NEW YORK — The Linux on Wall Street conference in New York is an attempt to
highlight Linux and open source vendors and solutions, demonstrating and
pontificating on how they all can work together.
But can they work together?
Can Wall St., the metaphorical home of Western
capitalism and competitive free-market economics, in fact be sympathetic to
open source software, which, in some respects, is the philosophical opposite?
It all depends on whom you ask.
More so than any other pure open source company, Red Hat is the
prime example of how Linux and Wall St. can get along. The Red Hat booth
staff was all business sales types and aggressively engaged booth traffic
with a trader’s zeal.
Though the underlying bits of Red Hat’s software are all available for free,
Red Hat has proven that it can make tens of millions of dollars by packaging
and supporting open source software.
Red Hat wasn’t the only Linux vendor at the event trying to prove that free
and open source software can be both profitable and usable by Wall St. There
were at least three other Linux distribution vendors at the event, including
Novell, Xandros and Oracle.
The poor fellow who was manning the Xandros booth when I was there seemed
quite lost unfortunately. When I asked him if the new Xandros release was
based on the latest Debian Etch bits, he said he’d never heard of Debian. Interesting, since Xandros is based
on Debian, which is a free, community-developed Linux distribution. The main
pitch that I heard coming out of the Xandros booth was that Xandros makes it
easier to migrate from Windows.
Nice. Competition is a good thing on the street and is a key part of free-market dynamics.
Novell’s (Quote) booth was active with staffers claiming they
already had a real-time solution, while Red Hat is still just talking about
one. Real time in Linux has the potential to dramatically improve response
times for transactions, making Linux an even more attractive option for Wall
Faster trades at potentially less cost is another net positive for the street.
Then there is Oracle. Mighty Oracle with its display icon of a shielded
penguin ready to do battle. The always-engaging Monica Kumar, senior director
of open source product marketing at Oracle, was in the booth intermittently and gave out, with her cohorts, free demo disks of Oracle Unbreakable Linux. Their sales pitch: “We’re binary compatible with Red Hat but we’re cheaper.”
Everyone wants a deal on Wall St.
Speaking of deals, Unisys’s Anthony Gold, who is also on the board of
directors at the Open Solutions Alliance, engaged a small group in a session where he
trumpeted the size and power of the open source industry.
Gold also introduced Michael Wheeler, finance partner at UK investment dealer Redmayne
Bentley, who provided a very articulate business case of how open source made
financial sense for his firm.
The notion that open source is about getting something for nothing was also
contested at the event.
In a session titled Enabling Innovation on Wall
Street Through Open Source, one audience member accosted the panel by
accusing open source of merely being a technology incubation scheme. Once
the technology grows and matures there is someone there to charge you for
it, the audience member said.
“How do you make money from open source?” Alexis Richardson, cofounder of
open source financial services software vendor CohesiveFT, responded
emphatically. “You ask people for money.”
Charging for open source is the point, though, isn’t it? If no one were making
money from open source then it’s not as likely it would be as welcome
on Wall St.
As it turns out, there’s plenty of money
in open source. That said, open source isn’t for everyone.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the whole event for me was the final
panel in which the consensus appeared to be that, though Linux is widely
regarded and accepted, that’s not the case for all open source applications.
So is Linux on Wall Street an oxymoron? Of course it’s not.
staunch supporters on the street who are making money with it and are
recognizing the inherent benefits of the model. Linux, which is by
definition free software, is not necessarily free without price or without
the potential for profit.
Wall Street is all about money, and Linux has proven — and will continue to
prove — that it is a worthy tool in the quest to generate even more money.