Linux for Suits: How Linux Gets Down to Business

Straight outta Los Angeles, assistant editor Jason Schumaker trolls Linux for suits.

I spotted Tux walking down Figueroa Street, just north of the convention center in downtown Los Angeles. I could see only his head, bobbing above the crowd as he walked through a maze of convention-goers. I was spray-painting "Linux Rules" on a Windows 2000 bus stop poster, waiting for lunch to end. Tux was across the street, and as he drew closer, I noticed something rather odd: he was wearing a suit! Complete with tie, vest and a briefcase dangling from the two "fingers" of his left "hand". I dropped the spray can, and set out after him.

I caught him while he waited for the light to change. We had met on a number of occasions, and reminisced as we walked. He was in town to meet with various business professionals, hence the suit, he explained. I was in LA for the "Linux for Suits" panel discussion, sponsored by Linux Journal. The April 6th event, organized by Doc Searls (Senior Editor of LJ) and myself, quietly invaded Spring Internet World, intent on informing the "suits" that Linux is ready to get down to business.

So there I am, walking into the convention center with Tux. We're both dressed to the nines, me in my stylishly vintage black suit, him in an impeccably tailored Armani three-piece. We looked smooth, but felt a bit uncomfortable. Suits aren't part of Linux. Or are they? Tux pointed out that "relations between the Open Source community and business professionals are still a bit awkward". We shook hands and set out on different paths, intent on making a change.

Doc Searls is the mastermind behind Linux for Suits. We first debuted the event at Fall Internet World in New York City. Linus Torvalds and Eric Raymond were present, as were a number of big-name Linux executives (read my report here). The show was a success; we looked forward to LA. Attendance at the LA show wasn't as good as in NYC, but this didn't come as a shock. Internet World is exactly what it claims to be: a trade show dedicated to anything related to Internet development and use. We didn't aim Linux for Suits at Linux users; we targeted the event at Internet World for non-users and potential users of Linux.

Linux for Suits exists solely to help educate business professionals about Linux and how it can be used effectively in their business model. The event was keynoted by Larry Augustin (President, CEO and Director of VA Linux Systems), a key figure in the Linux business world. And with good reason. Larry spoke eloquently and used his time well. He targeted his words to any audience members that might be either unfamiliar with Linux, or to those whose companies are interested in learning more about Linux.

Larry began by asking for a show of hands: "How many of you use Linux? How many of you don't?" He then pointed out that if you use the Internet, chances are, you use Linux. "Linux is the leading operating system running the Internet." His slides illustrated that Linux owns 31% of the server market share, compared to 24% for Windows NT and 17% for Solaris. He went on to explain that Linux is not a unique case; that it succeeds not because it is Linux, but because it is open-source software. He added that "Apache's current market share is 60%, well ahead of Microsoft's ISS, while Sendmail holds 80% of the e-mail market." All three are perfect examples that the open-source business model can be successful.

But why should anyone care? Larry says it is "because open-source software development is the future of how software will be developed." Companies are switching from proprietary software to open source for four reasons: open source has multiple developers, it is customizable, development is rapid, and the TCO (total cost of ownership) is lower. He used QuakeForge, one of the first development projects on SourceForge (http://www.sourceforge.net/), to illustrate how effective and efficient open-source development can be. "After the initial version was released, we began seeing bug reports within two hours, fixes within three. When's the last time you had someone from Microsoft call you back within three hours?" A good point.

Proprietary software companies release patches and bug fixes when they want and if they want. Users and developers have no control, and Larry, along with the rest of the Open Source community, expect this to change as more people realize the advantages to open-source software development. Larry wrapped up by recommending that companies without an open-source strategy get to work, as their competition might already be well ahead.

Below is a brief summary of the remainder of the Linux for Suits event. The discussions were organized by having five panelists and a moderator for each of the five topics covered. The moderator begins by briefly introducing each panelist. The panelists then quickly explain how their respective companies are using Linux and open-source software. The moderator then gets the discussion going by asking a question ... and it flows from there, with the final 10-15 minutes set aside for audience Q&A. Each panel ran for an hour, which restricts what I am able to report on. However, we will soon make the complete audio recordings available for free at ON24.com--imagine that!

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