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Leading items and editorials

The Python team moves - again. Last May Guido van Rossum, the Python BDFL (Benevolent Dictator For Life) announced that he was moving, along with much of the Python development team, to BeOpen. This move was intended to be a good thing for Python, allowing the language to develop more quickly than had been the case so far.

To some, BeOpen seemed like a bit of an awkward fit. And it turns out that it was - On October 27, Guido sent out a new announcement stating that the PythonLabs team was moving again - this time to Digital Creations. The hope, clearly, is that the new home will work out better: "We trust that Digital Creations will provide a stable home for Python for many years."

What went wrong with BeOpen? Consider that the Python group consists of five top-level hackers (Guido, along with Tim Peters, Barry Warsaw, Jeremy Hylton, and Fred Drake); just keeping them supplied with pizza could be an expensive proposition, and payroll even more so. BeOpen would not commit itself to such a drain on its checkbook without having some idea of just how the Python team would bring in revenue to offset the expense.

That idea, according to a conversation we had with Guido, was to build an advertising-supported Python portal site. But that's a hard business and it didn't work out; neither did any of the other ideas that came up. Says Guido:

In the end the plan was that the PythonLabs team would do Python consulting to bring in revenue to fund the entire company. But even that didn't work, and they couldn't pay our salaries. At that point we figured we'd waited long enough for things to get better, and decided to cut our losses.

Digital Creations, of course, will have the same sorts of concerns; will things go more smoothly this time around? The view from the outside suggests that it should. We talked with Digital Creations CEO Paul Everitt about this move, and it became clear that the company has the potential to be a good match for the Python team.

Digital Creations, of course, is the home of Zope, the Python-based, open source web application server that has been on a growth path for the last couple years. Zope has derived great benefit from Python and the capabilities it provides. It is also true, however, that Python has benefitted from Zope, which was the "killer app" the language needed to push it further into the mainstream.

The business case for hosting the Python group seems clear. Digital Creations is a classic example of the value of branding. Anybody can set up a Zope-based site, but DC is the company that created Zope. They will be the first provider on anybody's list when they are thinking about Zope. That branding effort can only be helped by also having on board the people who created Python.

There is also the little fact that DC has a lot of Python programming that it needs to get done. The PythonLabs group will spend part of its time doing DC's work, which can include hacking directly on Zope. The rest of their time is to be spent doing whatever they think needs doing to push Python forward. According to Paul Everitt:

One of our strongest differentiators is time-to-market, and Python is core to our ability to deliver on that story.

At the same time, the PythonLabs guys have some extremely unique experience in some problem domains of importance to us. They'll clearly help us shave months off the time needed to get technology into the market, and the value of that is very important to our plans.

So having the Python group around clearly makes sense, even without Paul's last reason, which could justify hosting this group by itself: "Finally, we've bet the business on Python. We need to help secure its future and increase its success."

There was another important bit of news in Guido's note: a non-profit organization (the "Python Software Foundation") is being created to hold the copyrights to the core Python code. Python will not be owned by Digital Creations. This is a good move on Guido's part; as the acquisition of Ajuba Solutions (covered in last week's LWN weekly edition) shows, a company's priorities can change very quickly. Digital Creations looks pretty solid as it is, but having Python set up to thrive if things change makes a lot of sense.

(See also: Paul Everitt's ZopeNewbies posting on the move; LWN's interview with Paul and with Guido, which have more interesting information, the Ninth International Python Conference, which should be a most interesting event next March, and this reminder that papers for that conference are due by November 6).

Turbolinux Inc. files for IPO. The pace is picking up: Turbolinux announced on October 30 that it has filed for an initial public offering of stock. As usual, we've gone and taken a look at Turbolinux's IPO filing. The result is an interesting picture of a true Linux software company - there is no reliance on service plans or web portals in this plan. There's also some interesting information on just how Turbolinux parted ways with its founders, Cliff and Iris Miller. Have a look at our writeup for the full scoop.

It seems that the Linux IPO drought may finally be coming to an end. No Linux company has managed to go public since Caldera Systems squeezed in last March, and many that were expected to didn't even try. But now there are three Linux companies with IPOs outstanding: Lineo, LynuxWorks, and TurboLinux. Actually, there's four if you count Transmeta, which is currently due to hit the market on November 6 or 7. OK, five if you count Rackspace, which still does not have a date.

Of course, filing for an IPO and actually accomplishing one are two different things, as Lineo (which filed in May) can attest. It remains to be seen whether any of these companies actually get their stock out there. The markets are hostile, and quite a few investors may be a little worried about Linux stocks. But then, Linux is stronger than ever, and people (outside the Linux community) may be beginning to figure that out. If they come back to the Linux market with more realistic expectations, things should be better off all around.

U.K. Patent Office consultation on software patents. The U.K. Patent Office has put up a request for comments on how software (and business method) patents should be treated in the U.K. and Europe. There is also some interesting information to be found in there, including the fact that some 15% of all U.K. patents now are "software-based."

