Linux expert: Open source needs to be embraced

At Day Two of the EDGE 2004 Conference & Expo, the afternoon Keynote Panel was titled, simply, "The Open Source Debate." The theme chosen by Moderator Kevin Bedell, editor-in-chief of LinuxWorld Magazine, was Linux Two Years Out.

In their opening statements, the panelists briefly summarized the position of the organizations they represented. For Sam Greenblatt, SVP and Chief Architect of Computer Associates International Inc.'s Linux Technology Group, the position is crystal clear: "Commercial software (he’s given up using the term ‘proprietary’ he said) will have to embrace Open Source," Greenblatt said, "or it won’t exist."

Miguel de Icaza, now officially CTO of Novell Ximian Services but "really just a coder like a lot of us" as Kevin Bedell expressed it, observed that Novell is as "proprietary as it comes" but that the company has started doing internal adoption of Open Source.

Outside of Novell things are even more interesting, de Icaza continued. "Although the server market for Linux and Open Source technologies is growing," he said. "We’re starting to see very large deployments of Linux in the desktop - the 2 southern governments of Spain have just both migrated to Linux on the desk top, using Debian as a matter of fact," he added.

Dave Thomson, IBM Distinguished Engineer and industry veteran, having started with Smalltalk and then over time become involved with IBM’s tool integration project, Eclipse - in fact he is now on the Eclipse Foundation’s board of directors - noted that when IBM released the 1.0 version of Eclipse to Open Source it never anticipated that it would grow to its present state: "It grew beyond our wildest imaginations," he said.

Bob Zurek, VP of Advanced Tech at Ascential Software, the industry’s leading integration platform - "think Kinko’s, - we’re everywhere," Zurek said – explained how Ascential runs on Linux, but is a big advocate of supporting the Microsoft platform too – "straddling the fence" as he put it. In such a hybrid world, you need to be sure that proprietary and non-proprietary code do not commingle:"We have very rigid processes as to how people use OS," Zurek said.

The CTO of SleepyCat Software, Margo Seltzer, made a good point about Linux two years out and how things will change. "It’s not going to be what questions they ask that will be so different," she said. "It’ll be the questions they don’t *have* to ask that makes the difference."

"OS is making it into the mainstream," Seltzer continued, "Judging by the curve over the last 8 years, it’s going to become over the 2 - 5 year timeframe just be a dry fact. Like a checked box - is this OS or not? A simple fact nothing more."

Zurek thinks that we’ll see a more fundamental change than that. "There are very young students in middle school, even in 4th grade, who are geting access to technololgy, can download stuff and get exposure at a very young age with Eclipse, JBoss, and MySQL…and there are some very brilliant students."

"They’ll become the next generation of CTOs," Zurek continued, "and will introduce a massive amount of innovation." Miguel.

Miguel de Icaza concurred, saying that on the Mono Project in fact - the implementation of the .NET Framework for Linux with which he’s been so closely involved – they required an XSLT implementation that a 16-year old helped out with, teaching himself to use a profiler and making it faster than the C implementation.

Dave Thomsen pointed out that the popularity of Open Source among students derives in part from the fact that OS is very popular with researchers - who embrace Eclipse "because they can modify the source code, but also because they can then SHARE it with other researchers , that’s very important." These research student will then bring these OS technologies into the companies they join when leaving College.

Sam Greenblatt sounded a slightly more down-to-earth perspective: "I love the comments about the young kids," he said. "But what (the whole trend toward open source) is doing is tearing down walls. Every 3 weeks CA sits down with IBM, HP, even Novell. The kids may have the ideas, but it’s the large, commercial environment that’s going to commercialize it."

"8 out of the 10 Wall Street firms I deal with use Linux," Greenblatt continued. "It’s becoming a device driver. What these people care about is: are we meeting our customers’ needs…. Linux is real - companies like IBM are making huge bets on it."

Bob Zurek raised the issue of IP uncertainties:" There are whole legal practices based 100% on IP issues as we see more commingling of open source and proprietary software," he noted.

"Customers will pick up on the FUD that lawyers will put out, the fear factor," Zurek said.

Nonetheless you can build a business round Open Source, Margo Seltzer insisted. "You can build a multimillion business on open source.. The open source business is a multimillion dollar business, even a multibillion dollar business – think of IBM. Are there also some smaller businesses in the arena, yes?"

Her own SleepyCat Software has never had to take a dime of venture capital, Seltzer said, evidence that "a business based on OS can grow organically." As the makers of the Berkeley DB database, she xaplained "SleepyCat has since 1996 penetrated so widely and deeply that just by going about our daily business - surfing the Web, sending e-mail, and communicating with friends, colleagues and customers - we all now probably use Sleepycat’s Berkeley DB many times." It is embedded in applications offered by companies such as Cisco, Sun, Motorola, AOL, Google, and Amazon, Seltzer said.

Sam Greenblatt pointed out that nonetheless where the big money is going to be made is in the higher levels of the stack, not the lower level. "A $4 billion software company like CA is going to make its money on what gets wrapped around Open Source," Greenblatt said.

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