LinuxCon: Beyond the Hype: The True Cost of Linux and Open Source (liveblog)

Moderator: Matt Asay
Panel: Noah Broadwater (Sesame Workshop), David Buckholtz (Sony Pictures), Anthony Roby (Accenture)

* Open Source was the number one answer for what kind of software executives are planning to implement in the next year
* roughly 4 of every 5 programmers have used some kind of Open Source. Even for .NET programmers, the number is 3 of every 5.
* Forrester has seen multiple demonstrable million plus dollar savings via Open Source implementations, including a 100M savings by Sabre.
* Accenture: Open Source allows you to tackle problems that were previously economically just not viable.
* Sesame moved to Open Source to reduce licensing costs and allow them to compete with companies like Disney while being a non-profit. They only have two developers since moving to Open Source; they previously had 10.
* Mid-sized shops that don’t look at development as a core competency is currently a place where Open Source is perceived as weak and can improve its uptake and success rates moving forward.

–jeremy

LinuxCon: Roundtable – The Linux Kernel: Straight from the Source (liveblog)

I’ll be liveblogging from LinuxCon here in Portland. I have not been posting as many traditional blog posts recently, something I’d like to remedy after LinuxCon. Stay tuned.

Panel: Bottomley (moderator), Jonathan Corbet, Greg KH, Linus Torvalds, Arjan van de Ven (detained in Holland – NP), Ted T’so and Chris Wright

Opinion on what’s the most innovative recent kernel feature:
Chris – virtualization
Jon – ftrace and performance counter framework
Greg – USB 3.0 (best thing to come out of staging: a working laptop for Linus)
Ted – expanded on Jon’s performance counters answer and then added kernel mode switching
Linus: his job has gotten much easier in the last 3 months. He really likes this… (added: “Xen will have a difficult time merging their tree into mainline as-is”)

Linus: Over the last 18 years, what has been the most inspiring or motivational aspect of the Linux kernel?
* started out being all about the technology, then become more about community and even the “fame”; these days it’s “all about the Linux kernel community”. “I really enjoy arguing”
* “The Linux kernel is a life-long calling for me”
Bottomley added: “Interestingly, the average age of kernel maintainers is continuing to rise. How do we guarantee kernel development continuity long term.
* Linus: There continues to be young people getting involved.
* Greg notes that in many cases, they don’t even know the age of maintainers
* Jon: “I don’t think we’ll lack for talent”
* Ted: roughly 50-60% of people going to the kernel summit are first timers. At the very top, however, people have remained fairly constant over time
* Chris: as we add more subsystem maintainers, people are getting more niche. It takes a fairly motivated person to get involved as a maintainer.

As the rate of kernel contributions increase and as the kernel becomes higher profile, is it getting more difficult to keep out malicious code?
* Greg: We do currently track regressions
* Linus: Our issues have never been intentionally malicious, they’ve been unintentional bugs. The only worry he’s had about malicious people, he addressed in git by cryptographically signing the public repos. This was a result of someone breaking into the bitkeeper repo years ago and being caught.
Follow up by Bottomly: as we add more code more quickly, performance has been going down 1-2% a release, with a 12% degradation in the recent past. How do we address this?
* Linus: “I’d like to tell you I had a plan”. Admits there is some bloat but says part of the issue is possibly unavoidable.

question about the state of the current sound subsystem
* Linus: “The sound subsystem isn’t as bad as some people make it out to be – don’t listen to the crazies on slashdot”.
* No sound maintainers on the panel. Dave Phillips would be a good person to ask.
* Jon: “Sound is a mess in a lot of ways. A lot of flux and professionals don’t like Pulseaudio. latency is an issue.” “I do think things are starting to get better”
* Greg: A lot of new mixing boards and actually now running embedded Linux

What would you like to see in the Linux kernel, but feel may not be feasible?
* Linus: “We’ve never hit a problem that we felt was impossible to implement and generally useful”
* Ted: “Speaking with the Microsoft NTFS team at Redmond, they have actually come up with a system remarkably close to the Linux kernel development model”

Note: 2 out of 5 of the panelists read “almost every message on LKML”. Linus was not one of them (Greg KH and Jon)

Will next year be the year of the Linux desktop?
* Ted: “Next year will be the year of the Linux desktop because ‘next year’ is always the year of the Linux desktop.”

