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Re: PBS: Dont discount Linux:

Apropos Raman's post, thought list readers might enjoy the following
article from the front page of the business section of the New York Times,
Monday, September 28

   Business Technology
      September 28, 1998
For Sale: Free Operating System

     D URHAM, N.C. -- In an experiment that is half business model and
     half populist movement, a small company called [3]Red Hat Software
     is charging $50 for an operating system called [4]Linux that anyone
     can get free on the Internet, and it is paying programmers decent
     wages to write code that it will give away.
   M.J. Sharp for The New York Times
   Red Hat's chief executive, Robert Young, says free software can be
     While that might seem the most contrarian of business plans, Red
     Hat is attracting blue-chip investors to the notion that free can
     be profitable.
     The movement, known alternately as free software and open source,
     is built around freely distributing source code, the basic commands
     that programmers write. Publishing these instructions before they
     are compiled into the binary language of computers offers other
     programmers the chance to examine the code and suggest or actually
     write improvements.
     At its best, the movement's proponents say, open source could
     harness the collective wisdom of the world's best software
     designers for social good, undermine Microsoft Corp.'s Windows
     monopoly and propagate an operating system that does not crash.
     A great deal of their passion is inspired by Linux, a version of
     the Unix operating system developed by Linus Torvalds of Finland
     and numerous collaborators worldwide. Linux (rhymes with "cynics")
     has attracted a cult-like following among programmers and systems
     developers who say it is a more secure, flexible and economic
     alternative to Microsoft's industrial-strength operating system,
     Windows NT.
     Despite that kind of following, the business-model half of the Red
     Hat experiment strikes many people as counterintuitive.
     Robert Young, the chief executive of the three-year-old company in
     Durham's Research Triangle Park, insists that open-source products
     can make money. And although he has nothing against contributing to
     a utopian vision of software development in the process, his
     pragmatic focus has lately attracted interest from venture
     capitalists and corporate backers.
     "The software industry is built on intellectual property," said
     Young, a 44-year-old Canadian who used to run a computer-leasing
     business. "You own your technology, and if you get it widely
     disseminated you can coerce your user base into buying new
     releases. We give up that control -- and those profits -- but that
     is exactly what is going to drive our success, because that is
     what's best for the user."
     Among Red Hat's potential corporate backers are Intel Corp. and
     Netscape Communications Corp. An announcement is expected as early
     as Tuesday, when Young is scheduled to appear with executives from
     both companies in San Jose, Calif.
     Such support, particularly from Intel, whose close ties to
     Microsoft have recently shown signs of fraying, would lend
     considerable credibility both to Linux and to Red Hat's plans to
     build a business by providing customer service and technical
     support for the free operating system.
     Recent support for Linux and other open-source projects seems to
     suggest a growing acceptance in the software industry of an
     alternative to the tradition of proprietary code.
     IBM, for example, recently licensed [5]Apache, a popular program
     for serving up World Wide Web sites. Like Linux, Apache is a free,
     open-source product.
     And Netscape last February published the source code to its
     Navigator browser for navigating the World Wide Web. Forced to stop
     charging for Navigator by Microsoft's free distribution of its
     competing browser software, Explorer, Netscape gambled that going
     one step further and releasing its code would give Navigator a
     competitive advantage over Explorer in the long run by spurring
     "Open source has already radically changed the computer industry,"
     said Tim O'Reilly, whose publishing company, [6]O'Reilly &
     Associates, makes money producing user manuals for free software.
     "In the first round, open-source software will not beat Microsoft
     at its own game. What it is doing is changing the nature of the
                                                   Challenging Microsoft 
   Windows NT, Microsofts operating system for powerful work stations and
          for the server computers that link them, has overtaken the Unix
    operating system. But a new version of Unix, called Linux, is gaining
                             ground and could pose a threat to Microsoft.
                                                       The New York Times
     Torvalds, who wrote Linux in 1991 when he was a student at the
     University of Helsinki, licensed it in a way that allows anyone to
     submit improved code and redistribute it at will. Since then,
     thousands of programmers have volunteered elaborate improvements of
     their own design for no more reward than the respect of the geek
     Submissions to Linux's core code, or kernel, are subjected to
     instantaneous electronic peer review, a technological meritocracy
     that has so far insulated Linux from the kind of fragmentation that
     has befallen other operating systems built around the international
     Unix standard.
     Despite the operating system's reputation for power and
     reliability, corporations have been reluctant to use Linux because
     nobody owns it. That is why the emergence of companies like Red Hat
     and [7]Caldera Systems Inc. -- a Linux distributor with a business
     plan based on corporate training, services and support -- is
     considered crucial to the success of the free operating system.
     Now, bolstered by commitments from companies like Oracle, Netscape,
     Intel, Informix and Corel, all of which have announced plans to
     support Linux in recent months, Red Hat and Caldera are getting
     more aggressive.
     But their business plans are fragile. For instance, since Red Hat
     wants whatever code it writes to become part of the Linux kernel,
     it must be published under open-source rules. That means that
     www.cheapbytes.com can, and does, sell Red Hat's entire Linux
     package for $1.99 -- $48.01 less than Red Hat's customers pay.
     Red Hat's Young estimates that as few as 1 in 10 of the people who
     use Red Hat have paid him for it. But that is one of the
     paradoxical pillars of charging only for support and services, not
     for intellectual property.
     "My job is not to compete with Microsoft," Young stresses. "It's to
