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Layoffs in Linux Space

Though Linux is gaining momentum in North America, those that work for Linux organizations are not immune to layoffs.

The OSDL, the self-proclaimed center of gravity for Linux and the employer of Linus Torvalds, recently laid off an undisclosed number of employees in its sales, marketing, business development and programming departments, an OSDL spokesperson said in an e-mail statement.

Financial shortcomings are not the impetus for the layoffs. Rather, the statement said, the OSDL is solid financially and its membership continues to grow, as Linux continues to advance.

The apparent reason for the staff reduction in North America is because there is more demand in other markets.

"The lab's mission has changed in the past year, and it has decided to realign its investments accordingly," the OSDL statement reads. "There is more demand for global activities with new offices in China and Europe, and the labs had to invest more in IP issues sooner than it had planned."

At least one member of the OSDL supports the move.

"We support OSDL's efforts to streamline operations and shift resources to focus on high-priority areas," Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry told internetnews.com.

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

As to whether or not Novell would hire any of the out of work programmers, Lowry was unable to comment. Novell has been a platinum member of the OSDL since December 2003, paying an estimated $1 million a year in dues.

The impact that the North American layoffs may have on the Linux development community is ultimately quite limited. Critics of the OSDL argue that the organization has overstated its importance within the Linux community.

Robert Francis Group Analyst Stacey Quandt, a former OSDL employee, noted that a global community participates in the development of the Linux kernel and no single organization controls its growth or progress.

"Also, while IBM, HP and Intel are paying OSDL $1 million per year many other IT vendors find it difficult to justify membership in the organization," Quandt told internetnews.com.

In Quandt's view, the most likely reason behind the recent layoffs is the inability for OSDL to significantly grow its membership revenue.

"These actions further dispel the myth that OSDL is the 'center of gravity' for Linux," Quandt said. "The challenge facing OSDL is that there is a growing disconnect between the technical and marketing sides of the organization, as well as increasing awareness that joining OSDL is not a perquisite to participate in the Linux development community."

Quandt is not the only one who disputes the OSDL's lofty claims. Illuminata Senior Analyst Gordon Haff also noted that generally speaking the "center of gravity" claim overstates OSDL's role and importance.

"OSDL started out as basically just a place that developers could get access to 'big iron' gear. More recently, it's tried to expand that role, for example by hiring Linus Torvalds," explained Haff. "However, at the end of the day, if OSDL were to disappear tomorrow, I'm not sure it would affect the progress of Linux much."

"There are too many large-scale Linux projects happening at companies like HP, IBM, Novell and Red Hat. OSDL may make a convenient intersection point for interactions, but it's hardly an essential ingredient."