Enterprise Linux Log

Aug 15 2007   9:54AM GMT

How to expand Linux in two styles: Novell vs. Red Hat


As a journalist, I get perturbed when I see talking heads on TV (on issues political, technological or otherwise) “attack the messenger” when the message they’re delivering isn’t something they agree with. The theory is, of course, that if you can discredit the person, then the public will not focus on the message — however legitimate it is to the conversation — and your position will win out.

I hate this. Reminds me of immature schoolyard antics from grade school. I know you are but what am I, etc. In the land of adults, which many of us presently inhabit I hope, I see no place for this kind of discourse. It leads to stagnation, and I’m fond of progression.

Today, I took another look at Ron Hovsepian’s keynote address from LinuxWorld last week, and his message of “expanding, extending, and enlarging” the Linux operating system. Was the message tainted a bit by the fact that Hovsepian is a businessman at the head of the number two commercial Linux distributor in the world? Sure it was, but there were points to be gleaned from his talk that I think the Linux community would be apt to mull over for a bit before they jump on the Microsoft hating bandwagon.

Red Hat’s Michael Evans, vice president of corporate development at the company, didn’t get that memo. Speaking to InfoWorld, Evans said he liked the idea but at the same time expressed doubts about the effort since Hovsepian was involved. “Personally, that he’s the guy that did the deal with Microsoft, I’m suspicious of things he says,” Evans told InfoWorld.

I’m not sure I agree. If this is true, shouldn’t we not also be suspicious of what Red Hat executives say, because they’re also trying to make a buck off of Linux? Maybe “paying a premium for Linux support” from Red Hat because it’s the best in town deserves a deeper look, eh, Oracle? Should we outright dismiss what Red Hat has to say about Oracle Linux whenever Oracle fires off a press release about another big name customer making the switch to that which Ellison has wrought? Obviously not. If we’re suspicious all the time, then we’re not doing work. We’re getting complacent — which was one of the pillars of Hovsepian’s keynote. Ironic, don’t ya think?

These personal attacks muddy the issue, which I am going to assume is exactly the point. They also do little to advance intelligent conversation (and this is where I’ll concede that my blogging may also fall into this category). Why is Red Hat attacking Novell so much these days anyway? Aren’t they currently kicking ass in the commercial Linux market? Last I checked it was bad business to even acknowledge the competition when you’re so far ahead in the standings.

Hovsepian’s keynote focused, as I said, on the expansion of Linux. He used phrases like “vendor neutral” to describe his ideas, and never once implied that Novell (or Microsoft) should be the one driving the ideas he put forth. Unlike many of the LinuxWorld keynotes last week, Novell’s was refreshingly lacking many of the self-aggrandizing remarks that plagued those of eBay and Amazon.com. Note to Amazon — we get it, you have a new SaaS initiative coming out, thanks for the advertisement for it in the middle of your keynote. Novell’s keynote did see a product pitch or two, as Hovsepian took some time in the middle there to gush about ZENWorks. It seemed out of place in a keynote full of general ideas about expanding Linux, but that doesn’t mean we should ax the entire speech en masse.

Aside from his moment of ZEN, Hovsepian seemed to be about promoting ways to take Linux past the enterprise success it’s enjoyed for the past five years or so. Linux is mission critical, sure, but there now exists the danger of complacency both with its developers and its corporate handlers.

Some points to address:

Today, if an ISV writes an application on Linux, it might run everywhere, and it might not. Even if it runs on multiple Linux distributions, the market desires that it be certified on multiple distributions. We need to work more on standardization. The Linux Standards Base is doing incredible work, but does anyone out there agree that there could is something more to be don? In a vendor neutral kind of way? Maybe you don’t agree with that. Why?

Sounds *somewhat* sane, right? Well it’s basically paraphrased from Jeff Jaffe’s blog over at Novell. So now it’s suddenly not worth pursuing or discussing at all?

Jaffe also calls for sacrifice, reducing fragmentation of Linux, and unification (standardization of ISV applications). But we should ignore them all because his company now has a newly created position for working with Microsoft? Maybe the LSB is doing great work, or maybe just good work. There’s now at least one major company out there that thinks more could be done with standards and certifications. Ignoring that opinion, and going along on the road to status quo feels like something to me. I can’t quite put my finger on it… oh wait, that’s right, it’s complacency.

Ultimately, we must remember that this was a keynote, meant to garner a few headlines and begin the brainstorming process–not solve any major problems. But to simply dismiss the message outright because you disagree with a company’s business plan seems kind of reckless to me. Don’t rest of your laurels just yet, Linux, there’s still much more to be done.

