Interview: Caldera's Ransom Love

by Marjorie Richardson

Ransom H. Love, President and CEO of Caldera Systems, Inc. gave one of the keynotes at the OpenSource Forum in Austin, Texas on June 30. He talked about the impact of Linux and Open Source on businesses today. Later in the day, he graciously gave me some of his time to discuss what we can expect from Caldera now and in the future.

Margie: What are your thoughts about today's conference?

Ransom: It's exciting to see a conference focused on Linux in the enterprise. Just the fact that there is a conference along those lines is quite a vindication, I guess, that Linux is a valid business alternative which is kind of our say. There wasn't a large number of attendees, but oftentimes it's not the quantity but the quality of people looking and the jury is still out on exactly what that means as far as ongoing businesses and relationships.

Margie: Do you think they will go away believing Linux is the answer?

Ransom: Well, you know, as far as the information that has been presented, I think it's been very solid, very focused, very good information. All the feedback I've gotten from everybody in the conference has been very solid. I don't know that anyone is going to be convinced, but I think they are going to walk away and begin to evaluate. That's all you want to achieve; if they can begin that cycle of evaluating, that's all you need. You just need your foot in the door, because Linux works. That's truly the goal and I think the conference has achieved that. I think attendees were split almost half and half—half had already deployed or were evaluating Linux, the other half were considering it. I think they will begin the process.

Margie: On one of the last panels, one of the speakers was saying that Linux wasn't enterprise-ready at all. You needed to be there to tell him he was wrong.

Ransom: I think the problem is, what does “enterprise-ready” truly mean? Does it mean having a list of features and functionalities that people want? Does it mean it's stable enough? Does it mean it's scalable enough? To say “enterprise-ready” is to say you have given it somebody's definition. To me, it means it works; it does what it says it does. There is no argument whatsoever that Linux does what you say it can do. It's solid; it works; integrators and VARS deploy it as the predominant platform for businesses all over the world. The question becomes, does it have all the fine tuned options, such as SMP, that other systems have? Does it have all the high intricate file systems and other such things? No. But does that mean it's not enterprise ready? No. Because there is an awful lot of functionality that goes into the enterprise, but what you really need is something that works.

Margie: Right. In your discussion, one of the attendees asked if Linux is going to replace NT for the desktop. I liked your answer and I thought you could repeat it briefly here.

Ransom: Okay, very good. I think the answer to that is the desktop itself has changed. It's rapidly evolving from just a PC that is monolithic with a lot of maps and memory, to being broken up. On the software side, the browser itself is becoming the interface, and more and more applications are being served down to the desktop from a server environment using the Internet protocols. If that is where the browser is going, then Linux is going to play a major role. Its small footprint can be remotely managed, it is very stable and all those applications can be fed to the browser as well as any other platform. It's an excellent Java platform. So all of these application servers being developed will feed those types of applications out to a thin Linux environment. And it will play very, very strongly. Even the new devices, the NCs, and such are coming preloaded with Linux. Will it replace that large monolithic PC? Maybe not, but who cares? At that point, Linux will play where it plays well. It will add significant value in that shift, if the desktop, as well as the server, changes form and comes into the more economical, more manageable forms we are starting to see.

Margie: You also talked about standards and certifications. As part of your education courses, you are going to offer certification. Are you doing this in cooperation with LPI, or is this something you are doing independently?

Ransom: No. As you know, we are a platinum sponsor of LPI and played an integral role in getting LPI set up, but they are an independent organization. We want them to be an independent organization, because we want them to supply an industry standard. So they are creating all the certification testing. We aren't even going to touch that. What we will provide is the educational courses necessary to give somebody all the information they need in order to pass that certification. Our courses are not OpenLinux-specific; they are Linux and designed to teach someone how to become certified using the LPI standard. We are working with LPI and contributing, financially and otherwise, to create this certification. Then, in turn, we are creating the coursework that can bring someone up to the knowledge they need to pass those tests. So you get the benefits of all those. LPI certification, open source, you can go through them and do the tests yourself, but if you want some assistance, we can provide you with literally 20 different courses that can get you trained and educated so that you can feel comfortable taking and passing those test suites.

Margie: And they are all Linux in general, not Caldera-specific?

