Community Column: Tux the Impaler?Mar 21, 2001, 06:38 (22 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Gary Edwards)
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By Gary Edwards
The phone rings. Your Blackberry buzzes wildly. And your wireless Palm Pilot has gathered so much static from the sudden onslaught of messages that nearby paper clips are orbiting the antennae. It's 3:00 AM. You pick up the phone. On the other end, a distraught and panicked Alan Greenspan breathes hard, begging your advice. The future of the free world awaits the measure of your insightful wisdom.
The questions from Alan are direct and to the point.
A. Is Linux and the GNU/GPL destroying America?
Inquiring minds want to know. Mr. Economy needs to know! You answer still asleep, "yes, a global economy demands an info grid of universal connectivity and collaborative computation where stable, highly integrated operating systems based on open sourced and openly shared technologies are portable across every device and all platforms. Get a clue man, Tux rules!" Exhausted, you drop the phone, clutch tightly your stuffed penguin, and lapse into dreamland.
The urgency of the situation came to mind while reading Linux Today member Gareth Barnard's comments, "Is Linux destroying IT"?
Gareth's question extends to it's natural conclusion the Allchin implication that Linux is un-American and a destroyer of intellectual property. Gareth then goes on to debunk the implications of his own question, concluding that Linux will save IT, and perhaps the economy with it.
The unexpected downturn of the economy has everyone pointing fingers. M$ has the view that competitive under pricing is both un American and destructive. They don't like the "services as software" crowd where competitors, who collaboratively build openly shared freeware, then use it as the basis for delivering fee based services. M$ prefers the "software as a service" approach, where the platform provider can extract a vig from all participants. Salon Magazine politicizes the downturn, blaming old economy campaign contributions to Bush for the collapse of the new "highly productive" economy. And The Economist finds the downturn explanation as a high tech ponzi scheme having run out of suckers.
As American as M$ Pie:
But Gareth points something else out. The patriotic pain and anguish of Mr. Allchin was unwittingly unleashed at a time when all of Silicon Valley seemed to be coming clean with the investing public concerning the economic realities of the day. Now, there's something that can bring us all to our knees in despair!
So I wonder with Gareth, what does Linux have to do with the current downturn? Is Tux the Saviour of Silicon Valley, or the dreaded destroyer Mr. Allchin and company fear?
This morning I wasted a few precious minutes on a witless piece of garbage put out by Salon. The article asked and answered the question in its title, "Who needs the new economy? Bush's bias toward industrial dinosaurs is strangling America's high-tech-driven growth."
The Salon claim is that the progressive, "high productivity", new economy entities of Hollywood and Silicon Valley poured their money and efforts into support for Algore. Big Oil, Big Tobacco, and Big Drugs spent billions of their illegal and immoral profits supporting Dubya. The thinking at Salon (ok, I'm being kind) goes like this; now that Dubya is President, Government largesse is flowing into military armaments and every rusting old economy corporate project that can be dusted off. So, with this impeccable logic, the Salonista's claim that crooked campaign financing is why the stock market tanked and world recession looms. The downturn is Presidential payback to mucho bucko Bush supporters whose companies couldn't otherwise compete against the highly productive new economy types!
I'm still waiting to hear what Clinton actually did to pay back his new economy supporters. Eight years where they could more fully express their "high productivity" aspirations and claim that in the new economy, profits are not necessary?
The other economic analysis I caught this morning was published in The Economist, "That falling feeling ....With one profit warning after another, the technology giants are falling to earth. Most blame a short-term downturn, but the truth is more worrying: some of their earlier growth was illusory."
After suffering the mindless drivel of Salon, the mere thought of well researched and considered analysis scorched the paws of my click happy mouse. This excellent piece put forward a number of salient points and contributing factors:
Okay. So the Clinton economic boom was really a global ponzi scheme. And Silicon Valley entrepreneur's are not the designers of the next new new thing. Nor are they the geniuses behind a new economy killer app. More like they are the masters of the killer chain letter.
The dotcom dogs tried to defy the laws of gravity, claiming that whole businesses could be displaced overnight by universally connective technology. (Unfortunately they didn't last long enough to witness the era of collaborative computation). Maybe it would have happened over time except for one excruciating detail. The value of the Internet is exactly it's open universal nature. There is no barrier to entry except that of fear, ignorance, and arrogance. And the high flying stock market values of the dotcom dogs proved to be the trigger that pushed brick and mortar companies into the transformation breach.
