DIY-IT: How Linux and Open Source Are Bringing Do-It-Yourself to Information Technology

Follow the conventional IT media and you'll miss the new level of self-reliance and participation in Linux at companies large and small. Executives from Ernie Ball, Morgan Stanley and Ticketmaster explain the shift to “do-it-yourself”.

Without a doubt, Linux and open source are changing IT (Information Technology) at companies of every size. But how? When you read the IT magazines, go to the IT conferences and listen to the IT analysts, you get the same message you got ten or twenty years ago: vendors are in charge.

Of the 62 stories in's current Week In Review (mid-November 2003), 51 stories, or 82%, are either about vendors—“Red Hat goes Live with Fedora”—or refer to vendors in their headlines—“IBM's Palmisano says US must innovate to keep jobs.” In reality, though, vendors' and customers' IT worlds are steeped in a variety of development communities. Both vendors and customers develop goods for themselves, as well as for sale and for use by the rest of the world.

Over the past year, I've been on assignment by Linux Journal to study what's really happening in the IT marketplace and the deeper roles played by Linux and open-source development in that marketplace. My first report was “How Linux Makes Companies Smarter” /article/6585, in the July 2003 Linux Journal. This second report focuses on changes in IT itself. What I've found is an increasing reliance on personal and development community initiative and the freedom and trust making that possible. In sum, what I'm seeing is a do-it-yourself movement in companies everywhere, a growth in self-reliance I'm calling Do-It-Yourself IT (DIY-IT).

Phil Moore, the Executive Director of Enterprise Application Infrastructure for Morgan Stanley and Company, explains:

Open source has lowered the threshold at which do-it-yourself is possible. You can't do everything with building blocks from vendors. They pretend they're selling you a prefab building and they're not. They're selling you pipes and fittings and stuff to put it together.

In reality, to build an enterprise, you have to have a set of experts in your IT shop who can put it all together. Certainly, historically you need a lot of expertise to get anything done, because this stuff really isn't easy to put together. But if you've been led by the vendors to believe that everything dovetails together nicely, like you see in the .Net ads, or in any major marketing campaign that promises nirvana, you've got a problem.

You always need a certain amount of do-it-yourselfness. Consultants don't walk in, deliver an enterprise and walk out, saying “call me in six months for an upgrade.” It's organic. An enterprise is changing constantly. Even the walls in your house right now are on their way to needing another paint job.

Although DIY-IT involves a reduction in dependency on vendors, it doesn't mean vendors are bad or that they don't play extremely important roles in the marketplace. It does mean that the marketplace no longer belongs to them. It means a new balance of power exists between supply and demand as does a new division of responsibilities between vendor, customer and development communities. It seems the software business is growing up.

In this report, we look at several key factors involved in the DIY-IT movement: what leadership really means, the role of the Net, the rewards of courage, the cost-savings imperative, valuing talent, where we stand, untold stories and perspective.

Follow Which Leader?

Looking to leaders for leadership is natural. But what about the leadership of developments that have no direct leader—developments where the leadership comes largely from within, from shared conviction and the practices that express it?

That's what we have with Linux, with free software and with open source. Linux is a development project, not a company. It is not contained by a corporate structure. Like a tectonic plate, it is held together by cohesion more than by organizational forces. Free software and open source are value systems and development methodologies. To treat them strictly as populations or as classes of goods is to miss the nature and scope of what they're about.

The Net not only supports much of what we now take for granted in the technical world, it puts everybody and everything in a position to get more connected, more informed, more intelligent. Public bits outsmart secret ones, even if secret ones still have economic and other forms of value.

Craig McLane, VP of Technology at Ticketmaster, puts it this way:

The best thing about the Internet, to me, is it mitigates tremendously the friction imposed by time and distance. You can take people who have individual passions and great talents, unite them and eliminate many of the obstacles to communications.

The Open Source community truly is global, and that matters an awful lot to us. We're an international company and we like access to very smart people worldwide as we grow—people who still are accessible and relatively close-knit.

The notion that you can take part in this community, do great things, be supported and foster this whole breeding ground of innovation is absolutely incredible.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal