Week of April 17-April 23

by David Penn
April 20

Vocalization! "Hackerdom is a ruthless meritocracy, dedicated to winnowing out bad code and spreading good. A lesson for other voluntary endeavors is that praising people just for showing up will not attract the best talent. To be valuable, reputation and recognition have to signal something significant." Virginia Postrel, "Open-Source Software Arouses Researchers' Curiosity" at New York Times.

Red Hat's Code Blue: It's one thing to claim to be the Linux e-business leader and quite another thing to gobble up private companies whose products and services will improve the way Internet infrastructures and applications manage and maintain customer transactions. Red Hat, the biggest rose in the Linux garden, may not always grab the best technology to add to its Linux package for business (i.e. choosing Hell's Kitchen's CCVS over Payment Plus). But the fact of the matter is that Red Hat is aggressively putting together the most compelling array of e-commerce software for Linux, and their acquisition of management provider, Bluecurve, Inc. only goes to underscore the point. Bluecurve's software allows users to both simulate and measure transaction volume and client/customer activity. This information can then be used to "plan and scale" Internet infrastructures to provide maximum customer service. The company's products, which include Dynameasure 3.0, and services will be available on a subscription basis through Red Hat's web site. Claimed Tom Grubb, co-founder of Bluecurve, "Red Hat and Bluecurve are redefining what it means to buy and use an Internet server OS." The deal is expected to be closed by July 2000. Red Hat will issue over 1.2 million shares in exchange for all outstanding shares of Bluecurve, which is privately held.

ZDNet Nabs Embedded Linux Site: Is the acquisition of LinuxDevices.com by ZDNet half-empty or half-full? Somewhere between ZDNet CEO and president Dan Rosensweig's beaming "a killer site that will be a key addition to our new ZDNet Business & Technology channel" and The Register's "as ever, money, not community, talks" is the reality that there's a whole lot of Linux to go around. And the best of the Linux community--from individual hackers to web sites to entire open-companies--is liable to attract the attention of the best of the larger, high-tech/Internet community. To be sure, Rick Lehrbaum's LinuxDevices.com is a helluva web site, and Dan is right to say that "the authority of his content as the last word on embedded Linux applications and devices is underscored by LinuxDevices.com's sponsor list, which reads like a 'who's who' of the embedded Linux market." Because terms to the deal have not been disclosed as of yet, it is difficult to speculate on the size of the carrot dangled before Rick's eyes. But the increased visibility to what will become his corner of ZDNet's "Linux Resource Center" (not to be confused with Linux Journal's Linux Resources), as well as the additional attention embedded Linux is likely to receive as a featured component of ZDNet's e-content empire, may have been reward enough. Added Bryan Sparks, CEO of Lineo, Inc., "the merger of (ZDNet and LinuxDevices.com) will enable Lehrbaum, who has quickly become a respected analyst for the embedded Linux space, to address a much larger audience seeking to understand the rapid developments in the embedded Linux market."

Bell Labs' Libsafe Outhacks Crackers: The folks who brought you UNIX now bring Libsafe to the GPL. Bell Labs has announced that it is releasing free Linux software that will prevent system intruders from overwhelming an application program's buffer memory in order to gain unauthorized access. According to Bell Labs, which cites a report from the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology, buffer overflows are the most common form of computer security vulnerability exploited by system intruders over the past decade. Buffers are parts of computer memory where applications store information temporarily. Unfortunately, many applications that store information in buffers but do not check the size of the buffers create potential security risks. When attacks are launched, the excess data can overwrite the memory beyond the buffer region, inserting additional code into the application program-- additional code that can take over the program for the purpose of executing the inserted code. Libsafe, a Lucent Technologies product (Bell Labs provided the research and development) does not require the source code of the applications it protects, and the software's effect on computer performance is considered "negligible".

Clued-in/Clued-out "The most important of Microsoft's strong suits is its business savvy. Microsoft's success, I believe, is a product of ingenious strategic business design, great marketing, and superb financial management. Ironically, for a company so closely associated with technology, Microsoft's specialty is not at all in developing innovative technology, but rather in designing profitable business models." Matt Richey, "Macrosoft: The Bull Argument" at Fool.com.

