LinuxWorld keynote: Comments solicited

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I’m now starting to put together my LinuxWorld keynote (August 6, after lunch) and I’ve been talking to people about ideas for the presentation.

The general idea is that for the first half I’m going to look at the last decade of free and open source, focusing on GNU/Linux, and examine what’s been going on from an admittedly IBM perspective. This isn’t going to be marketing or revisionist history, but rather a look at what’s been done, what’s worked and hasn’t worked, how have different types of communities been involved, what problems people were trying to solve, and how the more general “open” movement has grown.

Then I’m going to try to look into the future and come up with some predictions on what the next five to ten years will bring.

Via the comments, I’d like to give you a chance to add your input and ideas on both halves of this chronological discussion. For example, in the near future what will we see involving Linux, free and open source and

  • “green” and energy conservation/creation
  • server consolidation
  • the “cloud”
  • the desktop
  • mobile computing
  • the mix of open and proprietary code
  • open standards
  • government adoption policies
  • how existing communities will need to evolve or what kinds of communities will need to get created
  • legal issues
  • old businesses or companies in decline as a result of “open”
  • old or new companies in ascent as a result of “open”
  • new market categories
  • collaboration among geographically separated workers, maybe some just that way because of home offices
  • virtual worlds and more general environments


Wedding photograph

That’s a bit of a laundry list, but open source will clearly involve them all, just as it has done already. What did I miss? What will be the big winners on the list and which will fail or stagnate? What will be our biggest surprise looking back in 2018? How will your life change in the next fiver or ten years because of Linux and free/open source?

As a side note, August 6 is my wife’s and my 25th wedding anniversary, so she’ll be traveling out to San Francisco with me and attending at least part of LinuxWorld. Pretty romantic, no? Actually we have some other things planned that week as well, such as seeing the Giants play the Atlanta Braves on August 5 and maybe a trip up to Napa later in the week.


  1. Over the coming years, I see the Americas (North & South) coming closer together. For me, my wife is Brazilian and my company is called North-by-South and I intend to spend half of my year in San Francisco and half of my year in São Paulo. Free and open source software is at the core of that life as the free software movement in Latin America continues to accelerate its momentum.

    I predict that more and more businesses will organize themselves like we do and I’m excited to see how we evolve. We maintain a network of open source programmers in Latin America (especially Brazil) and our office is an IRC server with the occasional video chat.

    We have almost no overhead because almost all of the software we use is free … we only have one full-time staff person (the owner) and our developers choose which projects they want to work on as they become available and they work from wherever they feel the most comfortable (and, therefore, the most productive, we’ve learned). Especially in a city like São Paulo, known as a commuter’s nightmare, this makes working with us a lot more attractive compared to companies which require hours of unproductive and frustrating travel to somewhere that’s uncomfortable for everyone (even if there is a ping-pong table).

    That’s not to say that physical locations are totally unnecessary and that’s why we have an office in downtown San Francisco and downtown São Paulo, for the occasional planning session or party.

    The progressive, post-dictatorship countries like Brazil and Argentina and Venezuela are emerging technology markets that have already chosen free and open source software as the basis for their future. Personally and professionally, I see myself integrating my life into their incredible free software movement.

    So, I think the biggest thing you missed in your list is the important shift happening in the Americas.

    As the dollar falls and economic blocs like Latin America’s MERCOSUR become stronger and more powerful, for the first time in modern history, there will be hegemonic equilibrium throughout the Americas. And while the North and the South share many cultural similarities, there are significant cultural differences. The North has supported the contras, Pinochet, Noriega (and then, dropping bombs on crowded cities when they didn’t like him anymore). And the vast majority of the South has opposed all of these things and supported co-operation and collaborative “asambleas” and community. These differences are immediately noticeable by every tourist within a few days of visiting any Latin American area. Everyone talks about the friendliness and open-ness and community they see in Latin America.

    And, of course, free and open source fits right into those cultural values which is why it has become so popular there. Not only popular, but a key part of public policy, mandated by law and by presidential decrees. I went to a free software event in Caracas, and I watched as dozens and dozens of working class families brought their old desktops to a tent so they could have Debian and KDE installed on them. I could never imagine a bunch of steelworkers in the US do something like that (and I -come- from a steelworker family!).

