February 25th, 2006 - I took a couple of trains across town to Ginza for a special TLUG meeting with Art Tyde. Being a Saturday, I had mixed feelings about going out for something that seemed a little more like work than fun, but the man crossed the Pacific, so the least I could do was to cross Tokyo! The last time I attended a meeting, I was expecting to meet a California man and I met someone from South Africa, so this time I was pleased to discover someone from my old stomping grounds in San Francisco and Silicon Valley (no problem with South Africa mind you, I just mean it was nice to meet someone from my old hometown).
Walking into the company conference room where the meeting was held, I sat down with the other expat Linux people in the room and looked over at Art, who looked around at us all with a bemused expression and asked what was with the lack of locals. We laughed and explained that there are J-locals on the TLUG list, but since the list is an English language one, it's a bit heavy with expats (a couple of the local members did show up later on).
So - to go over some parts of what Art talked about during the Ginza meeting, here are some select transcriptions from a recording I made (with permission) of the meeting.
Tyde: "I've got a bunch of different things that I've been working on. One is obviously the standards group, so that's the... ah... Linux standard base, which we just actually got approved as an ISO standard... which is a big deal."
SB-1: "So now we have to pay for it..."
Tyde: [laughter] "No... you can still get it for free... but not from the ISO website! But they're happy to send you something like 40 pounds worth of books [for a price].
"And one of my start-up companies is coming into Japan for a second time. Back in '96, I started this company called LinuxCare, which was here for a while, but then when the dot.com bubble burst, LinuxCare's customers went out of business. So everybody scaled down and then LinuxCare kind of looked around and said; 'Okay... IBM is basically making off with all the support business and it's a changed space now. We need to get a product that's...' so ah... they did that, and now they're actually coming back into Japan, and they have this gadget that will provision Linux machines, which is kind of cool.
"Um... looking around in Japan, it's like... everybody lies to me about which are popular Linux distributions; Red Hat tells you they own the market, Turbo tells you they own the market... who actually uses Linux, and what Linux do they use around here?"
There was a bit of everyone looking around at everyone else, but basically we agreed that companies tend to consider Red Hat the way to go for servers. As for what people are using as desktop machines, it's a little hard to say. On the TLUG list, there seem to be people using all the distros, with one distro or another coming under discussion from time to time. And then there are people like me who bounce around from distro to distro, trying several of them out. So far, I've used Red Hat, Suse, Mandrake (now Mandriva), Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Turbo, Knoppix, and... some other things (at the moment I'm using Suse and Ubuntu).
Tyde: "Well, what about in terms of general Linux use, like is Turbo Linux being used by anybody?"
SB-2: "Turbo was a dot.com bubble thing, most people have moved to Red Hat I think."
Tyde: "Really, because I was in Akihabara looking at a software store, and I saw a bunch of TurboLinux distros there, next to Red Hat, and one or two others, but I was just curious as to who used what, because ah... in Korea, we're kind of getting strong-armed, so we built this box called Intrepid, it builds... it provisions Linux machines and it does it in a cool way, but... essentially what we can do, is we can take any Linux distribution, and shove it into this thing called a repository, and punch out Linux boxes in about 30 seconds.
"So, basically, the only relevant distribution in terms of a commercial potential in Japan would be Red Hat... is that a true statement?"
SB-2: "Companies like Dell, they basically... they only support Red Hat."
Tyde: "It's interesting, because at the Free Standards Group, we have a presentation that we give [where] we talk about the difference between open source and open standards, and how - you know - open source doesn't prevent you from finding yourself in situations where you've got vendor lock-in with - for example - Red Hat. [There was a study by a] financial institution of what it would take to move from, um... Suse to Red Hat, and it was a more expensive move than moving from Windows to Linux or vice versa. The whole article was about the idea of vendor lock-in, whereas open standards actually - ideally - would prevent vendor lock-in.
SB-1: "That's not going to happen - if you don't have vendor lock-in, then prices go below profitable levels."
Tyde: "Oh, I disagree with that..."
SB-2: "Are you talking about just for the software, or are you talking about... I mean, you've still got support."
Tyde: "Yeah, there's a whole business you can build around that.