April 19

Vocalizations! "Dropping the install CD into the tray and then complaining because certain system functions temporarily drop off the map is missing the point. People who do that are running the wrong OS just because it's the hot thing. It's fashionware. Fashionware happens to be a chunk of my job description, but for the rest of you, this is one fashion that requires work. What folks need to realize is that this 'work' they're usually badmouthing is really what Linux is all about." Oliver Rist, from "Red Hat's Linux 6.2 Good in Heavy Traffic", at Tech Web.

Art? Science? Tetris!: Among the Ivy League, Brown University has a bit of a reputation as being, well, the Pearl Jam to Harvard's Rolling Stone or Yale's Aerosmith. By this, I mean that Brown University and its students are technically part of the Ivy League cabal, but there's always been something to set Brown apart as a little alternative, as if, Ivy League notwithstanding, there was something that Brown had that the other tony New England colleges of similar stature lacked. But how were we to know the Brown difference was a 14-story-tall Tetris game running on Linux? The inspiration of art student Nicholas Lochmatow and project architect Soren Spies, the super-sized Tetris game (called "La Bastille") consists of a network of 10,000 light bulbs arrayed along the windows of the Sciences Library on the Brown campus. The game is played with a Windows CE machine that is connected to a Linux server. According to a story at CNET News, between 50 and 100 people have played "La Bastille" so far. Take a look for yourself at the La Bastille web site.

Is Caldera Tossing in the Towel?: Hearing reports of Caldera Systems' CEO Ransom Love addressing the Comdex 2000 crowd, the Rookery has to wonder how often audience members asked themselves: "What in the world is Love coming to?" It isn't so much that Ransom is trying to dampen the permanent revolution mentality of many Linux devotees by encouraging an "evolutionary" Linux development as opposed to a "revolutionary" one, nor is his claim that the Linux operating system is a "proprietary platform" especially controversial--particularly given his finessed definition of proprietary. But the directness of Ransom's comments, which strike at the heart of the Linux mythos, make it easy to wonder how much of what Ransom had to say was philosophy for the Linux movement and how much was marketing for Caldera Systems. Where other Linux companies, such as Red Hat, are focused on deepening their Linux presence through acquisitions of development tool makers, and other Linux companies, such as TurboLinux, are focused on, among other things, expansion at (virtually) all costs, Caldera Systems has been seen increasingly as the Linux industry's chaplain: great values, loads of common sense and a positive role model for many of the lesser Linux outfits ... but perhaps not the one you want in your foxhole when the going gets tough. The fact of the matter is that evolution is revolutionary, as any Darwinist will tell you. And the gentle arc of evolution that we are able to see has more to do with the privilege of our viewing point than it does with the truth of how life got from amoebas to army ants.

More Corel/Borland Merger Trouble: The merger of Corel Corporation and Borland/Inprise continues to run into snag after snag. Most recently, Borland/Inprise investor Management Insights, Inc. filed suit against Borland/Inprise, attempting to block that company's as-yet-unconsumated merger with Corel. The lawsuit calls the stock swap part of the deal, converting each share of Borland/Inprise to .747 share of Corel, "unfair" and goes further to say that the agreement was reached through "misrepresentations" of Corel's present and anticipated financial status. Management Insights' CEO Robert Coates resigned from the board of directors of Borland/Inprise the day before the merger was announced, pointing to many of these same charges against the acquisition plan. Indeed, Management Insights' lawsuit notes that Borland/Inprise directors had a financial responsibility to pull out of the merger as soon as the "misstatements" were discovered. According to a source close to Borland/Inprise, while members of both Corel Corporation and Borland/Inprise are enthusiastic about the merger, shareholders are likely to continue to oppose the deal--particularly with the continued softness in both companies' share prices. As of 10:00 a.m. PST, Borland/Inprise (INPR) was trading at about $5 3/4. Corel (CORL) trades at a slight premium, just over $8 per share. Management Insights owns a five percent stake in Borland/Inprise.

Clued-in/Clued-out "The dot-com generation will get squeezed by more skilled baby-boom managers and aggressive Generation Y newcomers. Former dot-com managers will end up working for their elders and their juniors." George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, as quoted in Wired.