Ransom: Yes, Linux in general. We feel it is critical that the standard be Linux. A Linux-certified engineer means a heck of a lot more than being a Red Hat or Caldera or SuSE engineer. For businesses, for certification of an individual to have any kind of meaning, that certification must have a lot of credibility. So that has been our focus with education from the beginning. We're very excited about the potential of LPI rolling out certification. The other aspect of that is the channels to deliver that education, because many corporations are worldwide, so they need to have educational coursework worldwide. Our announcement last week with IBM where they are going to roll these courses out through all of their educational training centers is a significant and unique announcement in this industry. So we are very excited about the potential of that, because now, corporations and VARs and integrators worldwide can deploy solutions and be able to get people educated, trained and supported. Another aspect of that announcement is IBM is doing worldwide support of OpenLinux—now we have the mechanism to deploy solutions globally.

Margie: I thought that was surprising too, because everybody thought IBM was just working with Red Hat.

Ransom: No, and the relationship with IBM is significant—let me make this clear—not because they are playing favorites. They literally are playing with all Linux providers. But because of our business model and our focus on business, many aspects of the things we are doing match up on a broader scale for what IBM wants to do. Thus, you'll see more and more relationships with us. Anyone else could step up and offer the same things if they had the same focus and business model as we do. Again, this is just a confirmation of our focusing Linux for business in the match you see now forming with IBM as we roll forward. And you'll probably see that with other companies as well, on that same level.

Margie: We received a good response to our article on standards in the June issue. In particular, your part of it, because you were willing to say more than anyone else. You dominated the conversation, people liked it, and as a result, see you as a leader in the Standards drive. Are you just giving it lip service or do y'all actually have people on the inside working with LSB?

Ransom: Well, Ralf Flaxa, who is actually the head of our engineering team in Germany, is heading up that whole reference platform, which we feel is a critical part of that LSB certification. The reason being, because as you agree to a written specification, you need a proof of concept of that specification—to be sure it actually works and everyone is happy with that specification. You can then do re-integrations on the specification to improve and enhance it. We have freed up Ralf—almost 100 percent of his time is now allocated to working on the Linux Standard Base to help drive, manage and chair it. He isn't the only one working on it, but he is the chair and therefore we are trying to free up his time so that he can, in fact, deliver the reference platform of the standard. In addition, we have and will continue to provide resources to the Linux Standard Base group of committees. For example, for their last meeting we did fly a number of the Debian developers in to attend the meeting, so they could all come together. We are expending resources in other ways to try to facilitate and push and help things along. IBM is also doing some wonderful things, now rallying behind Linux Standard Base and working and collaborating with many other ISVs. They are looking for ISVs to come in and help put additional pressure into this area of standards. We are very excited about that. ISVs are starting to become more vocal about the needs and I think that will help others. Once people realize that ISVs are serious and the applications need to be there—it's just a matter of time and momentum—the pressure will bring about significant movement. One of the reasons why we are so passionate about that is we have worked with VARs from day one. The VAR channel and system integrators have been key, because they have a lot of those applications. We heard about this need a long time ago because of our business focus. That's one of the reasons we have been so vocal and such a strong advocate of standards.

Margie: Exactly what is your Linux tour about? Y'all came by and saw us, is that demonstration pretty much what you are doing everywhere?

Ransom: Well, we actually have three different tours we are doing right now. One is the “I Develop” tour with Oracle. We are the only Linux distribution going worldwide to their “I Develop” conference. So, that's been very positive and has some very good feedback among the developers who are looking to develop and deploy Oracle solutions and related solutions on top of Linux. We are also doing the Network Professional Association tour, where they are touring the country meeting with their affiliate groups and associate groups. They are doing some significant evangelism, if you will, of OpenLinux and education especially. They actually helped us develop our latest administration course that allows someone coming in with an MSVE or CNE background to get the specific training they need to bring them up to speed on Linux. They actually helped us develop that course, so they are out there helping us evangelize it through the Network Professional Association. Our more significant tour is called the OpenLinux tour. Ziff-Davis helped us host it through their conferences and that side of their business. We've coordinated the city-to-city tour ourselves, and IBM and Oracle are co-sponsors. We've gone to eight cities already and we will be going to another seven cities as part of that first phase. That has been very, very successful. We obviously are targeting VARs and system integrators in each of the cities, and we have had an excellent response. The VARs are very enthusiastic about the fact that IBM and Oracle are very serious about Linux. That gives it some validity and our experience with the VAR and integration channels has a very strong appeal. We know what the VARs want and how to help them drive solutions on Linux. So we are pleased with the response.

Margie: When you came by to see us, you showed us Caldera's new easy install, Lizard. Tell us about that.

