). The fat cats have the money to put the resources needed on these items to insure they are completed with the release.

When all is said and done, the advantages and challenges of Open Source distilled down as follows:

Benefits

  1. Software is usually free or available at very minimal cost.
  2. There is widespread acceptance within the development world.
  3. Speed is comparable to competitive products from the proprietary world.
  4. Poor choices can be abandoned without substantial loss.
  5. Stability and reliability is greater.
  6. Customization is infinitely easier.

Challenges

  1. Requires "outside of the box" thinkers.
  2. Applications do not integrate as seamlessly as do suites from Microsoft, etc.
  3. Support and documentation can sometimes be insufficient.
  4. GUI can be lacking.

Overall, by using Linux we are able to create a robust site that will be as good as any site built with department store name brand products. The differences between the sites won't even be noticed by the typical Web surfer, and the financial resources saved will enable us to provide more exciting features and benefits to our members.

Thanks to Jim for his insight, and now the story continues. As the leader of this effort, I would like to offer my personal thanks to you in the Open Source community who have dedicated your time and your talents over the years to make great software available at a fraction of the cost of the "other" available packages. Saving hundreds here and thousands there makes a real difference in the ability of a company to start up in a successful manner. The name of our site is DollarStation.com, and we invite all to sign up today at our home page if you have any interest in staying on top of the investment game from the perspective of everyday online investors. (The URL is predictably http://www.dollarstation.com :-) )

While I have your attention, I'd like to go a step further in opening up our venture for participation. We have an immediate need for more developers who are willing to work for equity in the company, and it's my fervent hope that we can find those developers right here, among the ranks of the Linux.com faithful.

I have no doubt that some of the most talented developers in all of the Open Source community are here, and you are the people who I would like to see included in this effort. You are the ones who made Linux what it is. You shaped it into an empowering tool that enables things to be done in fresh, new ways. I would like for some of you to join our team as we use the power of Open Source to build a state-of-the-art online facility.

As mentioned earlier, it is our goal to build a community site that truly harnesses the power of the Internet. This is not just ad-speak. We're putting features in place that to the best of my knowledge are not currently offered anywhere on the Internet. They're very exciting, and will offer our community members a whole new level of service from a website. Are they technically challenging? You bet! Sounds like fun, huh? :-) Our specific needs are for developers with skills and experience in the following areas:

Back-end web development
Linux/PHP/MySQL Sendmail, and/or a browser-based web mail package
JavaScript and HTML
Linux System Administration
SSL

If you have experience in any of these areas and would like to discuss participating in a ground floor opportunity, please contact Jim Burt at dollarstation@mindspring.com. We look forward to hearing from you, and thanks!

Jerry Hatchett is a 40-year-old entrepreneur who loves the online world and the technology that drives it. He believes that Linux is a key component in the future of that world, and enjoys sharing his meandering thoughts in support of the community that made and makes Linux possible.





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