    And, this is why North by South as a company is becoming so popular. Not only are the time zones much closer than India or Eastern Europe, but our developers are all open source fanatics, not just some people who took CompSci or an 8-week Java training program so they could work at a code factory. They are passionate free software participants, and they are the generation who are shaping their societies after decades of repressive terror imposed on the people. And, as the world becomes smaller, the Americas is becoming smaller.

    So, North by South is also a vehicle for supporting the free software movement in Latin America. I would summarize the near future in these terms:
    1) Free software! Software livre! Software libre!
    2) More and more cultural and professional “close-ness” between the North and the South,
    3) Geographically distributed and networked businesses with project teams who form when there’s profit, complete a project, and then disperse and re-organize,
    4) Increasing hegemonic equilibrium as the collaborative nature of Latin American business meets the cut-throat, proprietary business models exemplified by northern corporations like Microsoft.

  2. Congratulations on 25 years. My wife and I celebrated in May. I’ll have to give your LInuxWorld event more thought, but I’ll be glad to add my two cents and thank you for the chance. I think all of us are indebted to IBM’s vision and leadership in the open source movement. IBM entered and invested in Linux at a time when not many other mainstream players were and by doing so helped to lend credibility to Linux and open source software in general. I’ve been giving more thought to the greener aspects of Linux on the desktop and server and just think how many or much less disks would be spinning for weekly anti-virus scanning which is mandatory with the Windows platform. Add to that the possibility of bandwidth caps by ISPs and you have a huge savings with Linux desktops and servers. Patch management and anti-virus servers and clients are major investments for businesses and those services are not needed or less needed in Linux server/desktop environments. Add to that the ability to standardize on free software like Open Office or IBM’s new Symphony in Lotus Notes. Symphony and Notes makes for one stop shopping for businesses and or government organizations.

    I work for Franklinville Central School as their technology director and along with Clarence Central School we were the first two pilot schools to use Red Hat and Suse as server host OS’s with Lotus Notes in the Western New York Regional Information Center Region. We are now three years into that experience and it’s been a positive one. Recently we upgraded our OS to Red Hat 5 and the Domino code to Domino 8. We were only down about 90 minutes. Other than hardware failure a couple of years ago our server has not had any downtime and it’s been more secure. IBM’s manuals and best practice publications for Notes on Linux have been great.

    As a member of the Western New York Regional Information Center Standards Committee I have been recently asked to support a move that allow school districts to begin to employ open source desktops, i.e. Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop. I also see that moving towards in my own case Ubuntu on the desktop and WNYRIC support for EeePC notebooks in classroom that are or will be running Xandros Linux. It was only three years ago that we got WNYRIC support for Red Hat and Suse on the server side and now we’re beginning to see a movement towards support for Linux desktops. Add to that many schools in our region are moving away from Microsoft Office and towards Open Office. Several major school districts in the Western New York area have moved or are moving in that direction. Most of these same school districts use Lotus Notes and as they upgrade to Domino 8 and Notes 8 I’m sure there will be even more call and support for both Symphony and Open Office on the desktop.

    The other plus of using Linux desktops is the ability to use lower powered or less powerful and/or older hardware to accomplish many of the same tasks. Businesses and governments can have longer hardware life cycles with Linux desktops. That is a big savings.

    We have had a successful Linux terminal server implementation at Franklinville using the K12LTSP distribution for just over three years and we’ve leveraged the savings in workstations and ease of management. A Linux terminal server is much easier to manage than a Windows terminal server and it’s much easier to deploy the clients. Add to that the use of applications like Google Apps and open source learning centers like Moodle, Drupal and Media Wiki and we simply don’t have the need for lots of high powered desktops.

    I have been working a towards either a VMWare ESX and/or Suse XenWare virtual server project to make our server room greener. I’m making progress but need more help. Virtualization technologies are going to mushroom as energy costs increase.

    We have an ad hoc working group of teachers and technicians working on using LinuxMCE in the classroom for the control and delivery of classroom media. I’ve mentioned in other comments here that I’ve been running a Ubuntu 7.10 desktop and a virtual XP Professional desktop using Virtual Box. It’s been a positive experience and one that I think makes sense. It’s stable and I’m able to interact with Windows desktops in an Active Directory domain without their awareness most of the time. I’m using Open Office and they are using Microsoft Office 2003. I also have tried to use other programs like Kino and FFMPEG to help produce video and with good success.

