Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Linux vendors get failing grades in Linux community relations.

When one compares the enterprise market to the consumer market, one can understand why Red Hat, Novell SuSE, IBM, HP and Sun have put their focus on the enterprise market. That doesn't provide accountability to the tens of thousands of people who made GNU/Linux competitive in the enterprise market in the first place, however. So, let's look at the current situation.

Today, the shining star of Linux success sits atop the government sector, including the DoD; state and Federal agencies; related industries and the vendor community. Logic dictates that Linux vendors would chose a $200 billion market sector with over 10,000 competing vendors and higher profit margins. Few would argue that taking on the consumer sector with half the revenue potential, fewer competitors, fewer opportunities and tiny profit margins makes sense. After all, it's not personal, it's just business.

As Jonathan Schwartz of Sun eloquently put it, "Linux is a social movement". As a social movement, pure Linux vendors need to show some consideration to the community that gave them the economic advantage that allows them to compete in the enterprise space. I for one participate so I can have an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X on my desktop.

Companies that benefit from the development efforts of volunteers have, at least, a social debt to pay. Establishing decent and relevant Linux community relations departments would make for a good first step. Recognizing the motives of the at-large GNU/Linux community also would help. Even a "thank you" every now and then would sit better than the blank stares we see at LinuxWorld.

Two Distinct Markets

Whenever I read an analyst's commentary about how Linux isn't ready for the desktop, I respond with some disbelief. If we translate the analyst's remarks from their subtext, we usually discover that Linux isn't ready for the analyst's desktop. I run into few if any journalists who can do much more than use their computers as word processors. Even the best amongst them haven't heard of Linux.

How do I know this?

I have press credentials, and I pitch articles to publications. I attend press club meetings, go to seminars, correspond with colleagues and take up shop in the media areas of conventions. I have seen a plethora of journalists wind up with Linux and open source as part of their beats who literally do not know the meaning of either term. So, they cut and paste press releases and call someone in the IT community to get a quote or two. That doesn't make them authorities on Linux as a desktop platform, yet they portray themselves as such.

The information void within the media exists on the consumer side--the side we wake up to in the morning and read for news and information. Now, move over to reseller news and government magazines, and GNU/Linux has beat writers looking for stories. Also, look at those publications advertising sections, and you find the usual suspects spending money on big spreads.

Even when the major Linux vendors establish community relations departments, they do not set them up for the people looking to run Linux on their home computers. The community relations departments focus on doing seminars for the Navy, the Department of Homeland Security, EDS and the Oil and Gas Producers of Texas. Their definition of the community does not include the people that I call the Linux Community.

Two Markets, Two Conversations

The people who want to move away from Microsoft and Apple would like to see Linux on their home computers. They would like to read about it in in People magazine, Information Week or the technology section of their local newspapers.

Unfortunately, Linux consumers have to go looking for Linux news. Usually what they find is press that focuses on the business market. Linux consumers should realize they're listening in on the wrong conversation. When Jonathan Schwartz writes in his blog, he's not writing to retail customers. He's having a conversation with someone else, a business user.

Jonathan Schwartz is President and COO of a company that does not make computer products for consumers. Sun doesn't make a laptop or a $499 Celeron workstation with a monitor and printer included. You won't find iPods in the Sun catalogue. Simply put, he's not talking to the general Linux community or to the typical Linux Journal or Slashdot.org reader. He's writing to enterprise customers residing in a place where Microsoft occupies a spot among 10,000 vendors.

Jonathan Schwartz has a significant market to address, as Sun has a two-decade history of putting workstations in businesses and enterprises. One company that moved from Seattle to Chicago has 200,000 employees, and 50% of their users are on Solaris workstations. When I consulted at Ericsson, 30% of the workstations had Sun labels on them.

So when Matthew Szulik made his infamous statement, he also was talking about the enterprise market. At the time, Salon wrote:

Matthew Szulik, chief executive of Linux vendor Red Hat, said on Monday that although Linux is capable of exceeding expectations for corporate users, home users should stick with Windows: "I would say that for the consumer market place, Windows probably continues to be the right product line," he said. "I would argue that from the device-driver standpoint and perhaps some of the other traditional functionality, for that classic consumer purchaser, it is my view that [Linux] technology needs to mature a little bit more."

