Linux Foundation: Corporate Lackey or Linux Savior?

The newly formed Linux Foundation inspires plenty of doubts in the Linux community. Do the naysayers have a point?
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The recent merging of two leading open source groups, OSDL and FSG, seems like good news for Linux. With the combined resources of both outfits, the brand new Linux Foundation will have more muscle to fight the good fight and triumph in the never-ending battle against proprietary software.

jim zemlin, linux foundation, open source

Jim Zemlin, Linux Foundation

However, out in the Linux community, flickers of doubt were heard. Skepticism. Anxiety. Uncharitable postings on message boards.

Some murmured, darkly, that the Linux Foundation is merely a corporate front, with sponsors likes IBM, HP, Intel, and Novell (wait, didn’t Novell just sign an accord with…Microsoft?). So the Foundation is just a shadow group designed to put the corporate boot on the neck of Linux, some said.

Still others wondered if the Foundation would do anything useful at all. For instance, Gartner analyst George Weiss, quoted in Linux.com, opined that the group has a short window to prove itself: “If you don't hear from them for another 12-15 months, and they disappear into the woodwork, you can write them off."

Other observers scoffed at the notion of a central guiding light for Linux. All those free-spirited distros – Slackware, Knoppix, Gentoo, the list goes on – who’s going to rule them all? Organizing the Linux community is like herding cats. Nobody’s going to tell me what to do. (Translated: “If I wanted to be a subservient dweeb I’d buy a button-down shirt and go work for Microsoft.”)

So alas, add up all the doubts and you realize the new Linux Foundation has some work to do.

Someone, clearly, had to get to the bottom of this. So a humble reporter from Datamation, his notepad full of questions, placed a call to Jim Zemlin, the Linux Foundation’s executive director.

Jim’s World

The first thing you realize upon talking with Jim Zemlin is that he’s a natural communicator. While many trade group spokespeople are scripted automatons, Zemlin seems open and real, even possessing a spark of charisma. A born front man.

Still, maybe that’s part of the plot by the Foundation’s corporate sponsors – hire someone who seems authentic. So Jim, what’s the deal? What about all this talk of big business controlling Linux?

Zemlin laughs. “I appreciate all the [talk of] conspiracy out there,” he says.

“There’s lot of theories out there, and you know what? That’s what I love about open source.” He chuckles again. “I love that stuff. But at the end of the day, this is about providing choice, about providing freedom. There are certain principles in the open source world that nobody is going to compromise.

“I’d say, for once in history, the interests of large corporations and community members, people who use technology, are aligned.

“And it is fine to have corporate participation. But I would also point out this organization will have direct representation from key community developers, on our board of directors. Our work group and technical activities are completely open. Our standards specifications are wholly published, online, free for all. The development tools that we build are completely available under an open source license, free to anyone who cares to download and use them.”

He welcomes close examination of the Foundation and its activities. “I think that scrutiny is a good thing. And this organization wants to be very open to that.”

Next page: Who Gave You the Authority?

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