April 18

Vocalizations! "I don't think the free software community and users actually need two desktops. If the KDE system had been completely free from the start, I would have probably happily joined their team. But I think freedom is important, so starting a different desktop project with freedom in mind as the #1 requirement was the right thing to do in my opinion." Ettore Perazzoli, GNOME developer, in an interview at LinuxPapers.org.

Linuxcare, Heal Thyself: Just over a week after Linuxcare's CEO Fernand Sarrat left Linuxcare, another top executive similarly is hitting the bricks; G2News is reporting that Linuxcare CIO Doug Nassaur is no longer with the company. While the potential prurient quotient of Fernand's departure (rumors of "personal relationships" and other intimate indiscretions in particular) may have helped some observers to view his situation as relatively isolated, Doug Nassaur's leaving may prove a bit more spin-resistant. Doug came to Linuxcare after being Vice President for Technical Operations for E*Trade and, reportedly, alienated Linuxcare's open source faithful with plans for a "Linuxcare answer machine" that would be the centerpiece of the company's support service operation. Apparently, Doug's dream was not only expensive and controversial, but also development of "Sorcerer", as the plan was allegedly called, was being subcontracted out to a pair of companies using proprietary technology. While it is uncertain as to what will become of "Sorcerer", what does seem clear is that Linuxcare is cleaning house. True, the executive deck shuffling has contributed to the postponement of Linuxcare's planned IPO. But it appears that none of the executive departures have anything to do with disagreements over the core business plan of the company--which, most fundamentally, is geared toward providing enterprise-level Linux support. And if Fernand and/or Doug were becoming the loci of a certain volume of discontent, weeding them out today may be the best bet for a stronger, more robust Linuxcare tomorrow.

Damn the Market! Venture Capital Ahead! In spite of the recent drubbing Linux stocks have taken in 2000, investor interest in Linux companies is continuing almost without a hitch. Eazel, Inc., a company started by former Apple Computer veterans that is developing an easy-to-use Linux GUI (graphical user interface) based on the GNOME desktop environment, has just announced an $11 million investment from Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Accel Partners. Eazel, led by Mike Boich, president and chief executive officer, plans to use the funding for both staff and product development. The company's first product, code named Nautilus, is a graphical shell that will help users manage files, and is scheduled to be released sometime this summer. Elsewhere in the Linux universe, TurboLinux announced investments from both Oracle and Pacific Century CyberWorks, a subsidiary of Pacific Century Group and an Intel partner.

Are Linux Companies Peaking? The supposition behind the story at Computer Reseller News, "Perception Vs. Reality", is that the recent market correction suggests that Linux companies have had their day in the sun and may one day soon find themselves as the acquisition targets of corporations like IBM, Dell and Compaq. Ironically, it is also the soaring interest in Linux on the part of a number of established high-technology companies that is fueling speculation that, perhaps in the next five to ten years, many of the smaller distributions (and perhaps a few of the larger distributions, as well) may actually become divisions of larger companies. Imagine Caldera Systems as the "Linux division" of IBM, or Red Hat as the "open source division" of Dell Computer Corporation and you have an idea of where commercial Linux companies may end up. None of the established companies have indicated any serious intent to acquire a Linux distribution company, except to iterate their enthusiasm for the open source operating system and to predict that, sooner or later, a form of consolidation will eventually take over. But the softness in the stock prices of many Linux companies, and lingering questions over the viability of the open source business model (particularly in the context of competition with larger, more established companies who can pick and choose which elements of the open source business model they will subscribe to), may make acquiring a Linux company a relatively easy way for corporations like Dell and SGI to quickly get up to Linux speed.

Clued-in/Clued-out "One company whose fortunes mirrored the Linux craze was Corel, the Canadian maker of WordPerfect. After announcing a Linux-based strategy, its stock surged from $5 a share to $45 last fall. But since early December, the shares have fallen back to around $6. Maybe it's time for a new strategy." David Einstein, from "Wall Street Sours on Linux" at Forbes.com.

April 17

Vocalizations! "Just as the spread of literacy in the late middle ages disenfranchised old power structures and led to the flowering of the renaissance, it's been the ability of individuals to share knowledge outside the normal channels that has led to our current explosion of innovation. Just as ease of travel helped new ideas to spread, wide area networking has allowed ideas to spread and take root in new ways. Open source is ultimately about communication." Tim O'Reilly, from "Open Source: The Model for Collaboration in the Age of the Internet" at the O'Reilly Network.

