An Uphill Battle

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-06-30 Print this article Print

By the time Mandriva bought Lycoris, its founder, Joseph Cheek, confessed, "I am the sole remaining Lycoris employee." Hes not the only small Linux vendor facing an uphill battle.
Mepis SimplyMEPIS is hands-down my favorite desktop Linux for beginners.
Founder, CEO and chief CD-burner Warren Woodford tells me that even though hes made progress with resellers, getting local business support has proven to be almost impossible, so Mepis remains a one-person operation. Even the very best of the best have had employment trouble. The Open Source Development Lab, the self-proclaimed "center of gravity for Linux," laid off a sixth of its employees, including some programmers, in May. Whats going on here? Is something wrong with free software? No, theres nothing broken about free software. I remain certain that the open-source approach is the best way to build quality software. But, open-source is a software development model, or if you prefer, an intellectual freedom approach. It is not a business model. Now, you can build successful business models around open source. IBM has reinvented itself as a service company largely because of its Linux and J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) support. Novell is pulling itself out of its NetWare grave with SuSE Linux sales and support. And Red Hat keeps seeing year-over-year income increases of over 50 percent since it abandoned its direct sales model for a subscription-based one. Read more here about Red Hats plans to focus on the enterprise market. So one of the keys is you shouldnt confuse technical expertise with business savvy. This is the same pit that many of the dot-coms fell into in the great dot-com crash. The companies that are built on open source should do a better job of making sure some of their income gets into the hands of the open-source programmers that make it all happen. Without them, there would be no marketable Apache, Linux or Samba. Yes, many developers are doing it for the love of it, but that and $2 will buy you a cup of coffee. Serious open-source programmers need serious financial support. Another reason is that far, far too many people treat free software as free as in beer as well as in speech. Yes, you can pay nothing for most open-source software, but if you want to see the next and better version of it, youd better start paying something for it. Corporate customers also need to do a better job of paying for open-source software. Yes, for example, you can run JBoss outstanding J2EE server JEMS (JBoss Enterprise Middleware System) for nothing. Its my understanding that only one in 20 JBoss users actually pay for it. That percentage must increase for JBoss, or any other open-source business, to keep building great software. If people dont start supporting open-source software with more than just lip service… well, there will be a lot more leading open-source programmers heading to proprietary companies. Its not that they dont believe in free software. They do. They also believe in putting a roof over their head. Who can blame them? Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor at large for Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.

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