SB-2: "Well, in Japan, people like going for brand. You know, you could go with anyone for support, but why would you take the risk? That's what drives Red Hat."
Tyde: "Yeah, I mean, so it's funny - when I look at Red Hat - cause, back in the LinuxCare days - you know - our model was, let's hire all these name brand guys, and get them all under one roof, so that we have the credibility to go out and say that we can support Linux. I think we were supporting it on... 21 different Linux distributions and... nine different hardware architectures, but... once IBM and these guys got in the game, it was just all over for us, but interestingly enough, Red Hat's business model today, including the structure of their company - the professional services, the support, training... is exactly what our business model was back in 2000."
SB-1: "No it's not though..."
Tyde: "What's different about it?"
SB-1: "They have a distro..."
Tyde: "They have a distro - right. Well, that was the hard lesson that we learned. You know, it's like - you can fight the battle on a lot of fronts, but, traditionally, companies will only buy support from the perceived maker of the software, even though Red Hat has very little to do with 90% of the software that goes into its distro."
An interesting story came up - a famous one that one of the TLUG members had already heard, so probably many of you have heard it too, but I'll include it in here as well since it's a first-person story and not something far removed from the source and drifting towards folklore.
Tyde: ..... "USB support in the Linux kernel - a very simple bribe action. Back in '99, when I came to Japan, I bought a Sony PictureBook - the first one - which only had USB ports on it, it didn't have serial, it didn't have parallel, didn't have any... there was no other way to get a peripheral into it. So, ah... I was down in the South Bay, having lunch with Linus and Dan Quinlan, and Linus was admiring the PictureBook. We had just gotten five or six million dollars [laughter], so I ordered him one... and I gave him a PictureBook, because I knew that I would have USB support in the kernel [snapping fingers] just like that! [laughter] Now the days of buying Linus a piece of hardware to bribe him into supporting your toy - those days are probably over... but I think they're happening at a bigger, more institutional level."
After discussing the predominance of Red Hat further:
Tyde: "Red Hat's business model today is a support business. It is services around their product, which appears to have won - at least in every major market that I've seen so far, which actually, I think is... I would like to come into a market, and look around and see something else."
At this point, the meeting shifted gears and Art began more of a presentation-style discussion, complete with a slide show from his laptop.
Tyde: "So there are a couple of interesting projects that I've got going right now... I don't know if they're interesting to everybody, but.... The reason I was asking about Turbo Linux, is because there's a small start-up company based in the Philippines [SpecOpS Labs, (Special Operating System Laboratories) www.specopslabs.com] that has taken the Wine core, rewritten big pieces of it, and they have a product called David, which is shipping on Turbo Linux.
"And the idea is - actually this has been tried in the past - they're trying to make it such that you can just take your Windows setup CD's and shove them into a Turbo Linux box, run setup, and start Windows applications right on Turbo Linux.
"And... for... you know... a large percentage of applications, that actually works. For other applications, it still needs a little bit of polishing, but that's been a very controversial sort of start-up - we're pissing off all the Wine guys, and stuff. You know... oh well! [laughter]
"So there's that project, and there's the Free Standards Group (freestandards.org), of which I'm now the Chief Certifications Officer. We're actually doing a lot of interesting work these days in terms of promoting open standards, and we hired Ian Murdock (of Debian fame), in December. So, it's a lot of fun working with Ian.
"And then there's the third major project, which is actually, I think, the most technically interesting - LinuxCare, also known as Levanta today (www.levanta.com) - the provisioning device that they built, which won the best of show for Linux hardware stuff at Linux World in San Francisco back in August...."
>From there Art talked about SpecOpS a little and Levanta in some detail, but that information is mainly on the Internet, so have a look at the respective sites mentioned above and you'll be pretty much up to speed.
After the meeting, we walked over to Shinbashi and ate at a nondescript restaurant. Not having set foot out of Japan in ten years, I asked Art about his impressions of the country and was surprised/pleased to hear that his 2006 impressions are basically the same as the impressions I had in 1984! Surprised because I had been thinking recently that Japan had changed quite a bit, but pleased in a way to discover that it hasn't changed as much as I thought. (What probably has changed quite a lot - is me....)
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon