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.
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 that most of these organizations do not place under the GPL (GNU Public License) all of the intellectual property that they produce.
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.
Fortunately, there are good alternatives to their products.
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.)
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:
Pushing general Linux advertising material
Perhaps the most outrageous idea I've heard would be to put a Linux TV commercial on SuperBowl '99. (Whether that would be worthwhile is another question.)
Low key items would include submitting product information to computer magazines.
Responding formally to specific criticisms.
There have been a few rather uncomplimentary newspaper articles, as well as the occasional "SCO Inaccuracy." It would be good to know that a calm, reasoned response will go out.
It might make sense for this organization to be a "trademark repository," a central point where things like trademark problems would be dealt with.
Providing a central Web site allowing people to branch out to the multiplicity of Linux resources.
Bumper stickers and pins and other "marketing materials."
Relevant existing organizations include:
Unfortunately, while they have a pretty impressive list of officers and directors, it would be easy to mistake Linux International for a completely inactive organization. Their spokesperson, John "maddog" Hall, is personally quite active in promoting Linux at special events and conferences, but there appears to be little if any other activity in the organization.
Linux International is now promoting the idea on being a "member" of Linux International.
I would be more impressed with the claim that "Money is strictly managed in the manner of the Linux Development Fund, so that everything can be accounted for" if the LDF had made a release of accounting information since 1995.
The company SSC originally started as a publisher of Unix-related documents. They publish the monthly Linux Journal that I now see at many US newsstands. Their publication now represents a major source of advocacy and publicity for Linux.
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:
GCC, the kernel compiler, along with compiler construction and binary management utilities,
The CopyLeft license, and an infrastructure designed to help protect this license,
A variety of file management utilities that are near replicas of traditional Unix utilities.
The Unoffical GNU Project Directory Page lists projects that are, with various levels of association, associated with the FSF.
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.
Political preferences be as they may; there are most definitely some problems at the FSF. They can be seen most visibly in:
The split of Emacs development, with the FSF maintaining "GNU" Emacs, while an independent group maintains the closely-compatible "XEmacs" editor,
The split of GCC (the GNU C Compiler) development, where there was an FSF tree that was not publicly updated for a rather long time, and a separate "egcs" Project hosted at Cygnus Software.
Note that as of April 1999, this "split" has been remedied; the EGCS Steering Committee is taking over as the GNU maintainer of GCC, becoming the GCC Steering Committee.
The root causes for these various splits are diverse, but consider the common features:
Splits and disagreements have occurred and persisted.
The resulting organizations have had sufficient people and expertise to survive.
Not only have they survived, but the "children" have successfully built up functionality not provided by the "parents."
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 ]
<Bringer.email@example.com > 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:
Does not appear to recognize the fact that this transformation should happen in general,
Does not recognize that there are specific projects that would benefit from the "Bazaar" transformation, and most importantly,
Doesn't seem to want to let go of control over RMS's "children."
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.
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...
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.
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:
Usenet postings and discussions
Web pages with things like "HOWTO" documents.
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:
Location where prepackaged/preconfigured versions (e.g. in Red Hat's RPM or Debian's DPKG forms) can be found
Location where configuration information can be found
Location/name of relevant HOWTO(s)
Location of an Anonymous CVS server (for shared development)
Improved "subject" information to make it easier to create a taxonomy categorizing packages
A unique "key" linked to some sort of database (probably using CGI) so that one could do quick, unique cross-references
e.g. with Unique-key:5F22C one might do lookups from a "LSM collection" by referring to a URL looking like:
Home page link
Link to a page of links to relevant HOWTOs
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.
The Uber Collective proposed a nonprofit organization that would try to provide resources (things like housing, hardware, documentation, food) to OSS developers.
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.
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.