Raising Linux to Grow Open Source

The open source business model has an inherent ability to bring software rivals together for mutual gain. This approach to developing and distributing software keeps expanding the usefulness and success of the Linux operating system as well.

Linux has not yet come close to replacing Windows on the desktop, but open source is much more than Linux. Its “co-opetitive” nature is spreading through the enterprise as much as it is driving the many different Linux development communities.

The continued growth of open source software is closely linked with the ongoing struggle to bring about an expansion of the Linux footprint. Certainly one unifying factor in bringing together the various competing entities is the leadership provided by the Linux Foundation and other umbrella organizations.

The co-opetive nature of open source is driven further by consortiums that gather cooperation of industry makers and shakers toward a common computing goal. Consider the Allseen Alliance’s efforts in growing the Internet of Things. Another example is the Open Compute Project. It formed to drive development of servers and data centers following the model traditionally associated with open source software projects.

Numerous similar organizations have sprung up in recent years to foster the advantages and progress of open source software. Often unspoken in this support is the growth of the Linux OS. There remains an unbreakable link between Linux and open source. This is the case not only in adopting the business model, but also in using open source code. Even chief Linux hater Microsoft has shown a renewed interest in contributing to the development of the Linux kernel and other open source projects.

“It is simply not possible to create technology in isolation any more. The software is too complex. The Linux kernel alone changes nine times an hour. No single organization can compete with that rate of change and pace of innovation,” Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, told LinuxInsider.

Opposing Becomes Joining

Onlookers often see only a series of forays that developer communities make into an opposing product maker’s domain. Some divergent communities seem to thrive, while others are left behind to struggle. It is sometimes challenging to see mutual gain result from consorting with competitors.

“Obviously, as open source becomes the dominant form of technology development, there will be lots of communities. As I have said many times before, a diversity of communities is a strength rather than a weakness. The bottom line here is that code talks, and we suspect that, as always, the best code will determine which communities thrive versus contract,” noted Zemlin.

The cooperative nature among competitive companies is clearly a reality within developer circles, agreed Neil Levine, vice president of product management at Inktank.

“Open source does create a cooperative atmosphere among product developers. This is certainly what is happening among cloud developers. You see this gravitating around open source projects like Open Stack. All the pieces playing in the cloud make a good motivational effort to patch various components together,” Levine told LinuxInsider.

The Enemy Within

The degree of co-opetiveness was not so evident until a couple of years ago, according to Levine. Look no further than Microsoft.

Today, even Microsoft contributes more benevolently to open source to ensure that enterprise users have more access to at least part of its platform. Microsoft contributes to the Linux kernel development and supports other open source work, he noted.

“Microsoft no longer treats open source competitors as Communists or a cancer like it did 10 years ago. It is a strategy to stem the loss of market share for Microsoft,” said Levine.

The motivation is linked more to trying to stem Microsoft’s own loss of market share rather than helping grow market share for open source vendors, he observed.

Land of Opportunity

The notion of co-oppetition does describe the relationship today among proprietary product developers and the open source community, agreed Ryan Grenard, vice president, global cloud services at PayPal.

“There is a growing sense of opportunity and community developing among open source product makers and those in the proprietary world. It definitely is all about the opportunity. It is about the community and synergy,” Grenard told LinuxInsider.

This cooperative nature and the synergy between open and closed products is evident at PayPal, he noted. Paypal uses some proprietary programming. This mix of software ideologies is carried out in an a way that shows responsibility and agility.

“Proprietary is not always the best way to go — but we have a good mix,” said Grenard.

Passionately Pushing

The blending of efforts by various open source communities is accompanied by the more frequent appearance of proprietary software developers. Part of that acceptance comes from the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80-20 Rule), according to the Linux Foundation’s Zemlin.

That will continue to drive software development from now on, he suggested.

“In business, there is a common rule that 80 percent of your sales come from 20 percent of your clients. Similarly, in software, we will see 80 percent of a stack comprised of open source software, and 20 percent will be made up of custom or proprietary software,” explained Zemlin.

The 80-20 Rule will drive beneficial results for both competing open source communities and proprietary software companies, Grenard predicted. In a sense, this is why practitioners of competing business models willingly work together.

“You always want to work for that 20 percent commonality. That way you can take the 20 percent that is worth it,” he said.

Cooperative Cost Counts

The biggest driving factor for software developers to work together with open source is cost. It is much cheaper for them to cooperate through open source than it is to remain isolated with proprietary software, asserted Inktank’s Levine.

“You can no longer rely on one particular vendor to provide everything you need with regard to technology,” he said.

Through cooperation, developers get a chance to see the standards used in proprietary products. This allows them to work on methods of sharing interoperability approaches. The rate that technology changes and the speed that innovation arrives have become a real threat to proprietary businesses, according to Levine.

Whither Goes Linux

One intended outgrowth of increased cooperation in software development could be a bigger footprint by the Linux OS. Several network effects are at play in reaching this result, noted Zemlin.

First, Linux is now technically ahead of any other platform. As a result, more organizations want to use it, he said.

Second, broad hardware compatibility makes Linux the first choice for any form of computing. This is true whether it is a small System on a Chip for the Internet of Things, hyperscale computing enabled by farms of Intel racks, or high-end mainframe computing on Power architecture, he added.

“Linux is the only platform that runs on virtually any hardware made these days,” Zemlin said.

Elephant in the Room

The third factor pushing Linux adoption through cooperative competition is that open source has proved to be a better way to produce and distribute software, said Zemlin. Linux is really the poster child for this and, as a result, it has the largest open source community in the world, he concluded.

That alone compels proprietary players to sit willingly at the same table in the same room as open source. Organizations have figured out that they either can leverage all this open source technology and succeed, or try and go it on their own and fail, according to Zemlin.

“Clearly, Microsoft sees that its customers demand open solutions — and in many ways, it is better to be at the table than on the menu,” Zemlin quipped. “Perhaps that brings us back to the question about Microsoft’s increasing participation in open source. Even the once mighty seem to be acknowledging this fact by their actions.”

Makers and Users

The acceptance of Linux running both servers and desktops in enterprise environments is indisputable. Even where offices still rely on proprietary Windows software on the desktop, the networks and supporting hardware usually are powered by open source solutions.

The Linux OS has created a huge footprint in the cloud over the last 10 years, for example, said PayPal’s Grenard.

“The cooperative nature is definitely growing,” he acknowledged. “Developers and businesses are not backing away from it.”

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him onGoogle+.

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