The Linux Debacle

Enterprise Linux is becoming unglued. This is because some major commercial players (read Oracle cutting in half the support for Linux Redhat – brought to you from India or China or both ??) and Microsoft (read an alliance made in the Hell that is the great name Novell going slowly under) have decided to attack the major Enterprise Linux players on the two fronts where Redhat (and all OpenSource vendors) are weakest – 1)revenue streams and 2)sources of new features and clients.

Now lets be under no illusion, Larry Ellison does not want to suddenly make half-price on support the new beacon for all of Oracles product lines. No Larry just wants to reduce Redhat to stock market road kill so he can get JBoss and/or a Linux distro at fire sale prices. And what better way than to cut Redhats bread and butter revenue streams in half. Bill and Steve of course, are second in line again. But they see the brilliance of the ploy. By their “alliance” with Novell they get:
1)to further attack Redhat and the whole Enterprise Linux market;
2)to humble Novell even further by paying royalties for Windows patent licenses and protection;
3)to continue to roil the waters of the legality of Linux usage started under SCO
4) and now to further put a bigger damper on the LAMP light that has hitherto thwarted their SMB ambitions.

The problem with Enterprise Linux is shared throughout the Open Source industry – a relative paucity of revenue streams. Since most Open Source companies have foregone one-time and operational licensing fees (except for trivial distribution charges), they must make their revenues on 3 primary streams:
1) 24/7 and other product support,
2)the education stream of books/conferences/tutorials/training
3) and the consulting or how-to-actually-implement-this-stuff stream.
There is a fourth potential stream – priorities in future improvements and directions in their software feature sets, but there are definite limitations including moral ones that the Linux community can easily and would enthusiastically bring to bare … uhhh bear on Open Sourcers that attempted it- one can see with trepidation the Haggerd+Gantry like declamations from the Linux Cathedral pulpit.

But Enterprise Open Source has another serious problem: new features and the consequent new customers.
Like it or not, Open Source is primarily evolutionary in the gradualistic, slow rolling improvements sense. Not the BigBang, its a Wonderful Life Jay Gould sense of the way evolution really works – tawdry pace and very slow improvements broken by periods of rapid flux brought on by impelling and sudden life threatening demands. Open Source is no better and some would say worse at bringing the big changes to the IT world – and I would cite Mozilla as the example. Despite having a clearly superior browser, because Microsoft increased the cost of making the decision (go with”free” IE) on the browser to extremely high with its proprietary extensions which now nobody wants to fix it unless the Web service is customer facing – and Mozilla and company now have significant 20% market share. And that reluctance to fix is doubly so because with all Redmonds proprietary extensions in JScript, HTML, DOM and CSS which the company adamantly refuses to forgo (despite promises and blandishments to big organizations back in 1997 to “walk the open standards line”) – Redmond has also made the cost of moving away from IE to Open Standards very high because of the app fixes required. So Mozilla has no leverage on Microsoft other than to out-innovate.

And Mozilla has done that. Firefox 2.0 is clearly better than IE7 and by a wide margin. Even, more telling their XUL framework for Web development is the template for Microsofts XAML in Vista(Microsoft are great copycat extenders). XUL has been available to the marketplace for at least 5 years. But because Mozilla has forgone licensing and runtime fees for XUL, Mozilla has no substantial revenue streams to finance the alliances and marketing required to get XUL presence in the development community. So XAML and MXML and other commercial variations have had an opportunity to catch up and now copy/match many of XULs ground breaking innovations. This is what Big Bill meant when he said Open Source cannot be the source of major innovation in the IT space. He could and is guaranteeing that by simply waving around his $40 billion money bags. With his cash, Bill can catch up to and overtake any Open Source innovations by buying them from the IT development stream inhouse or on the open market. Mozilla XUL displaced by XAML and AJAX reborn as Atlas appear to be Bills QED.

But what Bill takes away he gives back with an Vista Eula that becomes evermore Draconian – ensuring that the Service and Support orientation of Open Source(its their biggest source of revenues) will be supplied with a steady stream of customers. So as long as that and major broken promises like “we will adhere to Web Open Standards” and “we will deliver on Trustworthy computing” persist. Or Larry continues to make outlandish promises in bold red ad print (Oracle is the most secure database as of 2004 or Oracle is the database benchmark champion) – as long as the major players continue to disappoint in major ways, Open Source will variously survive. So to reduce the effectiveness of the Open Source mission, the commercial industry is literally buying out Enterprise Open Source for their following net gains:|
1)commercial interests will take precedence on innovation, service and support levels;
2)they buy off a community of developers, especially on-staff ones, that are very good;
3)they can limit or even extinguish some areas of Open Source participation especially if the community at large acquiesces;
4)thus they can eliminate another source of competition for very low cost;
5)they can roil the Open Source and Open Standards marketplaces by supporting competing standards under an umbrella of “we are not sure global warming in fact is taking place” – this is known as the “BushnBill-Bald-in-Your-Face” lying .. uuh sorry – prevarication strategy;
6)the strategic directions of Open Source will have their brand of commercial stamp and strong influence ;
7)New entrants into the Open Source market will know whats in store for them if they get too far out of line – Ray Ozzies infamous “you know what happened to Netscape” line from last year is the exemplar;
8) and finally, who knows what you will find in the skeleton bones of former Open Sourcers , maybe some tasty morsels of ZENWorks or YAST.
So Enterprise Linux and broader Open Source will limp along much like the lesser developed countries of the World do until they get whummped by the private buyouts or gobbling globalization. In Francis X. Cringelys book Accidental Empires, he argued that Bill and Larry and other major PC players won out by sheer dumb, accidental luck. To that mix I would add an equal part of the sheer audacity and discipline of medieval Machiavellian thuggery.

(c)JBSurveyer 2006