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Cybernaut

The future of open source

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Even Linus Torvalds, the Finnish-born programmer behind the Linux open source operating system, has to earn a living somehow and by all means he’s pulling down a good living as the head of Open Source Development Labs. It’s not a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs living by any stretch of the imagination at a reported $200K a year, but then Torvalds has always been characterized by his sincere commitment to developing computers, software and the Internet for the betterment of man rather than any desire to line his own pockets.

He truly believes in the concept of open source – a collaborative network of programmers that continually develop and improve on software, under just one overriding rule: whatever is created using the Linux kernel must be shared in the Linux community.

The result is an operating platform and software library that is secure, stable, free to use (with some notable exceptions) and continually updated and upgraded. However, Linux users still only account for about a quarter of a percent of all desktop computer users, although businesses have been quicker to adopt Linux-based platforms to run their server systems – approximately 25 per cent of the world’s servers, according to a recent count.

Companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems early on realized the potential of Linux, even if those benefits are more elusive for end users, and are now licensing their own Linux-based products for profit. Two months ago Oracle Corporation made headlines when they started to acquire smaller companies that specialized in open source development, prompting industry watchers to predict that Linux could become the server standard. And what then?

Balancing the need to profit with the need to keep open source open is Torvalds’s responsibility to some degree, and some open source faithful are concerned that the original free and easy concept has been co-opted by big money corporations. If anything the trend to create private software using open source is accelerating.

Now Novell Corporation is gearing up to launch a Linux-based desktop operating system that will arguably compete directly with Microsoft’s Windows operating system. There are two components, the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, which Novell claims to be user-friendly, secure, visually stunning, and all but impossible to crash. The Desktop version, if it lives up to its billing, could be the first truly viable Linux alternative to Windows for the average home and small business user.

Enterprise will be available in August (a preview is available now at www.novell.com, beating Microsoft’s Vista operating system to the market by at least several months.

Novell is also prepared to back Enterprise with business software like spreadsheet, word processing, and presentation software by encouraging developers to come up with programs that work with SUSE.

The home desktop market will be harder to crack than the business desktop market, where Linux sales are already growing by 15 per cent a year, but Novell is no doubt betting that the same people who use Linux at the office will be more open to running Linux at home as well.

For more on Linux, visit www.linux.org. Other sources are Tux Magazine www.tuxmagazine.com/, and Linux Journal www.linuxjournal.com.

Google's plans for world domination

Google’s up to something. Actually, if you want to be technical about it, Google’s up to a little of everything.

A few weeks ago Google launched an online spreadsheet application, seemingly in competition with Microsoft’s ubiquitous Excel program.

When you include Google’s recent acquisition of Writely.com into the equation, which is an online word processing program, you end up with a lot of conjecture that Google is getting ready to go head to head with Microsoft Office.

While there may be some merit to that line of thinking, there’s also the possibility that Google is merely trying secure its niche within the Web 2.0 framework. If you’re not familiar with the concept of Web 2.0, there’s a basic explanation at www.webopedia.com, www.oreilly.net.

There are a lot of different aspects to Web 2.0, but one of the more compelling aspects is the gradual move from disk-to-hard drive software to web-based software accessible through the Internet.

You’ll need a Gmail account to access the beta version of the spreadsheet, located at spreadsheets.google.com

This past week Google also launched another new product, seemingly in competition with another company. It’s called Checkout, an online payment service that many feel competes directly with PayPal, which is owned by eBay – which recently formed a partnership with Yahoo Inc., one of Google’s main competitors in the online search business.

While Google claims that Checkout isn’t meant to rival PayPal it’s basically the exact same service – it allows users to securely buy and bid on items online without entering four of five screens worth of personal information each and every time.

For Google, which makes its money selling those nondescript ads that run alongside your search results, Checkout adds value by also letting advertisers take payments online.

Sure sounds like a competitive program to me.

Website of the Week

Truth really is stranger than fiction, or so the editors at the popular Fark.com would have you believe. This blog site links to all the weird and wonderful news stories that crop up almost daily, and provides an awesome diversion on a dull day. Some of the content is a bit Maxim Magazine-ish, but otherwise it’s a good read.