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*SPECIAL Linux.SYS-CON.com ANALYSIS* Bruce Perens White Paper on UserLinux

Perens publishes white paper sub-titled "Repairing the Economic Paradigm of Enterprise Linux"

Linux evangelist Bruce Perens has made available his first draft, UserLinux: Repairing the Economic Paradigm of Enterprise Linux. Which at first read sounds like a good idea, even though it seems to bear many similarities to United Linux. UnitedLinux to date seems to have had very little impact on the Linux user community - due to SCO’s participation and the lack of unilateral support by Linux distribution vendors, most notably Red Hat.

Analysis of UnitedLinux’s results to date may be helpful to those thinking about jumping on the UserLinux bandwagon. This is not to say that UserLinux is destined for failure; on the contrary, Bruce’s effort to bring the same discussion to the community rather than the corporate level intrigues me. But it leads me to pose the following questions:

  • Can and will the community advance Linux in the enterprise faster than the distribution vendors?
  • If so what differences between the two models will be the catalyst for success?
  • Is UserLinux really needed - how much does UserLinux potentially overlap with work being done by OSDL and the Linux Standards Base?

One key theme in the initial Perens proposal is the idea of a structure that would include a central body setting direction for the community and making choices on applications supplied by those who cooperate with community efforts. He also envisions a technical plan that sets goals and maintains relationships with commercial organizations. Also there is mention of a certification of solutions on UserLinux, a practice that has allowed Red Hat to take a leadership position in the enterprise Linux space.

A community-led project with the ability to certify solutions would be an interesting competitor to Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux. I have to wonder if a band of community developers with a proposed $1 million annual budget can make advances that rival or overshadow those of the corporate Linux community. Then again, from the humblest of beginnings, Linus’ kernel project and RMS’s GNU initiatives have taken a significant market share away from the world’s largest company.

From a technical perspective, Perens proposes Debian as the base technology for UserLinux, which is no coincidence since he is a former leader of the Debian project. This is an interesting proposal because Debian has as good a technology as anyone (arguably better by many) but seems to be the least commercial of any distribution.

There would be some irony in Debian as the technology that powers corporations throughout the world. Debian does seem like a logical choice to address one of the biggest problems with Linux today, application delivery and installation. The difficulty of installation of applications across distributions due to conflicts and lack of supporting libraries could be solved by Debian’s apt tools, which are quite superior for the installation and resolution of dependencies in comparison to rpm.

Decisions on a standardized GUI interface and Web server software are all points of contention for UserLinux. All in all the proposal seems to point towards making some choices between existing technologies and thereafter working on better integration and overall usability. This strategy may result in a lack of innovation and healthy competition that exist today between “competing projects,” but could yield significant progress in Linux usability if the efforts of the individual groups could be combined.

I am sure that UserLinux will continue to spark debate because of user need for Linux to develop into a platform with some level of commonality across vendors. Once this commonality has become established then there needs to be a mechanism, vendor, or group of vendors that provide software solutions, management and hardware support equivalent to those available on other operating systems with equivalent or better prices and equivalent or better functionality.

Keeping this in mind maybe more interesting than UserLinux is the prospect of Linux being on the cusp of mainstream success. Ideas and the extension of ideas like Bruce’s are the tinder that will spark widespread Open Source adoption. I encourage everyone that can to participate to help Bruce shape his proposal.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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