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Linux Hardware Vendors Unite! Well, that is one way to look at this week's surprise announcement where VA Research acquired Linux Hardware Solutions and Enlightened Solutions. Obviously, this is a response to the recent entree of large PC retailers, such as Dell and Compaq, into the Linux-based computer market. That it started with with two of the largest and best known Linux retailers might be considered surprising, but then, they are the ones with the most to lose. They have too high an overhead to be able to take a large drop in market share. They need the combined marketing resources to educate a population just becoming familiar with Linux as to the advantages of working with companies with years of experience installing, developing and supporting Linux. Smaller companies can continue to survive on the basis of existing sales relationships and known service; third-party resellers have been doing this for years. Companies like VA Research (now VA Linux Systems) and Linux Hardware Solutions need sufficient volume to be able to compete on the basis of price as well as service.

The new, larger VA Research will be organized into three separate companies, "VA Linux Systems, which will build and sell machines and support them; VA Linux Labs, a facility dedicated to enhancing and growing the open source code operating system; and Linux.com, a soon-to-debut portal."

Linux beat Windows NT handily in an Oracle performance benchmark which was posted this week. The benchmark placed untuned "out of the box" systems on identical hardware and used the TPC benchmark suite. Unfortunately, the results can no longer be read on the net; instead, readers will find a notesaying that the benchmark results have been pulled and are no longer available.

The reason for this? It seems that neither Oracle nor TPC allow benchmark results involving their software to be published without prior permission. Thus, we see illustrated in the most graphic form one of the differences between free and proprietary software. Free software does not seek to restrict how it may be used, or what can be said about it. Proprietary software, instead, uses its licensing agreements to silence its users.

Now, of course, there are reasons for this behavior. One could say, for example, that these companies are simply trying to prevent the publication of something like the Mindcraft report that has drawn so much scorn over the last couple of weeks. There's probably some truth to that. Much bad behavior comes as the result of good intentions. But, in the end, freedom is more important.

The GCC/EGCS merger we mentioned last week got its official confirmation from Richard Stallman. This good news should signal the end of one of the more unfortunate code forks we have seen in recent times. It was unfortunate that a code fork was necessary to counteract the stagnation of gcc development and lucky for all of us that doing quality work and being patient paid off for the egcs team, allowing them to meet their original goal of re-integrating with the gcc tree.

It is also an interesting measure of the success of the "Bazaar" style of development versus the "Cathedral", as originally defined in Eric Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar paper, which essentially predicted this end result. Whether commercial or free, software development progresses fastest and with the highest quality results when it is done in a process that is fully open to scrutiny and contributions from all sources.

The Atlanta Linux Showcase (ALS) has issued its Call-for-Papers. The ALS will happen October 12th through the 16th, 1999, in Atlanta, Georgia. This year, for the first time, the ALS is sponsored by Usenix as well as by the Atlanta Linux Enthusiasts, who founded it, and Linux International. This is the first entrance of Usenix, a well-reputed, volunteer-based non-profit organization that has been sponsoring Unix-related events for a very, very long time.

Usenix' choice to support ALS, already volunteer-driven, rather than to introduce yet another competing Linux conference, is very promising. A reasonable number of extremely well done large events scattered across the year and the country will serve all of us better than a too-crowded calendar of events all with the same speakers and topics. The Usenix folks should bring some good experience and ideas to support the ALE folks who've done such a good job of the event the last two years.

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April 29, 1999


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