Caldera CEO tells it how he sees it

Does Linux have to become more like Windows to succeed?Ransom Love dished up some cold reality in a keynote speech at the LinuxWorld 2000 Conference and Expo in San Jose Wednesday morning. The chief executive officer of Linux distributor Caldera Systems pointed to several changes that Linux must undergo if the open-source operating system is to span the "chasm" between mere popularity and widespread market acceptance.

Versions of Linux must be developed that support a complete range of devices, from embedded applications like smart phones and handheld computers, right up to the giant servers used in corporate data centers, Love said.

Sound familiar?

"This isn't a lot different from what Microsoft does -- but we can do it a lot better with Linux and Unix," Love said.

Linux is strong at the embedded and server levels and has its greatest potential in specialised servers that are used for specific business functions, he said. But versions of Linux available today don't scale well to meet the high-end needs of the data center.

Microsoft offers various versions of its platform for different devices, including an embedded version of Windows NT and a version of Windows 2000 for the data center, which is due to be launched next month after a few delays.

"We don't have a single platform from the thin client to the data center," Love said. "We have to have that same scalability and breadth. We may need to get another kernel, as other operating system (vendors) do."Comparing Linux with Windows at a show where people sport T-shirts that say, "Open Source -- it's like the difference between trust and antitrust," is a pretty bold move. But attendees here didn't seem too worried by Love's comparison, perhaps because they laughed it off.

"I'd be worried if I though he was serious," said Markus Draeger, a program manager at the San Jose, California, research and development facility of Fujitsu Siemens Computers BV.

Draeger agreed with Love that Linux may need an additional kernel to span all types of computers, and also agreed that Linux developers will need to be careful not to create incompatibility issues between the different versions.

To cross the chasm to mass acceptance, Linux also needs to become more "globalised," in part by offering a consistent platform for developers and customers in different regions of the world, Love said during his talk.

"Major hardware and software manufacturers are reluctant to put millions into a (new product) rollout when they have to deal with regional Linux differences," Love said.

Similarly, multinational corporations want a single Linux distributor that can provide them with support services in all parts of the world. Server applications can't be sold at retail, so they need to be delivered through a distributor with worldwide reach, he said.

Conveniently, Caldera is in a position to fill such a role since it acquired the server software and services arm of Unix vendor The Santa Cruz Operation,he added. The acquisition will make Caldera the only Linux company with sales, support and customisation services in every major market around the world, he said.

The single biggest reason that Linux isn't used more widely today isn't a lack of applications, but a shortage of skilled workers who know how to deploy and administer Linux, Love said.

The Caldera CEO also noted that the financial community is scrutinising Linux firms more closely to figure out how they will make money in the long term. He rejected the popular notion that Linux is built only on a services model.

Customers only want services because they are interested in the stable and innovative products that lie at the heart of the offering, he said.

Caldera will likely develop some products in the future that won't be distributed under the Gnu General Public License (GPL), one of the most popular open-source licensing contracts which affords developers wide reign to freely use and modify software programs.

"Will we give everything back to the GPL? No, not everything we do," Love said.

"There will be times when we hold on, we may take ownership of some products, but we will always provide open access to the source code."One product that may not be released under the GPL is Cosmos, a new application that Caldera hopes to launch before the end of the year that allows businesses to manage remotely large groups of Linux PCs or servers. In a demonstration -- which didn't work the first time -- a Caldera engineer showed how Cosmos can be used to remotely switch a PC to a different printer using a wireless device.

The software can also be used to remotely install software and check hardware and software configurations on large groups of computers. Cosmos will work with other Linux distributions besides Caldera and, in the future, with proprietary Unix platforms, he said.

Asked in a question-and-answer session which open-source license Cosmos will be released under, Love said the company is looking at "all the open-source licenses" and hasn't decided yet which one it will use.

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