The Latest from Lineo, Part 3: Is it too early to crown Lineo king of embedded Linux? Probably, given the size of the embedded Linux bandwagon these days. But with every acquisition, Lineo inches closer and closer to the throne, and the news received today--that Lineo has acquired another pair of embedded systems companies--does little to dispell that notion. Just who are they who have joined Lineo's embedded ranks? First up is INUP, a French company that specializes in "Linux-based clustering software package(s) for CompactPCI". This acquisition brings two of the hottest trends in Linux--clustering and embedded systems--further into the Lineo tent. Bryan Sparks, Lineo's CEO, went so far as to suggest that the purchase of INUP meant that Lineo would be able to provide "the full spectrum of embedded devices." By the way, PCI stands for "peripheral component interconnect", and refers to a standard for connecting peripherals (such as disks, keyboards, monitors, etc.) to PCs. CompactPCI is a similar standard for high performance, industrial computers and is used as a bus in computer telephony, real-time data acquisition and industrial automation applications. (More information on CompactPCI is available at this FAQ). Lineo's other acquisition announcement of the day involved Fireplug Computers, a Canadian company that developed the ThinLinux distribution and software toolkit. The fifth company purchased by Lineo, Fireplug Computers brings both an embedded firewall and ThinLinux--which is reportedly geared toward traditional UNIX programmers--to the Lineo fold, along with a sizable array of development tools.

Market Timing?: There are good times and there are bad times. And good and bad times to talk about both. This is the crux of the problem for Michael J. Hammel, Linux Evangelist and author who has penned more than a few articles for Linux Journal, who's timing for the launch of his Linsider Linux Weekly Stock Summary could not be more awkward. In case you've been in a cavern or cubicle for the past seven or eight-odd days, the stock market is slowly picking itself up from the canvas today after last week's TKO-caliber beating. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) was down over 800 points for the week, and the Nasdaq was off an incredible 1,153 points. That represents a loss of 34% from its March highs. (See the New York Times for general coverage, Red Herring for more tech-specific reports.) Undaunted, Michael marches on, evaluating and speculating on the prospects of Linux companies amidst the current market madness. What will be interesting to watch will be his (and others) analysis of Linux shares both in and of themselves as well as constituents of the broader equities market. If understanding open source business models makes many investors' heads spin, then getting a handle on the valuations of open source businesses has to be all the more maddening. But that hasn't stopped anyone, from Linsight to the Linux Weekly News Stock Report, from giving it a whirl.

Photogenics Fun: Remember when Linux Journal let everybody know that Photogenics, a graphics package originally slated for the Amiga, was being ported to Linux? Perhaps not. Well, in any event, Paul Nolan Software has just announced the public beta release of its Photogenics 4.5 for Linux. Said Paul, "People just seem to love the ability to erase mistakes as easily as they were made, and do simple yet amazing things like spray on all of the image processing filters without having to first make tedious masks." And it is this ease of use is one of the things that has so many people gearing up to get at Photogenics. As Paul said in advance of Photogenics' demonstration debut at COMDEX last fall, "what it comes down to is that Photogenics ... doesn't aim to clone Photoshop ... Even if you have no artistic abilities whatsoever, you can create incredible effects just by doodling." Photogenics 5.0 is expected to be available as a boxed package as early as this summer, though the "leading Linux software publisher" who will reportedly be distributing the product has yet to be named.

Clued-in/Clued-out "Computers can be powerful tools of domination when a few people control what other people's computers do. The publishers realized that by forcing people to use specially designated software to read e-books, they can gain unprecedented power: they can compel readers to pay, and identify themselves, every time they read a book!" Richard Stallman, from "Freedom--Or Copyright?" at Technology Review.

Linux Flashback!  The April 1995 edition of the Linux Journal, issue 12, featured "Building Shared Libraries" by Eric Kasten, a Linux port tour by Joseph L. Brothers, and Terry Dawson's article on "Ethernetting Linux."

Wanna let everybody know? Send your announcements, thoughts, comments, rude gestures and flattering remarks to: rookery@linuxjournal.com

Load Disqus comments