–jeremy

Introducing the Google Chrome OS

After years of speculation, Google has officially announced its intentions for a “Google OS”. From the press release:

It’s been an exciting nine months since we launched the Google Chrome browser. Already, over 30 million people use it regularly. We designed Google Chrome for people who live on the web — searching for information, checking email, catching up on the news, shopping or just staying in touch with friends. However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we’re announcing a new project that’s a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System. It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

It basically sounds as though Chrome OS will be a very light weight Linux that can boot extremely quickly and is designed to run the Chrome browser quickly and efficiently. The details beyond that are unfortunately extremely light at this point. It’s a bit ironic that Chrome OS is based on Linux while Linux support in Chrome has considerably lagged Windows and OS X support thus far. My initial thought was, why Chrome OS in addition to Android. They touch on that in the press release:

Google Chrome OS is a new project, separate from Android. Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems. While there are areas where Google Chrome OS and Android overlap, we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google.

It seems to me there will be quite a bit of overlap, but we’ll have to see what direction Google takes both Chrome OS and Android before we can tell for sure. You have to assume that much of the Chrome OS experience will actually take place in the cloud, which could get interesting but poses a variety of stumbling points, of which privacy and security will be major ones. Another pain point is what the experience will be like when you go offline (which happens quite a bit, despite what some people attempt to tell you). Keep in mind that Chrome OS isn’t scheduled to launch for almost a full year. A lot can happen in that time, but this announcement should be seen as a bright spot for Linux in general. Google could have chosen anything to build this on top off. The fact that they continually build products on top of Open Source software should be seen as a testament to the quality of that software. Whether Google will be able to bring Linux to the masses where others have failed remains to be seen, but between Chrome OS and Android they’re certainly trying. Privacy issues (which far too many people ignore) aside, Chrome OS + Gears + HTML5 + Wave + whatever technology drops in the next 12 months certainly has the potential to be an extremely compelling combo. It’s certainly something I’ll be keeping my eye on.

–jeremy

Additional reading:

WSJ
TechDirt
NYT
TechCrunch
RedMonk

LinuxQuestions.org Turns 9

It was nine years ago today that I made my very first post at LQ. 3,578,611 posts and 407,152 members (note: we prune inactive members – more than 480,000 members have signed up) later, I continue to be astounded by what LQ has become. As I’ve stated many times, the site has grown well beyond my initial expectations. If you’d have told me in 2000 that I’d be traveling around the world, from London to San Francisco, evangelizing Linux and Open Source on behalf of LQ… well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have believed you. I started LQ as a way to give something back to a community that I felt had given to me. I wanted LQ to be a place that was friendly and welcoming to those who were new to Open Source and Linux. Despite our ever growing size, I think we’ve maintained that objective. With an absolutely great group of members and the best mod team on the net, we’ve only just begun however. From the very beginning, LQ has thrived on member feedback. That will never change. Visit this LQ thread to let us know how you think we’re doing. We want to know what we’re doing well and where we can improve. We really do listen closely to feedback and many of the improvements we’ve made over the years were direct responses to member suggestions. I’d like to once again thank each and every LQ member. It really is the members that make the site what it is. Here’s to another nine years!

–jeremy

Random stat: In our ninth year on the net, well over 25,000,000 unique visitors came to LQ.

Red Hat: Bad economy is good for Open Source

From a post by Matt Asay:

Well, on Wednesday Red Hat announced fiscal first-quarter revenue of $174 million, up 11 percent from the prior year. Subscription revenue was up 14 percent year over year to $148.8 million. The company’s total deferred revenue balance is now $567.3 million, an increase of 15 percent on a year-over-year basis. Net income for the quarter was $18.5 million.

Both Oracle and Red Hat are doing well, and Oracle is obviously dealing with much bigger wads of money, but it seems clear that Red Hat’s open-source model is the big winner in the recession.

In fact, on Red Hat’s earnings call, Chief Executive Jim Whitehurst indicated: “Budgets remain tight and we don’t see an end in sight for this. In relative terms, this is pretty good for us.” He went on to call out the big differentiator for Red Hat’s business: certified ecosystem.

The key differentiator for us in Linux is our certified ecosystem. Even those that are clones of RHEL [Red Hat Enterprise Linux] lack this certified ecosystem. The second differentiator is value: great service and support at a compelling price.

We have a very disciplined business model which is based on commoditizing key parts of core infrastructure. We’ve been laser-focused on this. Open source is particularly good at that. We’d certainly like to work with other open-source companies but they have fundamentally different business models than we have.

Repeatedly asked on the earnings call about competition from Oracle, Red Hat executives took turns dismissing Oracle’s Solaris (“When customers decide to jump from Solaris they go straight to Linux, skipping OpenSolaris”) and Oracle’s Linux strategy (“We’ve yet to lose a major customer over the last year to Oracle’s Linux offering. The only one to leave Red Hat in the past couple of years is Oracle itself.”).

