|FROM ||Ruben I Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] First Pass on a new article for the Journal
Where are the Free Software Jobs of Torrorow
A recent local GNU/Linux users group recently ran a thread on viability
of the Apache in Enterprise. Initial, I thought post, rather poorly
written, and without a clear context, as being designed to either
promote some non-free computer usage or just an immature rant made out
of a young enlightened ignorance. However the follow up messages seemed
to better understand the nature of the question. The message was really
not about Apache at all. It was about the creeping nervous insecurity
setting in when as people consider their future in this information
techology economy, and the ominous signs on the horizon with regard to
free Software's role in future business and job oppurtunities.
As originally posed, the question was worded, "Can the Apache Webserver
work in the enterprise environment. The answer to that question has
long been put to bed. Not only is the Apache Applications Server
technology superior to any other current solution for internet services,
but it has also shown to be remarkably flexible for a variety of
enviroments from the larges web based enterprises to the smallest
customized jobs. Apache has been the posteer boy for GNU/Linux and the
drive force behind many of those "under the radar" installations which
jump started the Free Software craze in the late 1990's. So the
question, as it was asked, was a little upsetting. If we rephrase the
question to, "Since we know that Apache is a top-notch web development
applications server, and since we know it is widely deployed, where are
all the Free Software jobs, jobs which many of of have made a
substantial investment in. Why does it seem that every job, such as
there are in the recession, is asking for WebShere and Dot Net
Now this is a really good question which deserves exploration. For
young people in their late twenties and early thirties, their entire
adult life has been one great economic boon, driven largely by
enthusiasm for the dawning digital age, and the positive fundemental
global economic conditions in the wake of the end of the cold war,
reducing production costs, and gobalization of information and commerce.
The gains in modern production techniques was itself largely possible
because of advancements in computer technology.
It's inevitable under these conditions that the ability to produce
outstrips our ability to consume, and over production occurs leading to
an economic recession. A healthy economic recession imperfectly shakes
out business models which are inefficient and which can not be
sustained. It drives the customer base to the more successful models
which can be sustained, and even whole industries can collapse to be
replaced with newer ones established during the previous economic
expanssion. A healthy recession prepares the economy for its next
The recession, especial for the high technology sector, has been
anything but healthy. The problems in the free Software sector is
reflective of the general economic conditions. Technology across the
board has been devastated, even for monopolizing corperations. But the
economic conditions for Free Software are especially troubling, and it
is partly a condition of our own making. People who hope to work with
free Software in the future as a staple of their livelihood, and not as
just some form of a hobby horse, need to adapt, and adapt soon.
First, let's look at the impediments to economic growth in the free
Software sector in the coming months. Then let's look at the previous
successes and failures in Free Software business and do an analysis on
how we can improve our chances for the widespread business apadtopn of
Free Software once the current shakeout is finished.
Larry Augustin, the founder of VA Research/VA Linux/VA Software, has
been fameous for says, and has recently repeated on Don Marti's Linux
Elitist mailing list, that if we have a piece of software, and the
software is Free, but the Software is junk, it's just free junk, and
that he can't go to CTO's in good faith with free junk and advocate the
ussage of free junk. While this sounds like a reasonable position we'll
see that this line of reasoning has several serious flaws. It's not a
viable position to take in business.
It's generally known throughout the technology world that many
proprietary closed systems, produced and deployed by the largest
enterprises in the world, are insecure, bug riddled expenssive, high
maintemnce junk. The quality control on the common corperate IT
infrastructure fails misserably on multiple levels. As a primary
example of this, look at the Microsoft Exchange Server and Outlook
contact and mail client. Few applications have caused more damage to
the coperate bottom line than this virus plagued, network destroying
junk. And yet, it's probibly the most popularly deployed enslaved
software, protocal breaking spamware in existense. The great majority of
business desktops come pre-loaded and ready with the exchange client,
all ready to be plugged into this virus propagation network.
Similarly, for years, in its now historic battle with Netscape, this
same company advocated 'free as in cost' junk on nearly every Microsoft
Windows desktop in the market. Microsoft had no moral soul search what
so ever in embedding its Internet Explorer Web Browser technology right
into the Microsoft Windows Operating System. It took almost 2 years for
Microsoft's 'Free Junk' to become a viable browser, and today people are
so used to it, they look at all other browsers as being alien and
non-standard, even, as in the case of Mozilla, where they are actually
better than the Internet Explorer product.
And Microsft is not alone in advocating junk, free or otherwise.
Quickbooks was also initially junk (and still is, in my opinion). In
fact, it's the kind of junk which breaks basic accounting priniciples
and now misapropriates your personal data. Adobe, Apple, Peach Tree,
Oracle, Sun, and nearly every other vendor on the market has
advocated, or still does advocate junk. What makes Larry Augustin think
he is so special.
And why stop with Software? Ford motor company sold junk which blow up
on contact, Chrysler sold junk which rusted prematurely, Firestone sold
junk which endangered the lives of passangers in their SUVs, Tyson
Chicken sold junk which poisoned people, McDonalds sells junk which
makes people fat, Eli Lilly sold junk which destroyed peoples liver,
Anhuaser-Busch sells junk as their primary product. The key to all
these companies is their desire to sell.
