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Leading items and editorials

Who's afraid of the big, blue wolf? One can always count on the [IBM] Gartner Group for fun pronouncements on Linux. The latest comes from this vnunet.com interview with Gartner analyst George Weiss, where he tries to get us all scared about what IBM might do. From the interview:

Weiss said he could see a day when "80 per cent of the revenues, indirect or direct, attributed to Linux will go into IBM coffers unless companies like HP, Red Hat and VA Linux smarten up their act. IBM will have a stranglehold on the community"

Mr. Weiss also says:

The biggest problem IBM has is that it appears to the Linux community that it is trying to take over the Linux momentum and grab what this OS has to offer

It is interesting that Mr. Weiss has such sense of the Linux community - Gartner has, in general, kept its distance from that community. From LWN's viewpoint, IBM has not yet frightened all that many people. One can always find those who will complain about corporate involvement in Linux, of course. But, in general, IBM's Linux moves have been seen as good news.

The more interesting question, though, is this: should we be scared of IBM? Those who look can certainly come up with reasons to worry:

  • IBM dominated the computing industry for much of its history; the company really only lost its grip around the beginning of the 1980's. For much of the time before then, it owned the market in a way that Microsoft can only dream about. And, needless to say, IBM did not always play nice.

  • IBM is clearly interested in Linux and free software. A company does not publicly commit to investing a billion dollars in a field without seeing some commercial potential there.

  • The existing players could prove highly vulnerable to an IBM offensive. An IBM Linux distribution, if well done, could be a powerful contender in the corporate market. IBM already has service offerings and preinstalled Linux systems aimed at that market. It also has a large array of add-on proprietary software (WebSphere, DB2, etc.). IBM, if it wanted, could look much like the IBM of old, whose customers bought everything they needed from one source.

IBM, thus far, has taken great care not to upset the Linux community. It is careful about free software licenses, has been careful to work with multiple Linux distributors (and has not created a distribution of its own), and, in general, has avoided looking like it wants to take the whole pie. These efforts have paid off; IBM's image in the Linux community is pretty good.

But IBM is a company like any other, beholden to its shareholders. IBM executives have been very clear that they see free software as a disruptive technology. One can be sure that, given that they believe free software will be highly successful, they want to own a large part of that success. If other Linux companies look like they are threatening IBM's success, IBM will certainly respond in a competitive manner. Companies can not ignore competitive threats and survive.

So IBM is likely to work harder, compete harder, and do its best to own a large part of the Linux market. Should the Linux community be worried about a future that is more blue? Certainly Linux companies should be worried - they will face no end of threats over the next few years. But even they could find themselves better off: IBM, in seeking its piece of the Linux pie, has a good chance of making that pie much larger. Billion dollar investments and high-profile deployments will grow the market for everybody. In a few years, many Linux vendors could find themselves with a smaller market share, and a lot more business.

The Linux community should have little to fear, as long as IBM continues to play by the rules. Free software will remain free, and nobody will ever be forced to do business with IBM, or any other company, to use it. IBM bears watching, as do all companies working with free software. But it is not a particular threat, even if it is big and blue.

Zend launches its PHP products. For years, the PHP language (once "Personal Home Page," now "PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor") has been the engine behind a great many web sites. Its C-like syntax, performance, and database interfaces have all combined to make it, arguably, the most popular server scripting language available.

Also for some time now, a company called Zend Technologies has been contributing to the PHP project. Among other things, the high performance "Zend engine" powers the (relatively) recent PHP 4.0 release. Zend has done much to advance the PHP state of the art.

Now it's time for Zend to make some money from all this. The company's plans became clear with this press release, which came out on January 23. Zend is offering a [Zend Cache] whole range of products and services oriented around PHP, including:

  • The "Zend Cache." This product, aimed at very high volume web sites, caches the intermediate, compiled versions of PHP scripts. If your traffic is high enough, this caching can make a real difference.

  • The "Zend Encoder" works like a Java bytecode obfuscator. Using the encoder, a proprietary software vendor can distribute "PHP scripts" in an unreadable form that is resistent to reverse engineering.

  • The "Zend IDE," an integrated PHP development environment. Among other things it includes a debugger which allows the debugging of PHP scripts remotely. One can only hope they have thought through the security implications of remote server script debugging.

  • The "Zend Launchpad," which appears to be an FTP site allowing the download of "Zend certified" versions of PHP.

  • A subscription plan which provides regular PHP updates, access to technical support, and "special offers and exclusive offerings throughout the year."

  • A web-oriented support offering.

