At the Open Source Forum in Austin, many of the participants
witnessed a classical confrontation.
In an interactive session to start day two, we watched an irate
young man verbally malign Matthew Szulik, the President of Red Hat,
Inc. Though polite, we watched a serious confrontation between a
man in business attire and another in a tee shirt and blue jeans.
As GNU-Linux moves forward in the product adoption cycle, this type
of conflict will probably increase in frequency unless we take a
lesson from history. A saying exists to warn us all about the
dangers of thoughtless behavior: Those who do not learn from
history are destined to repeat it.
The subject of a confrontation in Austin makes little difference
to any of us. The significance of the event signals the reality of
GNU-Linux and the Open Source paradigm shift. Matthew Szulik
represents the pinnacle of Linux success as his company prepares
for it's public stock offering. The young man represents the
success of technology as Linux adoption in the population grows at
Is a standoff between technicians and business rainmakers unique
to Linux? It's no more unique than a war between Athens and Troy or
the British and Zulus. What can become unique is if on a broad
scale we keep it from happening.
This writer has observed this kind of war of the worlds for two
decades in much different business settings. In a mammoth firm like
Arthur Andersen it finally culminated in a nasty divorce for the
once largest CPA firm on the planet. We can easily call the "clash"
something like the revenge of the nerds.
The typical analysis of the "clash" exemplifies itself when
technicians say that the rainmakers couldn't exist without the
technician. The rainmakers say that they can always find
technicians. When a rainmaker discovers something technically
revolutionary the techie says they must have stolen it. When a
techie has success in business, the suit says he really wasn't a
The Myth Exposed
Long ago, perhaps the reasoning behind the "clash" had merit.
Since the Middle Ages, that merit ceased to exist. But myths die
hard and hundreds of millions of people have died or suffered from
this myth taken to its extreme. The ethnic cleansing of native
Americans by immigrants and descendants of those immigrants from
Europe underline the ignorance and brutality of this myth.
At the civil end of the myth, companies like Digital Equipment
Corporation die when the technologists refuse to let business
people perform their roles. Somehow, Texas Instruments has
continued to live on technical merit alone once because of the
employment of former military leaders and now because of the shift
in the telecommunication industry. TI seems to stay one step ahead
As many companies that failed because they lacked marketing and
financial know-how, have died because of technical ineptness. The
once mighty car companies of the world have come and gone because
they could sell ice to Eskimos but couldn't deliver a
The myth that a technician's success depends on business types
and vice versa will kill the momentum of GNU-Linux. Organizations
can not prosper without both. You can make the best product in the
world but if you don't have anyone to sell it, you'll fail. You can
sell a great product and if you haven't the people to deliver and
support it, you'll wind-up like Netscape with Sun Micro Systems
taking over Kiva and AOL taking over the rest.
Organizations flourish when three functions work simultaneously.
First, people have to create the future. That's the job of sales
and marketing. They must go out and become known and close
Second, someone has to create the present. That's the job of
delivery and quality control. If the people in sales and marketing
get orders, someone has to fulfill the orders or sales people move
on to the next company. Sales people become known as "spin doctors"
when no one delivers the goods.
Finally, if sales people and delivery do their jobs, then the
administrators must administer. Legal, accounting and finance live
in the past recording, complying and reporting the events of the
organization's activities. Sell and deliver a million dollars worth
of software but don't pay your employment taxes and watch the
The GNU-Linux Dilemma
At the Open Source Forum in Austin, the young man confronting
Matthew began his comments with the phrase "on behalf of all of us
techies". Frankly, I can't see how one person can say anything on
behalf of anyone except himself. I don't recall signing a petition
or voting for a representative. People who use generalizations such
as the one above show a lack of personal responsibility.
The GNU-Linux world did not evolve from an industrialized
organization. GNU-Linux has leaders but only leaders like tribes
had chiefs. At one point, the tribes killed enough of each other
that they formed the counsel of elders. Then they had peace. The
success of a civilization such as GNU-Linux depends on everyone
taking personal responsibility for the success of the whole.
GNU-Linux compares favorably to a hologram or a holographic
paradigm. When you break a hologram and pick up the pieces you will
find each piece contains the whole image. The quantum physics
people say that the hologram underlies a greater reality: The parts
exist in the whole and the whole exists in the parts.
If anything, GNU-Linux deserves the designation of a holographic
paradigm - the whole exists in the parts and the parts exist in the
whole. If we don't start respecting each other's roles in
promulgating GNU-Linux then we will all wind up in a big hole
How We Win
Aside from civilization, I can't think of another example to fit
GNU-Linux and its adopters. So, we walk in a world without much
precedent and with Linus Torvalds as our stable datum. I don't see
such a world enduring over time. This statement does not suggest
anything about Linus. In the interim and possibly forever, he
stands tall among us and certainly has represented thousands of
people dutifully and well. Still, he represents Linux as an icon,
he isn't a general in a well formed line of command.
First, each one of us must take personal responsibility for
GNU-Linux. We must become good stewards and trustees of the
lineage. We need a code of conduct. That code doesn't officially
exist. It is unwritten and therefore unarticulated. Until one
emerges, I'm using a netiquette to guide my way and Jon "mad dog"
Hall's Canons of
Conduct . Follow it.
Make history don't repeat it unwittingly. "Honor the least among
you," someone once said. Just show civility; don't disparage
yourself or others.
Don't be a wimp. Sometimes it works to let others demonstrate to
the world their own foolishness. Sometimes, you must stand up and
confront those with evil intentions. Know when to act. If someone
behaves with devious intent, covertly attempting to subvert
GNU-Linux - do the right thing.
I received an email from someone when I announced a project. The
email said, " You know, it's VERY unvise to use SPAM to promote
Linux .... but, you're lucky this time, I won't bust your arse
since I found your site quite good one - to rip off! "
This is not an example of strength but an example of fear,
uncertainty and doubt (FUD). The announcement went to a select
group on a public list of people claiming to be Linux consultants.
You want this guy advocating GNU-Linux on your behalf?
Now you know what I don't mean when I say do the right thing and
do not be wimps.
If you have used and contributed to GNU-Linux for a while, you
see a different breed of people using your product. Recognize that
newbies coming in to the fold do not look, talk or perhaps act like
you. They may lack the skills of a UNIX systems administrator.
Attempt to include them. Be willing to share yourself because if we
want to change the world, we have to start at the individual
If you just walked in to the GNU-Linux fold let your hair down
except when you talk to the guys from Wall Street. You may not
understand the Open Source model. But, from every angle, you have
immersed yourself in a paradigm shift as significant as when
Columbus discovered the earth was round and when Einstein
discovered the man at rest was sitting on a platform that was
Fate has thrust us all together. We can work together, live
together and succeed together in suits and tee shirts.
Adelstein, CPA, is the CIO/CFO of Bynari, Inc. He's the author of several
books and articles on business and technology and has management,
consulting and hands-on experience in the Information Technology
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