Michael Kingsley, of Slate magazine, recently reminded my of the ground
breaking work in economics by John Keneth Gilbraith where Sir Gilbraith
put forward the proposition that the post-industrial revolution economy
is dependent on the abilitiy of producers to satisfy markets of their
own making. Once we got past the basic needs of food, clothing and
shelter, successful businesses now fill the market to make teeth
brighter, to feel free on the highway, to be the proudest soccer mom in
the playground. Free Software, in some basic regards, has failed to
make its market. Instead, we've been content to let others to create
markets and for us to try to catch up. Meanwhile, we are missing the
oppurtunity to create our own market, based on a new creative concept
which people are going to need.
These patriotic times might be just the moment to focus on the market we
are trying to build. Enterprises will want information services in the
future. Individuals will want information services in the future. And
as sure as Nike sells excitement in a shoe, Free Software needs to sell
freedom in a box. A sales slogan might be, "Freedom, it's built into
every box". Free as in freedom needs to move from an explanation of the
GPL philosophy to a motto which we sell. We need top sell this 'freedom
junk' and sell it now.
The cause for freedom is compelling as a sales tool. Look at how a lack
of freedom is contributing to the economic woes of the nation. Look at
how a lack of freedom has hurt the economy. A causitive agent to the
depth of this current recession is the artificial restraint of
innovation and trade in the information distribution segment of the
economy. One of the few growing information technology markets which
showed signs of prospering in the early part of this recession and
developed during the boom of the late 1990's was the music and
entertainment delivery business. Companie like MP3.com napster and
others were developing the means for broad, inexpenssive delivery of
quality music to clinets in a flexible and innovative fashion. These
companies, and their expanding workforces were poised to hire the next
generation of information technology professionals. They were snuffed
out in their youth by a viscious and tyranical consortium of copyright
holders. A few special interests of media conglamerates and movie
distribution companies throttled the growing technology economy over
night. The 6-60 billion dollar in estimated damages the RIAA won
against MP3.com ended MP3.com as an independent entity, which is now
owned by Vendi-Universal, Napster was put out of business by the RIAA as
well. In fact, everyone in the technology business has become scared to
death of doing anything with music. After all, Bertelsman AG was sued
for 17 billion dollars for settling with Napster and investing in them.
Kaazar was chased out of the country, Internet Radio has been regulated
out of existence, and so on. These actions have produced serious
depressive affects on the information technologies business.
The direct result of this litigation is that software innovation has
been sidelined nationwide. Just combining the words, 'computer' and
'music' has put a shiver down the spine of business planners. Instead
of an economy which leverages growing technological innovation and over
100 years of recording history for economic expansion, we've let petty
bickering between autocratic recording industry executives and telecom
business leaders drive the independent internet service providers out of
The most grievous abuse of this bickering could be seen in the stock
prices of AOL-Time-Warner. Here we had a match made in heaven. The
combination of AOL with Time Warner had the potential to be so
successful that it sent a chill through the entire internet provider
industry because of the obvious monopolistic position the new company
would have on both content and access. Here we had the nations largest
subscription internet and digital services provider gaining access to
one of the largest monopolistic reservoirs of content in the world. In
addition, in Time Warner, there was the obvious advantage of also
gaining access to one of the largest cable networks in the world,
permitting for AOL to sidstep one of the largest pitfalls to universal
broadband access, namely TELCO foot dragging by the baby bells. AOL
gained content and the 'last mile' of network connectivity in one swoop.
What went wrong?
The corperate culture of Time Warner entrenched itself and fought AOL
all the way. Time Warner refused to provide real content to AOL, they
refused to make the cable network available for AOL, forcing the
Virginia Fairfax county divission to reinvent the wheel, and Time Warner
even played with the idea of decoupling to companies after they drove
AOL's innovative chief executive, Steve Chase, out of the company. The
executives of Time Warner prefered to loose 2/3rd of its equity value
rather than freeing up its content for mass distribution.
So clearly, Free Software can develop a new market, a "Freedom" market,
and succeed as others have failed. But they also have to overcome the
huge political disavantage that it currently suffers. Politics and
business are integrated. Business and free enterprise have been the
moving force for global democratization since the dawn of civilization.
As the banking and mechantile classes accumulated increasing wealth into
the 15th and 16th centuries, demands for political favortism,
standardized commercial laws, and individual rights became increasingly
demanded from governments. Governments which heeded this call, like
Britton and the Netherlands, grew to world dominating powers.
Governments which failed to heed the needs of business, like France and
Italy, drove themselves to brutal revolutions and a weakening world
If your interested in business, but not interested in politics, get
comfortable with politics now, or get comfortable with a predetermined
finacial failure. For Free Software to survive in business, it
absolutely needs a constructive engagement in the political process.