You can view the full RHT quarterly report here. Red Hat continues to do well and I think it’s become clear that the continuing recession can benefit certain Open Source business models. Matt makes a very good point in his post though. At some point, the UNIX-replacement business is going to slow. Currently that business is a huge chunk of Red Hat sales. When that slowing finally happens, Red Hat is going to have to look to others places for growth and competing more directly with Microsoft seems like one clear place to look for that growth. Today, less of Red Hat’s sales come at Microsoft’s expense than many people realize. It may very well take an acquisition or two for that to change. With JBoss now fully consumed, some additional acquisitions seem inevitable, but they may not come for a little while for a couple reasons. First, most companies are trying to conserve cash right now, and Red Hat is no exception there. Secondly though, Red Hat really has to be careful whose toes it steps on with its acquisitions. They learned that lesson the hard way with JBoss. That being said, at some point they may end up being too conservative in this regard. Competing with much larger companies means you have to use your small size to your advantage and take risks. I think Red Hat is up to the task, it may just take a little time to find the value and situation they’re looking for.

Disclosure: Earlier this year I held a moderate position in NYSE:RHT. I no longer hold that position.

–jeremy

Oracle Sun Acquisition Musings

A little time has past since the announcement that Oracle would acquire Sun. While there are still many unanswered questions, I thought I’d post a quick update on the topic.

The first topic I’ll cover is the Sun hardware business. From a recent interview with Larry (via Ostatic):

“No, we are definitely not going to exit the hardware business. While most hardware businesses are low-margin, companies like Apple and Cisco enjoy very high-margins because they do a good job of designing their hardware and software to work together. If a company designs both hardware and software, it can build much better systems than if they only design the software. That’s why Apple’s iPhone is so much better than Microsoft phones.”

Ellison also confirms in the interview that far from discontinuing the SPARC chip, he intends to increase investment in it. “We think designing our own chips is very, very important,” he said. He also notes that Sun outsources almost all of its manufacturing to companies such as Fujitsu.

So it looks like Oracle will indeed be pursuing the “entire stack” path that many predicted. One major benefit to Oracle here is that if a customer is getting both their hardware and software (including both the OS and applications) from the same company, it makes switching away from that company extremely costly and complicated.

That brings us to the OS. It’s still not clear to me which way Oracle is going to go here. Long term I can’t see Solaris and Linux being first class citizens within Oracle. Which one they choose remains to be seen. They “own” Solaris in a way they could never “own” Linux, which may be the deciding factor for a company like Oracle. That being said, I’d imagine more of their customers want Linux so it’s certainly not going to be an easy decision. Some are speculating (via Matt) that if Oracle does go with Solaris that a company like IBM may acquire Red Hat. I’m not so sure about that, but it is a possibility. While IBM does really like Linux, Jboss would be a major duplication for IBM (and it represents a lot of the growth potential within Red Hat).

Finally, here’s a recent announcement regarding MySQL:

The following was in the just released monthly bug report for the Falcon storage engine:

“With the news that Sun has aggreed to be purchaced by Oracle, Some inevitable changes will occur. Once the acquisition is made, the need for Falcon as a MySQL storage engine will be re-evaluated. Until then, Falcon will continue to improve stability and performance. The team will also evaluate other technical niches that may be unique to Falcon.”

I for one would be very disappointed to see Falcon not supported by Oracle. I know they have worked very hard to create a next-generation storage engine. While it could be argued that InnoDB can fill all use cases, I believe that choices are a good thing and having one less choice is not a good thing.

Good luck all on the team. You have been nothing but kind and generous when answering my dumb questions via email and in person. You can count my vote for “keep it!!”.

I think it’s clear that this acquisition will mean some significant changes for the future path of MySQL. The fact that a lot of upcoming MySQL-related innovation may come from outside the company, and from places like the Open Database Alliance should at least ensure that MySQL remains viable from a technology standpoint.

–jeremy

Oracle Agrees to Acquire Sun Microsystems

With rumors of an IBM acquisition still swirling, early this morning Oracle announced that it is acquiring Sun for roughly $7.4 billion. From a CNET article:

Oracle and Sun announced Monday that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Oracle will acquire Sun common stock for $9.50 per share in cash. That puts the value of the transaction at about $7.4 billion, or $5.6 billion net of Sun’s cash and debt.

