Comdex report: Going for the gold

By: J.D. Hildebrand

Abstract: Hundreds of companies are rushing to join the Linux movement. If this week's announcements are any indication, Caldera Systems intends to lead the parade. By J.D. Hildebrand.

Going for the gold

By J.D. Hildebrand

Windows-using Comdex attendees who blundered accidentally into the Linux Business Expo portion of the show floor this week may have felt like strangers in a foreign land. Open sourcers speak an enriched language full of neologisms and acronyms. Software publishers agree to "GPL" their products. Zealots hope the U.S. Justice Department will contribute to the "commoditization" of Microsoft's proprietary APIs. A keynote speaker can enjoy sustained applause for uttering the code words "penguins everywhere."

At Caldera Systems the watchword is "productization." The term simultaneously refers to a mission, a set of products, a process, and a guiding principle.

Caldera Systems is the publisher of OpenLinux and related products. Meet Caldera VP Benoy Tamang for breakfast, as the Developer News Comdex contingent did, and you'll see his eyes light up every time you say "productization."

Caldera's strategy is simple. Staffers imagine a future in which Linux is widely and confidently used, successful in IT and in the marketplace. Then they look at the world as it exists today and identify the technical, economic, political, and other obstacles that prevent their Linux-oriented future from coming into being. The obstacles serve as a sort of roadmap that guides Caldera as it decides which products to develop, which services to offer, and which standards to support.

Productization in action

Sometimes the appropriate response is a product. Examples include the company's US$199 OpenLinux eServer v. 2.3, a "thin server" Linux distribution that supports the creation of Linux server solutions that are easy to install, configure, and manage remotely through the company's Webmin system administration tool.

Caldera eManagement is a directory-event and network management infrastructure that allows Linux admins to manage the deployment of distributed applications.

And OpenLinux eBuilder provides the tools and components required to build 100 percent Java, XML e-business solutions. "OpenLinux eBuilder is a framework for creating e-commerce solutions," Tamang says. "In most organizations, e-business means nothing more than credit-card processing. We take a much wider view. With eBuilder, organizations can integrate Web-based e-commerce with existing inventory systems, billing applications, and customer-information databases.

Beyond products

Sometimes a barrier to Linux's success requires a solution that isn't a product. For example, there's the dilemma software vendors and IT managers face when they are confronted with the need to support multiple versions of different Linux distributions. Currently, software vendors address this problem by providing source code so purchasers can tweak and recompile the code for their platforms, or they give up on the dream of write-once, run-anywhere software, selecting and sticking with a single Linux provider.

A better solution, Caldera believes, is for publishers of Linux distributions to agree upon a set of common services and interfaces that would be implemented in every distribution. That's the objective of the Linux Standard Base initiative, whose members include Delix Gmbh, Pacific HiTech, SuSE, WGS, EST, and Metro Link. The idea is that by defining a core implementation of Linux, the group would help ensure that an application that runs on one LSB-compliant Linux distribution should run on other compliant distributions as well.

Caldera has also joined the Distributed Management Task Force as an associate member. The DMTF is working to establish standards for network  and systems management.

Additionally, Caldera is active in creating and administering training programs for developers and system administrators. In the Linux-centric world Caldera holds as its driving vision, lack of knowledge about the operating system is not a barrier to adoption and successful use. Developers and administrators understand the system well. That's not the case at present, but Caldera has its eye on the long-range goal, and training people is just one more step along the path.

Future directions

What else will it take to make Linux  as successful in real life as it is in Caldera's dreams? The availability of RAD tools is one obvious answer. Without RAD tools, Linux must remain a geeky, 100 percent developer's OS -- much as Windows programming remained an SDK wizard's black art before the introduction of tools like Visual Basic and Delphi. And wide database connectivity is essential, Tamang says.

With all of these initiatives active at once, Caldera has its work cut out for itself. But if you want to lead the parade, you've got to be willing to work hard to stay up front.

An award-winning writer and editor, J.D. Hildebrand is the content director and editor-in-chief of Inprise's developer community.

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