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Leading items and editorials

Leagues and Foundations. As had been rumored, the KDE League announced its existence at Comdex on November 15. Now both KDE and GNOME have their supporting organizations, though KDE is claiming that its League has a substantially different function.

The KDE League is being positioned very much as a public relations group. From the KDE League FAQ:

KDE has come a long way on the strength of it's [sic] open development and talented developers. But volunteers can do only so much when it comes to promoting a product to a larger market. For cases like this, professional public relations and marketeers are needed.

The League is clearly intended to provide said "public relations and marketeers."

KDE tries to differentiate its League, however, by saying that the League will have no influence over KDE development. From the FAQ again:

The direction of KDE will always be decided by the developers that actually work on the code. No amount of influence or money in the KDE League will have any effect on this.

That intent is clearly sincere, and no doubt the KDE developers are determined to make things turn out that way. But in a world where many of those developers are employed by League members, what is going to happen when the League starts to claim that its PR and marketing goals would be helped if certain development directions were taken? One can see a distinct potential for conflict.

The following is a table showing the initial membership of the both the KDE League and the GNOME Foundation (actually, in the Foundation's Advisory Committee):

Company GNOME
Caldera Systems  *
Corel  *
Fujitsu-Siemens  *
KDE.com  *
Klaralvdalens Datakonsult  *
theKompany.com  *
SuSE  *
Trolltech  *
Borland **
Compaq **
Hewlett-Packard **
IBM **
MandrakeSoft **
Turbolinux **
Eazel * 
Free Software Foundation * 
Gnumatic * 
Helix Code * 
Henzai * 
Object Management Group * 
Red Hat * 
Sun Microsystems * 
VA Linux Systems * 

For the most part, the League's membership is what one would expect - the various companies that have already committed themselves to KDE in one way or another.

It's worth noting that there is some significant overlap in the membership of the two organizations (which grew with this week's announcements from MandrakeSoft and Borland that they were joining the GNOME Foundation). This brings up an interesting question. The stated purpose of both groups is PR and advocacy of their respective desktops. Not stated, but clearly implicit, is that each is promoting its system in competition with the other. The KDE League is not (at this point) promoting KDE over Windows, and it is not (they say) influencing development. Its target, for now at least, is GNOME.

What, then, is the position of the companies that have joined both groups? Do they really intend to advocate for both projects simultaneously? There is a bit of a conflict there that will need to be worked out. An interesting result of this overlap (which is likely to grow over time) could be closer cooperation between KDE and GNOME, facilitated by the two advocacy groups which will look increasingly alike. It will be interesting to watch.

On the GNOME Foundation front, meanwhile, the preliminary results for the board of directors have been released. Those elected were Miguel de Icaza, Havoc Pennington, Owen Taylor, Jim Gettys, Federico Mena Quintero, Bart Decrem, Daniel Veillard, Dan Mueth, Maciej Stachowiak, John Heard, and Raph Levien. Anybody calling for a manual recount will be ruthlessly suppressed.

One wonders, meanwhile, just how far the League/Foundation trend will go. Will there come a time when all free software projects feel the need for an associated branch for PR, funding, and development? We already have the Apache Foundation, Python Consortium, and others. Watch this space in the future for news on the XFree86 Front, Emacs Alliance, Vi Squad, PostGreSQL Partisans, Gimp Group, Cron Cabal, Xbill Exercise, etc...

Book Review: Secrets & Lies. [Book cover] LWN's irregular series of book reviews continues with this review of Bruce Schneier's Secrets & Lies. The summary: this book, in which Bruce Schneier paints a dark picture on the future of digital security, should be required reading for anybody with an interest in security issues. Mr. Schneier convincingly demonstrates that technical, preventive measures will never be able, on their own, to adequately secure digital systems. A much more comprehensive approach, which includes strong detection and response, is required. With relatively low technical content, lots of case studies and occasional humor, the book is a quick and interesting read.

Digital Creations announced a $12 million funding round on November 13. This is an interesting announcement, in that it possibly hints at how successful free software companies will look and operate in the near future.

Digital Creations (DC) first came into prominence in the Linux community almost exactly two years ago, when it announced that its well-respected [Digital Creations logo] Principia product would be released as open source. What struck a lot of people at the time was that DC made this move on advice from its venture capital funding source. Principia, of course, became Zope, arguably the first big Python "killer app." DC has since become the home of the Python development team as well (see the November 2 LWN weekly edition).

