Linux community vs. Linux industry?

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their
own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today.

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
[email protected]
or http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Haven/6087/.