Oracle President Safra Catz said in a statement:

We expect this acquisition to be accretive to Oracle’s earnings by at least 15 cents on a non-GAAP basis in the first full year after closing. We estimate that the acquired business will contribute over $1.5 billion to Oracle’s non-GAAP operating profit in the first year, increasing to over $2 billion in the second year. This would make the Sun acquisition more profitable in per share contribution in the first year than we had planned for the acquisitions of BEA, PeopleSoft and Siebel combined.

To me, IBM seems like a better fit for Sun and this acquisition leaves as many questions as answers. While Oracle recently announced a hardware product line in a partnership with HP, do they really want to be in the hardware business themselves? A few years ago Larry Ellison definitively said they did not want to be in that business. With much of Sun’s revenue coming from hardware, will they spin that division off or use it to focus more on a complete Oracle stack, that includes everything from hardware to database. Moving to the individual parts of that stack, will Oracle continue with the Sparc CPU line or be interested in the more commodity x86 lines. At the OS level, will Oracle continue to focus on Linux and their Unbreakable implementation or will they attempt to keep Solaris alive. Oracle has been contributing to Linux in a significant way recently, and it would be a huge loss for that to go away IMHO. At the recent Linux Foundation summit Oracle touted that it views it’s upcoming btrfs filesystem as superior to ZFS. What does the future hold for projects such as that?

That brings us to MySQL. I’d contend that MySQL is “worth” more to Oracle than it is to any other company (including IBM) and here’s why. To most other companies, MySQL is roughly worth the net present value of future projected MySQL revenue. The thing most people don’t understand about the MySQL/Oracle relationship is that for many small to medium commercial projects, MySQL is “good enough” and has a much lower TCO than Oracle. Even so, many companies didn’t actually want to go with MySQL for a variety of reasons (many political and procurement related). This created a situation where the *option* of MySQL effectively capped the price people would spend on low end Oracle projects. It wasn’t just the number of people actually leaving Oracle for MySQL, it was the number threatening to and getting additional (and sometimes steep) discounts on Oracle as a result. This creates a premium to Oracle that no other company would have been able to extract. What this acquisition means for the long term future of MySQL within Sun is unclear to me. Oracle has owned InnoDB for a long time. This could either be a long overdue reunion of Inno and MySQL, or the beginning of a slow death for MySQL. One where Oracle doesn’t overtly kill the project, but deprecates any features it sees as threating to its main cash cow and relegates MySQL to a web-only type product. On a related note, the acquisition almost certainly means the end of Postgres support within Sun.

It seems one piece that will certainly benefit from the acquisition is Java, although I’d imagine that IBM is not too happy that Oracle now “owns” Java. Eclipse might have to change it’s name now ;) Also, the rivalry between Larry and Bill Gates is well known. Does this mean that Oracle will be interested in funding addition OpenOffice.org development even thought it’s *way* outside their normal target market?

In the end, Oracle is one of the best acquisition machines on the plant. They have been purchasing and integrating companies for a long time. They’ve become very good at it. However, most of the companies they have acquired have been very specific targets in niche markets that aimed to fill a perceived gap in Oracle’s offerings. Sun is not that. They are a huge company with a massive product line that spans hardware and software. This is not the average Oracle acquisition and the decisions Oracle makes will have massive implications not just for Open Source but for the entire IT industry.

–jeremy

(Note: Interestingly, the Oracle press site has been down with a “Server is too busy to handle request” for the last 30 minutes. I’ll update the first link in this post as soon as it’s back up. Until then, here’s a NYT article.)

[Updated] Additional links:

Glyn Moody
Matt Asay
Larry Augustin

Linux in the Enterprise: The Journey, Milestones and What's Ahead (Liveblog)

Edward Screven – Chief Corporate Architect at Oracle.

* In the late 90′s they were looking for an OS to recommend to their clients. They immediately ruled out Windows for a variety of reasons, both technical and political/personal. It came down to BSD and Linux. They went with Linux. “While it looks like an obvious choice now, at the time it was not”.
* 1998 was the first commercial database port for Linux. 2001 was the first 64-bit port for Linux.
* “We will run our whole business on Linux” – Larry Ellison in 2002. They now do.
* They spend about $3B a year on R&D. Most of it is done on Linux.
* “In retrospect, we are VERY happy with our choice to use Linux”.
* Oracle has 42,000 Linux servers and 10′s of Petabytes on Linux.
* Side note: LQ uses OCFS2 and I have been quite happy with it.
* Big on Virtualization. Oracle VM is based on Xen. It’s main goal is manageability.
* They would like to help make Linux the “default data center operating system” with “NO questions asked”. They see this manifesting itself in a fungible “Linux Grid Infrastructure”.
* Oracle likes btrfs better than zfs.
* “We make more money with Linux than ANY pure ‘Linux’ company”.

