Interview: Ransom Love on open source and unified Unix

Caldera chief executive Ransom Love talks about open source, thin clients and his vision of a unified Unix/Linux platform
Written by Matt Loney, Contributor

Ransom Love is chief executive of Caldera Systems, which was formed from the merger earlier this year of Caldera with the operating system and services arms of SCO.

ZDNet: What is your biggest concern right now?

Ransom Love: Our biggest concern has always been compatibility problems. We face a world where all companies use Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, Excel and other Microsoft applications, so we have to have compatibility and keep up with what Microsoft does. The idea of companies moving away from Microsoft is something that may not happen in the near future, if ever, so we have to explore other areas.

But you sell a desktop version of Linux?

We believe we can save 20 to 30 percent with Linux on the desktop, but there's a difference between running Microsoft on the desktop and how we see customers running Linux. We people running Linux desktops managed by Volution, or running Windows on the desktop and accessing Linux through Tarantella.

But as the Internet becomes a more pervasive business model, Linux will become a thin client, or a customised client. We are moving away from monolithic clients to a desktop operating system that will be more customised to fit the business need.

The challenge of the desktop is evolving. The traditional monolithic desktop is not for Linux but the evolving thin client desktop is ideal for it. Something like 80 to 90 percent of personal time is now spent in the browser, and as the Internet becomes predominant use of desktop, applications will follow. As the desktop becomes the browser, you will see Linux become the predominant platform on devices that connect to the Internet.

You have been heavily criticised in the past for your comments on open source. What is your position now?

Caldera is absolutely committed to open source, but you have to remember that GNU is just one of many open source licences, so not everything we do will be GNU - but a lot will. For ubiquitous open source source environments we will continue to use GNU, but Volution's underlying licence, for instance, is Open SLP.

We are going to continue publishing under open source, but many of our big customers do not want to contribute their work back to the community - GNU forces them to give it back - so in some cases we publish under other licences such as BSD so customers don't have to give their proprietary work back to their competitors. Linus [Torvalds] says it doesn't matter which licence you use. We are just extending that philosophy to business computing.

What does the future hold for your unified Linux/Unix platform?

Linux is most widely deployed in embedded systems and low-end servers. Because of the current economy, there is no funding for general Linux, so we will see tremendous specialisation in these areas. With UnixWare we can now take Linux to 32-way systems, and while we are not going into the embedded space we will concentrate on thin client implementations as well as those server implementations.

With the technology we have we want to move into the high end, and the Unix kernel is two to three times more scalable than the current Linux kernel. But there are always trade-offs in putting everything into a single kernel, so what we want is a single build environment so we have to create a single application layer.

On IA32 you can run smaller applications on Open Linux, or bigger back-office applications on OpenUnix, while on IA64 you have OpenLinux and IBM's AIX5L, which shares 70 percent common code with UnixWare. When we talk about unifying Unix and Linux the two have a huge amount in common. A lot of people are running their businesses on Unix, while Linux has a tremendous population on Web servers and other front end servers. So we are taking both and combining them into one platform. The only area where Linux and Unix really compete right now is for the developer mindshare, but in future Linux will provide a whole new applications to Unix. What it comes down to is that we have the only platform for developers that spans from thin client to the datacentre.

What will happen to OpenServer?

We have more than two million installations of OpenServer. The operating system is in maintenance mode now, so there will be no more major enhancements. But what we plan to do is to take the OpenServer technology to Linux, probably with some sort of open source source licence but not GNU.

A vast number of your OpenServer customers are running point-of-sale devices. What does this mean for them?

Our customers include KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and a lot of these types of companies - with widely distributed branches -- are now looking closely at Linux for their point-of-sale devices. For these companies the cost of a Microsoft licence is hugely prohibitive, so we are now developing hardware drivers for our customers.

What does the recent acquisition of SCO really mean for Caldera?

The merger of Caldera Systems and SCO has resulted really in a new company. Our big job now is to try to help people understand what it means. Our mission is to enable development, deployment and management of a unified Linux and Unix operating system. The goal is to make Linux on Intel the alternative business platform because it is built on open standards.

We have 18 offices worldwide, sales support and marketing for 182 countries. Most Linux firms are specialising and pulling back into their core markets. We have been doing some downsizing of the company but this has not been a question of cash but of what is the right number of people needed to provide support in a global market.

How heavily will you rely on resellers?

We have large OEM team directed towards OEMs and resellers, and we see the channel as critical to business adoption of Linux. The reseller is the one who takes our products, who understands them and who turns them into solutions for business customers. We now need VARs more than ever, even though we make Linux as easy to install and manage as we can.

For the business customer buying open source software, I don't believe in the direct market, I believe in the channel. Open source software can be overwhelming to these customers.

Along with the acquisition of SCO, you also acquired SCO Forum, which you have renamed Caldera Forum. Do you think this will continue to be the success it has been for the past couple of decades?

I think Caldera Forum could be even more popular than SCO Forum was. It is unique in the industry because it is not a trade show and people do not go there to be sold something; they go to interact. There are far too few events like that.

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