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2. Organization Models in the Linux Community

The Linux community (and similar " free software" initiatives) have shown quite a number of organizational models that serve different useful purposes in supporting the growth and improvement of Linux and the Linux community.

This section lists different kinds of organizations that we see in the Linux community.

There is room for all of the existing organizations to grow and thrive; in addition, in keeping with the "decentralized" theme already presented, I suggest that if anything there should be more such organizations. This would be particularly valuable when looking at "project-oriented" groups. Groups that are working on independent efforts can and should remain independent.

2.1. Linux Development Corporation

This sort of organization develops software, hardware, or documentation products, gaining funding from selling Linux "products."

There are many such enterprises (see: Linux Commercial Vendors).

Note

Note that most of these organizations do not place under the GPL (GNU Public License) all of the intellectual property that they produce.

2.2. Some Shareware Company

Some companies have leapt onto "open source" software as a marketing and distribution model that allows them to grow the market share of their product that is, in essence, not free software. "OSS" allows them to engage in a bait-and-switch model where they attract users to the "free" version, because they can get the first "hit" at no charge.

Once they have established themselves in the market, the OSS facade can be discarded, as what they really want you to do is to pay full price for their commercial product. Quite a number of products are thus licensed, with caveats similar to:

To anyone in doubt, we recommend the cost effective commercial licenses. That is the safest solution/it cannot steer you wrong.

Examples of this sort of "bait and switch" strategy include MySQL , Sendmail , a number of CRM systems, Nagios.

Fortunately, there are good alternatives to their products.

2.3. Linux Support Consultants Inc.

The purpose would be to sell consulting services to assist people in installing, improving, and supporting Linux systems.

There are a number of consulting firms, with many more findable through the "Linux Consultants HOWTO that is part of the Linux Documentation Project. The Free Software Foundation has a Service Directory of organizations that provide support services for GPLed software.

Red Hat Software has an initiative where they seek to create a Red Hat Linux Certification program. There are also other efforts; nothing fully realized thus far.

Russell Nelson of Crynwr Software has suggested the idea of "The Linux Organization" providing services as a "broker" of Linux support. They could accept technical questions and/or contracts to handle technical issues, and "farm them out" to a group of "Linux Consultants."

My personal feeling is that this can probably be most effectively provided by independent "Linux Consultants Inc. (LCI)" organizations (not to be mistaken with LCI - Lisgar Collegiate Institute, my high school) that operate explicitly as a service providers of this sort. Recent efforts at Red Hat Software use this approach. If a consulting firm sees fit to support Linux projects, that is well and good, and this may be something that they should present as a marketing tool: "Not only can we provide good service - we are involved actively in making Linux better. "

I think, however, that connecting "all of Linux" (in the form of a not-for-profit organization) is likely to dilute the effectiveness of both organizations. I've seen this happen.

A number of such Linux Consulting organizations have been founded,

An appropriate "free" initiative would be to provide assistance integrating Linux systems into schools initially as mail /network servers, and perhaps ultimately as application server . This would most sensibly be organized via regional consulting organizations that might grow out of local user groups. (See the User Group HOWTO, which contains some comments from this document.)

2.4. Linux Advocacy International

There is an organization called Linux International that does some advocacy work. It would be nice to have such an organization more formally funded for common efforts. Caldera and Red Hat have both sponsored advertising, which has been generally good for Linux. That advertising has been specifically directed to their own products, which isn't necessarily of general value to all Linux folk.

The two primary activities of this sort of organization would be marketing and "information provision." Specific activities could include:

Relevant existing organizations include:

2.5. Linux Project Development Foundations

There is an existing model that could usefully be emulated that comes from the example of the Free Software Foundation, in the form of a project-oriented development group.

The FSF has provided a number of things used with Linux, most critically:

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) was founded with a very similar purpose to that which Linux satisfies quite well, that being To create a free operating system environment that can replace Unix, from whence comes "GNU - GNU's Not Unix." It started by constructing "system construction" tools, notably GCC and compiler/binary utilities, GNU Emacs, and Unix-like file utilities.

Unfortunately, by the time they got around to constructing their kernel called Hurd, the organization had hardened into what now looks like a "clique" with what seem (from the outside) to be a strong set of political beliefs that seem rather disparaging of commercial enterprise.

Unfortunately, Richard Stallman (commonly called "RMS"), head of the FSF, is very commonly misquoted, and sometimes his actual comments are surprisingly different from what people assume he would say. Many criticisms are based on misguided readings of his statements. This nonetheless doesn't let me agree with everything he says.

Read the texts of interviews with Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds. Linus' commentary on Stallman and his comments is rather interesting.

Political preferences be as they may; there are most definitely some problems at the FSF. They can be seen most visibly in:

These situations parallel the situation where some people split off of the NetBSD project to start the OpenBSD project.

The root causes for these various splits are diverse, but consider the common features:

I would argue that this shows that there are serious problems with the way the FSF is working.

The world has changed in some substantial ways since the FSF was founded in the early '80s. Their purpose was to build a free version of Unix . In 1985, the world needed a free Unix variant, as none existed. In 1997, the presence of Linux and *BSD OSes that are both powerful and robust leaves many wondering why the still highly experimental Hurd is necessary. Hurd expresses some novel ideas, but I think it unlikely that it will ever be more than a curiosity.

I suspect that part of the reason why the FSF has run into trouble is that they have become "old revolutionaries" that are having trouble renewing purpose as the environment has changed around them.

