I would like to first publically acknowledge the contribution that the FSF has made to everyone's dream of a 'free' operating environment. I use the term 'operating environment' because I believe that it avoids the semantic problems that have plagued this discussion. Without GCC and a complete bed of utilities we would not have the high quality Linux kernel that we are preparing to release. Anyone who denies this does not have a firm grasp of software engineering fundamentals.

I firmly believe that the FSF needs credit in the very same breath as Linus and the rest of the distributed development team. Whether that breath needs to be the second or the first one is a topic that can be debated endlessly and pointlessly, probably to the detriment of the entire community that supports the development of a free operating environment.

Linus could probably care less, I do believe that he would have strong reservations about changing the name of the kernel to something like Lignux. I thought the name was initialy catchy but after some consideration I think that this would be a mistake. In any event Linus is probably too busy laying down code and being productive to even read any of these.

The last comment in the previous paragraph underscores something that the entire community needs to consider very carefully. Anyone who is a student of information technology realizes that we are at an extremely critical moment in time. Decisions and actions that we make in the next 8-16 months are going to determine whether or not our dreams of alternatives to corporate software monoliths are ever going to be realized. As a development community the actions that we must take must be swift, decisive and carefully crafted.

I am carefully couching all the comments that I am making so that I do not step on anyone's toes. My experiences in free software are probably fundamentally different from many people. I believe that they are very important experiences and I also believe that my forthcoming comments may sting but are based on some very harsh realities. Harsh realities that we must acknowledge if the goal of an open operating environment is to be realized.

I have been a disciple of the INTERNET and of distributed computing since long before it was in vogue. Despite these experiences I am still staggered by the enormity of what is happened in the information technology field. There has been a fortuitous collision between hardware and software that has softened and made pliable the future. The presence of Linux, FSF tools and other freely distributable software may make possible the re-molding of the future.

Any MBA who suggested that a company would have rocketed to a 200+ P/E (price/earnings) ratio by giving away one of its products would have been laughed out of a room. The people who were laughing 10 years ago would have been scrambling 5 months ago to buy Netscape stock.

The INTERNET and its open nature and open set of communications standards and protocols have ushered in a new era of technology. An era where technology itself is not as marketable as the application of the technology. I firmly believe the future for free operating environments lay in the arena of applying technology and solving application problems.

Microsoft and some of the other software behemoths have (temporarily) run into a classic information processing problem. The sheer weight and complexity of their operating systems, application bases and upwardly compatible requirements are making it difficult to deliver ontime, bugfree products. The collision of this effect and the open-standards of the INTERNET have worked to produce the window of opportunity that I alluded to before.

It is interesting to watch technical editors and trade rags rally around the battle cry of 'small is beautiful." The impact of the world wide wab and java has been to resurrect the notion of 'small sharp tools', the very premise that UNIX-like operating environments were developed from 30 years ago.

We as proponents of open operating environment must seize the opportunity to apply our tools to the information processing niches that have been opened. Without a doubt we have clearly superior tools, tools that were born from 30 years of experience in software engineeing, distributing process and networking.

Corporations by and large are discovering that information is a valuable commodity that must be exploited to remain competitive. The INTERNET through its open-standards have demonstrated that it is possible to develop and deploy information processing solutions without the encumberment of proprietary hardware/software solutions. The impact of this has been to generate a flurry of interest in the development of intranets in an attempt to harness the tools of the INTERNET to solve corporate and business related problems.

The real commodity in this environment is the solution. This set of conditions has produced a unique environment where major software houses put the same value as we do on their products, they give them away. For a short period of time we in the freely distributable software environment can present equivalent tools at equivalent costs. Rest assured that millions are being spent to close this window very rapidly.

The community as a whole must work quickly to demonstrate this to corporations and to the public. We MUST work rapidly to present ourselves as viable solutions to the vast number of information sharing and distribution problems that are presenting themselves.

Thats the meat, now to the tough part of the nut.

