I began my relationship with Linux Magazine in the Summer of 1999. My, what a long strange trip it has been.
In 1999, Linux and Open Source’s position in the computer industry was very different. Hell, the entire world was different — Bill Clinton was nearing the end of his presidency, and Windows 2000 was nearing the end of its beta cycle, marking the beginning of the full transition from the old DOS-based PC paradigm on the corporate desktop to the mass-adoption of the Windows NT kernel, which would complete a year later with the release of Windows XP in the consumer space.
In the mid-range computing market, Sun was still a force to be reckoned with, and Dell’s assault against Compaq and other PC vendors for market share was well underway. DEC‘s full assimilation in to COMPAQ had not yet completed yet, and the landmark — and fateful — merger with HP was still over two years away. IBM hadn’t even declared its strategic alignment with Linux, and Java 2 Enterprise Edition barely even had the tires kicked on it yet. Dot-Com businesses were all the rage, only to have the bubble completely burst on them a year later. In the summer of 1999, Mac OS X and the iPod were but a twinkle in Steve Jobs‘ eye, and the year-old iMac — still based on the PowerPC — had just came out in a color other than Bondi Blue.
In 1999, Linux’s and Open Source’s fate in the industry was unclear. Yes, it was exciting, but the waters were dangerous. It was Free, we could see it had huge potential, but the formula for commercial success and the services model hadn’t been tested. Appliances like the Cobalt looked promising. We had specialist companies with Linux expertise that tried to base their entire business models around consulting and supporting it — companies like VA Linux, Penguin Computing and LinuxCare. LinuxCare is now long gone, Penguin Computing is now a boutique clustering hardware vendor, and VA Linux no longer exists in its original form, now choosing to capitalize on its web properties such as Slashdot, Linux.com and its online SourceForge development community. When the big boys like IBM, HP and Sun finally jumped in after the bottom fell out, only players which had truly enterprise-worthy software like Red Hat and SuSE remained.
In 1999, “Desktop Linux” was a joke. GNOME was a two-year old project, and Ximan and Eazel — both of which were only to survive in the short term but who’s contributions to the Desktop would be huge — had not been founded yet. KDE‘s 1.0 release was a year old, and Qt had not been GPLed yet. Caldera was considered to be a serious Linux vendor and Lineo’s future as an embedded systems vendor looked very bright. Nobody could forsee the SCO fiasco and the company’s self-destruction which would ensue years later. Google had just achieved its first birthday when my first article in Linux Magazine,a review of VMWare 1.0 in the October 1999 issue went to print.
In December of 2008, nine years later, we are in the midst a worldwide recession. Google has a market cap of approximately 100 billon dollars — and falling. IBM and HP are deriving most of their income from services, much of which is related to Open Source. Sun Microsystems, late to the Open Source party and facing intense competition from Linux and the x86 server space, is on the precipice. Many computer publications have come and gone — and those of us that remain have seeked the refuges of the web and blogging. Linux and Open Source now forms the foundation of SOA and client-server Web application development, as well as the basis for several key Virtualization and server consolidation technologies, and completely free Linux distributions such as Ubuntu and OpenSUSE are viewed as the future of desktop computing — although the desktop itself may be re-defined in the Cloud, with Thin Clients and with handhelds like Android and the iPhone.
All good things must come to an end. It is with great sadness that the editors and I have decided, at least for the time being, to cease my monthly columns for Linux Magazine, due to my extremely busy schedule and other commitments. I have enjoyed and been enriched by my relationship and friendship with Adam Goodman, who as Publisher gave me a wide berth to write about whatever I wanted and to “Loom Large” at trade shows and intimidate vendors — as long as I handed in my articles on time and didn’t give the editors who had the pleasure of reading through my ramblings too much grief and work at cleaning it up.
To Bryan Richard, Joe Brockmeier, Martin Streicher, Lara Kisielewska and the many others who I have worked with at Linux Magazine over the years — you will be missed. Stay friends.
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