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The Linux response

The Linux response

A recent interview with Microsoft's David Kaefer (November 28, page 61) on the vendor's shared source initiative prompted Con Zymaris, CEO of open-source software and services company Cybersource, to contact ARN. "Microsoft has a whole bunch of money to throw at people to advocate their technology," he says. "Rarely is anyone from the Linux space paid to speak on behalf of open source."

ARN: What is your opinion of the shared source initiative, as described by Microsoft?Con Zymaris: As a developer, as a service provider or an integrator, shared source gives you no power or control or freedom. It is illegal to make modifications to the software. Microsoft essentially makes its palace walls transparent but you still can't touch anything inside. There isn't anybody outside of Microsoft, or an organisation it sponsors, that is pushing the shared source concept. The only people who talk about it are paid to talk about it. That rings alarm bells in my head. Linux, on the other hand, does not engender a following from spokespeople who are paid to talk about it. It has a following because among those who have been working in this industry for the last 20 years there is a realisation that this is the way to go for the maintenance of a healthy and competitive environment in the industry.

Aside from Microsoft's ISV partners, is there any benefit to the shared source scheme for the development community?No organisation besides Microsoft can possibly profit from it; nobody but Microsoft gets a say on these platforms. You are just helping them free of charge. It would be like Stephen King writing a sloppy novel, asking his readers to correct his grammar and spelling mistakes and sending it back to him so he can still make his tens of millions of dollars.

Do you consider Microsoft a monopolistic business?Microsoft have it such that if you as a vendor don't comply, they remove OEM licensing and you lose business. It has become a case of "dare not risk our wrath". So all the other vendors have been treading on eggshells when dealing with them.

Do you think Microsoft should have anything to fear from the open-source movement?Microsoft is scared of Linux because it is a vendor protecting a monopolistic business. Their own internal memos acknowledge Linux as the strongest threat they will ever face. Ten years ago Microsoft battled with IBM over operating system superiority and Microsoft won. This time they are taking on the whole industry. Microsoft is the only one out of the top 10 vendors in the world that is not pushing Linux. Sun has Linux in its blade servers, IBM has it on its entire hardware range, Compaq is just about the biggest Linux vendor there is, and HP and Dell are supporting it as well.

Why would all the other vendors be so interested in Linux?With Linux you can control your own computing destiny and not be at the whim of any other vendor. The Linux licence is concocted in such a way that it cannot be bought out or taken over or muddied by anybody, yet everybody can use it. Linux gives us back the keys to the house and the station wagon. We can all jump left and jump right and not fear the consequences. Linux levels the playing field.

Is the adoption of Linux likely to keep growing?The Internet took 25 years of maturation to get to the point where it is today. For years the business world didn't look favourably upon it; now they embrace it. It took 20 years to achieve the same thing for Unix. Linux has moved faster than both; in just seven or eight years it has reached acceptance in terms of adoption, in terms of awareness. Even my mother knows what Linux is. And there is no evolutionary dead-end to make users wary of its long-term viability. Linux will always progress, irrespective of commercial interests. If the current generation fails to innovate, the next generation will. And eventually it promises to deliver a write-once, deliver-anywhere platform.

Are Australian developers embracing Linux?With the Linux source code freely available across the globe, very technically capable individuals worldwide have the opportunity to contribute. There are many, often critically important, developers of Linux and open source in Australia. Among these are Paul Russell, who is the core developer of the firewall code in Linux. Andrew Tridgell, and various others in Canberra, are responsible for Linux's NT Server and PDC/Active Directory functionality, as well as supporting the development of Linux onto IBM's PowerPC processor architecture. Their efforts have caught the attention of IBM, which is funding a Linux technology centre in Australia because of them. Also, one of my colleagues here at Cybersource, Mitch Davis, was involved in porting Linux to Hitachi's SuperH 32-bit RISC embedded CPU, work which has focused attention onto Australia once again as a centre of excellence in this field. This is work and revenue for Australians that would not have arisen if the ability to rework the source code was kept under lock and key in Redmond. I have never seen it discussed anywhere before, but Linux can be seen as the only operating system that was not exclusively developed in North America. The rest of the world should have a sympathetic vested interest in seeing Linux succeed. We are living in a country where IT imports outweigh IT exports by 17 to 1. Linux could be a way for locals to reduce our massive dependence on imports.


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