Two months after SourceForges Linux.com site stopped publishing new stories, the reason has finally been made public: The site has been acquired by the Linux Foundation. As of today, the URL redirects to a welcome page that solicits suggestions from the community about what contents the site should have. The Linux Foundation will administer the site, and SourceForge will assist in the sale of advertising. However, in many ways, the news raises as many questions as it answers about what happened and what Linux.com will look like in the future.
Some background: The Linux.com URL was acquired by VA Linux, SourceForge's original name, in March 1999 for an undisclosed amount, although some rumors place the price as high as one million dollars. The site quickly become a major portal for original news about GNU/Linux. Eleven months later, after the acquisition of Andover.net, the owner of Slashdot and other sites, the company became the largest free and open source software (FOSS)-related media company in the world.
News of the recent sale was given to Linux.com employees and long-term contractors at the end of last November, when the editorial budget was not renewed, and Robin "Roblimo" Miller, the senior editor, received notice that he would be laid off. On January 1, Lee Schlesinger, the former managing editor and the only member of the Linux.com who was not let go, posted an article entitled, "A new year, a new Linux.com," announcing that changes were taking place."
For about a month afterwards, readers speculated freely in comments below this announcement. Many expressed anger that more information was not being offered.
In the last month, the comments had stopped. However, in the last week, several people had noticed on Whois.net that the domain had been transferred to The Linux Foundation.
Asked about the reason why the transfer took so long, Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation, refused comment. However, Jon Sobel, group president, media at SourceForge, replied, "There was no specific reason. We did our best to preserve the site, but, understanding that this relationship [between SourceForge and the Linux Foundation] would likely come to fruition, we were careful not to do anything that would interfere with its future. We were proceeding with a great deal of care."
Neither Zemlin nor Sobel would discuss the price paid for the Linux Foundation -- or whether, as some rumors would have it, the transference of the URL was a donation. "Anything I say will just provoke more questions," Sobel says.
The reason for the transfer is easy to see from the Linux Foundation's perspective. "We also manage the Linux trademark, and obviously Linux.com is an important brand asset," Zemlin says. Acquiring the URL, Zemlin adds, "just supports the activities that the Linux Foundation is already responsible for."
By contrast, the motivation of SourceForge is harder to discern. After all, according to today's news release, visits to the site were up 21% in the past year, so ad revenue was probably increasing, too. In addition, Linux.com was one of SourceForge's four major assets (the others, in no particular order, being the Slashdot site, the ThinkGeek store, and the SourceForge repositories for free and open source software). Moreover, with SourceForge reporting general revenue increases over the last year and last quarter, the need to dispose of assets does not appear to have been pressing.
Asked about the reasons, Sobel emphasized that the transfer was for the good of everyone involved. "In the long run, the best thing for the community, the Foundation and us is to have a robust, modern community web site, and we felt this was a better, faster way to get there, with the foundation and us together, than we could do ourselves."
Another unanswered question is exactly how the sale came about. According to Sobel, "We talk regularly with [the Linux Foundation], and I can't remember who said what to whom first. But it was a very natural discussion. We understand their aspirations, and we were independently thinking what the right thing would be for the community, and it was a discussion that came very naturally."
However, according to Zemlin, SourceForge approached the Linux Foundation about the sale -- a move for which he gives the corporation the highest praise. "The company could have done anything with that URL. They could have sold it to the highest bidder, and that highest bidder could have been a competitor. Instead, what they did was, they came to us, and worked with us to make sure that Linux.com is something that can serve the community for a long period of time."