    School districts, businesses and other government agencies need more support and encouragement to move in this direction and the biggest sticking point has been the old saw that we need to use “real world” tools with students. We need to be able to take some of the educational leadears, i.e. school superintendents, curriculum coordinators, and school board members to example sights where they can witness first hand successful implementation of open source and evidence that students using open source tools will find themselves “advantaged” when they get to higher education and the workforce.

    I’ll do some more thinking and get back again on this, but these are my thoughts tonight.

  3. I know you prefer non-anonymity, so I’ll understand if you don’t publish this comment. I’ve no problem with that.

    Question: Why restrict your scope to the last 10 years of free and open source, and instead (perhaps linking with your marriage) look at the last 25 years. Sometimes it helps to get some perspective.

    25 years ago VAX/VMS was open source. Anyone could order the microfiche that had the operating system source code – written in MACRO32 and BLISS. So why hasn’t it taken over the world – because it wasn’t free (libre) (it wasn’t available under the GPL or BSD or equivalent licences). So, in the last 25 years what has been successful is the GPL and other licences that allowed Linux (*tada*) and OpenBSD. Why isn’t the Hurd there?

    The open nature of IETF RFCs allowed the Internet to grow (and cause Microsoft to have to realign its goals).

    The MIT X windowing system. A huge success. There’s pretty much no free, open, other choice.


    The big failure is the inability to convince people of the economic benefits of FOSS.

    Where is the open hardware? One of the big problems is device drivers for proprietary hardware. Why are we still having to use closed hardware? Why do we have to buy PCs with elements of ‘Trusted Computing’ hardware.

    The failure to keep copyright within reasonable bounds. That darn mouse is too old. The failure to prevent software patents taking hold.

    Just some ideas,

    Best regards,


  4. Congrats on the 25th anniversary. Is it a coincidence that Gnu was started about the same time?

    Interesting anecdote about the greenness of Linux. A coworker and I both received new, identical laptops last fall. His is running Windows XP, mine Ubuntu Hardy Heron. When running on battery, I consistently get about 50% longer run times than he does. When IBM produces Domino Admin and Designer clients for Linux, I’ll almost never need to run a Windows virtual machine on it.

    My friend Don commented about school districts starting to use more open source applications. I am very encouraged by this. I know the district I live in is saving $18,000 on Office licensing alone in the coming year by switching to Open Office. I have long felt there is little need to pay for commodity applications. I suppose the definition of “commodity application” will shift as more people tackle writing open source code. Who would have thought 10 years ago that we would have a full blown office suite, with database available for free? Or a graphics package that gives Photoshop a good run for its money. I remember the days of paying close to $500 just for a word processor program. I see drawing tools as the next area to mature in the OSS application space.

    Competing with the commodity apps, I believe there will always be a niche for closed source code, but it will be up to the vendors to make the case that it is worth the cost. I love my Notes and Domino, but I get queries about using cheaper alternatives. Licensing is only part of the TCO, and Domino is still a great value with everything it does on one server.

  5. Congratulations on your wedding anniversary. You had chosen the correct one, but the same cannot be said for her ;-)

    If I were to attend your keynote speech, (I’m not but lets assume I am), I will be more interested to hear IBM’s experience with OpenSource/Linux rather the history of open source. I acknowledge that we need to look backward as well in the keynote, and on history I will prefer the speaker to concentrate on drawing a tree of how key events relate and influence each other, and where you think we are right now, and where you think we will be going forward to.

    We know IBM is one of the few big companies that successfully intergrate with open source and it is far ahead of a lot of companies. Information on how IBM realize the potential of open source, problems with embrazing it, and how IBM changed its employees’ particularly senior officers’ is what I want to know and hope you will share.

  6. IBM is no stranger to open source. All the major IBM-owned server operating systems … the results of some 50 years of software development by thousands of programmers … are maintained by IBMers or IBM-paid contractors, and as such they must have access to the source code. MVS, OS/400, and AIX (not all known by those names now); at one time OS/2 as well, but of course OS/2 is no longer. It’s a kind of ‘internal open source’; if you want access to the source, you ask your manager; and if you have a good business justification, you get it.

    At one time, IBM distributed source code for those operating systems to all customers who asked. I believe that business model stopped about 20 years ago; it may have been after Bob joined the corporation.

    So it doesn’t really faze IBM that other people’s open source software should show up. If it runs on hardware you sell, or enables you to sell services related to it, it grows your business.

    Maybe Bob could come up with an answer as to why OS/2 sank. Was it Linux, was it Microsoft Windows, or was it an alliance of the two of them ?

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