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Q&A: Stuart Cohen, CEO Open Software Development Labs

OSDL boss believes MS will develop open source software

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The aim of the OSDL -- home to Linux creator Linus Torvalds, and a non-profit-making organisation -- is to accelerate the growth and adoption of enterprise Linux in the enterprise. Its founding members include IBM, HP, CA, and Intel. We asked CEO Stuart Cohen, who this week spoke to the Commonwealth Technology Forum (CTF) in London via a live video link from his office in Portland, Oregon, to update us on what's new at the organisation and in open source.

Q: Stuart -- what's new at the OSDL?
A: We're really pushing open source in Europe -- we recently opened an office in Luxembourg -- but also in China. In 2004, we opened an office in Beijing, based on the large amount of activity in China among those who wanted to get involved in open source. And today we've announced the appointment of Claude Bullens as director responsible for bringing on Europe, the Middle East and Africa. His job is to pull together activities around workgroups, industry information and awareness, as well as government activities around intellectual property rights.

Q: What is the current state of Linux?
A: Linux' share of servers continues to grow. Linux' share of the server market in Europe is growing, and is predicted to climb from 15 per cent of servers to 25 per cent in 2008. On desktop PCs it will climb to eight per cent -- which is higher than in the US -- to 16 per cent, double what it is now. We are now the second largest installation ahead of Apple. Worldwide, Linux has enjoyed double-digital growth for 11 consecutive quarters, and we'll double the size of the market between now and 2008.

Q: How is Europe handling the process of patent reform, something that's close to the hearts and minds of Linux vendors?
A: EU is taking on patent reform, levelling playing field allowing open source to grow. OSS and Linux are having great success in this area and we want to make sure we're involved.

Q: Support remains an issue for much open source software, apart from that supplied by major vendors such as Novell, Red Hat and IBM. What can you do to address this?
A: Greater penetration of Linux into the enterprise means that there is, and will be, more support from big integrators such as Cap Gemini as well as manufacturers. Business partners and resellers will take on more service offerings especially for smaller businesses. And further into the future, we believe that the growth in university support for Linux means that there will be more students emerging who will be able to support Linux.

Q: One of the problems open source software has is either a dearth of documentation or way too much, which can be confusing. Can the OSDL help with this?
A: Linux itself has great documentation and support. I'd agree though that some software products have very good documentation, while others have a minimal amount. We want to make sure that open source projects used for mission-critical applications have a support structure in place. If it's important to, for example, a data centre workgroup, it gets prioritised and work goes on with developers and the vendor community coming out of marketing or technical workgroups. We may assign resources or bring together parties that can do that. It works well, as the market accepts open source software -- it means vendors can see the opportunity and customers want that.

Q: One issue that those unused to the processes involved in open source comment on is a lack of central direction to the movement. In a practical sense, does this mean developers move from project to project without speaking to customers, on the basis not of need but what's cool?
A: As projects get increasingly installed in companies and government customers, their IT organisations get more engaged, and some of them become professional developers. So internal IT departments can fix that. It feeds on itself -- success breeds success and developer interest. But it also comes down to popularity -- if software is unpopular and few use it, then developers will move on.

Q: Why have open source software application developers focused their efforts on Linux -- after all Windows is the bigger platform. Will there be open source software development on Windows?
A: All independent software vendors have offerings that run on Linux with the exception of Microsoft. I anticipate that as open source software grows, Microsoft will make its applications available in open source form. Their customers are also Linux customers, and they are interested in interoperability -- servers and desktops. They will make it available.

If you're a start-up company, you will develop on both Linux and Windows -- because it's too expensive to focus on one or the other in the long term -- in fact you'd focus on Windows first because of the installed base in most cases. Linux succeeds because it is displacing a lot of Unix -- it's much cheaper than Unix.

In addition, firstly RISC processors are being replaced, driving down the cost of both hardware and the operating system. Secondly, the value proposition is so strong on hardware and the OS that it extends to the application level. It's all about value -- if you have a valuable piece of software, people will pay for it, doesn't matter if it's OSS or proprietary -- it all depends if the software has great value and it supplies unfair advantage to you the customer and allows you to differentiate your business.


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