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The Genesis of the Linux Foundation

New York Times published a story on Linux. This wasn't an article on technical advancement

On January 21, the New York Times published a story on Linux. This wasn't an article on technical advancement: no new kernel or distribution had been released. It wasn't financial; there wasn't yet another impressive quarter from one of the many companies that build their business around Linux. Thankfully, it wasn't another piece of FUD about open source legal issues and dubious patent assertions from desperate competitors. Instead the article simply stated: "The Linux industry has united to compete against proprietary platforms." The Linux Foundation was born.

Late last year, our members and internal management teams decided the time was right to merge the two leading Linux consortia: the Free Standards Group (FSG) and the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL). Why now?

Since OSDL and the FSG were formed, more than six years ago, Linux has grown enormously in server, desktop, and embedded usage around the world - driving more than $15 billion in annual sales of hardware, software, and services according to market research firm Gartner Group. Moreover, the open source model now dominates new software development and provides faster demand-side learning, higher quality, better security, shorter development cycles, and lower prices. OSDL and the FSG were helpful in this phase.

Now that Linux has achieved widespread use, it faces a different set of challenges. In order to advance the platform further, the Linux industry formed the Linux Foundation to standardize, protect, and promote the Linux platform. The distributed development and sales and support model of Linux drives many of its benefits, yet also creates challenges that can hinder its success. We want Linux to continue to challenge the dominant operating system in the world. We want Linux to offer true choice for end users everywhere, regardless of economic means or technical literacy. In order to do that, we need to keep the freedoms and advantages of the open source model while continuing to improve the platform and its competitiveness.

The Linux Foundation will work with our members to provide services that an open source platform needs to compete. These projects can be far-ranging, such as standardizing Linux so application developers can more easily target the platform, or smaller in scope, such as providing the legal infrastructure so open source developers can sign required NDAs before writing device drivers for private companies. Our projects can be technically complex, such as the new LSB testing framework that links compatibility tests to code development, or simple and straightforward, such as providing a neutral voice of reason to the press to counter competitors' aggressive PR tactics.

The Linux Foundation has united the Linux ecosystem with founding platinum members Fujitsu, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Intel, NEC, Novell, and Oracle. Other members include AMD, Cisco, Dell, EMC, Google, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems and more than 70 other companies, industry end users, universities, and community groups. We have representation on the board from the Technical Advisory Board and key Linux individuals so the technical community's voice will always be heard. We work with the community - we don't speak for them and certainly don't tell them what to do - and at the same time we provide a much-needed forum for end users, application developers, and system and distribution vendors to collaborate and continually enhance the Linux platform for their needs.

The Linux Foundation fosters the growth of Linux by complementing existing Linux achievements in these areas:

  • Protecting Linux by providing legal services and sponsoring key Linux developers
    It's vitally important that Linux creator Linus Torvalds and other key kernel developers remain independent. The Linux Foundation sponsors them so they can work full time on improving Linux. The LF also manages the Linux trademark and offers developers legal intellectual property protection through such initiatives as the Open Source as Prior Art project, the Patent Commons (www.patent-commons.org), and sponsorship of the Linux Legal Defense Fund to deter and defend legal attacks on open source.
  • Standardizing Linux and improving it as a platform for software development
    A platform is only as strong as the applications that support it. The Linux Foundation will offer application developers standardization services and support that make Linux an attractive target for their development efforts. These include the Linux Standard Base and the Linux Developer Network. Currently all major distributions comply with the LSB and many major application vendors, like MySQL, RealNetworks and SAP, are certifying.
  • Providing a neutral forum for Collaboration and Promotion
    The Linux Foundation will serve as a neutral spokesperson to advance the interests of Linux and respond with authority to competitors' PR attacks. It hosts collaboration events among end users, application developers, the industry, and the Linux technical community to foster innovation and capture the viewpoints of its users. Through its workgroups, individuals can collaborate to solve pressing technical issues facing the Linux ecosystem in such areas as desktop interfaces, accessibility, printing, and application packaging.
I'd like to leave you with one important point. If you care about Linux, this is your foundation - it doesn't belong to me, or Linus, or big business, or the kernel developers. It belongs to everyone who cares enough to join and make Linux better. You can do this in many ways, not just by contributing or testing code. You can participate in one of our events and funnel your feedback to the community and to vendors who can make a difference. You can encourage your application developers to port their applications - if they haven't already - to Linux. You can tell your governments you want them to support true open standards in their software purchasing policy. Computing is entering a world dominated by two platforms: Linux and Windows. I've made my bet. The Foundation is here to make sure Linux unites its resources to challenge the privileged position proprietary platforms have enjoyed for too long. Please join us.

More Stories By Jim Zemlin

Jim Zemlin, formerly executive director of the Free Standards Group, is the executive director of the Linux Foundation. He previously served as vice president of marketing for Covalent Technologies. Jim has also been a keynote speaker at industry and financial conferences and is an advisor on open source strategy to various companies and governmental groups including Hyperic, Zmanda and the Chinese Open Source Promotion Union.

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