Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Functioning of the Linux Ecosystem

Stumbled upon an interesting article on the functioning of the fascinating Linux ecosystem, entitled Linux Inc. at BusinessWeek by Steve Hamm. Here're some interesting snippets from the article. I feel that the Software Engineering courses that I took in college would have been more complete if they had more information on open-source business processes.

How has Linux evolved over the years?
Little understood by the outside world, the community of Linux programmers has evolved in recent years into something much more mature, organized, and efficient. Put bluntly, Linux has turned pro.
[...] tech companies contribute sweat equity to the project, largely by paying programmers' salaries, and then make money by selling products and services around the Linux operating system. They don't charge for Linux itself, since under the cooperative's rules the software is available to all comers for free.
[...]Put it all together, and Linux has become the strongest rival that Microsoft has ever faced. In servers, researcher IDC predicts Linux' market share based on unit sales will rise from 24% today to 33% in 2007, compared with 59% for Windows -- essentially keeping Microsoft at its current market share for the next three years and squeezing its profit margins.

How has Microsoft reacted in response?
In response, Microsoft has launched a counterattack against what it calls its No. 1 threat. The software giant's "Get the Facts" publicity campaign claims that Windows is more secure and less expensive to own than Linux. [...]

But Ballmer may have a tough time persuading customers that Windows is cheaper than Linux. It often isn't. With Windows, end users pay an up-front fee that ranges from several hundred dollars for a PC to several thousand for a server, while there's no such charge for Linux. The total cost over three years for a small server used by 30 people, including licensing fees, support, and upgrade rights, would be about $3,500 for Windows, compared with $2,400 for a Red Hat subscription, say analysts. The situation where Microsoft can have an edge is when a company already is using Windows. Then, in some cases, it can be cheaper to upgrade to a newer version of Microsoft's software, rather than replacing it with Linux -- once you take into account the retraining expenses. [...]

What effects have the legal attacks on Linux had?
[...] the legal attacks on Linux over the past year have unified the community. [...] a suit by SCO Group Inc., a software company that claims IBM handed some of SCO's intellectual property to Linux, gave Linux aficionados the motivation to coordinate their efforts as never before.

On the way development happens in Linux community:
Torvalds said: [...] Plus, this isn't the army: Programmers don't wait around for orders. Linux' legions know how the development process works, and they just do it. "I manage people, but not in the traditional sense," says Torvalds. "I can't say, 'You do this because here's your next paycheck.' It's more like we know what we want to do, but we don't know how to do it. We try directions. Sometimes somebody disagrees and has a vision. They go and sulk in their corner for a year. Then they come back and say, 'I'll show you it's much faster if you do it this way.' And sometimes they're right."

Torvalds proved to be just the guy to lead the Linux charge. He was only a casual programmer in 1991 when he started writing software to run on a PC. But after he posted the first Linux code on the Internet for others to contribute to, he got the knack for spotting quality and handling the flow of fixes. Gradually, he developed a support organization of volunteers.

Begun as a meritocracy, Linux continues to operate that way. In a world where everybody can look at every bit of code that is submitted, only the A+ stuff gets in and only the best programmers rise to become Torvalds' top aides. "The lieutenants get picked -- but not by me," explains Torvalds. "Somebody who gets things done, and shows good taste -- people just start sending them suggestions and patches. I didn't design it this way. It happens because this is the way people work naturally."

How do corporates get their Linux interests fulfilled?
In Linux society, there's no bowing and scraping before the rich and powerful. Executives and product managers at HP, IBM, Intel, and Oracle (ORCL ) don't even try to pressure Torvalds and Morton to further their interests. Instead, their input goes through their engineers, who, as members of the open-source community, submit patches for the kernel or other pieces of Linux software.
Here's another interesting article at EWeek that urges Microsoft to open-source Windows NT.

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