They seem truly interested. "We want to know what you think about this so that Government policy is evidence-based and relevant to business, commerce, and consumers - in other words to you. So, whether you are in the software industry, financial services, are a software user, a consumer, or are otherwise interested, we want to hear from you." The deadline for responses is December 15. (Thanks to Alan Cox).

Linuxcare ups and ... well, ups. The news out of San Francisco this week was the appointment of Art Tyde as CEO to Linux services company Linuxcare. Tyde was one of the original founders, along with David L. Sifry, Linuxcare's Chief Technology Officer, who talked with us about Linuxcare's future.

LWN: Linuxcare has shut down its European operation, which unfortunately means a lot of people are out of work. The company has also put Art Tyde in as CEO (replacing Fernand Sarrat who was let go in April) after a exhaustive search for a IPO-targeted "brand name" chief. Why?

Sifry: Why is Art CEO? It was a business decision. As a company we've been in a search for a CEO since April/May. Various search agencies were helping (including Christian and Timbers, who helped put [Carla] Fiorina in charge at HP) - we wanted the right person, someone who understands open source and Linuxcare, which has grown up out of the community. Someone who understands that philosophy and not be like a hardware company. An advocate for the customer who understands the culture, but then also understands business. Someone who can take a company from $1M to $10M, who can deal with investors and the public sector. We wanted a leader, a visionary - someone who can motivate the company. You can find people with one or two of these attributes, but seldom all three.

There was no lack of candidates, but we had a hard time finding the right person. After 6 months the board thought they had set their standards too high for a single person. They looked around the company itself and found those attributes in various people - in fact two people. The board was happier looking inside the company instead of outside - continuance of leadership instead of someone coming in with their own people.

The business was doing well - deals with HP, Motorola, $30M in venture, all without a CEO. This was a testament to the company's business being fundamentally strong. The board said "lets get creative". They made Art CEO - the visionary, the business type - and backed him up with Christian Paul as COO. Art has overall responsibility for the actions of the company. He's focusing his time with customers and partners, as well as providing leadership and vision to the troops. Chris is responsible for managing the day-to-day business operations of the company, such as finance.

We then looked at our business and where we were making our money. For now, the majority of money is being made in North America and Asia. We weren't making a lot in Europe. When the market was hot we hired on a bunch of people, but things settled out and the way the market looks the business was not coming from Europe. If we can't play to win - if we're not willing to invest in the infrastructure then we shouldn't be there. It had nothing to do with the people - they were some terrific developers. But it came down to a business sense - were we really focusing on core markets.

We fully expect to be back in Europe in force, but when we can focus on a market that exists (when it does). We realized we had overextended a little. As a company we play to win, if we're going to be in a market we want to be the dominant player.

LWN: So is this the end of the Venture Capital driven strategy? Are VC's still driving Linuxcare?

Sifry: VC are interested in results. They aren't particularly interested in the details. As a company, they want to know if we have focus. Do we have a position in the markets we're playing in where we are dominant? That's what VC's (and investors) ask. Linuxcare's board, which only has 2 VCs, includes such people as:

  • John Drew - founder of INS, who sold to Lucent for several billion.
  • Regis McKenna - Intel, Compaq, Apple marketing whiz
  • Ted Schlein - general partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
The Linuxcare Board of Directors currently has 6 members.

LWN: Does the re-appointment of Art Tyde indicate that Linuxcare has a reduced interest in attracting investors? Have you had any negative feedback with Art's appointment?

Sifry: No negative feedback. He was already there, now it's just more permament.

LWN: Might the appointment indicate that the VC world is giving up on Linuxcare?

Sifry: We raised $30M earlier (in September I think), and we are hitting our numbers.

LWN: Will Linuxcare be seeking further investments in the near future?

Sifry: No current plans. We expect to be profitable by the end of next year.

LWN: What are the priorities for Linuxcare now? Where will the money be coming from? Has the business model changed?

Sifry: Revenue will come from services for open source software. We continue to see ourselves as scaling in more automated ways. Our focus will stay in professional services, with our knowledge base. You can expect more big announcements by the end of the year, but I can't give any details right now.

LWN: What lessons have been learned about how free software businesses should work with the investment community?

Sifry: We both have to learn a common language. We had to train our investors and board on what we do. Once they understood that and had their expectations correctly set it's been a smooth relationship. The need for a common language was key.

What they taught us was discipline and focus for the business. You have to be selective about what markets you target.

Summary: The closing of the European offices was unfortunate, but a definite sign that Linuxcare is refocusing to meet investor expectations and internal strengths. The company is slowly regaining its focus as a free software company, rather than an "IPO missile." Dave Sifry's summary suggests that things are on the right track: "I'm happier now than I've been in a year and half."

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: Lessons from Microsoft hack, Princeton reports on SDMI technology.
  • Kernel: 2.4.0-test10; XML in the kernel; loadable modules patented?
  • Distributions: Progeny Linux Beta, MaxOS, Slackware on Sparc, Nanix.
  • Development:Qt/Embedded under GPL, Gnome UI team reorg, KDE multimedia, hypeware.
  • Commerce: Investing in open source; OpenSales changes name; JYACC releases Open Source POSSL.
  • Back page: Linux links, this week in Linux history, and letters to the editor
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

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November 2, 2000


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