Jim Zemlin: The New Center of Linux Gravity

Jim Zemlin

Linux Foundation’s Jim Zemlin

Source: Linux Foundation

Standing at the headwaters of the ecosystem that is Linux is the Linux Foundation and its executive director Jim Zemlin. The Linux Foundation was forged out of the merger of the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and the Free Standards Group in 2007 as a new group with a new mandate for Linux.

Now some 20 months after the Linux Foundation was created, Zemlin is claiming the group is succeeding and argues that it will remain relevant for the next 50 years. The Linux Foundation’s goal is to promote and develop the Linux platform as it ramps up against Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Unix and embedded OS vendors.

“Things have gone better than I would have expected,” Zemlin told InternetNews.com. “We’re in the business of growing the Linux platform and making sure the development process of Linux is maintained in a way that is productive and safe.”

The Linux Foundation also has the task of making sure that key developers of Linux such as Linus Torvalds have a neutral place to work. Torvalds is employed by the Linux Foundation.

“One of the things that make Linux work as a development project is the fact that Linus [Torvalds], who is the final decision maker on the release of the kernel, works at a place that is not one of the competitors that collaborates on the project,” Zemlin commented.

Collaboration is one of the key things that the Linux Foundation aims to provide. In the Linux and open source communities, many projects can be developed successfully without the need for an overarching organizational body. Then there are projects that actually need the organization that the Linux Foundation can provide.

“The Foundation is a perfect place for people to come together on projects that are difficult, long, require coordination and aren’t necessarily strategic from a competitive point of view so vendors want to share the cost,” Zemlin explained.

One such effort that has been spearheaded by the Linux Foundation is the Linuxprinting.org initiative. Getting printer drivers on Linux has historically been challenging for end users. Linuxprinting.org is a plug-and-play framework for Linux such that when a user plugs in a printer it will be identified and the latest distribution independent driver can be pulled from the Web site.

The Linux Foundation is also the leader of the Linux Standards Base (LSB), which is a carry-over effort from Zemlin’s FSG. The LSB aims to provide baseline standards for Linux to make it easier for developers to write applications for multiple Linux distributions. LSB 4.0 is due out later this year.

At the FSG, Zemlin also was trying to come up with a unified Linux-packaging solution, it’s an initiative the doesn’t seem to have much momentum at the Linux Foundation. Today mechanisms and formats for Linux packaging abound and can be a potential barrier for software developers. According to Zemlin, the issue has little to do with technology.

“Packaging is not a technical issue to solve,” Zemlin argued. “Everyone just has a different approach, and they can’t agree on just one. It’s really just an issue of discipline within the industry and the community,” he said. “I’m not the cop here on this stuff, and I would rather see community members coming to a rough consensus rather than us saying what to do.”

Consensus building is something that the Linux Foundation is trying hard to achieve by way of a more open approach to membership and participation than the predecessor organization OSDL had.

“We’ve expanded the board to be more participatory and opened up seats for community members,” Zemlin said. “We have more board-level representation from smaller organizations, and the ability to be on our board is much more affordable than it was under the OSDL.”

Zemlin added that the Foundation has stratified its pricing such that small companies can become members. Corporate memberships start at $5,000, which is a far cry from the $1 million it cost to become a member of the OSDL.

“My goal in the organization is to diversify our revenues so we have a broad base of representation,” Zemlin said. “So no single entity dominates the organization and I think we’ve achieved that.”

Linux Foundation member Novell (NASDAQ: NOVL) is pleased with the way things are going as well and in the leadership that Zemlin provides.

“We’re very satisfied with the Linux Foundation,” Justin Steinman, director of product marketing for Novell’s open-platform group, told InternetNews.com. “They serve a great purpose in bringing together the community, commercial Linux companies and end users, and they represent the interests of each group very well. We have a very close relationship with Jim, and we’re very pleased with the direction he’s taken the Linux Foundation.”

Oracle, which was not a member of the OSDL, but is a founding member of the Linux Foundation is also pleased with the direction that Zemlin is providing. In an 2006 interview with InternetNews.com, Wim Coekaerts, vice president of Linux engineering at Oracle, was critical of the OSDL.

“They [the Linux Foundation] try to stay neutral and not assume they are the ones owning development,” an Oracle spokesperson told InternetNews.com. “In general, they have done a good job at trying to get companies to provide specifications and legal assistance to developers. In general, from what we can see, the development community is neutral to positive about the Linux Foundation.”

Though things are going well so far, Zemlin isn’t content to rest on his laurels. His long-term goal for the Linux Foundation is truly long-term.

“I want to be a thousand percent confident that this organization will be around for the next 30 to 50 years because Linux isn’t going away,” Zemlin said. “It’s everywhere, and there is no doubt that Linux will be an important platform in the future and we’re only at the beginning on the embedded and mobile side. It will be my screwup if we don’t have an organization that can help coordinate and grow the development of the Linux platform.”

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