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Who Are The Real Friends of Linux and Free Software? Or, Linux Is Still a Dirty Word

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Ken Starks is one of my favorite people. He is the prime mover behind Komputers 4 Kids, Tux500, and Lindependence 2008. He makes his living selling and supporting Linux systems to businesses and home users. You won't find Ken wasting his days infesting online forums and chats with windy opinionating and beating up noobs-- Ken is a man of action with a direct approach to solving problems.

So naturally it was Ken who was the fly in the soup at the big important Linux Foundation-sponsored IBM-hosted Second Annual Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit last April 8-10 in Austin, TX. Ken wrote about it, and even included a video of his stellar performance at the event. Ken is a well-spoken polite man, but that doesn't prevent him from asking the hard questions that nobody else wants to ask at these industry lovefests, which increasingly appear to be more about newer and more innovative ways to exploit Linux and FOSS. Ken stepped up to the mike at the panel discussion and asked a simple question that visibly discomfited the panel: "My customers can turn on their cable television and in 30 minutes watch five Microsoft Windows commercials. When are IBM and HP going to put the same things on? When are my customers going to be able to see about Linux? Television and radio legitimize the product."

The responses, in my occasionally-humble opinion, were worthy of Redmond itself.

The first response was a feeble dodge about how users of Motorola set-top boxes were already using Linux. But as Ken pointed out, the Linux part was not visible and users of these boxes have no idea what's inside. Then two more panel members chimed in:

"Your question really ought to be aimed at the folks who make money specifically because it's Linux...."

"You won't see IBM advertising any operating system on television...you may see us offer solutions, services, and products...Linux is a component to build other things."

Interestingly, on IBM's Web site they have no problem with heavily pushing Windows and individual hardware components like memory, hard drives, and network interfaces. Just click the Product link which takes you to their Lenovo lines of laptops, workstations, and servers. Windows is prominently featured on every single page. Even more fun, go to the ThinkServer configurator and click on the 'Help Me Decide' button for operating systems. This is what you see: ThinkServer 'Help Me Decide'. So even though you have two operating system options, Windows or Novell SLES, Lenovo only helps you to choose Windows.

Sure, we can split hairs and say Lenovo isn't really IBM. Right, in the way that my underwear is not part of my body. But the relationship is very close and important. We can split hairs and say the Web is not television or radio. But the message is still the same-- Windows gets promoted and Linux gets pushed into the basement along with the other profitable but unseemly stepchildren. Don't forget these are the same industry titans that allowed the upstart pipsqueak Microsoft to chain them to very short leashes and tell them how to run their businesses. Don't forget that Linux and FOSS have given them a way out, which they never would have found on their own.

Along with all of this double-talk and dodging and weaving at an allegedly Linux event (What will it be called next time, "The Summit"? Drop "Linux" entirely?) is the recent campaign that I am convinced is at least semi-organized-- the one where all these hand-waving proponents of "The Cloud" claim its major advantage is it renders the operating system irrelevant. You don't have to take my word for it, just do a Web search for 'cloud operating system irrelevant'. The real goal is to render Linux irrelevant.

So it all comes back to the same old story-- don't trust the suits because their business models are based on exploitation, and even when they profit handsomely from Linux it's shameful and not mentioned in polite company.

So who are the real friends of Linux and Free Software? Are they the commercial interests who claim Open Source creds without actually having any? Are they the giant globalcorps like IBM, Google, and Amazon who profit handsomely from Linux, but are allergic to even saying the name? Are they the hordes of free-as-in-freeloader refugees from Proprietary Software Land who are enamored of free as in no cost, don't want to hear about software freedom, and who bring swollen senses of entitlement? Are they the Open Source Initiative or the Linux Foundation, both of which seem to be more interested in toadying to business interests than supporting the original goals of Free Software?

While I can't say "no" is the correct answer to all of those questions, I can't say "yes" either. The real friends of Linux and Free Software are people like Ken Starks, Larry Cafiero, Cathy and Earl Malmrose of ZaReason, Loye Young of Issac & Young Computer Company, and all the Linux User Groups, distribution maintainers, coders, resellers, systems integrators, writers, system and network administrators, consultants, and users who are not afraid to take a stand and say plainly "Linux is good, Linux is a superior choice, and yes, you really do have choices." Why is it that only the little people are brave enough to say this?

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