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Do you miss the bubble days? Only two years ago, Linux was still riding high in the stock market, and money seemed to be everywhere. Exciting new companies were popping up, IPOs were in the works, and jobs were easy to come by. It was an exciting time, and, in some ways, more fun than the harder times we are experiencing now.
It is hard to welcome recession, but the dotcom bubble (and Linux's small part in it) are something we are better off without. A reminder of that came in this week, in the form of this press release from NASD Regulation on its finding against Credit Suisse for, among other things, its handling of the VA Linux Systems IPO. Here's what was going on back then:
For example, after a CSFB customer obtained an allocation of 13,500 shares in the VA Linux IPO, the customer sold two million shares of Compaq and paid CSFB $.50 a share -- or $1 million -- as a purported brokerage commission. The customer immediately repurchased the shares through other firms at normal commission rates of $.06 per share at a loss of $1.2 million on the Compaq sale and repurchase because of the $1 million paid to CSFB. On that same day, however, the customer sold the VA Linux IPO shares, making a one-day profit of $3.3 million.
The Linux community had become the plaything of some fairly sleazy people with their own agendas. The amateurs (i.e. LinuxOne) didn't get very far, but the pros made out quite well. For a while, anyway. The bubble had little to do with Linux, and it distorted many of the community's priorities in unfortunate ways. With its end, we have been able to get back to the things that really matter.
And we are doing well. The software keeps getting better, and adoption continues to rise. Those who expected Linux to disappear with the dotcoms have been surprised, and many are taking another look. Linux companies have certainly not seen the end of their hard times; nonetheless, the optimistic among us can begin to see signs of better times ahead. The next big surge in interest in Linux (and free software in general) may be about to happen; with luck, it may come about in a more rational way this time. In the end, it's about the software, and sustainable ways to ensure its continued development.
On Lindows. We occasionally receive mail asking why we do not give more attention to Lindows and its upcoming distribution. For the most part, we have been waiting to see what actually comes out of the company. The Lindows distribution remains vaporware, and proprietary vaporware at that. There has been very little to write about, so far.
The great promise of Lindows, of course, is its ability to run Windows applications. There is little word on how that will be accomplished; it appears that a set of proprietary add-ons to Wine will be employed. The goal of supporting Windows applications is a good one; such a system can help those who are interested in migrating toward Linux, but who have applications that they are unwilling to leave behind. And one assumes that people needing to run proprietary Windows application will not have too much trouble paying for a proprietary Linux system to run them on.
This plan might just work. That assumes, however, that Lindows manages to release a system that works well enough for Windows users. That may eventually happen. Meanwhile what has come out of Lindows has not been all that encouraging.
There is, for example, the little trouble of getting sued by Microsoft. Whether or not you believe that Microsoft's claim of trademark infringement is justified, getting into that sort of fight is not going to be good for a startup company. And it's not just Lindows that suffers; consider this bit of joy from a Lindows "Michael's Minutes" column:
Also, we feel obligated to disclose to you that we were compelled to disclose your email address to Microsoft during the discovery process as well as the content of many of your messages sent to us.
This suit, in other words, has turned Lindows into a source of information for Microsoft on Linux users and what they are saying. Cool.
Lindows is trying to present itself as part of the free software community. So, for example, we now have the "LindowsBuzz" site:
LindowsBuzz was developed to promote the evolution and adoption of the Lindows Operating System (LindowsOS) through community involvement, evangelism, and cooperation.
As if that weren't enough, there's LindowsHelp, LindowsDEV, and even eLugs. It all looks like cool community stuff, but there's just one problem: there's no community. There is no software to run, no view of or participation in the development process, nothing but marketing materials.
That's not quite true, actually; there is the Lindows Insiders program. All you have to do is send them $99 and:
Agree to a non-disclosure agreement, keeping the program itself and those things you learn as a Lindows.com Insider confidential, just as any Lindows.com employee would.
Lest you set your expectations too high, the Insiders program page also warns: "Although certain Insiders may be called upon to review and/or test the OS as it develops, joining the Lindows.com Insiders program does not guarantee this..." Red Hat users who want to know where the system is going can look at Rawhide, Mandrake users have Cooker, and Debian users can look at sid. Lindows users get to pay $99 and, if they are lucky, they get a beta of the operating system under a nondisclosure agreement.
Lindows may yet succeed in building a Linux-based business - that remains to be seen. With luck, the company will thrive and bring in millions of new desktop Linux users. But Lindows is seemingly unaware of how the Linux community works; it would like to wear the trappings of the community without actually being a part of it. It's not surprising that the Linux community has generally reacted to Lindows with yawns.
(Update: we've been told that the Lindows "Sneak Preview" was released to some "insiders" just as this article was published. LindowsOS is perhaps beginning to become less of a vapor product).
Microsoft remedy comment period ending soon. It is a commonly (though not universally) held opinion in the Linux community that the proposed remedy for Microsoft's anti-competitive behavior is inadequate. In fact, the remedy seems unlikely to change much. For the most part, it will leave Microsoft free to carry on pretty much in the usual ways.
American antitrust law mandates a comment period before remedies are imposed. Comments received must be published by the government, with responses. In this case, that period is coming to a close: comments have to be in by January 28 to be considered. If you have something to say with regard to the settlement, time is running out.
Dan Kegel's remedy page seems to be the definitive resource for information on the proposed remedy and the comment process.
LWN turns four. The very first LWN weekly edition came out on January 22, 1998. That means we've now been doing this for over four years. It has certainly been an interesting time, and it shows no signs of getting less so in the future. We're looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Meanwhile, we would like to say "thank you" to all of our readers who have kept us going for so long. Writing for this audience is a great pleasure.
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January 24, 2002