     lower the value of the operating system market. Microsoft makes $5
     billion in operating system sales. If I get that market, I
     automatically make it a $500 million market."
     Skeptics are quick to note that the technology companies lining up
     behind Linux, with its estimated 7 million users, have their own
     competitive reasons to oppose Microsoft, which has 300 million
     users for its Windows operating systems.
     What is more, the skeptics point out, no one knows how long Linux's
     labor-of-love development by programmers will last.
     "An operating system is a living thing," said Carl Shapiro, an
     economist at the University of California at Berkeley and a
     co-author of "Information Rules," a book to be published this week
     by the Harvard Business School Press. "Ongoing investment and
     upgrades are essential to attract customers. Nice cooperative
     thoughts are not enough."
     Still, use of Linux is growing by more than 40 percent a year,
     according to IDC, a research firm. And a 1997 survey by another
     research firm, Datapro, found that Linux scored higher with users
     than any other operating system. Dell Computer, which last year
     began offering Linux to customers who ordered at least 50 computers
     a quarter, said that more interest had been expressed in Linux in
     recent months.
     James Love, director of Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on
     Technology, which has encouraged the Justice Department to
     investigate Microsoft's Windows licensing deals with computer
     manufacturers, said his office had found it impossible to buy Linux
     already installed on a PC from a major commercial vendor. But he
     managed to install it on his own computer, and he was impressed.
   M.J. Sharp for The New York Times
   Red Hat's Gnome project aims to make Linux easier to use by creating a
   graphical interface. Its members include, from left, Owen Taylor,
   Michael Fulbright, Jonathan Blandford, Federico Mena and Carsten
     "This is the first time we've seen an industrial-strength product
     developed without a corporation behind it, and we think it's
     amazing" Love said. "If the operating system is in fact a natural
     monopoly, then what could be better than having an operating system
     that nobody owns?"
     No one argues that Linux poses a threat to Microsoft right now. But
     at a time when the next version of Windows NT appears indefinitely
     delayed by a complexity that has grown unmanageable, Linux
     enthusiasts are beginning to find back-door ways to introduce the
     operating system into their corporations.
     For example, when Randy Kessel, a manager for technical analysis at
     Southwestern Bell, part of SBC Communications, installed Red Hat's
     Linux on the 36 desktop personal computers that monitor network
     operations in Kansas and Missouri, it was done on something of a
     After poor results testing a memory-intensive application with
     Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT, a colleague had asked Kessel
     why, if he thought Linux was so great, he did not try it.
     "So we took a mission-critical operation and we deployed a free
     operating system there," Kessel said. "And now we spend a tenth of
     the administration cost for those desktops that we do for the rest
     of the 315 we use."
     Even so, he met resistance.
     "The legal department says, 'When it fails, who do we sue?' " he
     said. "The IT department says, 'It's not a proved product.'
     Corporate security says, 'It's hackerware.' But it's the only thing
     that worked."
     Other recent Linux converts include the movie director James
     Cameron's special-effects company, Digital Domain, which used the
     operating system to help create the illusions in "Titanic."
     And when the city of Medina, Wash., was overwhelmed by documents --
     including the four file cabinets filled with paperwork on the
     mansion built by Microsoft's chairman, Bill Gates -- it installed
     an electronic document retrieval system that runs on Linux.
     Ray Jones, president of Archive Retrieval, which installed the
     system for Medina, said he was aware of an irony in his choice of
     an operating system. But he recalled feeling vindicated when a bug
     arose in the scanning process.
     "We asked a question on the Internet, and within a couple of hours
     we had an answer," Jones said. "I fixed it myself with three lines
     of code. With a commercial product I'd have had to wait for
     Microsoft to fix it -- if it ever did. This way, the whole Linux
     community benefited."
     Marc Ewing, 29, who started Red Hat in 1995 because he found
     downloading the various pieces of Linux a major headache, said
     developing software in isolation -- without public contributions --
     "would be like typing with one arm."
     And yet for Linux to ever compete with Windows, it must be easier
     to use. Now users must control Linux with a complicated syntax of
     arcane commands. So Ewing oversees six programmers working on a
     project called Gnome, an effort to hide the nuts and bolts of the
     operating system behind the kind of graphical interface familiar to
     users of Macintosh or Windows machines.
     While they sleep, other groups elsewhere in the world are getting
     up to work on Gnome. Often by the next morning, someone will have
     translated the code into Portuguese.
     But Torvalds, who now works for a chip design company in Silicon
     Valley, insists that the true strength of an operating system is
     "You use a Windows machine and the golden rule is: Save, and save
     often," Torvalds said. "It's scary how people have grown used to
     the idea that computers are unreliable when it is not the computer
     at all -- it's the operating system that just doesn't cut it."
     Related Sites
     Following are links to the external Web sites mentioned in this
     article. These sites are not part of The New York Times on the Web,
     and The Times has no control over their content or availability.
     When you have finished visiting any of these sites, you will be
     able to return to this page by clicking on your Web browser's
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     * [8]Red Hat Software 
     * [9]O'Reilly & Associates 
     * [10]Caldera Systems Inc.
     * [11]Linux Online
     * [12]Linux Myth Dispeller
     * [13]Linux Center, a web directory
    Amy Harmon at [14]amy@nytimes.com welcomes your comments and
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   [43]Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company


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				Janina Sajka, Director
				Information Systems Department
				American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)


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