Mitch Kapor discusses Linux, open-source

For decades, entrepreneur and technology visionary Mitch Kapor has enjoyed watching ideas grow into realities.

He's a co-founder of the former Lotus Development and creator of Lotus 1-2-3, the first killer-app spreadsheet application for business computing, and he's currently leading a project called Chandler to create an open-source personal information manager package for users.

Kapor, of San Francisco, is also the founder and chairman of the Open Source Applications Foundation, which was created in 2001 to encourage open-source development, and a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights advocacy group.

Computerworld reporter Todd R. Weiss talked with Kapor at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Ore., about the continuing impacts of Linux and open-source software on business computing.

Q: Linux and open-source software are gaining more attention and respect in IT today, compared with four or five years ago. What does that mean for the continued development of the operating system?

I expect to see government and private foundations provide funding for open-source development in the future. As the overall social value of open-source becomes clearer and clearer, you will see new kinds of funding models.

Q: Is business ready today for adopting open-source applications for critical needs?

A lot depends on the perspective from which you're looking at things. Whether it's suitable for you depends on what your needs are. For many people it's perfectly good and for others, it's missing that critical part. There's no fundamental technological barrier preventing it from (filling the remaining gaps).

Q: Do you use Linux as your primary computer operating system?

It's not yet there day to day for what I do. I fiddle with it just to stay fresh. It will be nice when it's ready to do everything.

Q: What's keeping Linux from being able to serve as your primary operating system?

I have collaborative calendaring as a critical need, and I'm waiting for upcoming connector software (to make it work seamlessly.)

Q: Where do you see Linux and open-source making the next big push into business IT?

I think the penetration into big enterprises in the immediate future is going to be in the verticals like call centers. For knowledge workers, there's a high bar, and Linux is not ready for that. But in call centers, they use their machines to do specific kinds of things (such as providing information and answering consumer questions). The Linux desktop is sufficiently mature to take those kinds of calls well.

Q: Back when you created the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program, it was a key to the proliferation of PCs and desktop computing. Is there a similar must-have application that could spawn a mass migration to Linux and open-source?

There's no killer app. People need different things. That's really the task of an operating system. It's not doing one thing right. It's doing a thousand things right.

Q: You have said that Linux on the desktop will continue to become more commonplace and could eventually take 10 percent of the global market share in the not-too-distant future from Microsoft Windows. Do you think major changes are coming to the operating system landscape?

We're not going to see an explosion of Linux in the next 18 months. Ten percent of a billion (Windows users) is 100 million. That's a lot. Linux on the desktop is actually here. The question is, How big does it get and how far will it go? How much of the world will Linux own?

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