6  Comments on this Post

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  • Jeff Styles
    The thing is that Ron has lost the trust of the FOSS world. So, everything he says is now looked at with a certain mistrust and ran through a "watch your back" type filter. But, in this case, Ron didn't say anything worth mulling over that isn't obvious. Sure, more standardization is good, to a point, and it is happening already, with or without him.
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  • Jack Loftus
    Jeff -- I hear ya on that one. But even it *is* an obvious message, should we still just automatically ignore it? There's something to be said of advancing an idea, even if it is an obvious one. Sometimes people still need a catalyst to get engaged with an obvious idea, no? -Jack
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  • Jeff Styles
    "Sometimes people still need a catalyst to get engaged with an obvious idea, no?" For someone to be able to rally people around him in pursuit of a cause, he has to be trusted. Just ask Linus what would happen to him if he lost people's trust. Ron is in no position to be a catalyst for anything related to FOSS. (By the way, that is the point Evans was making.)
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  • Richard Steven Hack
    If the issue is trust, the question becomes: why did he lose that trust? I don't see any reason for it. Novell never once said that Linux violates any Microsoft patents. To get a deal from Microsoft that included Microsoft accepting Linux vouchers and Microsoft assisting Novell in interoperability (not to mention a certain amount of money), Novell went along with Microsoft's FUD demand that it include a patent coverage clause. Big deal. This, as I said repeatedly everywhere, meant absolutely NOTHING to the future of Linux, Novell OR Microsoft. It was a pure FUD action by Microsoft. Who cares? Microsoft is not going to stop issuing FUD whether Novell - and Linux - got any benefit out of the deal or not. So did Novell "lose" trust - or did some free software fanatics throw it away, instead? I say it was the latter. The same applies to Xandros and Linspire. Some clowns like Bruce Perens were hinting that Novell intended to be bought out by Microsoft. This tin-foil-hat conspiracy theory is now being pushed by other people with regard to Xandros and Linspire - as if any of these companies would have any motivation - or need, since none of them are in danger of bankruptcy at this point (although Linspire is not yet profitable, it is close, and Xandros claims 400% year-to-year growth) to cooperate with Microsoft in any way that was deliberate detrimental to their main line of business. SCO was an obviously different case - they were on their way out before they got the cash investments spurred by Microsoft to embark on their stupid intellectual property initiative. And what other company would follow their lead now that it is clearly going to end in bankruptcy and possibly civil charges of mismanagement? The worst Novell might be guilty of is trying to get some benefit from Microsoft while allowing Microsoft to spread some FUD as a result. This is hardly a stab in the back of Linux - especially since most of the FUD was spread by people in the OSS community who blew it up all out of proportion. Microsoft couldn't have wished for a better result. Get a clue, people - there's nothing here to make a mountain out of. STFU and get back to coding.
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  • Robert Darke
    It is easy to resort to name calling and tag throwing at people you disagree with. It is unfortunate to see today's society gravitating more and more towards this cop out when confronted with dissenting views. A fanatic is one that allows his emotions to blur his thinking to the point of rejecting valid arguments based on pure emotion. We probably have all done it at least once. But, the fanatic insists on his stance even in view of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Now, for you to say that those who view Mr. Hovsepian with suspicion are fanatics is nothing more than a cop out. Maybe in your opinion trying to circumvent the spirit of the GPL license is not reason enough to distrust him. After all, by finding a little loophole, he and Microsoft likely did not break the letter of the license (lets not even touch that argument). However, you, as a reasonable, mature, and well educated man, should be able to see that there are those that do find such infraction, against the spirit of the license, reason enough to distrust him. Some are simply trying to make a buck, others are trying to change the world. Different goals, different values, nothing more. These two camps see the value of the other side, sometimes. But often, they see each other's actions as a danger to the their goals. Who is right? Well, they each have a right to pursue their goals, as long as they do so lawfully. What happen with Mr. Hovsepian is that the FOSS camp, which is more interested in fostering a free software ecosystem than in fostering wealth, found out that they couldn't count on him as a loyal member of their side. They found out that he is willing to step on their values in other to achieve wealth. Therefore the distrust. You may not agree with them, but I think calling them fanatics is not something that reflects well on you as a person. Think about it. Now, I am sure that there are some fanatics on the FOSS camp, just as there are fanatics on just about any group of humans you can name. But, lets stop this silly name calling, children fight, already.
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  • Robuka Kenderle
    >I’m not sure I agree. If this is true, shouldn’t we not also be >suspicious of what Red Hat executives say, because they’re also >trying to make a buck off of Linux bravo, nice way of framing the question to suit your needs. This is the kind of stuff you learn in high school debate class so its nice to see some people retain this stuff. No one is against people making a buck of Linux. Hell, not even RMS minds the idea of making a dollar As long as you respect the GPL, you can make as much as you want. Google is worth a few bucks arent they? Of course, you were dishonest on purpose. What Novell did was against the spirit of the GPL, trying to find a loophole. I have no problem working on a project knowing that a company like IBM (they were the evil empire when I was younger) will benefit from my work because I know that everyone else has access to it as well. Novell claims to protect its customers against what it described as "certain intellectual property challenges to Linux". I call that a tax. Our local goombahs call it insurance 'in case'. To the moron who uses the code word 'interoperability', please explain. The code from open source projects is open and visible to all. Interoperability problems come from the Microsoft closed side.
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