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Has the Linux bubble burst?

And if it has, is that necessarily a bad thing, or simply a sign of maturity?
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Written by Mary Jo Foley, Contributor on
Has Linux finally crossed the threshhold from adolescence to adulthood?

If you use as one measuring stick the recent spate of not-so-good news for some of Linux's leading lights, you might come to that conclusion. Layoffs by one of the four largest Linux distributors, TurboLinux; tough times at Linux backer Corel; IPO meltdown at Linux services provider LinuxCare. Who's next?

The days of grossly over-inflated Linux stocks seem to be tapering off. Gone are the heady times when Linux companies devised creative ways to turn down hourly offers of investment dollars, as one Linux company official claimed his firm had been forced to do. Now, Linux companies are being held to the same rules as everyone else: show a realistic plan for profitability before cash is doled out.

Does this mean that Linux's heyday is over? Hardly. After all, IBM, Sun, Oracle and Microsoft all continue to be staunch believers in Linux's potential/threat. Microsoft reiterated on Wednesday of this week, as part of its latest antitrust-related filing that its economic experts still consider Linux "a serious competitor as an operating system for a variety of non-PC devices that compete directly with personal computers running Windows."

Instead of declining, Linux is simply growing up, I'd argue. As VA Linux chief Larry Augustin said recently, turmoil in the Linux segment, like tech turmoil in general, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Linux is taking its lumps, just as any and all operating systems do, as they morph from niche products to products of interest to a wider audience. Linux bigots cry foul when the press points out that Linux isn't immune to the feature-creep and delivery schedule slips that have plagued Windows. Those who question Linux's ease-of-use or manageability often are seen as the enemy. Some of the Linux faithful portray anyone who questions the inherent goodness of the open source model as Microsoft shills. 'You're with us or against us' seems to be the motto of many.

Regardless of the rhetoric, I believe there is enough promise in the basic concept that software is best developed via a cooperative, rather than a competitive model, to continue to propel Linux and other open software forward. As one Linux enthusiast pointed out recently, as operating systems get increasingly bigger and more complex, where will companies find enough programmers to hire to develop and test them? The concept of cooperative programming would seem to be a novel way to circumvent this limitation.

What's your take? Is there enough of a business model in selling "free" software and add-on services to allow Linux companies to make a go of it -- even in a less-forgiving economic climate? TalkBack below and let me know what you think.

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