The only question should be, what does free software need from
First, free software businesses need free access to all digital
information and hardware, unencumbered by artifical barriers. It needs
to proactively fight the varity of Digital Rights Management sceems now
being batnered about the content industry and some sectors of the
consumer electronics industry. Free Software needs freedom, and it
needs to promote freedom.
Secondly, Free Software needs a fair playing field in a competitive
market place. It needs inexpenssive broadband access. It needs access
to domestic and foreign markets. It needs a fair and just application of
anti-trust regulations and sane contract law. If you want Free Software
to have a chance of succeeding in the market, your going to have to
fight for a place at the table. Keep your local congressman's phone
number handy. Don't become confused by rhetorhic which is against your
own self-interest. Your interest is marking Freedom. Don't let minute
details confuse the overall needs of your livihood.
Finally, its important to keep your marketing stratergy in front of you.
If your evaluating the immediate job market potential for different
technologies, as sure as you can ask if Apache is a viable 'Enterprise'
server, you shouldn't just stop there. Visual Basic is also likely in
your future, or advanced skills with the Excell spreadsheet. There is
no need to just limit yourself the internet specific application
servers. In the next 6 months, it is likely that VBA and Access is as
likely to land you a work as much as anything.
The entire technology field is currently in a severe economic recession.
Much of the reason for this have been already has to do with a lack of
access to markets. It might well be that the type of tchnology career
that you envisioned for yourself 3 years ago may never materialize. It
could be that we are facing a future that only a very few of the
brightest engineers will make money in the future information technology
market. And those individuals will be working for only a few of the
largest monopolies that still exist. The current trend is to put
controlled but easily exploitable programming tools into the hands of
non-programers inorder to fill the needs of various industries. It just
doesn't take all that much guenious to right busines s logic programs,
and a great number of accountants, human resources people, and
administrative assistants as capable of doing it. As closed systems
become systems become simpler and simpler to program and adjust, putting
these programming tasks directly into the hands of the business user who
understands his needs makes increaing sense. What kind of job does that
leave you with a locked down Microsoft desktop with C# marco pluggins on
every desktop. Even Oracle, today, has simply to use gui tools to
develop a great deal of the software which people use.
The fact that some people are wondering about the future of Apache in
Enterprise should make you think twice about your future in the entire
computing field. Obviously, something about Free Software apeals to
you, otherwise the question doen't occur to you. What is that aspect
that you judge so important for your future? It's the freedom free
software gives you which is the apeal. And it's freedom that you need
to market to others who you hope to work with and to pay your salery.
If the question arises as to how to market yourself in the current
economy, if yur want to continue to work with Free Systems your going to
have to market freedom.
Look at what IBM has done. IBM has invested heavely in GNU/Linux.
They've pu linux on the minds of the public. And for that the Free
Software community should be greatful. But IBM is not sellign Freedom
and a market. IBM is selling Webshpere, DB2, Java, and mainfraims. And
the last I looked, there products are no free. They've succesfully
exploited a free software platofrm but it is only marginally benificial
to the community.
In 5 years, if every Apache application server running on Free Software
is replaced by proprietary Websphere application servers, your market
for work has just srunk and Free Software is no better off than it was 5
years ago before GNU/Linux was even on IBM's radar. In fact, things
will be worse because all the end user application services will be
running off of a closed server on a closed microsoft desktop. The
innovations in Free Software application development will have come to
a full dead stop.
And who knows what IBM will do i the future. They can decide to take
their ball (Websphere) and go home. As a result of IBM's efforts, and
the efforts of Microsoft, your asking today, "Is Apache ready of real
enterprise" in the face a huge proven track record of of successful and
profitable deployment. And yet, it apears that Apache is being
outflanked by a bungled marketing stratergy of far to many groups. The
Larry Augustines of the world have put us all behind the eightball. The
one thing that websphere and C# con not compete on is freedom and
freedom is the market which we must develop. Freedo, in the long run,
is the more cost effective choice for businesses and individuals. It is
far more cost effective that enslavementware. Instead of compromising
with every closed couces vendor of enslavementware, attention needs to
be focused on the freedomware we sell.
Lots of money and effort has neen funnelsed into Free software, but like
the broadband debacle, we are hung up on trhe last mile. We not only
need to focus on that mile, the piece of software which exists between
the end user and the computer information which they work with, but we
need to work hard on building demand for our product.
The time is long overdue for use to stop chasing to enslavementware
marketing plan and counter with our own unique freware products and
services. And we must market them up and down the entire technology
tree. We not only need, for example, good desktop systemsm but we need
to have unique features that attenuate the freedom and which our clients
can't live without. We need databases and spreadsheets and
wordprocessors. But at some point, we need to break with the current
offerings and make them unique and attenuate the freedom. And if our
software is sometimes, as Larry puts it, "Free Junk", at least it's our
free junk and not theirs. We have a better capacity to improve our junk
than the competititon. And we can improve our junk at a lower cost. So
when our Free Junk doesn't work, at least all is not hopeless. The
challenge for those dedicated to getting Free Software into 'Enterprise'
is to build our market...the market of Freedom, and to sell as much
"Free Junk" as any of us is humanly capable of.
Brooklyn Linux Solutions
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