February 17, 2019

Editor's Note: Casualties of the New Linux Economy

The Linux Community is a Little Smaller

  • May 11, 2000
  • By Kevin Reichard

Chuck Smith called the other day to tell me that his Linux company, GNUPC.COM, was going out of business. If you've spent any time in the Linux community, you've probably run across Chuck at a trade show or gathering of Linux aficionados. He's a bear of a man--6-7, 300-plus pounds--and his enthusiasm for Linux led him to put his own money and time into a company that built and manufactured Linux-based PCs.

He actually had a twist that was quite useful both for new beginners and experienced Linux users: the first time you booted the PC it would install the Linux distribution of your choice (Red Hat Linux, Caldera OpenLinux, Slackware Linux, etc.) Nice idea, nicely executed. Trust me, there have been Linux companies founded on less, and many of us thought that Chuck would succeed.

But he didn't, but the reasons had little to do directly with Linux. His company failed because of a conundrum common to many launching a business: venture capitalists were interested in his concept but were unwilling to commit until there was a management team in place, while potential managers were unwilling to commit to a speculative venture unless there was venture capital in place. And, of course, the venture capitalists wanted a huge chunk of the company.

So, with no venture capital and no prospects for any, Chuck decided to close up shop. He won't be on the streets begging for work: he consults for other companies and provides Web-hosting services. He just won't be an active member of the Linux community, as his existing customers aren't clamoring for Linux servers and he doesn't foresee that changing in the near future.

I can't help but contrast what Chuck Smith is going through with the recent layoffs announced at Linuxcare. When a company like Linuxcare announces layoffs, it's somewhat of an abstraction: in this tight job economy, chances are pretty good that everyone will land on their feet, and the corporation will keep chugging along in one form or another. But when a Chuck Smith closes up shop, the Linux community suffers, as Chuck is the kind of person that makes Linux such a unique quantity in the computer world.

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