The details of the investment are as laid out in this press release. $12 million came in from a group of investors including Whitney & Co., the Intel 64 Fund, and Opticality Ventures. Opticality is the current investment vehicle for Hadar Pedhazur, the original investor in DC.

This, of course, is not the easiest of times in which to get funding for a free software company. Almost anybody who has invested in such a company recently has probably not been entirely happy with the results. So how did a little company like DC manage to scare up this sort of funding?

Numerous companies that are trying to get people to buy their stock emphasize their "path to profitability." DC, instead, is profitable now. Contrary to what a lot of people have been saying, it is possible to make money with free software, and DC is a good example. Through a combination of branding and a clever choice of market, DC has found a formula that works.

Anybody who has seen Bob Young talk has heard a lot about branding. DC's story is similar. Much effort has gone into the creation and promotion of the "Zope" brand. As interest in Zope increases, customers naturally would like to work with the company that created Zope in the first place. So DC will always be on the short list of companies that are contemplating Zope deployments.

And an increasing number of companies are doing just that. The Zope Case Studies Page highlights a number of sites using Zope; they include some Navy sites and HireTechs.com. Bruce Perens' Technocrat site is also based on Zope, as is the VistaSource site.

Owning the Zope brand gets customers for DC, but that, in itself, does not necessarily lead to profitability. The services business can be harder than it seems, once all of the non-billable overhead gets folded in. The key is to pick a market where the perceived value is high enough. DC CEO Paul Everitt tells us:

The biggest reason is that we have chosen a market where people stroke big checks based on perceived value, not consumed manhours. This lets us be a service company without being a body shop. Our engagements are structured to let us profit from being fast and brilliant, rather than being punished. This also rewards us for reuse

By using the Zope platform, DC can bring in nice revenue while still undercutting the proprietary alternatives and providing all of the advantages that an open source platform has to offer.

With this new investment, DC plans to get larger - significantly so. A new office building is already in the works. The core of the company's plans, however, is to expand its offerings into the full "content management" business. From Paul Everitt again:

We'll provide consulting, integration, and in some cases site operations for customers who want fresh approaches to content and want it soon. Our basic approach is to take a rich idea of content (HTML, graphics, word files, discussion posts, custom types), apply rich services (membership, security, cataloging, workflow, clustering, syndication, etc.), and deliver to rich platforms (web browsers, PDAs, perl scripts, etc.)

The new investments, of course, will be used to staff up for this new business. As DC moves up toward these bigger jobs, it will certainly face a number of challenges - nobody ever said this was easy. But the company has a lot of the right tools to make it work.

One of those, of course, is the Python group. Picking up Guido and the others makes more sense than ever in the light of this investment. Remember that part of DC's strategy is to be seen as the champion of an interesting open source tool; having the PythonLabs crowd around can only help to build that perception. Combine that leadership position with a well-chosen market and revenue model, and with good business management, and you may well have an open source company that makes money.

(See also: Paul Everitt's announcement on the Zope list ("Though this is still a David vs. Goliath, David now has a slingshot, and a bit of steel in his eye") and our discussion with Paul on the investment and where DC is going).

Thursday, November 23, is Thanksgiving in the U.S. LWN has typically taken the opportunity to skip a weekly edition on Thanksgiving Thursday. Last year that led to some bizarre mail from people who thought that, because it wasn't a holiday in their country, we shouldn't take one either. We were, um, amused. It is true, however, that the Linux world doesn't stop just because the U.S. does. So this year we'll do things a little differently, and publish next week's Weekly Edition on Wednesday instead.

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: Jay Beale joins MandrakeSoft, kha0s Linux officially retired from the list.
  • Kernel: Randy Dunlap steps down; Security troubles with dynamic module loading.
  • Distributions: Linux Distributors in India, deepLinux is no more.
  • Development: Art vs. Craft, Netscape 6.
  • Commerce: Open source taxed in Poland, Ball and Penguin Computing sign a deal.
  • Back page: Linux links, this week in Linux history, and letters to the editor
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

This Week's LWN was brought to you by:

November 16, 2000


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