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Progeny Linux Systems Halts Work on Linux NOW, Debian-Based Distribution to Continue

Aug 30, 2001, 20:20 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Michael Hall)

Progeny Linux Systems, founded by Debian GNU/Linux originator Ian Murdock, has formally announced that work on its Linux NOW product has been halted, citing an unfavorable funding environment and a focus on the more revenue-rich services the company provides in support of its Debian GNU/Linux-based distribution.

In a brief phone interview, Ian Murdock confirmed the details of the letter he sent out (see below) and said the company's Linux distribution: Progeny Debian GNU/Linux, will continue to be sold as a shrinkwrap product and target of services. The distribution is an enhanced version of the Debian GNU/Linux's "Woody" or testing branch.

The following is Murdock's letter to members of Progeny's NOW list:

We started Progeny last year to develop Linux NOW and bring it to market; we've since added other products and services to the mix, but developing NOW was the impetus that got Progeny started.

The observation was that, although networks have been proliferating at an incredible rate since the early 1980s, the operating systems that we all use on a daily basis have changed very little to take advantage of them. Indeed, the operating systems in widespread use today, from Windows to MacOS to Linux, are all based around the same basic design that originated in the 1970s, when multiuser timesharing systems dominated the computing landscape and local area networks were still the domain of the research lab.

So, as local area networks were commercialized and subsequently became widespread, we've ended up with large and growing networks running operating systems designed for the timesharing era, though now, the handful of timesharing systems in the machine room have been replaced with hundreds or thousands of timesharing systems in dozens or hundreds of different locations. Looking at it this way, it's easy to see why system administration of a network of computers is a nightmare, and the situation only looks to get worse.

Our vision was to create an operating system that incorporated the network at a fundamental level, to make the network look like one large timesharing system rather than many little timesharing systems, with the goal of making the network much easier to manage, secure, and use. NOW was an ambitious project, one that we knew would take a large team at least a year to develop; even then, we knew it would be another year or more before NOW had some of the more advanced features that we planned for it, such as support for disconnected operation in the file system. That was all right at the time, because it was easy to raise money for ambitious development projects such as NOW that could take years to develop and, thus, that might not pay off for years.

Shortly after we started the company, though, the financial markets took a turn for the worse. Like many other young companies, the market correction forced us to take a nearer-term view of things. Because of its long-term horizon, the NOW development efforts often took a back seat to the needs of other projects. Most new hires came in to work on projects that had the potential to bring in revenue sooner than NOW, and the NOW effort never got the attention it needed. As the financial markets worsened, we diverted an increasing amount of energy away from the NOW project; finally, in February of this year, we moved all of the NOW programmers off of the project to work on developing our services offering, which we knew would be our primary source of revenue.

So, it is with great disappointment that I must formally announce that the Linux NOW project is on hold for the foreseeable future. In reality, it has been on hold since February, as we have had no one working full-time on the project since then, but we held off on announcing that in the hope that we would be able to find the resources to pick up development again. That does not appear likely in the near term.

Despair not: The financial markets may improve, and projects like NOW may again become possible. If not, the principles behind the NOW project still very much believe in the original vision, and it's quite likely that one or all of us will pursue similar goals in another form. The vision is still very much valid--it's just not a vision that fits well in the current environment.

Thank you for your interest in and support of the NOW project. We will keep you informed of any developments.


Ian Murdock
Chairman, Progeny Linux Systems

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