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.comment: Without a Parachute - page 4

The Paradox of Inverse Situation

  • February 4, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

There was an easy way to tell the difference between those who were under parachute and those still in freefall: Use of the word "solution." If there is anything in the entire planet more annoying than computer marketbabble, I do not know what it is. As predicted, it has infected much of Linux in a big way. In aforementioned news conference, the poor fellow conducting the thing shamelessly waved around what looked to me like a router (a useful device in traffic control, now that I think about it). Ah, but it wasn't. It was a "solution." There was a time, long ago, when I thought that all this marketing gibberish had some technical purpose. But LinuxWorld put the lie to that assumption. If one ducked back into the .org section and talked with people there, one did not hear about "solutions," but instead about software. There was plenty of technical talk there, too, but it had to do with real computing, not made-up stuff whose purpose is to obfuscate. Imagine if the guys at the KDE booth had told people that KDE.org is "a solutions provider, for a more rewarding desktop experience." And there are no KDE ads that tell you that KDE will make your life better in every way, but never manage to get around to saying just how this is so.

The delicious irony in all of this is that the people in the .org section will still be among us a year from now, while a good many of the gibbering marketers dangling from their venture-capital-financed parachutes won't. Anybody who thinks that the shakeout in the computer world -- or even the Linux world -- is over is sorely mistaken and should send his or her money to me. I'll buy one of the nifty Crusoe-powered Sony Picturebooks (the camera now works under Linux) and as a return on your investment send you monthly email about how much I'm enjoying it -- which is more than a lot of Linux investments will give you.

Because at this year's LinuxWorld we saw what happens when Linux enters the mainstream: one of the community's greatest hopes has been dashed. We were going to shake up computing -- change everything. Instead, we have the same old stuff, the same old hucksterism, sometimes from the same old players, using the same old words, and headed for the same old destination.

Once Linux concerns scraped enough money together to buy themselves parachutes, it is as if the exhiliration of freefall was forgotten. The formation of software companies is not a destination. The accumulation of investment capital is not the end, but instead the beginning, and a beginning in which dangers that didn't exist before are suddenly introduced. Before that ripcord was yanked, developers had only their pride riding on whether anybody used their products. But once that wad of colorful laundry opened, survival depended on it. Some of the old companies, grown so heavy that their parachutes are insufficient to slow their descent, have latched onto Linux. But they've learned nothing. They're not making themselves better; they're making Linux worse. There's been a lot of talk about how the excitement of Linux has waned. With old companies treating Linux as just another "solution" and new companies behaving like the old companies, can this be a surprise?

Looking around the exhibition hall at LinuxWorld, I was moved to wonder which of the bright displays will be there next year. A lot of them, I think, will be replaced by a note on a stick:

FOR SALE: Parachute. Used once. Contact liquidation referee for details.

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