Timothy Lord:Jon, you talked today here at the Northwest LinuxFest in part about the future of free software.One thing you mentioned and I want to ask you to expand on:What is the connection between the drop in price of hardware and free software?
Jon “maddog” Hall:Well when hardware used to cost tens of thousands of dollars, a lot of times the vendor would blend the software directly into the hardware cost, and you didn’t see the price of the software.As the price of the hardware continues to drop, the price of the software can tend to become overwhelming as to what the price of the total system is.And so people start looking around and saying, “Oh well, maybe I can get”—they start seeing this cost.It is the same type of thing with people who get caught with what they call a Microsoft tax of buying a Notebook with the $34 or $35 to $70 type Microsoft charges for an operating system.When the Notebooks were thousands of dollars, that price was a little hidden.But now as they drop down to $400 or less, people become more aware of it.So this is one of the issues.The second issue is when people start having the ability to create embedded systems, where they are not just buying one operatinglicense but they are buying the license thousands of times, all of a sudden, we were only buying one or two licenses, it is one thing, but when you are buying thousands of licenses a $35 license may be $35,000.
Tim:In connecting the worlds of open and closed software, one of the things that you mentioned is that you think that even closed source projects would be able to hire open source people. Can you talk about that?What do you mean by that?
Jon:Well, let’s say I am developing a project of some type and I intend selling it as closed source.If I hire a closed source programmer, somebody who has only worked in the closed source world, they really may not have looked out to see what types of software is available.They may not understand free software licenses, the fact that different licenses have different requirements.They may not have worked in a distributed, collaborative environment before.But if you hire somebody who has been a free software developer, who has paid attention to all of those things, they can oftentimes say, “Well, instead of you having to buy this database to make the project, you could use this open source database and not to have to pay the database company a lot of money to buy the database for this solution.” And there’s really no reason not to use an open source developer for a closed source project as long as that person realizes that actual project is going to be closed source and their understanding of that, when they go into the project.So I see the downside of hiring an open source programmer and as I said, everything else being equal, the difference between hiring an open source programmer and a closed source programmer to me makes a lot of sense to hire the open source.
Tim:One thing I have been picking for a lot of years is that Microsoft could become the world’s biggest open source vendor.It is just not their model right now.
Jon:Well, I have given a lot of thought to this.Clearly, of course, I don’t work in Microsoft so I don’t know what their thinking is but they have a business model based upon a product.And they have a channel of people who buy their products and sell their products to customers.Their channel makes money off of that.And if Microsoft were to start giving away their products for free, that channel would not be able to make as much money.So that channel would be very upset with Microsoft, just like the channel was upset with Microsoft when Microsoft started selling the Microsoft Office functionality in the cloud.It kind of cut the channel out from that—the channel was upset.The same type of thing happened with SCO UNIX when SCO was a company that was selling Linux Box, they had a whole bunch of OEMs and channels and VARs and things like that, that made money selling the product.And when Caldera bought SCO they said, “Oh here’s Linux, and Linux is for free” and basically cut out this.And Caldera thought they were getting this huge channel group of VARs and OEMs and when they actually started_____the channel disappeared.
Tim:They walked into that.
Jon:Yes, they did.
Tim:In the world of closed versus open too, when it comes to open source software, one thing you mentioned is that, people complain sometimes that there are a lot of stagnant projects.You don’t seem concerned about that. Can you say why that is?
Jon:Well, I don’t seem concerned about it, because my observation has been that from time to time people pick these projects up, they start over again,_____that sometimes the project is stagnant because there has been another project that can port off of it and those people are live, and doing things with it.There are other alternatives of open source out there, with_____ to do.So I see this as no different than companies selling closed source projects and product and that company goes out of business.
Tim:It happens all the time.
Jon:It happens all the time.
Tim:Or the project dies. Closed or not.
Jon:But the difference between those is that when that company goes out of business, or that project dies, that closed source, you can’t get the source code to pick them up later on and continue with it.You can’t close the project, it just dies. I saw so many projects back in Digital that were good projects but never made it to the light of the day, because the companies didn’t seem they could make enough profit off of it.Not that they couldn’t make a profit, they couldn’t make enough profit off of it. When IBM sold the desktop and notebook division to Lenovo, it was profitable.But it was profitable in a 2 to 3 percent profit level. That is not enough profit to sustain a company like IBM.So they sold that off to Lenovo.Lenovo had a much better method, much less overhead and IBM took the profit from that and they bought Price Waterhouse Cooper.They doubled the size of the support organization literally overnight.Because the support organization including solutions found a place that they could get enough profit to be able to sustain IBM.And IBM took a lot of the people from their laptop and desktop division with good producers, good people and moved them into the solutions category.So it is the same thing.You have to juggle with it around.It is not magic.It is not magic.
Tim:No magic or not.
Tim:Well, Jon, thanks very much for your time.