Jim Zemlin: Proprietary Software Is Doomed

SPAIN: Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation tells Silicon News that Linux and open source must win in the end

Slightly delayed but wearing a big smile, Jim Zemlin reaches the meeting. He is “delighted” to be speaking about free software, a theme that is his personal passion.  The setting could not be more perfect. The lobby of the Barcelona hotel where LinuxCon takes place is overflowing with developers from around the world. All of them came here with one goal: to exchange ideas.

The agenda is full of interesting activities for software engineers and open source enthusiasts. Everyone is eager to hear about the state of the industry from the mouth of the father of Linux, Linus Torvalds, and Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical. The two share some pretty radical opinions and rarely disappoint the crowd.

Jim Zemlin is more moderate in his views, an attitude that does not prevent him from saying that business models based on proprietary software like Microsoft are doomed.

Breaking dawn

Zemlin joined the cause ten years ago. Since then, he has supported the work of the Linux Foundation by managing the promotion, protection and adoption of Linux among businesses and developers. Part of his job is making sure that the free and innovative nature of open source software remains unchanged.

Penguins, Linux © Neale Cousland Shutterstock 2012The executive believes in a 100 percent open source world, though he admits that it will take a long time to get there. His vision for the future of computing has free software at its core. It will be the default model for businesses applications, in a world that will shift the focus from products to services.

The Linux Foundation has over 100 corporate members, including some of the leading companies in the ICT sector. Tell us the main reason why the members decide to join the Foundation.
One of the main reasons is that for the vast majority of these companies, business depends on Linux. For example, Google has based almost all of its products, from Android OS to its search engine, on Linux.

Every year, IBM sells millions of dollars in technology that runs on the free OS. The majority of HP’s server infrastructure, devices and printers also use Linux.

For these companies, it’s important to have an organization that monitors the development of free software that is worth billions of dollars.

So they give less than they receive?
(Laughs). Yes, I would like to think so.

How do you see the future of computing?
The future of computing is moving from products to services. In the past, companies considered the PC to be a product, and people saw software licences as products. That’s the case with Microsoft, which sells products through licensing.

However, we are moving towards a world where everything is a service, where the hardware will never be a product and is something you get for free when you subscribe to a service.

Can you give us an example?
Amazon loses money on its Kindle. They make money from the services. Google gives away Android but makes money from search and advertising. Most cloud services are being built without proprietary software.

Instead of buying their own hardware or building their own data centre, people subscribe. Open source has become a part of the consumerisation of IT.

It also offers more versatility.
Correct. You can change it. One Linux modification powers Google searches, another – Android. If Google had built their engine based on Microsoft products, they wouldn’t be able to modify it, at least not as quickly.

The open source movement, and Linux in particular, is showing that there is a faster and better way to innovate. In the Linux kernel, a single project changes up to 8 times per hour. Up to 10,000 lines of code are added to the kernel every day. No other developer can maintain this pace of change.

Free software is also very cheap, and in a world where you are giving away tablets, it is important that the creation of software costs as little as possible.

Open source world

Can you imagine a 100 percent open source world?
I think we are getting closer, thanks in part to the progress made by Linux. I think the business model based on selling proprietary software licenses will fail. It will take a long time for it to disappear completely, but we should see a decline.

Where does Microsoft fit in with this? Besides producing proprietary software, the company has just announced its hardware strategy.
When your competitors are giving away software for free, or combining software and hardware, a $75 license fee is difficult to justify. In many respects they had no choice but to sell hardware.

But I think that’s just a small aspect of the great change that is taking place at Microsoft. It is creating its own app store, its own music service … in short, an ecosystem. And when we talk about ecosystems, we talk about services.

Servers, data centre © Olexa Shutterstock 2012What are the main challenges facing the Linux Foundation member companies you work with?
The main challenge is to have collaborative business process becoming second nature. We’re seeing companies like Toyota, Twitter and HP forming groups within the organisation, specialised in managing external development resources.

I think the main challenge is to convincingly demonstrate that collaborative development is the best way to create products and services.

What is the status of Linux in Spain?
(Points around, smiling). Look, it’s hard to get out of the conference room, there are so many people here. The truth is that there is a very enthusiastic developer community in Spain.

In addition, Spain has introduced Linux in its education system and it could be called an early adopter in terms of widespread use in public infrastructure.

But there is still much to do.
Foundation members have added a million new services in the past two weeks, and companies cannot hire enough qualified personnel to process changes so quickly. The problem they face is not finding the right infrastructure, but finding the right talent.

The future of Spain would be better with open source. We would like to get involved and help the people become part of the largest R&D network in the world, train them to manage, build and develop new services. I think that could create thousands of jobs.

Euro Story: Each week, we publish a selected story from across NetMediaEurope’s network of European sites. This week’s story by Nerea Bilbao is from Silicon News Spain. It was translated and localised by Max Smolaks.

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