Linux marches on

Steve Hamm

It's easy to lose track of what's going on with Linux. That's due in part to the almost total lack of marketing hype. The kernel crew, led by Linus Torvalds, just keeps working away quietly in the background. Red Hat and Novell keep racking up strong revenue gains but don't spend much on advertising. And the big tech players, such as IBM, HP, and Dell, would actually prefer it if customers bought their proprietary and higher-margin products.

Meanwhile, step by step, the foundation underpinning Linux just gets stronger and stronger. In the past few days, for instance, three bits of news have come out that aren't barn-burners on their own, but, together, amount to something. They signal that lots of blocking and tackling is being done that seems likely to make Linux an ever more important piece of corporate computing.

First came the Open Invention Network. This is a company funded by Red Hat, Novell, IBM, Sony, and Philips to purchase patents and offer them royalty free to any company, institution, or person who agrees not to make patent claims against Linux and Linux-related applications. Among the first patents in the portfolio are B2B e-commerce patents purchased from Commerce One by Novell. Since Commerce One was one of the e-marketplace pioneers, these patents might turn out to be quite useful--and well worth the trade off. OIN will also set up a collaboration environment that encourages developers to pool their resources. It's the kind of grass-roots thing that seems to have a lot of appeal these days.

Then, Tuesday, Open Source Develoment Labs, the consortium that promotes and coordinates Linux development, launched its online patent commons reference library. The foundation established its patent commons earlier to accept donations of rights to use patents. The reference library is the doorway into the commons, where, already, more than 2000 patents from Red Hat, Novell, Sun Microsystems, IBM, CA, and other companies are on the roster. In addition to telling developers which patents are available to them, the reference library also spells out the terms under which they can be used. This may not seem very sexy, but it greases the skids for Linux.

The last item is just a tidbit. The Linux Professional Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, announced that has now racked up 100,000 Linux professional certification exams. That represents a doubling in the past year. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people who have been certified in Microsoft or even Novell products, but it's a start.

Linus Torvalds once told me that Linux was like a flood that rises at a rate that you don't see if you're staring at it, but will surprise you if you haven't been paying attention. That's exactly what's happening.

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