The real meaning of LinuxWorld

Oh, don't get me wrong. There was a lot of technology news at LinuxWorld in New York this week
Written by Steven J.Vaughan Nichols, Contributor

Trillian introduced 64-bit Linux for Itanium, Intel's "who-the-hell-thought-of-this-name" 64-bit processor. You couldn't move around the trade-show floor for a minute without bumping into another new project. And then, of course, Linus Torvalds promises us that real soon now -- aka this summer -- we'll see a production version of Linux's next generation: Linux 2.4.

All exciting, all cool. But none of this was really the news of the day. The true news is that Linux businesses are consolidating, and open source is really and truly becoming a mainstream corporate way to develop software.

If you pay close attention to business, you knew Linux was due for a round of consolidation. There are too many companies doing almost the same thing, and other businesses are doing interesting things that aren't really profitable.

Take for instance, Lineo, Caldera's embedded-Linux company, buying Zentropix, the leading provider of real-time Linux products. Their markets were almost -- but not quite -- the same. Lineo had the money that Microsoft had coughed up from its settlement, and investment money, besides. Zentropix has innovative real-time embedded-system programs. It was, according to Lyle Ball, Lineo's VP of marketing communications, "a perfect match." I agree with him.

Then there was VA Linux buying Andover.Net. Although I'm not too sure the deal was worth VA Linux's money, Andover.Net made out very well, indeed. With Slashdot, FreshMeat and other hot, but not-at-all profitable, news/information/gossip sites behind it, VA Linux is in a fine position to popularise CEO Larry Augustin's plans for VA Linux to become the No. 1 Linux company.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether users will still flock to gossip -- and raise hell about Linux and its enemies -- in sites owned and operated by a company that has every intention of joining the Fortune 500 (sooner rather than later). Even before the buyout I couldn't help but notice that the Slashdot recreational area and booth no longer had that funky, "we're all Linux die-hards together" feel to it. Instead, with its flat-screen TV and expensive trade-show displays, to me, somehow Slashdot felt no longer true to itself -- despite the presence of Linux folks playing improbable tunes on their accordions.

As Cheryl, a friend and power player from a major Linux company said, "It's like in 'Wayne's World' when the studio took over and set them up in a Hollywood version of Wayne's basement. It's just not the same." She's got that right.

To my mind, the big news wasn't any of the technology developments or mergers. It was the Trillian Project. No, not the Intel 64-bit Linux news, although that's the biggest technology news of the week. It's the fact that major, old-line firms like HP, IBM and Intel are no longer just making some source code open source, they're actually developing open-source programs. Under the Gnu Public Licence! In cooperation with each other!

You've read about consortiums for this standard or the development of that technology. All of these have one thing in common: They're slow. Many of them are never successful. Recall the 56K-modem standard battles? I still have pure X2 and K56Flex modems lurking in the storage closet.

At LinuxWorld, though, instead of arguing over commas in a standard document for weeks (I'm not making that up), the Trillian companies, along with almost a dozen more, are working quickly and happily together. With less than a year of work in (Trillian started in April 1999), Trillian has the foundation laid and the beams raised for a major Linux port. All in all, I think it's the most amazing development story I've ever seen.

The lessons from this effort are loud and clear. Open-source code development is faster than me on a wide-open interstate highway. And, not only can it work for old-line corporations, but we have proof positive that open source is the way to get cross-company development teams to actually produce something other than grandiose news releases.

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