Ransom: That was when we were actually rolling out our 2.2 product and the first part of Lizard. We will have some exciting announcements coming up here as we get ready to open source it. We don't want to just throw it out there. We literally want it to be an interactive development kind of thing, so that it can literally be a standard in Linux. So we are creating an entire open-source site, so that developers can interact with and maintain and keep it up. A lot of our open-source projects are going to be moving on to that site and into electronic format with more of a developer focus to give the support and the ongoing maintenance of the technology an opportunity to be very successful. There is an announcement that will be coming out soon. So that's what we are doing. It's not just a matter of simply publishing the source; we could do that. We truly want it to be published in a way that is meaningful, so that developers can get the information they need and good access to the technology. We are doing a little more work there.

Margie: Is there a date when this might happen?

Ransom: It's coming very soon.

Margie: Very soon, okay, that will do. How about new features that are as exciting as Lizard? Do you have any of those coming up in the next release?

Ransom: Well, obviously, Lizard was the first integration of the product, so there are a lot of things we didn't have time to put in the first release that we are definitely going to see in the second release. We are very excited about the enhancements we've been able to make to Lizard—additional platforms, other kinds of things we can drive there, so that's a big improvement. We have been able to put a lot of other things into the product—things like unattended install. Lizard is a wonderful thing for a one-time install, but many of our VARs, integrators and the major OEMs want the ability to basically install once and have it replicated across many units. So that's an aspect we are putting into this next product. We have a few more commercial applications, a few more upgrades to existing commercial applications and things like that which will be made available. There are a couple other features, but we are saving them. We think they are really significant from a business perspective, but we don't want to let the cat out of the bag too soon.

Margie: Okay, I understand that. KDE is now a part of your distribution. Do you think the main way to attract people to Linux is to look like Windows?

Ransom: Well, again, we believe in providing Linux as a targeted solution. All of our research on those people who are buying Linux—we have gathered a lot of data—tells us that well over 50 percent of the people buying Linux today are buying Linux and UNIX for the first time. On our city-to-city tour, by the way, a lot of the VARs—well over 61 percent—are novices when it comes to UNIX; they don't even know anything about it. The number of people who are moving from Windows or wanting an alternative to Windows is significant. These people are evaluating Linux. So what we've done with Linux is target those first-time users in such a way as to give them an experience that won't send them running away screaming. They are used to a point-and-click interface and interaction with the system; they are used to it all being graphical; they are used to a kind of WYSIWYG-type environment, so we tried to deliver a solution that would allow them to have a good experience. Now, that doesn't take away any of the power of Linux. Underneath the covers, it's still Linux. In fact, many of these things actually appeal to developers, because they give them a more controlled environment, kind of a single-product environment that they can optimize and play to their heart's content. Now, you'll see us come out with other products very soon that are again more targeted, that have a more WYSIWYG first-time user graphical environment. You will see us come out with a server environment that won't have a graphical environment, but instead will be in a browser. It will be browser-based so that the system can be headless and keyboardless, and you can deploy and manage Linux completely remotely. So we extend code now to include an entire web interface, not just the graphical KDE, and that's the next phase you will see very shortly. We believe that for businesses and VARs and others to get their hands around Linux, we will do a lot of the packaging and focusing and creating a solution so they can focus on adding to it. They do not have to manage Linux or sort through all these different things to get their solution—we give them a basic solution and they just add theirs to it. What you are seeing is us trying to appeal to the market and the customers who are now moving in and buying Linux for the first time.

Margie: Last year, Caldera split into two parts. Has that worked out?

Ransom: Yes, actually it has. Well, what do you think about 2.2?

Margie: I like it.

Ransom: Has it worked out?

Margie: Okay, I can't argue with that.

Ransom: Actually, it's been very good. It has allowed a lot of focus on the two different areas. There is some significant difference between an embedded-type application and the desktop server or even the non-traditional PC-like devices that are being broken up. There are differences there, and I think allowing us to focus down on the two different areas has been very positive for both sides. The thin-clients group has a wonderful set-top device they've developed; the browser is highly optimized to achieve the environment. It's a wonderful platform. We have been able to focus on delivering real solutions that I think add value, not only to ourselves, but to Linux in general as we publish Lizard and everything back.

Margie: Is your Linux for Business focus working? With your relationships with IBM and Oracle, it certainly looks like it is.

