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Linux community vs. Linux industry?

Jul 03, 1999, 14:03 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Russell C. Pavlicek)

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Contributed by Linux Today reader Russell C. Pavlicek

At the recent Linux Expo, I attended a talk given by Ransom Love of Caldera regarding the growing Linux marketplace. During that talk, Mr. Love displayed a slide with a quote from a market analyst. I did not have an opportunity to copy the slide verbatim, but the statement was something to the effect of "If Linux is to compete, the Linux community must transform into the Linux industry."

While responses to questions posed to Mr. Love indicate to me that he understands that you cannot create a Linux industry to the exclusion of the Linux community, the implications began to bother me. Folks like Mr. Love who have been around the Linux community for years can see the Linux community and the Linux industry as being complementary entities. People coming from the outside, however, could easily be misled into the notion that the Linux community must cease being a community and develop into an industry in order to become effective in the business world.

This concept that the Linux community must cease in order for the Linux industry to grow is utter twaddle.

Whatever else Linux might be, it is essentially organic. It lives and breathes not on the basis of Profit and Loss analysis, not on the concepts of marketshare and market penetration, and not on the measure of Return on Investment. No, rather Linux lives because the people behind Linux want it to live. It lives because the Linux community has things to do and Linux is constantly developing new capabilities to meet the needs.

What is necessary is that the Linux community grow the Linux industry in an organic form, like a vine producing leaves and berries. To insist on the notion of replacing community with industry is akin to saying that now that a plant has leaves and berries, we can simply cut off those gnarled, unattractive roots. To do so would be suicide, pure and simple. Cut flowers, though attractive, cannot survive.

Therefore, the Linux community must grow its industry without severing its roots. Now what does this mean? Well, in the cases of organizations like Red Hat and Caldera, we find companies that build their businesses on Linux and return value to the Open Source community. News and commentary outlets like Linux Today and Slashdot have helped to build a new way of looking at the news that meets the needs of the community. In the case of more traditional firms like Digital Equipment Corporation (and now Compaq), we find a history of cooperation with the community while developing a business model that supports its interests. More recently, we have witnessed the birth of such ventures as LinuxCare and Penguin Computing which have arisen from the community to fill needs felt by the community. And today we see the advent of paid Open Source programming through efforts such as CoSource and sourceXchange.

Each of these ventures can prosper and help promote Open Source software. The trap, however, is subtle. If we allow our focus to stray toward the business at the cost of the community, we threaten our roots. We must never see the day dawn when Linux is a business first and a passion second. If we ever place the needs of the community behind the desire for a buck, we will soon see the end of our efforts. If the dollar becomes our guiding principle, we will become the very industry that we have sought to remake.

The choice is simple: remember to be who we are, or become the very thing we struggle against.

Russell Pavlicek is currently working on the technical spin-up of Linux software consultants in Compaq Computer Corporation. He has been using Linux since 1995 and has been a vocal Linux Advocate inside of Compaq and Digital Equipment Corporation since 1997. He will be speaking on the subject of "Keys to Effective Linux Advocacy Within Your Organization" at this summer's O'Reilly Open Source Conference. He can be reached at pavlicek@altavista.net or http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Haven/6087/.