Linux HQ Lays Off Employees

Open Source Development Labs, the self-proclaimed "center of gravity" for Linux, laid off almost a sixth of its staff. Analysts say they think financial troubles could be behind the cuts.

On Monday, OSDL CEO Stuart Cohen reported that the organization had cut nine of its 57 positions.

Open Source Development Labs Inc. employees Linus Torvalds and Andrew Morton, and other Linux leading programmers, and Andrew Tridgel, co-founder of the popular Samba CIFS (Common Internet File System), were not laid off. OSDL did, however, fire several programmers as well as marketing business development and support staff.

The group cut nine of its 57 staff and contractor positions, Cohen confirmed Monday.

The cuts affected several programmers who worked on the open-source operating system as well as staff in sales, marketing, business development and internal computer operations.

Besides employing Torvalds, and some of Linux and open-sources leading programmers, Beaverton, Ore.-based OSDL serves as an industry consortium for Linux companies. It has also attempted to take the lead in developing plans for carrier-based and desktop Linux implementations.

An OSDL spokeswoman explained that the cutbacks had been made because "the Labs mission has changed in the past year and it has decided to realign its investments accordingly. There is more demand for global activities with new offices in China and Europe, and the Labs had to invest more in IP [intellectual property legal] issues sooner than it had planned."

Nevertheless, "OSDL is solid financially. Its membership continues to grow, and Linux continues to advance, with IDC projecting the 2004 market to grow from $14 billion to more than $35 billion in 2008," said the OSDL spokeswoman.

OSDL member Novell Inc. approved of the move.

"We support OSDLs efforts to streamline operations and shift resources to focus on high priority areas," said Bruce Lowry, Novells PR director.

Emerging markets are a very important arena for Linux, so OSDL support there will be beneficial for Linux. Europe, too, is a growing Linux market, and OSDL can also contribute to promote Linux adoption in that region, as well, Lowry added.

The move caught open-source programmers by surprise, though.

Torvalds said, "I was obviously told about them, and its obviously never a happy thing. But I dont do budgets or board meetings, and didnt ask around for any deeper reasons."

"I just sit in my dark basement," added Torvalds.

Eric Raymond, former president and co-founder of the Open Source Initiative was also puzzled by the layoffs.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about Eric Raymonds departure from the OSI.

"Given that theyre planning to expand their overseas presence, its hard to think that the underlying problem is a shortage of money. So I havent a clue whats going on here," said Raymond. .

However, Stacey Quandt, senior business analyst with the Robert Frances Group, thinks OSDL may well be in financial trouble.

"The layoffs at OSDL are indicative of any organization that finds that its business model is not sustainable," said Quandt.

"The myth that OSDL could control the direction and development of the Linux kernel led some software companies to pay membership fees that ranged from $1 million to $10,000," Quandt said.

"Some of these companies may have hoped to get software features into the Linux kernel, but the Linux kernel development process, while lead by Linus Torvalds, is not controlled by a single organization."

"Although some [OSDL] initiatives such as the carrier grade Linux workgroup were successful in creating a specification, the work that remains to be done is broader than OSDL and involves other organizations such as the Service Availability Forum. This leaves some OSDL members asking, What have you done for me lately?"

"In addition, the Free Standards Group, and its Linux Standards Base project was able draw support from some of the same large IT vendors that support OSDL as well as the companies such as Oracle and Sun that have chosen not to support OSDL," Quandt said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.