"Who needs Linux?" That's a question that I have heard a lot of people asking over the past several weeks. It is not being asked in a disparaging or negative way -- it's not meant to imply that no one needs Linux.
“Who needs Linux?” That’s a question that I have heard a lot of people asking over the past several weeks. It is not being asked in a disparaging or negative way — it’s not meant to imply that no one needs Linux.
No, the people I hear asking that question are trying to sell Linux-based products and services, and they are asking because they need to know how best to focus their sales efforts.
It’s really an interesting question, because depending on who you ask, you’re likely to get very different answers. In fact, the answers to that question tend to highlight the differences between the open source software development model and the traditional closed software development model. They also highlight the differences between the commercial and non-commercial interests of the Linux community.
For example, a good number of the developers that participate in the Linux kernel development effort will likely tell you that they need Linux. Linux is a great example of the “scratch your own itch” mentality that fuels so many open source projects. After all, Linux was started because Linus wanted a Unix that he could run on his desktop Intel machine.
Many developers continue to participate simply for the sense of satisfaction that they feel for having contributed to the overall effort. Whether or not the software is actually useful to commercial interests is, at best, of secondary importance to many of these developers.
However, the situation is hardly black and white. It’s fair to say that many of the core developers share a more complicated view of their role in the development process. After all, many of them work for commercial Linux companies, so they share the interests of their employer’s customers, at least to some extent. They may need Linux because it fulfills their passions as individuals. However, they also recognize that their customers have specific needs, and those needs may not necessarily be shared by everyone else in the open source community.
Meanwhile, many companies trying to sell Linux may find that the markets they want to sell to don’t feel they particularly need Linux at all. This places some vendors of Linux systems and distributions in a particularly complicated position.
All of the commercial Linux players are courting enterprise customers, but enterprise customers often don’t particularly care about Linux or open source software per se. They simply care about solutions that work and solve their problems better, faster, and cheaper. If those solution happen to be Linux, then that’s great. However, if those needs are met by a different platform, they probably could not care less.
Are we as a community as understanding of the needs of our members, both technical and managerial, as we could and should be? Or, do we believe blindly in the principle of enlightened self-interest, fulfilling our own needs and trusting that if we do what’s best for us, somehow we’ll simultaneously continue to advance the common good?
Rather than further pontificate on the issue, I’d like to put this question to the Linux community, developers and CEOs alike, What do you need from Linux? And what do we as a community need to do in order to deliver on those needs? I’d really like to know.
See you next month,
Adam M. Goodman
President & Publisher