While the Linux Foundation’s executive director Jim Zemlin’s opening keynote address at LinuxCon 2016 was filled with visions of the past, present and future of Linux and open source, the focus was on the enterprise and making money.
“Linux. We made it. Twenty-five years.”
With these words Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation, opened up LinuxCon North America, this year being held on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario in Toronto. As expected, the opening keynote address was a 25 minute pep rally that was long on the enterprise and short on the desktop or any other area where Linux is important but not lining anyone’s pockets with cash.
“As all of you may know, Thursday, August 25 is the 25th anniversary of Linux,” he said during the opening portion of the address. “It’s the day when Linus Torvalds, 25 years ago, sent out his note introducing this funny little operating system that wouldn’t amount to much of anything.”
“Linux at 25 is a big thing,” he added. “Most things in life just don’t last as long and are as enduring as Linux. And Linux has gone so far beyond what anyone who has participated in this community could have ever expected. Linux today really is…the most successful software project in history.”
After this opening, he pointed to the enormity of the Linux project by citing numbers, like its 53,000 source files and 21 million lines of code, and the fact that each day 10,800 lines of code are added to Linux, 5,300 lines of code removed and 1,800 lines of code modified.
“This pace is only accelerating,” he said. “Linux now changes seven [or] eight times an hour. There is no single software project by any single person or organization that rivals the breadth, pace, depth and adoption of Linux. What an incredible run.”
As with any good pep rally, Zemlin gave the fans plenty of reason to be happy to support the home team by pointing to Linux’s wins. Trouble is, all of those wins had to do with making “billions of dollars” — a phrase he used often — for the enterprise.
“Linux has become the world’s most widely adopted software,” he said and rattled off a list of uses that included high performance computing, weather forecasting, climate modeling, economic modeling, mobile devices and embedded systems. “It runs the global economy. Quite literally, it runs the vast majority of stock exchanges. It runs the vast majority of the Internet and powers things like Google, Facebook, Amazon and much, much more.”
Nowhere in his long list of Linux accomplishments was there mention of the Linux desktop. While not a money maker and certainly not a dominant desktop operating system, the modern Linux desktop, with it’s many desktop environments and 300 plus distros, is an accomplishment at least worth mentioning as an asset, if for no other reason than to recognize the difficult and sometimes thankless work of those who develop distros and their components. Instead, desktop Linux was mentioned exactly once, about five minutes into the 25 minute presentation, and then as an attempt at humor.
“What is it that Linux has really taught the world, beyond the fact that open source is a better, faster, cheaper way to produce software?” he asked. “Has Linux proven that having no technology roadmap actually works? Maybe Linux proved that because of Linux, Git was created by Linus Torvalds as well, and it proved that Git is just an incredibly great tool for building software. Does it prove that Linus Torvalds is a great leader [or] the kernel community is perfect in nearly everything they do? … Does it prove that developers are the new kind of king makers in technology? Does it prove that Linus was right, microkernels do suck after all? Maybe it proves that this year actually will be the year of the Linux desktop.”
Although it was disheartening to see the desktop basically ignored, Zemlin’s address was often inspiring if not inclusive. An example would be his answer to the questions posed above: “When I think about what it all boils down to, the one important thought that Linux has proven is that you can better yourself while bettering others at the same time. I think if you really boil it down to one thing, this is what matters. This is what in books and in television shows and when anyone studies the sharing economy — you can call it conscious capitalism or the purpose economy or whatever you want to call it — it’s simply sharing, and it works.”
The Linux desktop wasn’t the only aspect of Linux and open source that was missing from Zemlin’s speech. The second half focused on going forward, or “the next 25 years” as he put it, and while his vision is full of kumbaya ideas of using the power of sharing to improve technology and solve technical issues within technical industries, there was nothing in his vision that dealt with the ways that Linux might have a positive effect on the lives of ordinary people not employed in the technology realm.
There was no mention of the great help Linux is, and will continue to be, to financially strapped public libraries, or of the efforts to use Linux to put computers in the hands of financially disadvantaged school children or of the movement in some cities, both in the U.S. and across the globe, to model governments on the openness of open source. Instead, the underlying focus was on creating jobs and generating wealth.
Don’t get me wrong. I found no fault in the things Mr. Zemlin had to say. Creating jobs is a good thing, and in this materialistic world in which we live, it’s also good that major tech corporations are learning a thing or two about sharing — a concept that might do us all some good down the road if it catches on. But while I found no fault in the things he said, I was both disturbed and saddened by the things he didn’t say. It would be nice if he would step back and look at a bigger picture that goes beyond writing better code and filling coffers.
“Together, we are creating something that will be unparalleled in history,” he concluded “We will have created this incredible shared asset that generations will benefit from for years to come.”