Reviews of SVLUG/Taos "Future of Linux" Panel

Subject: My review of the Future of Linux meeting
Date: Fri, 17 Jul 1998 11:00:15 -0700 (PDT)
From: spade@spade.com (Ben Spade)

The Future of Linux - The View from the Front of the Room

Let me take this opportunity to cast some of my memories of the
evening in electrons, before they start to fade...

The meeting was to be a panel discussion of the future of Linux,
sponsored by Taos Mountain, and by the SVLUG. Taos Mountain was
well represented by a team of workers making it all fall together,
led by Mike Masterson.

After Mike Masterson's opening remarks, the schedule called for me
to make a few welcoming remarks, then the meat of the program was
to begin. During Mike's opening, he asked for a show of hands - who
used Linux? - about everyone raised their hands; who used Linux at
work? - a few less hands; who used Linux at home? - again mostly
everyone raised their hands; who used NT? - about 2/3 of the hands
went up (and a few hisses were heard). Then, Mike was introducing me!

As I walked out in front of the stage, I looked out at the crowd -
around 850 people, all looking at me! All hoping I would go away
real soon, so the discussion could begin. In the spirit of Mike's
questions, I asked for non-SVLUG members to raise their hands (a
bit less than half the room), and proceeded to swear them in as
new members. Fortunately, that got them laughing, so while they were
in a good mood, I mentioned our URL, meeting schedule, the fact
of a workshop coming up on Saturday, and mentioned the Open Source
Developer's Conference. Then I gave the microphone back to Mike and
ran for my seat.

The first part of the program called for each panel member to talk 
for five minutes to answer the question "Is Linux comparable to commercial
UNIX, what are its strengths, weaknesses?"

Jeremy Allison (of the SAMBA team) started things off, saying that as
far as he was concerned, Linux IS a commercial OS. Strength include
portability, and the fact that bugs get squashed in record time.
Weaknesses include the lack of a 64-bit file-system, no ACL's, a need 
for better NFS performance, and a need for something like Solaris threads. 

Larry Augustin (of SVLUG, Linux International, and VA Research) 
called Linux the Borg OS - features will be assimilated. He also showed 
graphs of a recent survey which showed that in areas of price (of course),
availability, function, and even support, Linux is the preferred
OS, at least to the respondents to the survey, which was of people
using a UNIX like OS or NT in a business application.

Robert Hart (of RedHat Software) also agreed that Linux is a 
commercial OS - since the sale of Linux is what makes his job possible
and pays his salary. He mentioned that since many of their customers
have never installed an OS, as an OS is pre-installed on their computers
when purchased, one of the weaknesses of Linux is in the area of 
installation and a graphical desk-top. Also, we aren't quite ready for
the office situation where the main use of the computer is documents and
spreadsheets. He also mentioned that Linux was not yet suitable for his
75 year old mom, who is currently using Windows. On the plus side,
though, he said that Linux has better technology than the binary-only OS's.

Sunil Saxena (Principle Engineer at Intel) mentioned that one of the goals
of Intel is to insure that new processor and platform features need to be
tested and supported in Unix and Linux - and that Linux was one of their
test platforms. He also mentioned that Linux seems to be the OS of choice
for ISP's, and that Open Source means that updates and patches are made
available in 'Internet time'. Weaknesses include SMP support and scalability
(although there was a demo of Linux running on a 4-way Xeon system
at the back of the room). His major message was that Intel does want
to provide the support needed for Linux to work well.

Linus Torvalds (who needs no introduction, at least to this group) indicated
that Linux was designed as a one person OS, and that he was that person.
But that the work done by him and others worldwide had made Linux an OS with
a much broader appeal. He said that the major strength of Linux is its 
flexibility, and that Linux runs on one of the 500 fastest computers in
the world at one end of the spectrum, and on the Palm Pilot at the other.

The first session of questions from the floor included a question 
from a Design Engineer wanting to know when high end CAD tools would be 
available for Linux. Larry Augustin responded that because of a meeting
at the recent DAC conference, the vendors were finally getting the message,
but if we want a particular tool ported to Linux, we must inform the vendor,
otherwise the message seems to get lost traversing the chains of command.

The second question was from a reporter who pounced on Robert Heart's 
comment about Linux not being suitable for his mom. Robert responded that
he was not putting down his mom, but that Linux documentation was not up to 
the standard that his mom would expect, and the applications she needed 
weren't available yet.

The third question was not really a question, just a comment from 
someone in the crowd that his mom WAS running Linux.  

To the question about Intel releasing specs to Open Source folk, and, 
by the way, what about I2O?, Sunil had no answer other than to say that 
Intel wants to support us. Mike Masterson told us that Intel had given
him his choice of three people, an Engineer, a Marketeer, or a Lawyer,
and perhaps for this particular question, he had chosen poorly.

