LinuxWorld Expo SF 2003: Show Report, Part 1

by Doc Searls

Two days into the show and there are exactly two big stories:

  1. i

  2. SCO vs. Everybody

  3. Novell buys Ximian

That's even though SCO news is nothing new, and Novell (at this moment, at least) doesn't mention the Ximian purchase on its Web site (even though it has three news items dated today, all involving Linux).

So let's take worst things first.

Just for FUD

The SCO story isn't new, of course; it's the latest episode of a saga that began in March, when the company filed a $billion lawsuit against IBM.

Every day, it seems, the story keeps getting weirder. Usually, when companies sue each other, they make their announcements and then shut up while lawyers hash it out. Not SCO. These guys hold press conferences on about a weekly basis. The latest was held this morning to announce a Linux "licensing" scheme. For a low introductory price of $699 per CPU, you can buy rights to use the same free software that SCO will be pricing at $1,399 after October 15.

Yesterday's SCO news came from Red Hat, which announced a formal complaint against the litigious company. Here's how Red Hat explained it:

The purpose of this complaint is to demonstrate that Red Hat's technologies do not infringe any intellectual property of SCO and to hold SCO accountable for its unfair and deceptive actions.

We filed this complaint to stop SCO from making unsubstantiated and untrue public statements attacking Red Hat Linux and the integrity of the Open Source software development process. Red Hat is confident that its current and future customers will continue to realize the significant value that our Red Hat Linux platform provides without interruption.

SuSE weighed in with support for Red Hat:

We applaud their efforts to restrict the rhetoric of the SCO group -- and the FUD they are trying to instill -- and will determine quickly what actions SuSE can take to support Red Hat in their efforts.

We call on SCO to stop the fear, uncertainty and doubt and join with the rest of the IT community in building Linux into the next quantum advance in technology.

Monkey on Their Front

Some of the kindest words for Red Hat came from Novell CEO Jack Messman, at the press conference where the company explained the Ximian acquisition. "I have to admire the steps Red Hat took yesterday", Messman said, after saying he really shouldn't comment on matters under litigation. Yet he couldn't resist the temptation. "As you know, there is pending and threatened litigation", he said, adding "there have been a number of unsubstantiated claims of intellectual property violations", and "I think that there's a lot of FUD being thrown at Linux."

Yet the big question in the thought balloon over everybody's head in the room was: Why?

Nat Friedman, Ximian co-founder and VP of product development, went straight to the question: "I just want to say a couple of words about why we, as Ximian, might want to team up with a company like Novell to do anything..." Then, getting serious about the matter, he added,

What we discovered coming into Novell, by the time we stated meeting with them, (was that) they had already made the decision that Linux was where the industry was going, that open source was the right model, and that there was an enormous opportunity here for an actual enterprise software company to do a great job of driving Linux adoption and solving a lot of problems.... Novell was the first actual enterprise software company to do that. So we got excited because we always had a very grand set of ambitions in terms of what we'd like to accomplish and where we'd like to go.

As Nat reviewed Ximian's development history -- GNOME, tools, Mono, Evolution -- it was clear he felt Ximian had its feet in two realities: the Linux development community and enterprise reality, which has been Novell's native habitat for decades. And that was where the challenge lay. Maybe too big a challenge:

The problem we had was we couldn't build an integrated solution for somebody. If you were the government of Brazil or a regional government in Spain or something like that, and you needed a large scale deployment, and you needed enterprise support...we couldn't do that. So we were excited to get...the enterprise capabilities that Novell has behind our goal. That was really what got us worked up. Then we were shocked to discover that Novell actually had a really strong commitment to Linux and open source. They understood this stuff before we came in the door.

Nat also laid out Novell's next challenge:

The desktop is the next big thing for Linux. This is where we're going to see the most exciting activity, the most non-incremental and explosive activity, in the next couple of's going to be an edge-in thing...technical workstations -- all the UNIX workstations are going to be Linux. It's Intel. It's cheaper. It just makes more sense. And then you move in to single use cases like supply chain management, customer relationship management, where people use one or two applications on a daily basis. And as we progress over the next several years, we'll move toward the general office worker.

All of which is on or close to home turf for Novell, which is why Nat clearly thought he had a good fit with the company. From the audience side, it was clear that, at the very least, buying Ximian legitimized Novell as a Real Linux Company.

Through the whole talk, a single slide occupied the screen at the front of the room. While it showed graphically where Ximian's various stuff lines up in Novell's product and service stack (Ximian in blue, Novell in red), it was clear that what mattered most was the bottom (gray) stratum: Open Source Ecosystem.

Clearly Novell knows that's where it lives now. It will be interesting to see how free Ximian (whose Monkey logo presumably will go away) will be to pry the rest of the company's products open. More than once the Novell folks said they weren't closed to the prospect. So: we'll see.

Tomorrow: A look at the Customer side.

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal and covers the business beat. His monthly column in the magazine is Linux For Suits, and his bi-weekly newsletter is SuitWatch.


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