In the [ GNU Bead Project Portal ] "manifesto," Lyno Sullivan described a " GNU project responsible for designing, building and improving a working model of the formal GNU volunteer organization and its software infrastructure. "

His commentary on a previous version of this document was that he " was saddened because (I) expressed a lot of frustration with the perceived rigidity of the FSF "

That is a pretty fair assessment; his comments to the effect that some degree of "rigidity" is necessary early in the design process is also fair. I would agree that a good design must indeed start with the creation of something of a "Cathedral" by a few people, and that only once the overall design is reasonably stable is it practical to start people working in "Bazaar" mode.

My response to Lyno is that there is a point at which the Cathedral can and should be transformed into a Bazaar, and that the FSF:

As a possible counterpoint, look at How Guile Developers Come to Be. Jim Blandy describes how people are added to the set of core developers of the Guile Scheme system.

Interestingly, personality is explicitly judged to be a significant factor, the reasoning being that if a new developer cannot work successfully with the existing team, this is not likely to result in a productive relationship.

Additional organizations "pop up" from time to time; a new one is the Public Software Institute.

Note

Well, as of Year 2000, it's not so new anymore, and while the web site is still around, there is little evidence of actual activity since 1997...

2.6. Linux VARS Limited

There are quite a number of Linux systems integrators that sell preconfigured Linux boxes, generally providing built-to-spec-on-demand machines for their customers.

There have been some proposals for user groups to assist local PC vendors in constructing "Linux Box Specs" so that there can be local storefront PC vendors that sell Linux systems as well as the Linux VARS that generally sell by mail order.

2.7. Linux Documentation/Information Exchange

The World Wide Web has made it possible to implement virtually any conceivable scheme for organizing Linux information.

Most notable as a source of up-to-date system documentation is the Linux Documentation Project from which Linux HOWTO documents are distributed. I rather like My View of Linux; it contains links to various news and information sources that take many approaches to organizing information about Linux.

Publishers such as SSC, O'Reilly and Red Hat Software (amongst many) are perhaps the most notable providers of printed manuals and books, including both commercially copyrighted material as well as an increasing variety of copylefted documentation.

A lot of the information for which other companies create "help desks" gets transmitted in the assorted forms of:

This does not provide the systematic coverage that many need; the fact that there are a whole lot of monkeys out there banging on keyboards means that on the one hand, there are some dumb answers given, but there often are useful answers given out.

Commercial help desk organizations too often represent expensive 1-900 services staffed by unknowledgeable people that don't have anything as good as the Linux HOWTOs to work with.

The Linux Documentation Project is nicely providing organization for documentation so that documentation work is not excessively duplicated. This came via the creation of an SGML DTD originally called "LinuxDOC" now known as SGMLTools. This document is maintained using these tools.

Something similar should be done to document "packages" on the Web. For almost any given information classification, there are many people replicating virtually the same information several different ways. For instance, there are at least five independent Web pages documenting databases (as with my RDBMS - Relational Database Management Systems page).

One of the best is SAL - Scientific Applications on Linux

A "souped-up" version of the LSM format ( The Linux Software Map (LSM) used on the Metalab archive to automatically collect basic information about Linux software packages) could be used to encourage creation of more reusable information in this area.

The New LSM format should contain sufficient information to be able to represent all of the critical information about software packages shown on such pages as My Word Processor Page, the relational database page, my Linux for Finance page, my spreadsheet page. and more massive collections of application-oriented links such as Scientific Applications for Linux.

New fields not already provided for in the current LSM format should include such things as:

The utility rpm2html is a generator of Web pages for RPM packages. It takes RPM files and generates a fairly sizable set of index information, providing various indexed views.

Other efforts have been springing up to try to collect and organize these sorts of information, and I anticipate substantial improvement over the next year in this area of "integration" amongst others.

2.8. Linux Support Collective

The Uber Collective proposed a nonprofit organization that would try to provide resources (things like housing, hardware, documentation, food) to OSS developers.

The primary problem that it particularly seeks to solve is thus:

The person who wishes to devote her life to working for the Open Source community has little choice but to persue those dreams as a hobby. She must then work for the proprietary market, whose methods she knows are far inferior to the Open Source method, for the sake of putting food on the table. She could also work a completely unrelated job, wasting her potential.

The FSF's goal is to support the software. The Uber Collective's goal is to support the developer.

The idea is somewhat interesting, I am extremely skeptical that this sort of organization is likely to accomplish the results it desires.

Successful Free Software projects have generally had the virtue of clearly defined goals of what is to be produced. This approach eschews that.

It may be well and good to "look to the poor developers" (which will doubtless be regarded as a controversial stand; this does represent a form of communism, with all the controversy that association with the word entails); such a "collective" will rise or fall based on what it produces.

2.9. Conclusions

There are a number of efforts corresponding to many of the organizational models models listed in this section.

For some "organization types," extensive support is already coming from software companies, VARs, and other such sources of assistance. Improvement is almost always possible, but in many cases there are good organizations that are growing that require little attention for us to see further improvement.

Commercial products are sponsored by sales because ultimately information and assistance have value.

An area of particular weakness is that of Development Projects for significant pieces of free "infrastructure."

This sort of effort could be strengthened by the introduction what I would call Linux Foundations. The remainder of this document is directed at describing how such organizations might be organized.

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Contact me at cbbrowne@acm.org