SAN FRANCISCO — The success of Linux over the past 15 years boils down
to a few key factors, according to a panel of Linux luminaries.
Larry Augustin, chairman of VA Software, Eric Raymond, founder of the Open
Source Institute, Jon maddog Hall of Linux International, Chris DiBona of
Google, and Dirk Hohndel of Intel regaled the capacity crowd with tales of
their first experiences with Linux and Linus.
They also made some strong
statements as to why Linux has succeeded where BSD failed, as well as noted
the conditions required for Linux to succeed in the years to come.
Dirk Hohndel noted that timing was key and that Linux started off as a purely
For Hohndel three key factors that fostered
the rise of Linux: 386 chips, which provided enough power; rise of the Internet, which permitted the collaboration necessary to build Linux; and the GNU toolchain, without which none of Linux would have happened.
Hohndel also noted that Linus Torvalds is also obviously of critical
“Linus is able to take people who vehemently disagree on
architecture and get them to agree,” Hohndel said.
It is that ability to agree that made Linux different from the BSD
Larry Augustin noted that in the early days, BSD was clearly more functional
than Linux, but by many measures has not exceeded it.
Eric Raymond said the
cause for BSD’s failure could be summed up in one word: “overcontrol.”
Hohndel responded by throwing out one word of his own: “fragmentation.”
“Overcontrol leads to fragmentation,” Raymond retorted. “Linux’s strength
is that it is more loosely coupled.”
Maddog Hall said he thinks the success of Linux had a lot to do with the
marketing of Linus Torvalds
“Here’s this nice young man wearing sandals and with a funny accent, as
opposed to other people that weren’t quite as nice.”
Over the last 15 years there have been a number of “tipping points” for
Hohndel recounted that one such tipping point occurred in July
1998 when Oracle said it was going to port to Linux.
“It was on the day of the naming of Linus’ daughter, our god-child,” Hohndel
said looking at Maddog.
Hohndel also cited the IPO of Red Hat
as a critical
The fact that a company could credibly tell people they could
make money from Linux was a big deal.
Raymond noted that a big turning point for him was the open sourcing of
Mozilla by AOL, an event that ultimately led to the creation of the open
source label and the OSI, which he founded.
DiBona cited the availability of decent installers for Linux, as well as the
rise of the Internet as tipping points.
He also noted the deficiencies of
other competitive platforms to Linux.
“If Mac and Windows didn’t suck, people would’ve used them,” DiBona said.
The panel also tackled the issue of where Linux will be in the next five years
and what needs to be done to get there.
Hohndel predicted that the embedded market will be 80 percent Linux in the
next five years.
For the desktop, market share in mature markets
will be single digits in five years; in emerging markets it will be in the
15 percent to 20 percent range.
“Adoption of the Linux desktop is more likely in emerging markets where
there is no legacy,” Hohndel said.
Raymond got riled up as he proclaimed what he thought was necessary to be
done for desktop Linux to be successful.
“We need to do whatever compromise is necessary to get full multimedia
capability on Linux so non-technical users don’t dismiss us out of hand,”
A somewhat more relaxed DiBona advised the audience to tell people to use
Mozilla Firefox on their desktops.
“Develop for the Web,” DiBona said. “People can switch to Web applications
from their desktop more easily.”