Editor's Note: Here Comes the Backlash
Apr 15, 2005, 23:30 (31 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame
By Brian Proffitt
I saw something interesting this week; something that made me
wonder if there is a counterrevolution starting in the Linux
The something I saw (amongst the eight billion news stories I
posted this week) was a
report about an Evans Data survey that indicated that more
developers are gravitating towards non-commercial Linux
distributions than commercial. When I saw this, my first thought
was a very insightful "huh."
But later, as the concept percolated in my brain, it occured to
me that this could be yet another symptom of what appears to be a
negative reaction away from that which is commercial in the Linux
This is nothing new, of course. There has always been an element
of "free" advocacy in the group. There's this one guy, can't quite
recall his name... has a beard... wait, it'll come to to me...
anyway, he's a big advocate of that whole "free" thingy. And he has
a lot of supporters.
In all seriousness, while the concept of free software has
Richard Stallman and his compatriots, it also has a lot of
detractors--those who disagree with free, either from a business,
technical, or political standpoint. Often, the detractors within
the community have been advocates of the open source concept, but
Lately, however, "open source" is leaving a bad taste in a lot
of people's mouths, as commercial interests are using the open
source model to figure out a way to share code in the most
profitable way possible. Recent statements and actions from Sun
Microsystems and Computer Associates have only served to highlight
this commercial involvement.
But is this a backlash against open source? Or is it something
I think that the recent free/open polarization I highlighted
last week is a sign that people in the community are getting tired
of commercial interests, however benign, and are
expressing a desire to get Linux back to its roots, as it were. The
aforementioned survey results may be another marker of this
Here's another example: Sun's development community on
OpenSolaris does not seem to be a big hit; and I have already
mentioned hearing that OpenOffice.org's community could see some
more numbers. Red Hat is still trying to entice people to join the
Fedora Project. I do not know how the Novell/SUSE community is
doing in terms of growth, but I wonder if they are having similar
problems. Mandrake--I mean--Mandriva seems to have a vital
developer community, which may be related to their relative small
size compared to the other commercial distros.
As you can see in the rundown I just made, licensing is not
neccesarily an issue. Other than OpenSolaris, all of the above
projects are under the GPL. The thing they all share in common is a
high amount of commercial presence. This needs to be emphasized,
because I don't think we're seeing a free-as-in-freedom vs. open
source argument. I think this is a standoff between free-as-in-beer
Is commercial involvement in Linux necessarily bad? I do not
believe so, though some would argue this point and I would welcome
the discussion. I have long maintained that commerce brings
funding, but critics against my stance will argue that funding
usually has strings attached. And, right now, the development
community seems to be reacting with this latter position in their
minds, as commercial projects are seeing less involvement, as I
This is a running battle in the Linux community, and not
something that can be changed overnight. It's just gotten worse
because of the new moves in license land by Sun and maybe CA.
At this point, a pundit would make an impassioned plea to the
community to try to be open to commercial interest's wants and work
with them to give them whatever they need to commercially succeed.
You know what? Forget that.
I think it's high time that the commercial entities involved in
Linux start paying more attention to the community, particuarly the
developers. Maybe they're not happy with your pricing model. Maybe
they'd like a different release cycle. Maybe they just want
t-shirts. I don't know--but neither, I suspect, do you, commercial
This is not asking for the developers to run your company. But
you are trying to make a profit based on the communal work of
thousands of developers. The least you could do is pay more
attention to what they are saying.
A commercial Linux model is possible. Just don't forget who got
you where you are now. Then maybe you won't see this migration to
non-commercial Linux. And you won't have a counterrevolution on
[Program Note: Next week, Linux Today will be brought to you
from a different nation, as I venture forth to Toronto for
LinuxWorld Expo Canada. To those attending, hope to see you there!