The 10,000 or so vendors in the enterprise market probably read the statement correctly and didn't react as the Linux consumer most likely did. Szulik also said, "Linux is capable of exceeding expectations for corporate users....". That statement stands consistent with the market Red Hat has chosen to pursue.

I have one little problem with what Szulik said, however. Red Hat more than any other company has benefited from the GNU/Linux community. Dave Whitinger of Lxer.com said it best in an interview I did with him: "I remember walking into Bob Young's office as he was literally giddy with delight that he had just obtained a million dollars from an investor. I asked what he had to give in return for the million, and Bob exclaimed, 'Only one third of the company!'"

Consider that for a second or two. At one point, Red Hat was so dependent on the GNU/Linux community that it needed only a small equity position to function. I wouldn't mind so much that Red Hat stays mainly in the enterprise market space if it put some effort into the consumer space. By the company's own admission, work done on Fedora--the free project--benefits Red Hat products, and those remain aimed at the enterprise.

______________________

Comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

misplaced expectations about gifts

Anonymous's picture

When something is bought, sold, or bartered, there is a clear understanding of one thing being given in exchange for another. When something is given as a free gift with no strings attached, there is no such obligation or expectation of a reciprocal payment.

But there is also a third category of "giving", i.e. I gave you a Christmas gift. Shouldn't you be giving me one in return?

It seems as though this author's expectations are most closely aligned with the social expectations of this third kind of exchange. Since the Linux companies have benefitted from the Linux community, they ought to be investing more toward giving back to the community in the form of a consumer desktop.

Personally, I don't expect a company trying to survive and grow, especially one competing against Microsoft, to be under the social conventions of reciprocal present exchanges. They are a business. Let them do their job -- and may they do it well.

As the financial plausibility of a consumer desktop grows, businessses will step into that market as well. In the meantime, contributions in that area (beyond those that are also beneficial to commercial interests) will come from those who are not primarily motivated by making their business succeed rather than fail. There is nothing surprising about that.

The best news on the horizon for those interested in the consumer desktop may be the David project of SpecOpS Labs

http://www.specopslabs.com/

That could make the Linux desktop a much more suitable platform for a much wider range of software that consumers are interested in. At present, Linux can't run many of the specific products consumers are interested in (even considering WINE). David claims to improve on what WINE hoped to provide.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

Some thing appears seriously flawed with the AC posting most of these comments. He sounds like a someone with a bordline personality disorder. I guess it's inevitable to have to read this clutter if one winds up with an interesting article title referred from another web site. I don't know where it's save to write articles any more. Linux Journal should stop allowing peole to post comments. This is a prestegous "journal" of a respectible community. Can you do something like have a letter to the editor section and screen out this trash? I know it would motivate me to visit here more often.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

I love it when articles inspire critical response from the audience. What's wrong with exposing an angle that escaped the author and as it looks a considerable segment of the audience, in particular those politically inclined whose main interests lie in anything but the technical innovation and truth as seen from the perspective of a developer, engineer, or an administrator.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

Why, you're a legend in you own mind.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

I guess the statement "brain damaging narrow minded profit making corporate mentality" needs to be softened, otherwise socially unconscious, and/or fear mongering creatures will jump on it and distort the image of what is being written here even further. Government is very well aware of this fact, and it does not allow a corporation to grow beyond all limits. To disbelief of many in the corporate world it flexed its muscle on Micro$oft a few years ago when splitting it into smaller companies.

For the record, it has to be acknowledged that healthy and honest (deserved) profit making should be welcome. It in fact is a legitimate scale by which it is possible to measure success and failure. The trouble is that the most powerful often abuse it, particularly when all but profit becomes their reason of existence. Question is who decides what should be the norm, the standard or the rule when enough is enough.

