If the Brothers Grimm were alive today, Microsoft would hire them as marketing consultants. “Jacob, Wilhelm,” Gates and Ballmer would say, “spin us tales of Linux that will frighten even Linus himself.”
Given their assignment, the Grimms would glance at one another and exchange a dark smile, simultaneously revealing their pleasure in such a gruesome undertaking and the task’s sheer simplicity. Because like the German folktales from which the Grimms produced many of their classic children’s stories, the world of Linux and open source is legion with myths and villains, both real and manufactured.
Working quickly, the brothers would weave a rich tapestry of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. “Rumpelstilzchen” would sue for the misappropriation of his patent to turn straw into gold. “Rapunzel” might preach the dangers of taking source code from another’s garden. And “Little Red Riding Hood,” the poor thing, would get hopelessly entangled in litigation trying to determine the authenticity of her grandmother.
And of course, as in many of Grimms’ fairy tales, a valiant hero — say, Prince Redmond — would stride in and set the world right after a most unfortunate series of purchases.
It sounds comical, but Redmond’s current rhetoric is little better. To hear Microsoft tell the tale, Linux is developed by geeks for geeks, who use the free operating system to develop yet more software for geeks. If you run a business, they say, the only choice is Windows.
Of course, that’s a tall tale, too. In addition to running competitive software on the desktop and on the web server, Linux is perfectly capable of running enterprise applications, too. There are many, many options to build a robust application “stack,” including programming languages, databases, application servers, and services — many of which we cover in Linux Magazine each and every month.
However, that word “build” may be Linux’s Achilles heel. While some companies do tweak the source to suit their needs (or at least want the opportunity to), others, perhaps even most, want a no-brainer, turn-key solution. Commercial distributions from Red Hat and SuSE go part of the way, but there’s still a gap between getting Linux installed and getting on with work.
To fill the gap, companies provide consulting services or, as you’ll read in our interview with IBM’s Dr. Irving Wladasky-Berger, vendors like IBM look to technology as a means to an end, not an end in itself. Indeed, just in the past few weeks, start-ups SpikeSource (http://www.spikesource.com
) and SourceLabs (http://www.sourcelabs.com
) have launched, promising to assemble open source and Linux into solutions.
Quoting the SourceLabs site, “We call this new approach Dependable Open Source Systems, and it means that customers will never again have to choose between ‘Dependable’ and ‘Open’ when deciding what software to use.” The SpikeSource site echoes the same sentiment: “There are over 85,000 open source projects in existence today and quality and capabilities vary dramatically… support is informal at best, and where to go for help with cross-component problems isn’t always clear. Customers want to hold someone accountable. But whom? This is the opportunity that inspired SpikeSource.”
These two new companies are on the right track. There shouldn’t be a gap between “dependable” and “open” — neither real nor perceived. Whether the provider is Novell, IBM, or SourceLabs, yielding real results in real world deployments is the only effective way to combat Microsoft.
Linux started life as an operating system kernel. It’s expanded to include all of the Unix utilities and a wide variety of basic Internet services. From there, even more server software was built and desktop software was added (KDE is now eight-years-old, by the way). At this point, Linux runs on almost every kind of processor. The next stage for Linux is solutions.
Oh, and my favorite Grimms tale? It’s the “Star Talers.” In it, a poor orphan girl gives away everything, and reaps the stars in return.