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Q&A: Jim Zemlin touts the 'second phase' of Linux

The Linux Foundation head talks about where open-source software goes next

By Todd R. Weiss
July 24, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - PORTLAND, Ore. -- In January, two of the most established Linux and open-source advocacy groups, the Open Source Development Lab and the Free Standards Group, merged, forming the San Francisco-based Linux Foundation. Jim Zemlin, who formerly served as executive director of the Free Standards Group, became the executive director of the newly formed group. Yesterday, Zemlin spoke with Computerworld at the Ubuntu Live Conference, discussing what his group will focus on as Linux and other open-source applications continue to be embraced by corporate IT departments. Zemlin is also an adviser on open-source strategy to various companies and government groups, including Hyperic Inc., Zmanda Inc. and the China Open Source Software Promotion Union.

Bringing two groups together in a merger is never easy, I'm sure. How has the experience of bringing the Open Source Development Lab and the Free Standards Group together worked out so far? We really have successfully merged. The reasons the two groups came together is that we really were doing complementary things, including promotion, education, providing development tools, testing and acting as spokesmen on behalf of our members in a neutral way. Linux is becoming more popular. The community is getting into this very cool phase of releasing better software with better functions. It's exciting to see that this ball has gotten rolling so well.

Since 2001 and IBM's big Linux-for-the-enterprise splash, Linux has been brought into more and more corporate IT systems and can really no longer be seen as "new." What does that mean for Linux now? I think we're at the beginning of the second phase for Linux, where now the difference between "open" and "closed" software has to be highlighted even more. I don't think I need to explain the value of an open architecture. I don't need to explain the value of speed to market. This is just obviously a very successful movement. But in the second stage, you need to up your game [and] leverage your inherent advantage -- which for open source is the speed in which technology innovation takes place.

How do you adjust now for this second phase? If simply publicizing and popularizing Linux and open source are no longer needed as much because they are so pervasive, what is the Linux Foundation's role in the IT community? We're working on continued collaboration with other open-source communities, including the Mozilla Foundation, the Apache Foundation and the Eclipse Foundation. Each of these groups is big enough so that they can accommodate all of this increased collaboration. We're working on interesting things we can do to move the idea of open vs. closed even more.

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