Linux boosters tout strengths of open development

Linux boosters tout strengths of open development

At trade show, proponents say the OS' stability and the flexibility of shared code give it a bright future

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

Four Linux advocates predict that use of the open-source operating system will skyrocket, not only because of its low cost but also for its open-source flexibility.

The speakers represented Linux hardware and software vendors at the recent FOSE 2000 trade show in Washington.

Jan Silverman, vice president of marketing for SGI, cited a number of surveys that showed interest in Linux has grown over the past year. He said SGI is maintaining two product lines, one based on its Mips processors running its proprietary Irix flavor of Unix, and the other based on Intel processors and Linux. He said every leading computer maker that doesn't already offer Linux soon will.

Chris DiBona, a former State Department programmer who now works as a Linux evangelist for VA Linux Systems Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., said he wished he'd had Linux to work with during his government tenure.

'It is an incredibly reliable operating system,' DiBona said. 'How can commercial offerings compete with tens of thousands of people who are [developing the OS] for love? Sometimes you won't have all the features you want, but you'll have something that won't break down on you.'

Some agencies pay to use proprietary source code from vendors such as Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. in security testing. The security of Linux can be evaluated without such an acquisition cost, DiBona said.

Bug citing

When a user finds a bug in a proprietary OS, the vendor might decide to create a custom patch or decide that the bug is not a high enough priority to fix, he said.

Linux users can kill the bugs and release the patches to the open-source community. 'That's something you can't do with commercial software,' DiBona said.

Paul McNamara, vice president for business development at Red Hat Inc. of Durham, N.C., a developer of Linux software, drew parallels between the OS and the transportation industry.

In 1880, businesses had to accept a supplier's schedule and pricing to ship their goods on the nation's rails, McNamara said. Then, he said, something more important than the Sherman Antitrust Act happened'the advent of a disruptive technology called the automobile. Owning their own transport forever changed the way customers dealt with transportation companies.

Similarly, the combination of Linux, the Internet and pervasive computing is a disruptive factor in technology, McNamara said.

He said an open-source license lets anyone modify the software, with the caveat that modifications have to be released to others on the same licensing terms.

Modern operating systems have 25 million to 40 million lines of source code, McNamara said. A proprietary-system architect must understand all the code at least on some level, and that kind of understanding doesn't scale well.

The Linux model of community-based innovation ensures that only the most robust code will survive, McNamara said.

Linux was designed on the Internet, 'like a gigantic petri dish in which new ideas are being shared like never before,' said Rene Schmidt, vice president of Linux software development for Corel Corp.

Linux is Posix-compliant, and all its code is peer-reviewed before the user community accepts it, Schmidt said. Conventional programming techniques rarely involve so much inspection, he said.

For government users, Linux conveys 'the freedom to own your own information technology infrastructure and audit it to make sure it's really secure,' Schmidt said.

PCs in the running

Both DiBona and McNamara predicted that more portable computers running Linux will appear on the market in coming months.

'Linux is going to survive on its own no matter what,' DiBona said. 'Linux is going to win, in my opinion, because it's better.'

No amount of marketing can change the different engineering styles behind Linux and Microsoft Windows NT, he said.

McNamara said the United States should follow the logic of the Chinese government, which is determined to have more than one supplier of operating systems.

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