San Diego, CALIF. — Adopting a strategy made popular by more radical companies, Stephen Shankland reports that Hewlett-Packard has hired open-source advocate Bruce Perens to give the company a deeper view of the workings of Linux and other open-source software.
In addition, HP has changed the name of its Open Source and Linux Operation to the Linux Systems Operation (LSO). It’s the second name change in less than two years, but this time the group will get its own programmers and financial responsibility, said LSO general manager Martin Fink.
Luminaries such as Perens – who has experience with both programming in the Debian version of Linux and advocacy efforts such as the Open Source Initiative – are hot commodities among Linux companies. For example, Linux seller Red Hat employs Alan Cox, Stephen Tweedie and a number of other top Linux programmers, while Caldera Systems just lured John Terpstra away from rival Turbolinux.
But up to now, such luminaries generally haven’t worked from within traditional companies. Linux advocate John “maddog” Hall left his job at Compaq Computer to work among his own kind at VA Linux Systems, and Brian Behlendorf has built a business, CollabNet, on providing outside consulting help to traditional companies with open-source ideas.
“Bruce brings credibility to the table,” Fink said. He’ll help convince the thousands of open-source community members around the globe – as well as HP’s own managers – that HP is serious about the software movement.
“Externally, we wanted to demonstrate to our customers and the community at large that the company is serious about Linux and open source. Internally, I wanted to have somebody…who is credible and experienced in the Linux and open-source space as a chief adviser,” Fink said.
Perens took the job after deciding his previous endeavor, the Linux Venture Group, didn’t have a future. “The stock market is just not the place to be right now,” he said.
The Linux Venture Group invested in Progeny, a company making a commercial version of Debian Linux, but that will be the group’s first and last investment, Perens said. He’ll remain on Progeny’s board until the company is “comfortable (having) me go off,” Perens said. “I feel I’ve left that in a good state.”
Perens will take part in announcing HP initiatives such as upcoming improvements for Linux running on the company’s PA-RISC computers. But he will maintain his independence, Perens said.
“I have to speak for myself,” he said. “I would actually lose the credibility that interests HP if I did not conduct myself that way.”
Different companies have been trying to capitalize on the success of Linux in different ways since HP, Dell Computer, IBM, Compaq and others started making sure their computers worked with Linux in 1999.
Compaq touts Linux chiefly for its high-performance machines using the Alpha chip. Dell likes Linux for special-purpose “server appliances.” Sun Microsystems sees Linux as a short step away from an upgrade to its Solaris operating system and has brought some of its software to Linux. IBM, perhaps the most aggressive Linux advocate these days, is making sure Linux works on all four types of its servers.
HP was among the first to support Linux for its Intel-based servers, but it has been working to bring it to its PA-RISC-based machines for months. That work should conclude next year, said Mike Balma, director of marketing for LSO.
The PA-RISC-based products using Linux are slated for release in March 2001, Balma said. HP hopes enhancements to the heart of Linux, the kernel maintained by Linux founder Linus Torvalds, will be ready before that, he said. HP also hopes these enhancements will become part of the Linux software “tree” – with many branches for different chips and other capabilities.
The advantage of Linux on PA-RISC machines instead of HP’s own HP-UX version of Unix is that customers may tweak Linux to their heart’s content. “They want the freedom to modify it as they see fit,” Balma said. One customer, an Internet content distributor using Linux, wants “to be able to change it quickly, to strip it down to meet their needs,” he said.
Perens began his Linux and open-source work while employed at Pixar in 1994 and has since turned it into a full-time job. He and fellow advocate Eric Raymond were co-founders of the Open Source Initiative, an effort to convince the world at large of the benefits of sharing source code.
However, Raymond and Perens went separate ways in 1999. Perens resigned from the OSI after a dustup in which he complained that the open-source movement was needlessly diverging from the more demanding Free Software Foundation established by another luminary, Richard Stallman.