We think he arrived in late summer, just as we were beginning to harvest the wheat. He seemed friendly enough at first, introduced himself as "Martin". We invited him to join us, just as we invited everyone who came by. Martin seemed hungry - but well fed by the time we finished the meal. He even stayed the night.
He didn't talk too much about himself, but when he did he seemed quite boastful. He said he had some ideas about how to make the harvest go faster and easier, but didn't share them. No matter, we'd find out in the morning. We offered him a room for the night and he accepted and turned in.
After breakfast the next morning, he stayed and watched us work. There was a token effort to look useful by bringing his dishes to the sink, but no offer to clean them. A cheerful invitation to join us in harvesting the wheat was met by a mumble but no actual work. He certainly helped eat the meals and used the bed laid out for him, though.
There was some confusion among us. With the exception of those passing through to other places, everyone here helped with the work and shared in the rewards. Why would someone choose to reap the benefits of a community without making a contribution?
I've watched the LinuxOne saga unfold. It's not the first time that a member of the Linux community has been accused of profiting off the work of volunteers - and won't be the last. I've watched discussions about RedHat, Caldera, Mandrake, VA Linux, and Corel on various mailing lists; all accused of profiting - which, indeed, they do. Those discussions come up for a while then die down. The LinuxOne debate has persisted and stayed rather negative. Why?
Contribution. It's that simple.
RedHat occupied the hot seat for a while. Not only did they make money off of Linux, but they got Alan Cox and David Miller (among many others) under their clutches. Surely this meant that the kernel would become proprietary and that the other distributions would suffer? Surely now that they've made millions off their IPO they'll start shutting out other distributors with proprietary extensions to their distribution? Now that they've acquired Cygnus, aren't gcc and glibc in danger of becoming closed-source?
Far from it. RedHat has made a tangible committment to Open Source in the form of code. Take a look through the code written by RedHat staff - what license is used? While I can't guarantee there are no exceptions to this rule, I believe most of it is GPL'd. As for Alan and other kernel hackers that get their paychecks from North Carolina? Alan was hired and told to "do what's good for the linux kernel", if memory serves. Not "do what's good for RedHat's kernel".
VA Linux, Caldera, Suse and Mandrake have all hired linux developers so that they can put their day efforts into Linux and take home a nice paycheck for their time. VA has put forth sourceforge.org for Open Source projects. All have put significant portions of their code under the GPL.
The problem is _not_ the money LinuxOne will make, nor is it that they copied RedHat/Mandrake code. Each distribution builds off the others, some subtly, others explicitly. Caldera and Mandrake both started out life as RedHat clones, and Corel began with a Debian base.
The problem is the community perception that LinuxOne is looking to make a large quantity of money off the community without a corresponding level of contribution.
It seems that LinuxOne has failed to recognize that they are part of a meritocracy (where status is based on the quality and quantity of one's contributions, as opposed to ones income, age, family background...). I, as a community member, have looked at LinuxOne and seen a very poor balance; although they stand to make quite a bit off our work, it does not appear that they have made any contributions to this community.
What kind of contributions could they make? Here are a few suggestions:
Luckily, all of the above can be accomplished even in the pre-IPO quiet time.
I'm looking forward to the next few months. LinuxOne has the opportunity to either take part in a growing, positive, supportive community, or to fall further back into isolation. I'd sincerely like it to be the former.
In writing this, I've made every effort to be impartial and constructive. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I'll add that I own a small amount of RedHat stock and have one of my applications in a number of Linux distributions. Who knows - maybe it'll be part of LinuxOne OS someday.
Pointers to other articles on LinuxOne on other sites
William is an Open-Source developer, enthusiast, and advocate from Vermont, USA.