Popular movements often set the thresholds, a checking or balancing mechanism, and I view the "open movement" to be just that. Beside that, it (the "open movement" ) also encapsulates an incredible drive for progressive changes in the technology, and as such leads the way into the future.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

Everything you wrote was soft.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

You keep leading the way into the future dude! Let me know when your money runs out, because I'm going to laugh like hell. Do you have a job? Do you know where your paycheck comes from? Do you know that it comes from profits from your labor? Well, do you know?

You guys are the smut of the earth to think you can just run around and talk like you do without any responsibility for what you say. Answer this...when you create that awsome technology, how are you going to distribute it? You going to sell it? You going to "FREE" it away as in "Like free speech man", or are you going to sell it to make a profit? What is going to happen to you when you need health care one day. Have you got a large piggy bank with your nickles and dimes? You'll need it.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

I realized some comments are out of sequence order. Might as well, because it is all about the same argument really. The main point I'm trying to make is that I totally agree with the idea that Linux and "open initiative" are orthogonal to business and corporate agendas, and that this is one of the reasons for Linux to be splintered into so may on the surface "dysfunctional" and incompatible entities.

However, one can not overlook its incredible strength, which is manifested in its constantly evolving alternative as a viable solution to a brain damaging narrow minded profit making corporate mentality on one hand and a terrific inertia of the consumer masses to view the computer as nothing else but a little more sophisticated typewriter, a fax machine, or a game box on the other. Anybody who really wants to use computer for its computing power is a potential candidate to at one time or another start looking to an alternative to Microsoft.

Had Sun Microsystems been more open towards the "open initiative", made its futuristic vision of cross platform computing really available to everyone, Microsoft would be only a tiny shadow of what it is today. Having said that, I have to agree with one of the earlier comments that it is only the matter of time when these corporate fossils will become nothing more than "letter/info carriers" (nerve systems) of the future computing, as opposed to the computing power (brain) of the newly emerging computing realities.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

So you're saying that Microsoft gained its market share because Sun Microsystems didn't give their product away in an effort to gain market share? You're obviously a supporter of the open source initiative in the country that has taken what started as a movement for interoperability to what now is used as leverage to gain market share. It takes an ignorant lazy mind to buy all of this open source crap. You're probably a supporter of NETZERO too. Remember, their ISP was free for a while. Atleast, they tried to sell people that idea. Didn't take long for folks to realize their phone charges went through the roof for dial up charges. The "Open Initiative".......well, is it "Open Initiative" or "Open Source"...is it Free as is "Freedom of Speech" or Free as in no cash now?

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

Now, take a deep breath, I always loved Sun and its superior cutting edge technology, however, what I am arguing here is this utterly misleading picture of Sun Microsystems being the patron of "open initiative" and the life line for Linux community.

Need I repeat that I see Sun the most responsible for Linux to perform so poorly on the consumer market. Ironically Sun and Linux are the most natural allies and had together the potential IBM stole at least from Sun, even more ironically Sun itself helped IBM to accomplish this. Nevertheless, I still believe Sun's Solaris is better than Linux, however, the today's server market dynamic is governed by open initiative - in this case Linux . IBM never came close to Sun's quality, unfortunately the quality and technical superiority is not always the deciding factor in market driven economy.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

Of course you have no clue of Unix history. Otherwise, you wouldn't be talking ***** about SUN microsystems.
Read some code, study your system, and you will come to admire the contributions made by SUN microsystems. Of course, they are a corporation, with stakeholders, and so on.
Maybe you should run AIX......

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

Very enlightening, and not at all a clich

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

I never said Linux was dead! But rather that it belongs to the community and not to corporations, particularly not Sun who was mentioned in the article as a supporter of "open software".

Much rather I'd sadly complain that Sun didn't embrace Linux like IBM, perhaps taking Debian under it's umbrella and continued development of an alternative to Solaris or even merging the two. I can not imagine Solaris would have survived into today's form. They would most likely have to replace it in a similar way as IBM had to replace their AIX.

Of course Sun fears Linux more than anybody else precisely because of the prospects of destroying Solaris legacy. This lack of vision cost Sun dearly. First they helped IBM, who they originally saw as their real competitor, and in the process created RedHat as the corporate heavy duty and most reliable OS replacing mainframes, but finally and shamefully Microsoft had to "buy them out". Now, don't tell us how corporate mentality is on the side of open initiative. Clearly by the rule "your enemy is my enemy" they are all friends in fight against Linux!

