The NWC Interview: Jim Zemlin, The Linux Foundation

The executive director of the newly formed Linux Foundation talks about the advantages of open-source development and his (nearly) unbridled admiration for Microsoft.

March 14, 2007

3 Min Read
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Jim Zemlin

What will the Linux Foundation, which replaces the Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group, do that those organizations didn't?

The new organization won't spend a lot of time promoting the idea of open source or that Linux is an enterprise-ready platform. Instead, we'll provide useful services for the Linux platform to compete against our proprietary competitors.

For example, we'll provide a legal defense fund should the platform be attacked, as it has been by SCO. We'll also provide a safe haven for Linux developers such as Linus Torvalds so they can work in a neutral setting.Many of the companies in your consortium have competing agendas--Red Hat and Novell, IBM and HP. Is it really possible to get them to agree on standards?

It's complex. But history shows that people do come together in strategic alliances when the stakes are high. The competitors that participate in the Linux ecosystem have a large incentive to work together against the proprietary monopoly competitor that's out there in the form of Microsoft Windows.

Is this a foe you can beat? Microsoft has tens of thousands of in-house developers, thousands of third-party ISVs and, at last check, a $29 billion bank account.

Let me be very clear about how we regard Microsoft: We think they are an unambiguous success. They do a good job protecting their platform using their massive legal department. They spread fear in the marketplace through marketing activities. And they have a ubiquitous standard.

The challenge for the Linux community is to look at what Microsoft does well and do those things effectively in a collective manner.

So you admire the enemy. Did you ask Microsoft to join your group?

No, we did not.What about the imbalance in application software between Linux and Windows? How quickly is that getting addressed?

Very rapidly. Open-source development's greatest advantage is the rapid demand-side learning curve that happens from sharing your code and sharing your innovations. There aren't seven-year gaps between releases of the Linux OS--everyone is working on the software jointly. Application developers don't need to wait to add functionality that a customer wants.

You're already seeing a tipping point where you have an incredibly robust ecosystem of server-side applications. You'll see the same kind of growth in the desktop.

Really? Linux is barely a dust mite on the desktop.

I'm the first to acknowledge that Microsoft is this great monopoly. But there are regions all over the world that see a reason to promote the Linux desktop as an alternative to Microsoft Windows in order to grow a domestic software ecosystem. Open source represents a great opportunity for them to get that sort of head start by taking some of the great work that's been done and innovating on top of that. I think what you'll see is a very quick closing of the gap in building a more effective desktop at significantly lower cost.You mentioned earlier that the Linux Foundation will employ Linus Torvalds. In this age of transparency, can you say how much he'll be paid?

No, I can't--that's confidential. But we will make sure he gets paid, I can tell you that.

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