Linux as Platform


Ian Murdock, from Progeny Linux Systems, is speaking on "Rethinking the Linux Desktop: Linux as a Platform, Not a Product." In the "Why is Linux Popular category, Ian says that Linux, and other FOSS products, are primarily "user-centric" whereas traditional software products are "vendor-centric." At first blush, I'm not convinced I believe that statement, but in the context he was speaking, I'd give it to him: Linux is a pretty flexible platform for all kinds of integrated products (like cell-phones or routers or TiVo) whereas Window's is not necessarily so (although Microsoft's trying). This would be Ian's point, I think: because MS is trying to make a profit (vendor-centric) they can't be as flexible.

Ian (who was part of the Debian Linux distribution effort) is making the point that Linux == Linux. The distributions are 99% identical. What's more, the various distributions try to sell Linux in exactly the same way vendors of closed-source operating systems sell their wares. The downside of this is that organizations get locked into a single distribution and get charged "per-seat" if they want support. Moreover, companies create their own standard builds which, in essence, are yet another distribution. This requires them to manage all of the distribution tasks including deployment, management, and maintenance, including security patches. This is a significant undertaking.

Now, we get to the sales pitch. :-) Progeny provides a product called platform services that provides a componetized Linux platform and toolkit for easily building and maintaining custom distributions. The componetization is fine-grained at the base and kernel level for creating small-footprint configurations. This creates a situation where an enterprise can create distributions that are scaled to the target platform, whether that be a cell-phone or a server.

The product includes, in addition to the components, a distribution management tool that allows an IT shop to create their custom distribution. You can even do your own branding, so that your users see your brand when they install or use the distribution. The pricing on the tool is designed to give an ROI over managing your own distribution without the tool (which Ian estimates is 2-10 people). That means its not cheap and is targeted at large organizations who would consider putting a group of people on the job of creating a custom distribution. I've got a client who is in that camp, so I know it happens.