Time to Build an Empire

To realize Linus’s dream of nothing less than Total World Domination, we’re going to need an Empire, not a Republic.
“The war is over. The Separatists have been defeated, and the Jedi rebellion has been foiled. We stand on the threshold of a new beginning. In order to ensure our security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society, which I assure you will last for ten thousand years. An empire that will continue to be ruled by this august body, and a sovereign ruler chosen for life… An empire ruled by the majority… ruled by a new constitution…”
Those are the words that this summer’s favorite bad guy, Senator Palpatine, a.k.a Darth Sidious, utters in the Galactic Senate on Planet Couroscant shortly after issuing “Order 66,” in which all of the Jedi Knights, the defenders of democracy and freedom throughout the galaxy, were murdered in cold blood. Palpatine’s words simultaneously shatter the Republic and birth an Empire.
Chilling, yes? But if you’ve been watching your History Channel, you’ll remember that ancient Rome, a civilization which lasted for nearly a thousand years, was for a short period a fractured republic and only grew stronger and more stable when it became an empire, and was responsible for adding more art and culture and infrastructure to the known world than any other in history. So maybe what Ole Sid has in store for the former Republic isn’t such a bad idea.
What’s this all got to do with Linux? As I type this, Apple Computer has just announced that it’s moving the Macintosh operating system to Intel — and for those of you reading this, that’s old news. But to put the news in the proper perspective, I think the Linux desktop has just been put on notice, and I think the situation calls for drastic measures.
In the last six years since Linux Magazine entered publication, there have been marked, huge advances in the progress of a mass-adopted Linux desktop. At the same time, however, the Linux development community has been rife with divisive elements like competing standards between distribution vendors and religious camps (KDE v. GNOME, Qt v. GTK, Mozilla v. Konqueror, Openoffice v. Koffice, RPM v. DEB versus everything else, and so on and so on), as well as a unacceptable state of Open Source license proliferation that even the Open Source Initiative’s own founders say just has to go. And while we were working against each other with our petty little squabbles, we were confident we had plenty of time to work things out and let the principles of natural selection take their course, because after all, Microsoft was clueless and although Macs are nice, they ran on expensive proprietary hardware and their OS wasn’t open. The Mac couldn’t hope in a million years of spurring a movement of mass adoption. We felt safe.
With Mac OS X being ported to cheap x86-based hardware, and Apple scheduling to replace the PowerPC chip in its Macs with designs featuring Intel chips — and perhaps looking to license out their system reference design to partners like HP or folks like Sony — I think we might seriously need to begin thinking about how the Linux desktop can maintain its lead as the Open Source and alternative personal computing platform of choice. Because let’s face it, the Mac OS is good, damn good, and its capable of running all those Open Source applications we all know and love. After all, its Unix, man.
And faced with giving either Linux, Windows, or Mac OS using commodity hardware to your mother-in-law, I think those of us who aren’t of the most fundamentalist bent, who probably represent the silent majority of Open Source and Linux advocates, would probably choose the Intel Mac.
Now, Apple has a whole bunch of challenges ahead of it to make Mac OS X for Intel a success. It cannot afford to alienate all its existing software developers; instead, it must convince those same developers (who just spent the last two or three years moving everything from the legacy System 9 over to native Cocoa on PowerPC) to port all their apps to x86, It has to manage not to create an “Osborne Effect,” where its end-user community stops purchasing PowerPC Mac hardware in anticipation of the “Next Big Thing.” And it has about two years worth of work to get Mac OS and the BSD/Darwin kernel to support the wide variety of devices that say, Solaris 10 x86 does now, let alone Linux 2.6.x.
We all know that traditionally Apple is not a company that likes to play nice with others, and that in its former incarnation, NeXT, they utterly failed at mass-marketing a x86-based object-oriented Unix GUI OS. But assuming that Jobs and Company have now gotten religion (and lets face it, Apple moving to Intel is about as significant to the industry and Mac followers as the Pope converting to Judaism), I bet Apple will swallow its not-invented-here pride, hire a whole lot of talented programmers from the Linux cadre, and on release day, be at least as comprehensive in their driver support as Solaris 10 x86 is now, which is to say, not too bad for an initial release. In their second release, they’ll be closer to Linux 2.4.
We have two years, people, two years. Maybe three on the outset to get our affairs in order. That means we need to end the Standards Wars now. That means we need to consolidate the Open Source licenses and get all of our code playing nice, so that we don’t need firms like Black Duck and armies of attorneys to help us unravel our licensing messes.
However, to pull this off, it may also require that we kill a whole bunch of rogue Jedi and unite for the sake of stability.
Does it mean that we have to give up our bazaar and move into a cathedral? Should we destroy the luxury of choice that Linux and Open Source affords us? No, of course not. But we need to regulate that bazaar, eliminate redundancy, consolidate the good projects, eliminate the superfluous ones, and come up with something more like the Paramus Park Mall instead of the Kabul Farmer’s Market.
Because in order to realize Linus’s dream of nothing less than Total World Domination, we’re going to need an Empire, not a Republic.

Jason Perlow’s role model is Yoda. You can reach Jason at class="emailaddress">jperlow@linux-mag.com or commune with him using the Force.

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