A couple of aspects of these offerings jump out at the reader. The first is that the support offerings are clearly not at the core of what Zend is up to. The offerings are minimal, and, at the given price levels ($50/year for "non-commercial" customers, $70/month for the rest), will not generate large amounts of revenue. There are no expensive "we'll do your web site with PHP" offerings, consulting services, or PHP enhancement services. Unlike Great Bridge, NuSphere, and others, Zend is not centering its business around services for free software.

Instead, Zend is a proprietary software business which is supporting PHP as the loss-leader platform on which to base its (expensive) products. Those who are in doubt can check out Zend's software license which has the usual proprietary stuff in it - including a prohibition on reverse engineering of the product.

It is, of course, entirely within Zend's rights to offer its work as a proprietary product. And even if Zend has not embraced the "all free software" view, the company has certainly done much to support a highly successful free software product. It will be interesting to see if this approach to running a (partially) free software business is successful.

Meanwhile, the all-free competition is not standing still. Digital Creations has just put out a press release announcing the (forthcoming) release of Zope 2.3. Among other things, this version of Zope includes its own caching system for dynamic content. It also includes a number of ease-of-use improvements that are intended to mitigate the notorious Zope learning curve. Digital Creations has done well with the pure services model, and thus continues to put its developments under a free software license.

LinuxPPC goes non-profit. LinuxPPC, the organization behind the popular LinuxPPC distribution for PowerPC computers, was originally founded in 1997 as a for-profit company. However, their intent was always to become a non-profit organization, with the goal of supporting Linux on the PowerPC platform. Filing as a for-profit company was initially just easier and less expensive.

Then came the Linux stock phenomena and the "dot-com" craze. The hoopla distracted them from their original purpose for a while. They turned down a lot of offers, listened to people who told them a non-profit couldn't survive in that kind of environment and slowly build a solid, small business.

Once the stock market hype died down, their original plans looked more promising than ever. As a result, LinuxPPC is moving ahead to file as a non-profit corporation. Why? In a word, "Control". No venture capitalists, angel investors or stockholders to drive the mission of the company. The control rests with the users and developers of LinuxPPC.

For more details, please check out our interview with Jason Haas, who, along with Jeff Carr, founded LinuxPPC.

And don't worry, the LinuxPPC distribution will be here for a long-time to come.

On the joys of copy protection. For those who haven't seen it, this posting from John Gilmore on copy protection is certainly worth a read. It is a clear discussion on how numerous companies are attempting to use technology to take away rights that are otherwise guaranteed, and how there's a better way.

It's no coincidence that the open source, free software, and Linux communities are among the first to become alarmed at copy protection. They are actively making their livings or hobbies out of eliminating scarcity and increasing freedom in the operating system and application software markets. They see the real improvement in the world that results -- and the ugly reactions of the monopolistic and oligopolistic forces that such efforts obsolete.

The full posting is long but worth the trouble.

LinuxWorld and Linux Expo Paris happen next week. The LinuxWorld Conference and Expo is happening next week in New York. Expect the usual: suits and ties, loud music, corporate hype, wild parties, and, of course, lots of Linux. LWN.net editors Liz Coolbaugh and Michael J. Hammel, as well as LWN.net team member Dennis Tenney will all be there. Stop by and see our talks or look for us in the Exhibit Hall. And keep your browser tuned to LWN, of course, for news from the event.

Also happening next week is Linux Expo Paris in, well, Paris. LWN, alas, will not be there, a mistake that we intend not to make again next year.

Meanwhile, if SuSE CTO Dirk Hohndel looks tired, be nice to him: he is currently listed as a speaker at both shows...

LWN turns 3. The very first LWN weekly edition came out on Thursday, January 22, 1998. Three years later, we're still here - though, hopefully, we've improved a little on the way. We're looking forward to many more years...

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: Real damage from the Ramen worm, MySQL, sash, micq, webmin, kdesu, crontab, icecast and bing vulnerabilities.
  • Kernel: Ways of speeding up data copies; 2.4.0 and USB module autoloading; moving kbuild to SourceForge.
  • Distributions: Good news for SPARC, Microwindows 0.89pre7 packed with new features.
  • Development: The Open Source Development Lab opens, GIMP flurry, MySQL 3.23 MSQL 3, Bind and Python updates.
  • Commerce: Linuxcare Managed Services, LinuxWorld announcements.
  • History: bob@redhat.com's new web site, the Netscape source release, and more.
  • Letters: Dell laptops, Linux pronounciation, NFS and journaling filesystems
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

This Week's LWN was brought to you by:

January 25, 2001


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