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Keeping the Desktop Dream Alive: Q&A With Linux Foundation's Jim Zemlin, Part 2

By Richard Adhikari
Jun 21, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Keeping the Desktop Dream Alive: Q&A With Linux Foundation's Jim Zemlin, Part 1

Keeping the Desktop Dream Alive: Q&A With Linux Foundation's Jim Zemlin, Part 2

Where is Linux going? For Part 2 of this interview, LinuxInsider continued speaking with Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin to discuss Linux in a wider variety of technologies, new programs intended to make it easier for businesses to switch to open source computing, and open source's ability to compete in the consumer mobile space.

LinuxInsider: During your speech at the Open Source Business Conference, you said that one of the reasons Linux is growing is that it saves money. But from your examples -- companies that make and sell products such as Samsung, LG and Sony, and your mentioning the ability to monetize product in ever-decreasing time spans -- you're talking about manufacturers and high-tech businesses. What about non-high-tech businesses, like medical devices, for instance? Apple is pushing hard there with the iPad.

Jim Zemlin: In general, Linux has the No. 1 market share in the embedded systems world, whether it's MRI scanners or any other type of high-end medical device.

In terms of medical solutions that require tablet computing, the IT infrastructure in hospitals in most cases can't be described as cutting-edge, and we'll have to first see that type of technology really mature.

What I will say about the medical industry is, if you look at what has created large productivity gains in many segments of the economy, it's things like knowledge sharing, the ability to access your data from anywhere and at any time. In that case, Linux has done pretty darn well because it powers the severs and allows software companies to own their own intellectual property.

Let's take a non-high-tech marketplace like power production -- let's use power companies. They're basically setting up smart grid technology to meter people's [electricity] consumption on a 15-minute incremental basis so they can manage power patterns and make sure the grid is allocating energy effectively.

If you're polling 12 million customers' power usage every 15 minutes, you're polling millions of transactions that have to be centralized, stored and analyzed, then have the data pushed out. You have power meters, servers that store and analyze the data, high-performance computers to crunch the data. In all those categories, Linux is either the No. 1 operating system or the fastest-growing operating system.

We've seen Linux do something unheard of in other operating systems in that it moves from one segment to another, and as it does, it dominates those segments. In high-performance computing, Linux went from zero percent market share to over 90 percent in less than 10 years.

LIN: Let's look at what the problems are in the Linux space. One, the need for a universal application and media warehouse that companies can tap when they want to bundle their applications with media, video, carriers and billing. A white-label iTunes App Store, if you like. What would this require? Some kind of template that companies can purchase and adapt to their requirements with a few lines of code, similar to the way Internet entrepreneurs customize generic shopping carts for their websites?

Zemlin: There's a number of things. One is that different firms -- carriers or manufacturers or PC makers -- want to participate in the app store economy in some way. When you have a closed platform like Microsoft or Apple or any of the proprietary platforms where the app store is controlled by a single entity, the on-ramp and off-ramp for that store will be monetized by that single entity.

Right now, Apple is in a massive way that entity, so what firms are looking it is, how can I have my own app store? And they find that the components that make up an app store -- testing apps for compatibility with the device the app will run on, or integrating with a carrier billing system, or setting up the credit card process -- are complicated things to do.

A third-party provider could set that up as a service and allow a turnkey approach to creating white-label app stores for all kinds of different devices.

There's an example of this from Intel -- it's called "AppUp," and that's a decent example of where you have somewhat of a turnkey app store solution where developers can upload their apps to the AppUp infrastructure that can push out the apps to the white label stores it supports.

That may be better characterized as the app warehouse approach. There's a lot of opportunity there, and I think it's something people should be exploring.

LIN: A second problem is license compliance. The problem isn't a legal one, it's a process issue, you said at OSBC. The Linux Foundation is providing a host of tools and processes to help people comply with licensing requirements. What tools and processes? Are you talking about the Linux Foundation and FossBazaar's Software Package Data Exchange?

Zemlin: Yeah. When you have open source components within a product -- let me back up -- today if you have a dedicated supply chain, you use a product data management product or some sort of supply chain management product to have data about your bill of materials across your supply chain. You get different components from different suppliers, they're getting integrated into a factory somewhere, and so on and so forth.

Currently there are no tools or standards for passing a bill of materials about software data packages. Software products now are made up of thousands of different components from various projects, and they all come together in an innovative solution.

The ability to track that I wouldn't characterize as a problem, but a learning curve that the industry is going through right now. So the best way to think about it is, there's overwhelming advantage for cost and time to market in using open source, but that comes with the small price that the licensing process is complex across the software supply chain, and the Linux Foundation and FOSS are working to deal with that.

LIN: How about the Open Compliance Program? What's the lowdown on that? SPDX is one of the six elements of the OPC; how far along is the OPC towards completion? After all, if SPDX won't be released until August, it's not likely that OPC is anywhere near completion.

Zemlin: We run the OPC -- the standard, SPDX, training that shows people how to comply with OS licenses, tools which allow people to manage their software bill of materials, a set of best practices we have on our websites, and knowledge sharing, which is the FossBazaar facility, and a sixth component ...

LIN: Who will enforce OPC? Or is it essentially self-policing because companies don't want to be caught in breach of license?

Zemlin: The enforcement is making sure that people comply with their licenses; this is simply a set of processes, training and tools to deal with the tremendous shift from the old way of proprietary licensing to a new way of using software which is predominantly based on open source.

LIN: At the OSBC you said the Linux Foundation's perspective, and you believe it's also Microsoft's perspective, is we would like to see changes. Where and how does Microsoft come into this picture vis-a-vis the Linux Foundation, given that it's never looked very kindly upon Linux? Or are you referring to the patents Microsoft claims it holds on different processes in Linux?

Zemlin: I think we were speaking around patent reform. I think everyone in the tech industry related specifically to software would like to see a higher bar in terms of quality for patents issued around software because the lack of quality leads to a lot of needless litigation.

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