–jeremy

Panel: Measuring Community Contributions (Liveblog)

Panelists:
Joe Brockmeier – OpenSUSE
Jono Bacon – Ubuntu
James Bottomley – Novell
Dan Frye – IBM
Karsten Wade – Fedora

* Don’t always associated “contribution” with “code”.
* People tend to contribute things that are of value to them – they are scratching their own itch.
* Measuring community is very new and is not an exact science. There’s still a lot to learn and we’re still making mistakes.
* Having a clear answer to “how do I get involved” is very important.
* The first mistake companies often make when they try to enter the Linux community is an attempt to push things upstream as-is and in a way that only benefit the company.
* Audience question: It seems most mainline kernel development comes from the developed world. Why isn’t more coming from India, China and other developing countries?
– Dan indicated that some IBM’ers are actually effectively contributing from BRIC countries, but admits that we can do a much better job here.
– Some of this is an infrastructure problem, which is already being worked on.
* Audience question: Is there a way to objectively measure contribution?
– Intuition is our starting point, but we’re moving toward reverse intuition.
– Fedora is using EKG – https://fedorahosted.org/ekg/
– Every project focuses on different aspects and different items are important to them.
– Measuring community started out very informally, but as we mature we’re being much more rigorous and scientific in our measurements.
– Deciding _what_ to measure can be difficult.
– Measuring for the sake of measuring is senseless. Getting data that is useful is very important.
Audience question: is anyone measuring the way people are mentoring?
– Generally yes, but it’s vastly different for each project/community.

–jeremy

Panel: The Linux Kernel – What's Next (Liveblog)

Panelists:
Ted T’so – CTO Linux Foundation
Greg Kroah-Hartman – Novell
Andrew Morton – Google
Keith Packard – X.org

* 2.6.30
– now has a staging tree
* X.org
– moving forward, focus will be on fixing what is already there.
– Intel stuff mostly “just works”. Lot of work going into ATi Radeon right now. nVidia is still not supporting native Linux efforts “at all”. Via is starting to engage the Linux community.
– each driver is a fairly concerted effort. There is a lot of silicon, complexity and logic in GPU’s these days.
– with most graphic stuff now in kernel, it’s easier to get started with small new experimental interesting projects.
* Filesystems
– ext4 – 2 community distros will ship in the near future with ext4 enabled. Fedora 11 may make it the default.
– most recent bugs have not involved data loss.
– ext4 really represents a short term safe solution, but is based on old technology. Long term there will be a different answer.
– btrfs and nilfs are two of those.
– Are there too many filesystems?
* Linux Next
– comprised of over 100 branches
– has taken a lot of work out of doing -mm. He’d like to see it get more uptake, but think it’s still been a success overall.
* Is there a point where the Linux kernel community gets too big?
– the velocity of change remains astounding.
– there have been a lot of new “silos” and even subsystems that have popped up that have not been vetted by any of the old timers. This can cause issues.
* Audience question: There is a big push to get things in mainline, but often when someone actually tries to do that they run into a lot of opposition. How can this be improved?
– touch the kernel core as little as possible (systemtap was used as an example) and if you do, the code better be *very* good. If it’s a new driver or small subsystem, send it to Greg for Linux Next.
– utrace ran into the chicken and egg problem. Not enough users to get merged, but difficult to get users before you are in mainline.
– Knowing how to push a patch to the kernel community makes a big difference.
* Where do we stand with tracing?
– part of the problem will be evangelizing that tracers exist in the kernel.
– there is a large amount of interest in tracing now. A lot of what is going on now is experimentation and we’re still learning. Documentation is still poor, but they continue to get more usable.
* Audience question: What is being done to foster the next generation of kernel maintainers?
– Is actually something some of the current core maintainers think about. Being welcome, open and honest is a lot of it.
– The code is complex and growing rapidly. Just getting to know the memory system well could take 6-12 months. It’s a serious time commitment,
* nftables
– what would a migration from iptables look like? A long process that would take 4+ years and would require serious vendor buyin. It has been done before.
– maintaining compatibility with the `iptables` command could help.
– in almost all cases, maintaining backward compatibility is a lot of work.
* A lot of new companies who never contributed to the Linux kernel are now doing so.
* There are now 1,200 contributors and the mix of sources is extremely varied.

–jeremy

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