cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the Walk

by Chris DiBona

I recently attended the Open Source Business Conference, and as I walked along the aisles of the main keynote hall, I watched my fellow conference goers, and it got me thinking.

Clayton Christensen was up there going on about innovation this and company that at this well-attended gathering of what I would consider pretty high-end executive talent. The talk of the conference was, as you have likely gleaned from its title, open-source software development, methodologies and business. How you use it. How it came to be. How others use it. How it is maintained. How you can take part. How is company X taking part? Why is open-source software so grand? And so on and so forth. All of them were good talks, mostly given by people for whom I have a good amount of respect. There was only one glaring problem.

In this gathering of people, who I can only assume value and are enthusiastic about free and open-source software, very few people actually were running an open-source operating system. I was running Linux on my laptop, Brian Behlendorf was running FreeBSD on his PictureBook and I saw one or two others.

This gave me pause. Why, at a place where so many people are interested in Linux, was so little of it seen? Why were these people somehow unable to walk the walk? A number of them were running iBooks, so it wasn't that they're afraid of alternative operating systems.

I thought to myself, is Linux still not very fun? It almost always has been for me. Is it difficult to install? No more so than any other OS, and it's easier than some. Are there no compelling applications? With the noted exception of Microsoft Office, most applications have a capable analog available for Linux or are themselves available.

Then, is that it? Is it Office? Nah. I think the fault is ours or, if you're not in the mood to accept some responsibility, mine. Not that I think we have an obligation or duty to promote Linux. But it's something to consider.

Doing so is simple, really, go to the Knoppix or SuSE Live Web site. Download the ISO image and burn it. Then, simply, give it away. It won't hurt anyone and it could show them that Linux is a terrific operating system. It's happy simply to be there in your bag, ready to run from the CD-ROM to rescue your friend's Windows machine. It's there for you when you need to retrieve a file from a stuck Windows installation. It's there for you when you need to plug in an old zip disk, formatted with HPFS, and read the old documents off it. It's there for you when you need to pull some tar data off a tape drive. Linux is there for you when you want to play Quake or surf the Web or send e-mail or compose a document or code or work on your digital camera pics or design a Web page or build a database.

It also is there for you now, tomorrow and the next day.


Because it is yours to enjoy and yours to control. It's yours to modify--just distribute your changes if you disseminate your binaries. Burn it and spread some of that love around. CD-ROMs are cheap, 15 or 9 cents is what it costs you to make the image. No big deal if you leave one on the subway or at the coffee shop. Hell, I'll even pay for it. Burn an image, give it away and I'll give you a dime--if you can find me at a conference or something.

Clearly, I'm a big fan of Linux and I've gotten a lot out of it. The point of all this text is to convince you that you, that anyone, can help Linux grow, if such a thing is important to you, simply by giving it away. And, after all, who doesn't like receiving a nice gift?

Chris DiBona is the Co-Founder of Damage Studios, a San Francisco based game company working on the next generation massively multiplayer on-line game, Rekonstruction. He was formerly an editor for and was the co-editor of Open Sources - Voices From the Open Source Software Revolution.

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