Linux in Government: Outside the US, People Get It
During the mid-1990s, I specialized in commerce over the Internet. You can dig around and probably find some of my writings and case studies from that era if you try. In early 1998, I joined a local Cap Gemini office with the mission of starting an e-commerce practice.
At the time, the premiere offering for conducting transactions over the Internet involved the use of Open Market's transact engine and eventually ShopSite Pro and ShopSite Manager store-building software. In the early stages of e-commerce, the transact engine primarily ran on big Sun hardware running Solaris.
Shortly after joining the Cap Gemini and while waiting on client decisions on proposals, the manager of the office asked me to see if I could create an in-house project using his over-populated bench. In fact, so many people had come off contract that our delivery management people couldn't find places for everyone to sit.
Using the firm's state-of-the-art brown paper, I put together a team, reserved a conference room and started asking people what they wanted to do. The group decided to work on an e-commerce project. The only problem with that suggestion involved money. Back in 1998, the cost of an e-commerce stack from Open Market ran around $2.2 million.
One of the bench players hacked Linux and suggested that we create a free e-commerce stack. I had used Linux and even ran it on a machine next to my desk. I liked the idea and assigned each person a task to find different free software components to create a shopping cart and a way to handle and complete a transaction.
Within a couple of weeks, we essentially had duplicated a complete e-commerce pipeline, end-to-end, for free. Granted, it didn't look like off-the-shelf software and it didn't have any GUIs, but it did the job. With our documentation, one easily could maintain and modify the system. Compared to Open Market, our system worked well.
I remember sitting alone in the conference room after everyone had left one evening, looking at the system. In a week, we would start building a commerce-enabled Web site for Ericsson. That company decided to pay for the transportation of Keiko the whale from the Pacific Northwest to Iceland. Our job was to build a Web site where people could make donations and buy Keiko gear. Ericsson intended that site to be a proof of concept to see whether it would build one to sell digital phone accessories.
Sitting in the conference room that day, I got it about open-source software. Ericsson could pay an Open Market partner to clear its transactions at an exorbitant rate, or we could do it for free.
I remember feeling a dilemma. I could let the the Swedish phone company over-pay for something on which my employer would realize a significant profit. Because my employer refused to offer the free solution to its clients, I couldn't offer it the Swedes. I had done the calculations, and in fact, the labor alone would have produced more revenue for my employer than selling the commercial stack.
So, I resolved the dilemma. I left the firm two weeks later and started a Linux company. That's how I got it about Linux and open source.
I advocate the use of GNU/Linux and open-source solutions to help countries around the globe improve their economic conditions. Any country can participate in its region by assembling lost-cost commodity hardware to create jobs and offer those products to its neighbors. The people in those regions can experience the joy of building communities to localize Linux and innovate in areas where they previously have been locked out.
The time has come for countries around the globe to embrace Doc Searls's idea of do-it-yourself IT (DIY-IT). With it, you can discover the simplicity of setting up assembly lines for inexpensive computer parts from China. You also will discover that Linux can make the job of manufacturing such systems even simpler.
Tom Adelstein is a Principal of Hiser + Adelstein, a consulting and operating company specializing in free and open-source software solutions and support. Tom is the co-author of the book Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop, author of an upcoming book on Linux system administration and has written prolifically since 1985. Tom's business career began in public accounting where he first learned to program and develop software and later progressed to Wall Street, where he became the designated principal of a NYSE firm. He later returned to technology and has consulted and worked with start-ups as well leaders of the Fortune 500.