All this is not happening because Linux is disappearing but because it is a formidable contender in the corporate computing, and merely a paper tiger in the consumer computer community where Microsoft reigns. Again, I am not trying to say that Linux is not present and/or worthy opponent to Microsoft! Only the demographics to which it appeals is only a tinny fraction of Microsoft's market share, contrary to what you'd like to make us believe with the stories how your grocery sales person is helping you out with "Linux purchases".

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

I started using Linux before the penguin was voted in. (My first linux t-shirt had a platypus logo.) I liked linux back then. It was pretty much as Linus described it. You knew what you were going to get. Nothing worked. But you followed some very simple directions written by some really amazing individuals, and you built a great system. (Ran Slackware v 2 on my laptop until last summer.) I hung out in the newsgroups, I exchanged e-mail, it was like family.

Personally, I don't think there has been a good "mainstream" distro since Redhat 4.2

But I always thought linux was the perfect home computer OS. I am against the majority, I guess. I am surprised at how much linux is used in the work place. Many businesses are willing to spend the money, unwilling to invest the time, and do not care about the philosophy. Computer hobbiests are just the opposite.

I guess I should bring this long ramble to some sort of point. I built a computer a bit over two years ago, with each part selected to be Linux Compatible. A standard Debian install worked just fine at the time. But, after two years, figured it was time for a software upgrade. I wasn't in the mood to tinker, so I forked over $100 for Suse Pro. Not a darn thing worked -- X config gave me 640x480, keyboard mapping was effed, no printer, no scanner, various other misc headaches. Since I paid the big bucks, thought I'd e-mail tech support. You can guess the answer :P Checked the suse message board to find the blind leading the blind.

I've basically completely rewritten the entire distro to get it to work. Feeling like I am the last person on earth using linux.

The linux community is dead. Linux will become yet another fork in the Unix family tree, repeating the same old mistakes of the old Unix. But this time there will be a different litle group of meaningless loners doing cool things (such as the goofballs over at enlightenment.org).

RedHat's stupid comments

Anonymous's picture

Just wanted to post to express how stupid I think RedHat's comments about "Linux not being ready for the desktop", partly because of driver support. Well gee, take a look at the little Designed for Windows stickers on the front of your computers, could this be why??? Christ, it's annoying enough when journalists say stupid things, but when actual Linux vendors themselves do it. If I want to buy a Linux computer, I buy one designed to run Linux.

Also, Linux started out as an OS for comp enthusiasts and home users. All companies like Red Hat have done have borrowed, giving as little back as possible. All corporations are the same. They are a bunch of using greedy assholes. Without the Linux community Red Hat has shunned, they would be absolutly nothing. There would be no SUSE without the community. I think its time they finally realize that.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

I have to disagree for many reasons.

1) I installed SUSE Pro on 4 computers plus a friends, all of which worked without a hitch.

2) I have had problems, posted to a forum at linuxquestions.org, and been answered within 20 minutes to an hour almost 90% of the time

3) Knoppix, Slackware, Debian, Gentoo, Linspire, Mandrake, Xandros, Ark Linux, YOPER. The list goes on and on of free distributions, none of which aimed at the corporate user specificially, in which fast development continues. You can't tell me any of these distributions are going to end up on corporate desktops all across the States anytime soon :-P.

4) About the Linux community "being dead", personally, I don't know a single person personally that runs a Mac at home (actually, I know one person with an outdated one, but he is going to put Linux on it soon, so he doesn't count). I can think of 6 or 7 people in my head who run Linux on home computers. Every computer store or repair shop I go into has someone onboard with Linux knowledge, not necessarily because they were trained with Linux but they are still willing to help. Do you think I could walk into just any store and receive help with a Mac? Hell, even the people at Future Shop, one of the few places that sell Mac's in my home city, don't know how to use them.

Take a look at the volume of posts at linuxquestions.org being posted everyday, I wouldn't exactly call the Linux community dead just yet.

