Comdex: Will the penguin go hand in hand with Bill?

Linux guru pontificates on ways to make money with Linux

Hero of the Linux community Jon "maddog" Hall gave a typically rousing speech to devotees gathered at the Comdex show in Las Vegas Monday and dismissed the threat of Microsoft's latest service .Net.

Microsoft's vision for rent-as-you-go software, .Net, is regarded by some commentators as a threat to Linux, but Hall, executive director of Linux International, is typically scathing. "We did rentable software for a while and people didn't like it," he said. "I'd admit there are times when people need to rent software but it is only occasional and under such a model you lose control."

Rentable software is the same old Microsoft paradigm by another name, he concluded. "Mr Bill selling you the same source code thousands of times a year."

The session was intended as a reassurance to developers that there is money to be made in Linux. Despite his many asides at the Redmond behemoth, Hall urged firms to package Linux solutions alongside Windows. "Put both the Microsoft emblem and the penguin on the box and sell to both marketplaces," he said.

As well as the need for this kind of flexibility, the secret of making money, Hall claimed, was to understand the value that Linux could add. Value added reselling of Linux is going to be a huge money maker for the open source operating system, Hall predicted.

Hall laid out three basic rules to follow in attempting to make a profit from Linux: "Focus on how it can add value to customers, obey the General Public Licence (GPL) and don't wait for anyone to authorise you to go ahead with a Linux-based alternative." Hoping to lay to rest qualms developers have about giving back code to the Linux community, Hall claimed that only two or three cases out of hundreds "had business models that did not match up to the GPL".

Although the rules surrounding GPL are extremely complex Hall laid out a simple rule of thumb. "If you use somebody else's code and modify it and their code was under the GPL then you have to give modifications back. But if you start off with code from another source you only have to give out code in binary."

Some companies believed that they could not forge ahead with Linux-based solutions until they had had a "letter of authorisation", Hall said. They would have a long wait he added. "This is not a large software firm in Redmond, Washington and there are no big contracts," he said. "It is the marketplace that will decide whether you have authorisation."

Hall went on to list some of successes of Linux, especially where firms have focused on a specific need. "So we have Linux-only Linux, Linux integrated with other systems, Linux for robots, Linux for entertainment devices." The later, embedding Linux in devices such as interactive set-top boxes is another huge money-spinner for the open source community he said.

Reminiscing about the first time he handed out free software, Hall said: "It seemed almost evil it felt so good."

See full coverage at ZDNet UK's Comdex Fall 2000 Special Report.

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