The future of Linux is getting uglierSeptember 2004
Right now, Linux is ascendant, and Microsoft (and a lot of other people) are worried about its effect on their income.
I quite seriously wonder how long it can last. The oft-discussed "succession" problem is part of my concern, but it goes deeper than that. Not that succession isn't important to Linux; it certainly is. Linus Torvalds may insist it has already been dealt with: (from http://zdnet.com.com/2100-11-526907.html?legacy=zdnn)
I think that a lot of the talk about the 'succession' is due to this--people see the project growing, and see other people having a large impact, and don't realize that it's already long since grown past being just 'Linus.
but that's really not the case at all. Linus is still the political head and no one below him has the fame and following to take over. Others have commented on this: (from http://www.business2.com/b2/web/articles/0,17863,528386,00.html)
A normal corporation is constituted with a board of directors that makes sure solid succession plans are in place. No question, a breakthrough such as Linux would never have happened had Torvalds gone by the rules of a normal corporation. Still, it's possible that the Linux movement, and hence further development of the software, could be thrown into disarray in the absence of a smooth transition plan for new leadership. It's also possible - though unlikely - that the Linux movement could splinter into factions in the face of a leadership vacuum.
I don't know why they say "unlikely". I think they forget that the corporate interests (RedHat, IBM, et al.) are involved in all of this. If Linus gets hit by a bus, "taking over" will definitely be discussed in corporate boardrooms.
But I think there is already danger afoot. This http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5907194/ article tells how companies with a strong interest in Linux internals curry favor by hiring people in or close to the Linux "inner circle":
Hewlett-Packard, which has hired two maintainers and 100 lower-level Linux developers, tries to hire only people who are within reach of Torvalds' inner circle. "I call it 'counting the hops,' which means we figure out how many steps removed this person is from a top maintainer. I try to keep it under two hops,"says Martin Fink, vice president of Linux at HP. "The way to get stuff done in the Linux community is to hire the right people."
While those who are hired by HP and the other companies mentioned may insist that their employment doesn't affect anything, it's obvious that it does: (from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5907194/ )
The payoff is real. Linux now contains bits of code written by NetApp's programmers.
Linux flunks the Purity Test.
Yes, that's unavoidable at some level. But surely the public perception of Linux isn't that companies with enough money get code that benefits their apps and otherwise.. well, tough. If you aren't shoveling money at someone close to Linus, you can just step to the end of a very long line.
That's a situation ripe for abuse. In the case of the NetApp contributions, these may very well be just legitimate and needed improvements to NFS code. But who ensures that? What happens when NetApp or some other company playing this game sees an opportunity to affect a competitor by way of kernel code? There doesn't even have to be complicity on the part of the Linus confidant - laziness and inattention will suffice.
A scandal here could damage Linux. I'm sure that most of the people involved are aware of this and perhaps even believe that they can remain totally honest - that they can keep their Linux contributions pure. History and even the most basic understanding of human nature says otherwise.
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