Linux: Millenium Momentum

Posted by VISITOR on Oct 2, 2004 4:22 PM EDT
LXer; By Attendee of the Ohio Linux Fest 2004
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A smashingly successful Ohio LinuxFest has just finished, and our on-the-scene (and anonymous) reporter has written an excellent (and at times hilarious) roundup of the event. Congratulations go out to the organizers of the OLF, and a special thanks to maddog for helping them with last minute needs. Well done all!

These are notes from Paul Ferris' opening Keynote at Ohio LinuxFest 2004. The event was held October 2, 2004, and over 550 people were registered. At the opening, this speech was given to approximately 350 people.

Paul began the dialog by asking everyone what they were doing with Linux, and what they thought Linux was, in a couple of words.

Linux is never done. It's always constantly evolving. As I speak, source code is being added to it by somebody, somewhere in the world. Nothing can stop that. Legislation by prorpietary interests may prevent someone in the US from "buying" it, someday (not likely), but nothing is going to hold back the floodgates of the world from knowing what an awesome product it is.

(Paul then covered the problems that some proprietary vendors experience owning and maintaining code with security problems while attempting to create new products).

Now, in the open source world, this happens. Usually the product going by the way-side is something small. Like XFree86, for example ... Don't laugh -- the number of lines in XFree86 is tiny compared to the total number of lines in some cutting-edge operating systems.

When it goes away in the open source world, usually no one notices. That's because at a fundamental level, given the way Linux bolts together, it's almost (almost I say) always unnoticeable to end users and often to administrators.

A lot of vendors have no such theoretical pureness at the operating system at that level. Instead, they spend a ton of work tying their systems together. In a system such as this, a fix in one spot can break thousands of intertwined things instantly.

What motivates this kind of intertwining? These vendors wish to "Leverage" (Read: force) their customers to "buy" another copy of the flagship product. To really accomplish this goal, they end up twining it all together, and making it near impossible to "fix".

The only really economical way out of the situation is to start over. To begin anew, look at things like Linux and the *BSD's and do it all again. That's going to be fun, and I guarantee you that at least one of these products will be an object of beauty, talked about in the press and gleaming at trade shows.

I also guarantee you that developers dependent upon this kind of proprietary madness will end up having to address it with a new API, will likely have to change significant portions of their code to take advantage of new features and so on.

In the mean time, I guarantee you that your old X applications will work fine under Linux. I've got shell scripts that work fine after over a decade.

I'd argue that this is, in fact, a competitve advantage for Linux. It's huge. It'd be different if proprietary vendors didn't "own" old products. It'd be different if some of them weren't so hell-bent on protecting the "intellectual property".

It's all about connection.

What is this Linux thing anyway? Is it really a piece of source code then? Is it something I can cut onto a CD and hand to you, a member of the audience? Not really. I'd be handing you a snapshot of the river of code -- I'd be handing you, always, something that's a work in progress.

What is it then? Is it the GPL (the license that binds the freedom to the code)? Not really again. I don't think a lot of people see that either. The core developers do, but the freedom aspects typically come to light as people begin understanding more and more about operating systems -- and most people, quite frankly -- don't.

But the ones that do are the ones we're talking about. And if you're here, you likely understand that Linux is an operating system, and you probably want to know more about what it is.

In my humble opinion, Linux is about connection, the way that the Internet is about connection. Face it, Linux and the Internet are truly inseparable. They are different facets of the same thing. Yeah, the Internet is a global series of connections -- and Linux comprises a sizeable percentage of the nodes. But it's more than that.

You wouldn't have the Internet without the nodes and you wouldn't have Linux without the global collaborative nature of the Internet. They're tied together. The same can be said for the *BSDs (little known fact, but a vast percentage of network appliances are powered by BSDs)

The same can't be said of any proprietary product put out by a proprietary vendor. The focus is usually on at most a handful of locations, staffed with company employed developers (often outsourced), that produce a product that by definition is not open. It won't "live" outside of the confines of this closed box.

It will be released in large snapshots, and customers will have to live with the consequences.