Another question, asking for a unified GUI was met with the comment 
that there is more than one almost ready for prime time, and that an
important part of the Linux experience was that no one dictates what
you desktop looks like.

After a couple more questions, the podium was turned over to Phil 
Hughes, of Linux Journal, for the tough 'journalist questions'. 

The first question was "How much bigger will Linux be in the year 2000?"
Jeremy thought that based on the current percentage of the Unix market
and the current rate of doubling, that Linux should be installed on 20% 
to 25% of computers by then.
Linus expects Linux to have 15% of the market.
Sunil wouldn't commit himself to an answer.
Larry said that Data Point surveys indicated 14% of Unix sites run 
Linux now
Robert said that currently there are 5 to 10 million Linux users, 
should be 20 to 40 million by year 2000.

The second question was to Linus - what about world domination - how long?
Linus' reply was that it started as a joke, but that we can hope that in 
15 to 20 years the market will no longer be dominated by a single player.

The third question, to Jeremy, was about the role of SAMBA.
Jeremy said that SAMBA allows one to replace NT servers with a more 
reliable, stable alternative. He also said that the better he can
make SAMBA, the better the chances for Linux/Unix. Also, expect that
SAMBA will be capable of being a Primary Domain Controller by next year.

The next question concerned Corel's network computer, the Cobalt 
Micro cube, and Linux Appliances - can we expect more? 
Larry's response was yes, Open Source makes such project easy.

To the question "Is Open Source a passing fad?" Larry responded that 
it is here to stay - look at what Netscape is doing. Robert indicated
that Open Source gives the end user control, and Jeremy said that Open
Source allows the user to make contributions to the product.

A question about the Microsoft/Netscape war being waged in the courts 
brought the comment from Linus that politicians can't keep up - the
market will decide.

Phil then asked "How do we convince an application vendor to port to 
Linux?"
The answer - 1) make sure the vendor knows you want it, and 2) make 
sure that the various distributions are standard enough that the vendor
doesn't ask which Linux?

This lead into a question concerning the Linux Standards Base - 
should distribution folk be talking to one another?
Robert said that RedHat does talk to the other distribution makers, 
who also talk to one another. He did say that they are times, such
as the introduction of the new c libraries when there is a fragmenting
of the distributions, and that the others must catch up.

This brought on one of the few moments of tension of the evening, when 
Larry reminded Robert that an innovation that breaks things for your
customers might do more harm than good - you can innovate, but you must
stay compatible.

The question "What if Microsoft brings out 'Open Windows 99" brought 
a chuckle from the audience, and the comment "When Microsoft ports major 
software to Linux - we have won". Linus said that MS Office for Linux
would make him happy.

And Phil's final question - since Linux is used by NASA, the Post 
Office, and the IRS - is the US government the first step to world
domination? 
Linus' response was "Hmmm - thanks for the idea."

Highlights from the the next phase of the meeting, each panelist 
answering the question "What is your vision of Linux in 2-3 years"
brought the comment from Sunil that Linux would be a major server of
the Internet, corporate intranets, ISP's, e-commerce, wearable computers,
and 'appliances'. Linux will be in the data center, with 16 to 32 way
SMP servers.

Larry hopes that Linux 2.2 will have been released.

Robert remarked that "People are lazy - lazy people are creative" and 
that Linux will be the dominant server platform, and we will see
Linux nearly everywhere.

Linus said that he is very bad at predictions, but he is confident 
that 2.2 will indeed be out. He also said that the kernel is now
less important, and the future depends on applications - 'pretty'
applications that have not been Unix' strength.  He thinks the next
three years will be 'interesting'.

Jeremy thinks that a major PC vendor will ship Linux pre installed - 
either one of the current major vendors will have seen the light, or,
if they don't, VA Research will have become a major vendor. The desktop
is where the numbers are, and applications will be available within 2
to 3 years, which will lead to Linux being on 20% to 25% of the PC's
shipped.

I'm sorry, but by the next round of questions from the floor (it had
been two hours by this time), I was too punchy to take good notes. 

The meeting ended with the distribution of goodies from RedHat, 
another job for me. Would you believe that in a crowd of 850-1000
people, no one shares my birthday, or that of my wife or parents.
There was one fellow who was at the meeting on his birthday - he
was rewarded with a package form RedHat and a rendition of
"Happy Birthday" from everyone. Finally, we managed to give every
thing away to those born in the month of March.

After some post-meeting socializing, many of us adjourned to 
Peppermill Restaurant for more socializing - I don't think anyone
wanted the evening to end.

Respectfully submitted,
Ben Spade, President, Silicon Valley Linux Users Group