Now that these old economy companies have seen the exponential value of web DNA regeneration, there is no turning back. But neither are there reasons to race forward unawares. The vicious barking of dotcom hounds at your heel no longer echoes through the rust belt chasms. Now the race is with old economy rivals wielding new DNA tools, but tools available to everyone.
The value of the global info grid is in it's openness. The principles of open standards, openly shared methods and technologies, and open means of collaboration dominate the lowest "grid" levels of the Net. It's only natural that these principles will creep up the integrated stack, first infecting operating systems, and then applications. Most importantly, openness will drive the next generation of globally collaborative web services. Where it was okay for tools of personal productivity and personal computation to be platform specific, globally collaborative apps must be based on open principles. Otherwise, there is no way to reach global scales of highly interactive and inclusive use.
Particalization & the beginning of the Virtual
Instead, the dotcom dogs fed entirely on their own technology edge. They went where the connectivity took them, disregarding obvious marketplace rules along the way. They focused on the customer because that's all they had! It wasn't some stroke of evolutionary business genius as some would have us believe. They thought they could use their interactive connectivity to get between customers and providers. Once in that position, they thought they could demand the fabled bookies vig from producers and suppliers alike. Trying to skim the cream, they got much of the technology right and let the dirt and grime of real business pass them by.
What they did was to research, describe and create technologies that would help real producers better service consumers. No doubt a hard lesson to learn, as an open platform of universal connectivity and collaborative computation, the Internet has no barrier to entry. At great cost to investors, the dotcom dogs figured out where real producers of products and services could best apply emerging web technologies. They figured out where the first round of dramatic savings and efficiencies could be had by real companies with real products.
Maybe they should have charged consulting fees. Instead, they probably set back ten years the newly emerging phenom of global investor financing. And I was just beginning to believe that never again would I have to stand in front of a bank loan committee.
Linux and IT:
Still, to their credit, no one from the IT community has come forward and blamed Linux for the economic slump. At least not yet.
My guess is that IT is heading in three directions separated by a great webification middle layer of outsourced services. At the low end IT will be over run with "local" maintenance issues for a distributed environment of countless devices trying to connect to who knows whose stack for reasons impossible to track. At the high end, IT will be expected to provide key advice and critical decision making concerning all aspects of the corporation. Hiding behind a wall of tech jargon won't cut it at this level either. The middle webification area is filled with the difficult "referee" task of integrating the corporate stack with layer upon layer of web services begging for code level connectivity to mission critical applications.
Keeping the stack open and having direct access to the infrastructure source code may well be the integration challenge marking the difference between those who erect their own boundaries (build their own cage), and those who ride the wind and cross the globe unimpeded.
The outsourcing of infrastructure and applications isn't the half of it. I predict that entire corporate divisions will be outsourced as highly distributed collaborative computing takes hold. Unless something is a core corporate profit center, why not outsource it? If the software and connective infrastructure can bear the load, why would any corporation want to keep costly operations in house? Sure there was a time when it was critically important to have an accounting division, a human resources division, a marketing division, a legal division, an advertising division, a supply chain management division, etc. But the essence of collaborative computing means that these cost centers can be outsourced through software to efficient experts, without any collaborative loss. This level of collaborative services isn't available today, but it's coming. And when they arrive, corporate resources will come to be more focused than ever on profit centers, while the competitive advantages of cost centers are certain to be reevaluated against these new alternative services.
There is a key difference between "software as a service" (M$) and "services as software" (Sun). M$ misses the whole point of web services. Where they want to sell software, Sun wants to enable the delivery of highly collaborative, outsourced services, through software. One is a leased application, and the other is a valued corporate service where an expert company who does nothing but accounting (for instance), remotely but intimately, handles the job.
At the end of the day the economic downturn will accelerate the shift already under way in IT. Webification has hardly just begun. And the dotcom dogs are already finding their way into the next generation of collaborative computing. For sure some very familiar names are going to show up promising investors the next new new "collaborative" services thing. And one other thing is certain. The incredible value of open standards and openly shared technologies has more than survived the economic downturn. Open Source has become the foundation of the global info grid, and now it is certain to creep up the stack, eroding anything and everything in its way. The new frontier is that of collaborative computation and I would wager that openly shared methods and technologies have already won on that front too. Thankfully that is a rant for another day.
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