That's a stark contrast to illustrate an important fact: Linux is something that lives in the connective tissue of the Internet. It lives in a completely different sphere of reality, in fact. It's about connection.

We're here -- why? Did you come here to hear me break verbal wind? No? Did you come here to see the Hyatt? No! Why did you come here?

Fundamentally, you came here for the same reason Linux exists. You came here for the connection in the equation.

It's about this connection -- like the Internet, the connection is more important than the nodes. The connection here, I'd argue, is more about "us" than it is about "you and I". It's a nebulous thing, that connection -- but we all live for it.

You may not see it, but at the core of your being, you understand what I'm saying.

And for this and other reasons, You are Linux. You can make those connections -- the things that make Linux work.

Those connections are powerful. A user can feel them when they feel the quality of the product. They can feel that at the core of the product, when they're using Perl, or bash or gcc or a host of other infrastructure tools -- they can feel that at a fundamental level, there are major differences from any other product they've ever experienced.

Simply put, when you get started using Linux, you eventually end up here -- wanting to know more about how this happened and where you can meet more people that feel like you do.

In 1994, that was a lonely place for me, honestly. I remember getting on-line onto IRC to find people that thought the way I did. There were only a handful of people at the time that I knew that even understood what Linux was from an operating perspective.

Most people simply didn't know what it was.

Ten years is a long time. But here we are.
Linux isn't a toy or a fad anymore -- its ingrained.

When I read about it in Newsweek -- it's here to stay. And I'm sure a lot of you are asking -- what about my place in all of this? I can't code, and so on. Can you use the product? Can you simply use it and show someone that it works?

If you can, you have made a connection. You have become a part of it. You have become a nodal point in the global Linux network. You have become powerful, and you probably don't even know it.

I'll be honest with you -- I'm not a developer. I get paid to use Linux, not develop it. I could sit around and say "how can I contribute?" Truth is, I already am. Daily I make connections and if there is anything I know, it's that the Linux users that I've known never switch back.

I'm extremely confident in this area. I have yet to meet a competent IT professional that didn't eventually come around to the Unix (Linux) way.

They've all fallen, one at a time, into the understanding that for any kind of worthwhile infrastructure work, Unix/Linux philosophy is the best way to go. That doesn't mean that at times they don't make "pragmatic" decisions, or get them made for them -- it means that in their minds eye, there's a "right" (Unix/ Linux) way, and a "wrong" (Proprietary) way.

This is our biggest strength. The developers can't reach out like we can. That's not their job. It's an important job, making code, but the Linux human nodes are every bit as important: What good is the product if no one ever uses it. If no success stories make it to the conscienceness of the world.

And each time someone learns about Linux, each time they step forward with it, they end up understanding more and more. They don't look back. They don't choose proprietary products as much. They become more of the solution than the problem.

They become Linux.

When you do this kind of networking, you are a part of Linux. You are, the same as the Internet, inextricably bound to Linux -- it is you, you are it. The boundaries are vague. It's "up here" (points to head). Or is it out here (points to the audience)? No one, faced with a question like this, can come up with a clear answer.

Why? Because there isn't one.

Kinda profound isn't it (smiles).

Linux isn't going to be a shock-and-awe win in the software world. It's really going to be more like mold.

Linux is like mold...

Yeah? Linux is like the mold in Bills' refrigerator.

The guy opens the fridge one morning in 1992 or so (give it a year) and he sees what he thinks is mold on the cheese. So, he tosses it. "Melinda! this embedded stuff has Linux mold growing all over it."

And a couple of days later he's going for a beer, and there's mold on it too. It's even the wrong brand... "Torvalds Lite!" ... "What the heck is this!" He begins digging through the fridge and sure as shinola, it's all over everything. Damn, it's in the embedded space. It's in the mainframe space. It's in my watch! It's in my phone! He begins to panic.

Not the Tivo! NOOOOOO.

That's what Linux growth like. Slow as mold.

For the record, mold actually grows kinda fast. We're just human observers so it looks slow.