Ransom: Yes, and I think more than ever, the proof is in the pudding. What are you seeing? What type of solutions are we delivering? What type of activities are you seeing in and around what we are delivering? I think the relationships and the products—not just OpenLinux 2.2, but the educational products which have been released and announced, and the many more coming—are the proof in the pudding. We are actually delivering on our promises and commitments and getting solutions to the market. People worldwide are recognizing the value of OpenLinux. It's totally different from any other Linux out there. There really is no comparison, and yet we are using the same kernels and libraries—do you see what I'm saying? It is the focus that makes the difference. I think that will pan out even more in the coming days and weeks and months as more and more announcements come out.

Margie: So are you seeing an increase in market share?

Ransom: Oh, my goodness! It's fun!

Margie: I'll take that as a yes.

Ransom: Well, again, I don't know that we are taking market share from anyone, but we are definitely taking the new users who we are targeting. A lot of them are coming over and taking a look and evaluating. We are definitely appealing to the VARs and systems integrators worldwide, who we are also targeting. That's our customer. It's not that it's at the expense of anyone else—I guess it is in some degree, because we are taking a larger percentage of the new consumer of Linux.

Margie: Tell us a bit about Caldera's business philosophy.

Ransom: Well, to give you an idea, we kind of believe the kernel and the underlying infrastructure needs to be and should be open source—there is no question about it. It adds so much value to the application providers, the solution providers, everyone, because having an open source allows them to optimize, customise and deploy solutions more effectively. Where we differ from some is that we believe there is a role and place for binary-only applications and solutions or proprietary hardware components—a very important role. Billions of dollars are spent, you know. We shouldn't run away screaming, saying that is bad, that is taboo. Because there is significant value in a solution that the combination has put together to solve a business need that you may or may not get from a pure open-source model. It may be years; how do you provide incentives for people to work on some aspects that just aren't appealing? So there is an element and a need for both proprietary and open-source software. The models should be used where they make sense, and the combination which creates the best solution for the customer, the best solution for the industry and everybody involved. That's where we vary a little bit from some. We feel very strongly that to solve business solutions, to solve the customer needs, the best of both worlds is really the right approach.

2.2 is a prime example; we have Power Quest and PartitionMagic, which give a non-destructive, on-the-fly resizing. Well, we don't have those partitioning tools yet in an open-source fashion that give you the same level of confidence with the same level of interface. Why not take Linux with all of its beauty and functionality and couple it with this? Now, you've created a real solution that a greater majority of people can use today. So the combination is good.

Another example is Apache/IBM; you have the security aspects of that which will never be open source. Is that bad? No! The whole nature of the reason it's not is that it's secure! You can't open source it. So, is that wrong? Is that bad? No. It has a value, and the combination of the two make perfect sense as a business opportunity and solution. I'll fight with the best of them on protecting open standards and maintaining the basic kernel core as open source, because that's the value of the whole model. But I think we need to develop interfaces that allow for binary interaction—that it's not just open source and forcing open source. Another example: we have all these major players coming in, and we have meetings with nearly all of them. They are very excited about trying to help Linux move forward. They are looking at publishing technologies that would take years to develop, just as a good gesture to contribute back to the community and add value. They want Linux to succeed. But you know what? There are some aspects they will never publish, nor do they want to, nor does it make sense for them to do so. Is that bad? No; you get the benefit of all this technology and all the knowledge, and the customer gets the solutions because they are all integrated. That's great; let's evaluate each one and not throw up official barriers.

Margie: Will Caldera be going public?

Ransom: I think it's everybody's dream to go public, especially in the software industry. Frankly, my major goal for our company is to be a valid, viable business and let the natural consequences take place from that. There is no question that we, like every software company on the planet, are preparing ourselves for the eventuality of doing something bigger, grander and better. Our model is a little different than others; it's not a rush to get out and be the first one to do an IPO. That's not the issue. When we do an IPO, we want it to be a solid business decision with solid business solutions surrounding it that can sustain an IPO. I guess we are a little bit more conservative in some ways in that we are going to take the time to forge the relationships, to build the business, to deliver the solution, so that when we do an IPO, we are doing it to fund the business and not to buy one.

I think there are many companies preparing themselves for IPOs. I think that is great. I won't lie to you; we will do everything in our power, but we'll do it when it's right for the business and we feel we have a sustainable business moving forward. And we do now, as far as the numbers, we are looking fine, but we are in a phase of maturation. It's important to see what we look like after we go through puberty!

Margie: Sounds good. Last question: what did you have for breakfast this morning?

Ransom: Fruit and oatmeal.

Margie: All right—my favorites. Thank you for your time.

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