And of course companies like Red Hat and Novell care more about the enterprise end of things, it's where their money is, but Linspire is the fastest growing desktop operating system in the world.

Trust me, Linux is just getting started.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

Very enlightening, and not at all a clich

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

This article contains all the answers to the question it is asking. One only needs to connect the dots. One thing many, including Tom, refuse to admit is that Linux is not designed to replace Windows, or even to compete with it. Linux evolved long after there were already many alternatives to Micro$oft. It is preposterous to suggest that without Sun helping "Linux" we wouldn't have an alternative to monopolistic computer industry gluttons.

"Red Hat, Novell SuSE, IBM, HP and Sun have put their focus on the enterprise market" because Unix/Linux alternative was designed to help solve computing problems on a large scale and only secondary to amuse the user (administrator, designer, developer, or system manager). In the light of this it is correct to say that "we usually discover that Linux isn't ready for the analyst's desktop", because at work computer professional seldom play games, paint mustache on the faces of tier CEOs or prominent politicians, listen to the music or watch videos.

By all means, we can only be happy and thankful for OpenOffice, GNOME... And if we only exposed the real reasons behind these "give aways"... However, who really knows what is going on with Java will most likely shrug off author's enthusiasm about an exception in corporate world, which helps the community. (After all Bill Gates also gives away millions to help humanitarian organizations and as was mentioned in a recent article's commentaries to education systems at home and abroad! ) These efforts to help the "community" are just a PR.

Linux and open initiative in general represents an orthogonal system to excessive - commercial profit making mentality. In the corporate world, regardless of their name, location or their image, all have one thing in mind when it comes to "helping" the alternative ways, namely, penetrate the movement, steal as much as possible, and destroy the enemy that is the "alternative".

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

I understand that the author has a twenty year history of writing technically? I read this on another site. He's written 15 or more books and hundreds of articles, has had 6 or 7 start-ups and was the CEO of a Fortune 500 co. in the 1980's.

I don't know about you, but I haven't done any of those things. You speak as if you know Tom. Has he said to you that refuses to admit that Linux was designed to replace Windows?

I've been around Linux for many years - I never heard in the beginning anyone say there was a plan for anything other than to have some fun.

I did hear Linus say that his plan was to take over Windows in March 1999 in San Jose at the first Linux World.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

Hello? The author's contention that Linux is an alternative makes sense to me. If it's good enough then why wouldn't home users consider it.

I also think that giving a context to Matthew Szulik's comments about windows helps me understand it for the first time.

Re: Linux in Government: Neglecting the Community, a Commentary

Anonymous's picture

It's interesting when someone commenting on an article assumes the mantle of the Master of Universal Truth before they take issue with points made. Of course, taking quotes out of context has to qualify as a cliche by now.

White Paper
Linux Management with Red Hat Satellite: Measuring Business Impact and ROI

Linux has become a key foundation for supporting today's rapidly growing IT environments. Linux is being used to deploy business applications and databases, trading on its reputation as a low-cost operating environment. For many IT organizations, Linux is a mainstay for deploying Web servers and has evolved from handling basic file, print, and utility workloads to running mission-critical applications and databases, physically, virtually, and in the cloud. As Linux grows in importance in terms of value to the business, managing Linux environments to high standards of service quality — availability, security, and performance — becomes an essential requirement for business success.

Learn More

Sponsored by Red Hat

White Paper
Private PaaS for the Agile Enterprise

If you already use virtualized infrastructure, you are well on your way to leveraging the power of the cloud. Virtualization offers the promise of limitless resources, but how do you manage that scalability when your DevOps team doesn’t scale? In today’s hypercompetitive markets, fast results can make a difference between leading the pack vs. obsolescence. Organizations need more benefits from cloud computing than just raw resources. They need agility, flexibility, convenience, ROI, and control.

Stackato private Platform-as-a-Service technology from ActiveState extends your private cloud infrastructure by creating a private PaaS to provide on-demand availability, flexibility, control, and ultimately, faster time-to-market for your enterprise.

Learn More

Sponsored by ActiveState