The history of Linux....
According to SCO ....

1969, ATT, cough, SCO creates Unix.

1991, SCO's source code is stolen, by a Finish cracker named Torvalds.

2002, SCO notices that all the cash is gone from the petty profit fund.

2004, Richard Stallman gets pissed off because SCO didn't name him in the court briefs as a thief as well...

The history of Linux ...
According to Paul Ferris ...

Paul Mentioned Minux.

Mid 1980s', Stallman can't print some documents at MIT... He invents the GPL and decides to start cloning Unix. He picks the name "GNU" for his project, because it's got a recursive name, and because he likes the idea of people associating obscure, large lumbering animals with a product.

1991, Torvalds can't get a reasonable operating system for his PC. He starts hacking The Minix stuff with the stuff that Richard did. The end result is something really cool. A few hundred programmers descend upon the project, and due to Torvalds diplomatic nature, the Linux kernel takes shape. A lot of Richards contributions, code from some BSD projects and X11 code from the Xfree86 project make Linux more than a joke.

By early 1990's, Linux "distributions" begin to enter the minds of the public. People start using it to do things. This thing called the Internet surfaces that begins to change everything.

Big vendors like Oracle and IBM enter the picture, lending enterprise-class reputations to something that was treated as a toy by the press earlier. As the millenium crosses, the rate of change and wins begin to stack up faster than most humans can comprehend.

Linux users often instinctively find the product to somehow be more "real" than any other operating system. I think it's the power, actually, of knowing that you can dig in as far as it goes. To take the blue pill, and see the real reality.

It's kinda like the scene in the Matrix, where Neo wakes up in the goo -- actually, it's just about as terrifying at first for beginning bash users, but I digress.

People don't like the wool pulled over their eyes. They want ultimate control, and Linux and Free software in general offer that. Forget the fact that some proprietary vendors are complaining that they cannot innovate -- the public wants to innovate. How can they innovate when the keys to the innovation are locked in a safe somewhere, protected like the crown jewels of some monarchy?

Parting words on technology...

I don't bring a computer to meetings. As a matter of fact, I think a computer can hinder our ability to communicate when we get face to face with people. People -- technology is killing us. It's far too invasive and pervasive.

What's the solution to bad technology? Anyone know the answer?
"More Technology!" right.

We do far too much with technology. This stupid pager I carry has a flaw: It gets the news. I've found that I can sit in a meeting and catch up on the news. Takes me about 4 minutes to empty it of content (Either I'm a fast reader, or the content is too brief, you decide).

Three things:

  1. I've gotten really good and fast at navigating the buttons.
  2. I do in fact, read fast.
  3. I'm using a device that was meant to talk two-way with my co-workers to distract me from what I'm really supposed to be doing: Paying attention.
We do this a lot. We take pictures with our cell phones, we surf the web with our Sony Playstation, we watch DVD's in our car -- we take a picture with our cell phones whilst reading the stock quotes on our pager, while watching DVDs in our car and in the midst of it run over a pedestrian.

It's killing us, lemme tell you.

The point, by the way, is not to drop your enthusiasm about learning about Linux. The point is that you're not here to just learn about technology. I'm asking you, in case you're wondering, what's more important today; That you learn about some new Linux gizmo, or that you learn who and where that person sitting next to you is from (if they're not someone you already know). Because that connection is far more powerful, potentially in your life than any Internet connection.

Because that, in fact, is why I hope you're here. Not to score on some free IBM swag. Not to meet Linux members of the opposite sex... Well, those of you that are, more power to you.

No, you should be here for the human connection. It's more powerful. You're not going to make it sitting and surfing the WI-FI connections between presentation. You're going to make it talking to one another. That's the connection that I truly believe is the most powerful.

That's the Linux connection I hope you make today.

Asks Question: do you use Linux? What is Linux?
Answer: you are Linux...

Parting shots

  • Vote.
  • Write your congressmen.

  • Learn to human network.

  • Listen more than you talk, it's important.

  • Learn to present ideas to others, interfacing with humans is far more important than interfacing with technology.

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