If we are going to capitalize on this market we must market the open operating environments that we have worked to create. These tools must be marketed and promoted to people who have little concern about technical elegance, moral imperatives or social goals. We need to market our solutions to corporate and business types that look at the bottom line. Individuals who make choices based on whether or not a problem can be solved in such a fashion that it generates income to the balance sheet or offers a strategic advantage to a business or enterprise unit.

Richard talks about a division in our community. I am not sure it exists but if it does it revolves around this issue. I understand perfectly well what 'free' software means. The GPL fully supports making money from the software, the concept of freeness lying in the forced redistribution rights of the source. A concept that myself and other business types that I have met fully and completely support.

I have probably been as successful as anyone at incorporating free software into a commercial enterprise. Those of you who don't know me can look at the conference proceedings that the FSF distributed from the 1st Conference on Freely Distributable software. Free software tools (GNU and otherwise) and Linux serve as the fundamental underpinnings of our infrastructure. My reputation, an operation grossing into 8 digits and the lives of thousands of people a year are entrusted to this environment. I sleep very well at night.

This environment has fought its way into existence in the shadow of well funded corporate efforts. Central to our success has been that we solved problems. Efficiently, rapidly and with impact on the bottom line.

I have learned to sell Linux and free software tools. The difficult thing for me to say is that I can sell Linus and the philosophy of many Linux developers far better than I can sell Richard and some of the FSF philosophies.

Before I get burnt to a crisp let me say that I truely respect everything that the FSF has accomplished. Please refer to my earlier comments about the importantance of the FSF in the development of Linux. The problem is that Richard doesn't effectively sell his goals and ideals to the market that needs to be addressed.

Probably the clearest example of this was his keynote address at the conference in Boston. In his opening remarks he took a decidedly harsh stance toward Phil Hugues and the Linux Journal. My feeling was that he was concerned that their magazine would offer advertisements for 'non-free' software. One of his particular concerns were the commercial X-servers.

An outsider listening to the talk would surely come away with the impression that Richard/FSF feels that making money from commercial software efforts is somehow wrong. This is a decidedly delicate area but central to the 'division' that exists between the two camps.

Our group doesn't use a single line of proprietary software. That being said I surely don't disparage anyone from making proprietary software available which will take advantage of a freely distributable operating environment. If anything I think that software houses need to be encouraged to bring their products and applications into these environments. Without tools, problems cannot be addressed, without addressing problems there is no motivation for the environment we have created beyond those of us with moral and technical imperatives.

This is real world 101 type stuff. We must deploy solutions and convince people that we are genuine contenders for stratified and niche information processing markets. People will spend $$'s for solutions but these same people will be spooked off in a minute if there is even the vaguest concern about legal ramifications or the reliability of a product.

Richard is absolutely correct in his assertion that we must work together. Everyone interested in having a high-quality open operating environment must share resources and work towards a common development goal. The caveat to this is that we must work quickly and in a manner which doesn't spook off potential consumers of our product.

The development of the Hurd is a truely noble goal. My sense is that the Hurd is a long ways from being in a form which can be pressed onto 100,000 CD-ROMS and unleashed on machines all over the world. I am not saying that development should be stopped but the window of opportunity we have is probably not wide enough to be exploited by the Hurd. Both the Linux kernel and the FSF toolset are in that type of shape, both need to be exploited aggresively.

I have now wasted most of an afternoon which would have been better off writing a new object broker layer for Perceptions. I apologize for wasting everyone's time. My intention was to provoke some thought by everone in the opern operating environment development community.

Thanks much and have a pleasant remainder of the weekend.

As always,

Dr. G.W. Wettstein Oncology Research Div. Computing Facility
Roger Maris Cancer Center INTERNET: greg@wind.rmcc.com
820 4th St. N.
Fargo, ND 58122
Phone: 701-234-7556

`The truest mark of a man's wisdom is his ability to listen to other men expound their wisdom.' -- GWW


Last Updated Mar 10, 1996

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