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Progeny Evolves Beyond Distribution Model

The Reports of Progeny's Demise...

  • October 17, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

At first glance, Ian Murdock does not look like the stereotypical Linux guru. There's no fervor about him, and little outward hint that he is anything but a successful corporate businessman. This is a man who belittles all the wrong-headed notions of Linux users being socially inept geeks whose idea of fashion is a clean t-shirt. Looking at Murdock and how he relates Linux to others, one can get a good sense of where Linux could be going, given time and some patience.

His company, Indianapolis-based Progeny, is also a firm that is breaking some established stereotypes about Linux. And, with the release of Progeny's Platform Services earlier this week, Progeny is moving closer to bringing Linux to the corporate masses--but not with traditional Linux methods. Like Murdock, Progeny may be showing us all where Linux is going.

In a nutshell, Progeny's Platform Services is a service designed to deliver Linux as a platform--not a distribition--to clients who need Linux for their post-PC products. That's the shiny nickel-tour answer to what Platform Services is, but to understand what all of this means, it's important to take a step back and see how Progeny, and Murdock, arrived at this point in time.

Progeny, once known as Progeny Linux Systems, is remembered for their efforts to package a more user-friendly version of Debian GNU/Linux, the distribution that Murdock himself started in 1993. Progeny was born in the height of the dot-com boom--and was quickly awash in the bubble-burst that followed a year later. With the retreat of venture capital investors and the lack of any Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) developing to Progeny, it quickly became all-too-clear to Murdock and his co-workers that to continue selling Progeny Linux as a boxed product would be impossible. Thus, exactly a year and two days ago, the Progeny Linux product was abandoned.

But not the company.

As Progeny tried to stay afloat in the economic storm that followed, there was an immmediate change in focus towards professional Linux consulting. Capitalizing on the tech knowledge under his roof, Murdock was able to keep the firm alive by taking on individual consulting projects, such as delivering deployments and migrations to corporate customers.

And so it went for a while, Murdock related. But as projects continued, Murdock and his team were hearing one thread over and over: customers were not interested in getting a certain distribution of Linux.

"What people really want is Linux," Murdock explained. There was not a desire for a lot of the distribution-oriented software the distro companies were using distinguish themselves from one another, he added. Customers, particularly those who wanted Linux for non-PC applications such as embedded Linux projects, were only interested in using "pure" Linux.

"We saw an opportunity here," Murdock said, "Don't sell it as a product. Sell it as a platform."

Distribution companies, play a very important role in making Linux as popular and as accessible as it is today. By acting as a middle layer between the broad and diverse Open Source community and the corporate customers, distro companies have acted as an important translator and buffer between the market-driven corporations and the freedom-driven Free and Open Source development community.

But, Murdock emphasized, distributions are not the only way Linux can be presented to the corporations. In fact, Murdock believes that there are indications out there that the distribution companies could be getting too popular for Linux's good.

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