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Are you certified? Do you want to be? Two competing groups came forward with Linux certification programs this week. The certification landscape now looks like this (new ones listed first):
  • The Linux Institute is working on putting together a three-tier scheme based on open participation and an international focus. They explicitly want to certify engineers all over the world. Certification would be awarded via supervised exams given at a nominal cost. Most of their scheme is distribution-independent, with specific add-ons for most of the major distributions.

  • Digital Metrics is a private corporation offering a three-tier certification scheme with exams developed entirely in house. Exams are given over the web, with applicants required to sign an "honor policy and nondisclosure agreement." Certification is good for two years, after which the exam must be taken again. Digital Metrics aims for absolute distribution independence.

  • Linuxcertification.org describes a comprehensive, three-tier certification program; it has been put together by P. Tobin Maginnis. The goal seems to be to create an independent, non-profit certification "authority;" there is a board of directors which claims Jon Hall, Bruce Perens, Eric Raymond, and Phil Hughes as members.

  • Caldera has announced training and certification initiatives, though only the training appears to be real at this time.

  • Red Hat has a "Red Hat Certified Engineer" training program. This is a single-tier certification scheme (currently, they envision higher levels), and is clearly not intended to be distribution-independent. There currently does not appear to be a way to obtain certification without taking the five-day training course.
From this list, one might just conclude that the certification arena is getting crowded. Not all of these initiatives are likely to succeed.

Before pondering which of these programs, if any, to support, it's worth thinking for a moment on whether certification is useful at all. There is some controversy around this issue, to put it mildly. Opponents of certification fear a money-grabbing obstacle course that must be passed in order to work in this field. Or they suspect an attempt to set up a guild system intended to limit the number of certified engineers, and thus keep salaries up.

Those concerns are valid, but there do remain some useful aspects of certification. It provides a minimal level of comfort for employers who lack the skills needed to evaluate the abilities of job applicants (i.e. many small businesses). Certification can also provide both a goal for and a means of evaluating training programs. Insofar as the certification exam is a meaningful test of Linux ability, a training program that enables people to pass the exam is achieving something useful.

So which of the above initiatives is best for the Linux community? There are some obvious attributes to look for: the certification program should function in a similar manner to the community itself. That means independence from any one vendor, an open, transparent, and accountable development and management structure, and as much information available as possible. The "source code" of the certification scheme should be open, in other words.

Applying those criteria leave the Linux Institute and Linuxcertification.org as the clear top candidates. The two groups currently appear to be very much in competition with each other. It may be that the community can be well served by competing certification groups, but it is not clear that this is the case. Some thought about creating a joint, cooperative effort may be in order.

Richard Stallman has stirred the pot again with his articleentitled "Why you shouldn't use the Library GPL for your next library". If you go to LinuxToday, you'll get the benefit of user comments on his article, which range, as usual, from whole hearted agreement to epithets. Richard's article indicates that when commercial alternatives to a library already exist, then using the GPL produces no true benefit. However, if your library provides a functionality not easily available elsewhere, then use of the GPL can "encourage" people to release their code under the GPL as well, in order to benefit from your library.

On the other side of the argument, Bill Henning wrote us to provide a pointer to his article, which claims that the use of the GPL instead of the LGPL results in wasted effort, since commercial or LGPL alternatives end up being written instead. Commercial alternatives are particularly abhorrent, since the time spent on developing them could have been used to improve the original GPL library instead.

Comments found on the LinuxToday site include other arguments, both in concert with Richard and in opposition. One well-written comment from Pascal Martin argues, "Free software is contagious, but you see the benefit of it only if you use it: let's have as many people as possible, including corporations, try free software with some peace of mind. Once they are hooked, and dependent on it, they will move forward. The LGPL does help a lot." While RMS points to at least one example where the use of the GPL for a library pushed a company towards free software, many other examples exist, such as Netscape and Digital Creations, where the software was released without any such incentive, because companies are truly starting to learn that free software benefits them.

Who is right? To walk a fine line (but expecting to fall off anyway): everyone. If you look closer at the article, you will find that Richard himself states more conservatively, "Which license is best for a given library is a matter of strategy, and it depends on the details of the situation." This is an absolutely accurate statement. It also might truthfully be amended, "it depends on the details of the situation and your personal goals and beliefs." Read Richard's article and hear him talk. His ideals are part of what created this community and they are extremely important. Then listen to the counter arguments. Think about what your goals are and what you believe is important. Choose the license that gives you the best strategy to achieve your goal.

For now, we believe the LGPL meets the original goals of free software: no wasted effort re-inventing the wheel, the ability to fix problems in the software yourself and the ability to freely share what you've done with your neighbor. In addition, it encourages the use of free software in many arenas where it would not have used it otherwise, and, as another commentator mentioned, it has resulted in time and effort from commercial companies going into developing and improving LGPL libraries instead of commercial libraries.

Watch your domains. The unwary may not have noticed that while linuxexpo.org points to the Linux Expo conference as one would expect, linuxexpo.com instead points to the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. The potential for confusion is clear.

A Korean Translation of our Interview with Alan Cox is now available. Many thanks to Sang-Hyun Shim for this translation.

February 4, 1999


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