Linux creator Linus Torvalds may be the main mouthpiece for open source, but another open-source evangelist—John “Maddog” Hall—is working hard behind the scenes to spread adoption of Linux.
If you were at this weeks LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco, you likely ran across Hall, who is executive director of Linux International—a nonprofit organization that disseminates information about Linux, its applications, and advantages—and author of “Red Hat Linux for Dummies.”
Hall sat down with eWEEKs Craig Newell at the Ottawa Linux Symposium in July to talk about where he thinks Linux is headed. Excerpts of that interview appear below.
eWEEK: What have you been working on lately?
Hall: I talk a lot with governments, for the most part industry has gotten it. The next really big scene will be the bulk of the independent software vendors [ISVs], and what theyll have to do to meet that marketplace. At the same time, theres a large group of the mom-and-pop businesses I call the “great unwashed.” Were trying to interact more with local user groups and give them the marketing ammunition to go out and talk to business, educators and government.
The other day there was a reporter who stood up in a conference and said, “You guys are always talking about technology, but businesses are interested in saving money.” A lot of people say, “We dont really need business,” but having business associated with it has some advantages. If you think the DMCA [Digital Millenium Copyright Act] is hard to defeat without having something like Linux as a commercial thing, think what it would be like without it. Linux and open source is probably one of the best ways to defeat the DMCA.
Im going to Peru next week to talk to the UN and UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] about open source. Ive got to tell them that its as much an international resource as the pyramids, and needs that amount of protection. The people who develop free software dont have the money for copyright infringement enforcement. Lots are students. People forget that the copyright laws were created for the common good, and if you accept the fact that copyrights and patents were created for the common good, and if you accept the fact that open-source software was created for the common good, then maybe open-source software deserves more protection than other types of software.
eWEEK: How would you respond to Microsoft assertions that Windows is more secure than Linux?
Hall: Was that before or after that horrible hole that you can drive trucks though? They keep saying Windows is more secure, but the latest thing Microsoft has done is changed the wording on their contracts about liability in case of having copyrighted code and patented code inside of the product. It used to be that you could paraphrase it as “tough luck, too bad.” Now I believe what theyre saying is that theyll give you your money back. The problem is this is the very least of the expenses a company would have in this case. If this happened you would have to change your business.
eWEEK: What do you think IBMs role in Linux is, and how are they transitioning that?
Hall: IBM is an interesting company because when you go back a while they were having some problems. Then they pulled in Lou Gerstner, and he almost immediately said IBM is too much of a product company and it has to be more of a services and solution company. When you look at open source, its a services and integration dream. You have all these people generating software and functionality, and you can charge the customers for just the hardware and the engineering. You dont have to pay royalties to some other company to have to use that. I think the management of IBM took a look at this and decided it was the best thing since sliced bread, and it took some of the other companies a while to understand that.
Maddog Weighs In on
eWEEK: Whats your take on the ongoing situation with SCO and Linux?
Hall: As long as it was between IBM and SCO, there wasnt much anyone could do. Nobody knew what the contract was that IBM and SCO had, so basically people didnt want to do anything because they didnt want to upset IBMs case. But now SCO has taken a further step and theyre going after end users. This changes the entire complexity of the case.
eWEEK: What do you think the biggest growth area is for Linux?
Hall: It makes a difference whether youre saying units or dollars. Embedded is huge, and its only going to grow as prices for hardware drop. As Wi-Fi comes in and Bluetooth gains credibility, all of a sudden youll find that microprocessors are going to literally be every place…Thats going to be a huge area, and it doesnt do you any good to have a cheap processor if you need a $29 operating system
Then of course the desktop is interesting. Theres only 500 million desktop systems, and theres 6 billion people. This means that 5.5 billion havent selected their OS. Its true that 40 percent of these people will die without ever having made a telephone call, but their governments are trying to figure out how to bring them information, education, stuff like that, and theyre looking to open-source software to do that. Thats one reason why Im going to Peru, to talk about that, [as well as to] Eastern Europe, Asia and Chicago.
I guess probably the dullest, most boring part is the small- to mid-range servers. IDC says [ open source ] already [ accounts for [ one-third the shipments of those, and its growing. Supercomputing is interesting, and Beowulf is involved with that. Id like to see every high school teach how to program on that.
Im typically interested in the very small and the very large. Im used to programs that … couldnt afford to be down. Where you start something and three weeks later its still running. How do you make a program that takes 10 hours run in three minutes? I think theres a lot of stuff we can teach students in high school, so by the time theyre in college theyre ready for the really advanced stuff. Open-source software is perfect for that.
eWEEK: Where do you think Linux will be in 5 years?
Hall: This is why I hate predicting the future. I take the year the Web and Mosaic came out; if you asked someone about the future a year before that came out, they wouldnt have a clue.
I think the type of thing like molecular computing, where the switches are down to a molecule, is interesting. Accessing it is another story. How do you find your favorite MP3 on that?
Im hoping Linux and commodity hardware will reduce the cost of communications even more, or allow the telephone companies to make a profit and stay in business. If that happens we may see even greater uses of videoconferencing so you can see and talk to your girlfriend over the Internet for a reasonable price.
I hope in the next five years we straighten out some of these legal issues we have around the exchange of information. I hope people realize that theres a whole bunch of people who represent the bulk of people, and then theres a small group who, through their own greed, just wants to make even more money. Some of the laws that are being passed are to the detriment of many for the greed of the few.
We also have to recognize some industries disappear after a while. Look at the steam car or buggy whip makers. The fact that some people are trying to keep these industries alive via legislative means may not be for the benefit of everybody. What would happen if the distribution costs became so low that an artist just set up a server with a T-3 in their home? Use PayPal to buy it, so what does the music industry become? The only thing they would do is marketing. All of the sudden the shoe is back on the other foot, where it belongs—on the artist, not the music industry. This may be the way things have to change. The same may be true of proprietary software makers.
It will be a business of merit.