OPEN ENTERPRISE: Foundation aims to keep Linux corporate

OPEN ENTERPRISE: Foundation aims to keep Linux corporate

What do you get if you cross an open source development consortium with an organisation that promotes free standards? Answer: You get a Linux advocacy group. Or so it seems.

On the surface, the union of Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and the Free Standards Group (FSG) seems like a natural fit.

But wouldn't it make more sense to call the merged organisation the Open Source and Standards Lab, or the Free Software and Standards Group? Why did they have to go and call it the Linux Foundation?

On the one hand, it seems a shame that the group should narrow the scope of its activities to focus on a single project. Linux may be the open source poster child du jour, but it's hardly the only worthwhile project around. In fact, the Free Software Foundation would remind us that most of the software that makes up what we call a Linux distribution was never written by Linux kernel developers in the first place.

On the other hand, Linux doesn't define any open standards. It implements them, sure; but so do a lot of other operating systems.

When you think about it, the newly formed Linux Foundation couldn't have chosen a worse name. Then again, it's not hard to see the thought process behind it.

The Linux Foundation wants press. It wants the kind of buzz that comes from brand loyalty. On that score, open source and open standards don't pay the bills. Linux does.

But wait, there's more. "For Linux to remain open and attain the greatest ubiquity possible, important services must be provided, including legal protection, standardisation, promotion and collaboration," reads the mission statement on the Linux Foundation's website. "The Linux Foundation has been founded to help close the gap between open source and proprietary platforms, while sustaining the openness, freedom of choice and technical superiority inherent in open source software."

Here we get to the truth. The Linux Foundation isn't really about open standards and it isn't about open source. It was to help Linux compete with Microsoft. Now, I'm all for a competitive software market. I'm against a Microsoft monopoly. But is this really the most constructive way to carve a niche for Linux in the mainstream software market? Wouldn't it be better to concentrate on building great software?

A quick glance at the page describing the Foundation's board of directors reveals more of the truth. Initially, the board will be made up of representatives of such huge corporations as HP, IBM, Intel, and Oracle. They'll vote to elect new directors in February, but don't hold your breath waiting for independent developers to be represented.

According to the Foundation's bylaws, the easiest way to get a seat on the board is to become a platinum member, which entails paying up to the tune of half a million dollars.

Notably absent from the board, however, is Red Hat. Strange that a foundation ostensibly formed to further the best interests of Linux would not include a representative from the leading Linux vendor.

But then again, maybe it's not so strange - not if you conclude that the Linux Foundation isn't any kind of philanthropic foundation at all. It's an industry trade organisation, the likes of which we've seen countless times before. Judging by its charter, its true goal is little more than plain, old-fashioned corporate marketing.

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