Linux Incorporated

I've known for ages that Linux had migrated from enthusiasts to big business. It wasn't until this weekend's Florida Linux Show, at which I spoke on desktop Linux, that I realized just how fully Linux has become part of the IT mainstream.

The first thing that brought this home to me was a session on "Using Red Hat ClusterSuite and GFS (Global File System) to Provide Highly Available Virtual Machines." I hadn't expected a big turnout for this session; it's a highly technical subject that only matters to big businesses with sophisticated IT departments. Besides, it was Saturday morning in Orlando, Florida!

I was wrong. The session had about 60 people attending, and they were there to learn. This was a serious audience ready to learn about a serious subject that most of them were already implementing in their businesses.

This wasn't the only session like this. Most of the show's meetings were aimed at IT people doing their jobs better, not at sharing Linux love or Microsoft hate. Oh, they liked Linux — but they liked Linux because it was an affordable way to run their companies, not because Linux was "cool."

I pondered this fact while sitting in on my buddy Robin 'Roblimo' Miller's session on why people get involved with Linux. Miller is the former head of Slashdot and is currently a video producer with his own company, Internet Video Promotion.

That's when it crystallized. Robin and I both started using Linux when people hitchhiked to the first Linux shows; when people got Debian tattoos and had long, unfashionable hair; when coding came before food and sleep. That was not the crowd at this show. Whereas the early Linux crowd stood out, the people at this show looked just like everyone else at the hotel.

Were there people with tattoos? Sure. People with Tux the Linux Penguin on their arms? Nope.

It also occurred to me that, when I first got involved with Linux back in the 90s, everyone knew Linus Torvalds, Richard M. Stallman, Eric S. Raymond, and Bruce Perens, to name but a few major free software/open-source people. I don't mean know as in "I know the name," I mean know as in "I talked to Eric yesterday."

That's still the case for me, but not for this show's crowd. To them, Linux is a product, a means to an end, not something that's been made by people they actually know.

We like to talk about Linux being a community. And it is, and it still can be, for some people. But, as this show brought home to me, Linux has also become completely incorporated into the business world. Today, I think it's more accurate to see Linux as Linux Inc. rather than Linux the community. Linux, the gangly, unkempt teenager, has become an adult.

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