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Mission Creep

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I found the news of the merger between the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and the Free Standards Group (FSG) into the big mongo Linux Foundation quite... interesting. I know many of the players involved in putting this who shebang together, so it is very hard for me to dismiss the LF as yet-another-big-dreams-and-no-follow-through organization (see: KDE League, UnitedLinux, etc.) Still, one can only wonder, when the spin put on most of the media coverage went something like this: "two large Linux organizations have joined forces to battle Microsoft on the desktop."

At first, I thought this was just another way my media colleagues were building more conflict to generate more interest. Y'know, the "Man Bites Dog" approach. But then I saw an interview with Jim Zemlin in the Indian publication EFYTimes. There, he stated "Linux is promoted by many smaller voices joining in a chorus to promote the platform. That is something no company, not even Microsoft, can compete with forever."

Now, before I get whacked upside the head, the question he was answering basically was asking if the new organization would promote Linux as much as Microsoft promoted Windows. So, in context, I don't think Zemlin was trying to pick a fight with Redmond.

That statement, and all of the hullabaloo around the Linux Foundation's birthing, has made me wonder if there is not a grain of truth to all of the anti-Microsoft spin. Because I sincerely hope it is not true.

Don't get me wrong; I don't mind a good thrubbing of Microsoft by anyone. But it should never be the primary mission of any Linux organization--public, private, or otherwise--to be in the business of trying to bump off Microsoft.

That is not what Linux is for, or about.

Linux is about creating a good software platform. It is not about trying to steal market share from Microsoft. If it does, great. I'll be one of the first to cheer. But this notion of fixating on what Redmond does or will be doing has gotten to be too extreme. I think it's made us all jumpy--and definitely distracted.

My favorite example of this is the way Red Hat, Novell, and Mandriva are all pursuing the enterprise businesses like it's the be-all end-all of IT--because that's where they think Redmond is weakest. They may be right, but in the meantime, they all ignore the small- to medium-sized business arena, a place where I think free and open source software could absolutely kick butt and take names. And there are days when I think that's just how Redmond wants it.

Andy Updegrove from ConsortiumInfo, who was on the inside of the formation of the Linux Foundation, asked me Sunday night what I thought of the new group. My initial reaction was cautious; I want to see how the two groups mesh. Having thought about it some more, I really hope the Linux Foundation can move past all the rhetoric and get down to the business of standardizing Linux. It needs to be done, badly.

I don't care about virtualization or VoIP or any other "hot" technology. Just get the basics done. Like getting GNOME and KDE to play nicer.

I happen to love gedit's find and replace tool, since it lets me manipulate hidden characters, like line breaks. But I am constantly having trouble running it in KDE. And this is gedit, not some fancy rocket-science application. A text editor that crashes outside of its desktop environment. That tells me that there's still a ways to go on the whole standardization thing.

As with any other new endeavor, I wish the Linux Foundation well. If I may offer one piece of unsolicited advice, I would say this: don't believe all the hype. Just get down to work.

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