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Coming Together for Linux

An interview with Open Source Development Labs CEO Stuart Cohen.


If you've followed Linux, even peripherally, over the past few years, you've probably heard of the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL). It's now the home of Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds.

CEO Stuart Cohen, who joined OSDL three years ago, explained that the organization's mission is to provide a vendor-neutral location where developers, vendors and users can come together to address technical, market, business and legal issues around the acceleration of Linux use in the enterprise space.

To learn how the organization benefits Linux users, Open Systems EXTRA recently sat down with Cohen.

Q: OSDL's Web site ( describes OSDL as a "center of gravity." What exactly does that term mean?

A: It's a little bit of a tongue in cheek. Right before I took the job as CEO three years ago, Steve Ballmer from Microsoft wrote in a memo that Linux will never be successful because there's "no center of gravity," that it comes from the open-source community. So, I took that as an opportunity to say that OSDL will become that center of gravity, where we will bring the community, vendors and users together. At that time, OSDL had about 20 member companies. We now have about 80 member companies on five continents. We have three Linux user advisory councils--one in the U.S., one in Europe and one in Japan. So we've got a pretty broad voice and a venue for different people to come together, but it really was kind of a tongue-in-cheek poke at Steve Ballmer's comments. Obviously the development community is the center of Linux kernel development, and Linus [Torvalds] is the leader of that.

Q: When I started this job seven years ago, Linux was viewed as something college students did in their spare time. Now, I've seen this operating system evolve into this enterprise operating system. How do you explain that evolution?

A: It's a combination of things. If you go back to the days of UNIX, UNIX came from AT&T, it came from Berkley. The users around the world had a new price point, new performance terms, new hardware, software and vendor flexibility that they'd never had before. Over time, customers lost a lot of that value proposition and a lot of that flexibility as vendors did things with their own flavor of UNIX. Then, Linux comes along from the Internet, from the open-source community, offering customers tremendous flexibility, and the vendors have the ability to sell a tremendous amount of hardware, software and services on top of and around Linux that make for a strong value proposition for their customers. So it's a combination of a number of factors.

Q: Why is the evolution occurring now?

A: It's a number of things. Part of it is the more off-the-shelf technology that's available like Power PC, Intel and AMD, so the price/performance of servers has dropped to a very low rate. At the same time, the price of Linux versus UNIX is substantially lower. And the reliability, availability and serviceability of Linux and its different distributions has been very well received. Also as the world is moving more toward open standards and open innovation, the opportunity for Web-based applications and a Web-based and Web-developed operating system like Linux fits in with the times.

Plus, IT professionals--whether in business, government or education--are under constant cost pressures, so there's been a financial opportunity to move to Linux without giving up the kind of hardware, software and services you're used to. Most of the software that was running on top of UNIX now is transitioned to run on top of Linux. So many times, the user is seeing the same applications, but the IT department is delivering them on much lower-cost hardware with a lower-cost operating system while at the same time, in most cases, providing better performance.



Evelyn Hoover is the content director of IBM Systems magazine. She can be reached at



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