Open Source's First Six Months

If anybody had suggested to me then that the paper was going to motivate something like the Netscape source release, I would have wondered what they'd been smoking.
Toward World Domination

I see several challenges before us.

First: The press campaign isn't over by any means. When I first conceived it back in February, I already knew where I wanted to see positive stories about open source: the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Forbes, Barron and the New York Times.

Why those? Because if we truly desire world domination, we must alter the consciousness of the corporate elite. That means we need to co-opt the media that shape decision-making at the highest corporate levels of Fortune 500 companies. Personally, all the press interviews and stuff I've done have been aimed toward the one goal of becoming visible enough to those guys that they would come to us wanting to know the Open Source community's story.

This has begun to happen (besides the Forbes interview, I was a background source for The Economist coverage)--but it's nowhere near finished. It won't be finished until they have all gotten and spread the message, and the superior reliability/quality/cost advantages of open source have become common knowledge among the CEOs, CTOs and CIOs who read them.

Second: When I first wrote my analysis of business models, one of my conclusions was that we'd have our best short-term chances of converting established “name” vendors by pushing the clear advantages of widget frosting. Therefore, my master plan included concerted attempts to persuade hardware makers to open up their software.

Although my personal approaches to a couple of vendors were unsuccessful, Mr. Eid Eid's (then president of Corel Computer) speech at UniForum made it clear that CatB and the Netscape example had tipped them over the edge. Subsequently, Leonard Zubkoff scored big working from the inside with Adaptec. So, we know this path can be fruitful.

A lot more evangelizing remains to be done. Any of you who work with vendors of network cards, graphics cards, disk controllers and other peripherals should be helping us push from the inside. Write Bruce Perens (bruce@pixar.com) or me (esr@thyrsus.com) if you think you might be positioned to help; combination Mister-Inside/Mister-Outside approaches are known to work well.

Third: The Interbase/Informix/Oracle announcements and SGI's official backing for Samba open up another front. Actually, we're ahead of my projections here; I wasn't expecting the big database vendors to roll over for another three months or so. That third front is the ability to get open-source software into large corporate networks and data centers and in roles outside of its traditional territory in Internet services and development.

One of the biggest roadblocks in our way came from people who said “okay, so maybe Linux is technically better, but we can't get real enterprise applications for it.” Well, somehow I don't think we'll be hearing that song anymore. The big database announcements should put the “no real applications” shibboleth permanently to rest.

Our next challenge is to actually get some Fortune 500 companies to switch over from NT to Linux or *BSD-based enterprise servers for their critical corporate databases and to go public about doing it.

Getting them to switch shouldn't be very hard, given the reliability level of NT. Waving a copy of John Kirch's white paper (http://www.kirch.net/unix-nt.html) at a techie might be sufficient. In fact, I expect this will begin to happen swiftly even without any nudging from us.

However, that is only half the battle. Because the ugly political reality is this: the techies with day-to-day operational responsibility who are doing the actual switching are quite likely to feel pressure to hide the switch from their NT-leaning bosses. Samba is a huge win for these beleaguered techies; it enables open-source fans to stealth their Linux boxes so they look like Microsoft servers that somehow miraculously work well.

There's a problem with this, however, that's almost serious enough to make me wish Samba didn't exist. While stealthing open-source boxes will solve a lot of individual problems, it won't give us what we need to counteract the attack marketing and FUD-mongering (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that we'll start seeing big-time (count on it) as soon as Microsoft wakes up to the magnitude of the threat we actually pose. It is not enough to have a presence; we need a visible presence—visibly succeeding.

I have a challenge for anyone reading this with a job in a Fortune 500 data center: start laying the groundwork now. Pass the Kirch paper around to your colleagues and bosses. Start whatever process you need to get an Oracle- or Informix- or Interbase-over-Linux pilot approved—or get prepared to just go ahead and do it on the “forgiveness is easier than permission” principle. Some of these vendors say they're planning to offer cheap evaluation copies; grab them and go!

I and other front-line participants in the Open Source campaign will be doing our best to smooth your path, while working the media to help convince your boss that everyone's doing it, and that it is a safe, soft option that will look good on their performance report. This, of course, will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fourth: Finally, of course, there's the battle for the desktop—Linus' original focus in the master plan for world domination.

Yes, we still need to take the desktop. The most fundamental thing we need for that is a zero-administration desktop environment. Either GNOME or KDE will give us most of that; the other must-have, for the typical non-techie user, is an absolutely painless setup of Ethernet, SLIP and PPP connections.

Beyond that, we need a rock-solid office suite, integrated with the winning environment, including the “Big Three” applications—spreadsheet, light-duty database and a word processor. I guess Applixware and StarOffice come close, but neither are GNOME- or KDE-aware yet. Corel's port of WordPerfect will certainly help.

Beyond repeating these obvious things, there's not much else I'll say about this, because there's little the Open Source campaign can do to remedy the problem directly. Everyone knows that native office applications, well-documented and usable by non-techies, are among the few things we're still missing. Looking around Sunsite, I'd say there might be a couple of promising candidates out there, like Maxwell, a WYSIWYG word processor, and Xxl, a powerful spreadsheet. What they mainly need, I'd guess, is documentation and testing. Would somebody with technical writing experience please volunteer?

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