posted by D.D. Chamberlain on Fri 9th Jan 2004 20:04 UTC
IconLinux can be made profitable and it can be made so without going the enterprise route or by relying on the traditional services an support model-- as long as technology companies are willing to sell the operating system on their own highly optimized and performance enhanced proprietary hardware.

Note 1: All opinions are of course my own, is simply doing me the favor of allowing me to share my thoughts. Thanks given to the OS Emulation Forums at Delphi for their help and feedback, any mistakes are of course my own.

Note 2: At all times the word 'free' in this editorial is to mean freedom unless specifically stated otherwise in the text.

Consider for the moment, the example set by Apple. True their Operating System is a proprietary fork of BSD and the MACH kernel, and not Linux, but consider the untold ramifications of their example purely from their position as a POSIX compliant *nix-like Operating System. I highly doubt that in the beginning Apple anticipated the wellspring of open-source and 'free' applications that have since flooded the Macintosh platform thanks to Apple's OS X. The head CEOs may have expected a few universities to port their favorite *nix utilities here and there, may even have anticipated that a few oddball *BSD loyalists would port over a few text editors or some disk utilities; certainly they likely imagined any such port to be command line only. The current reality today with the Macintosh being able to run just about any *BSD\'Linux' applications you could name (and most of these as GUI applications that run seamlessly blended into the background with Apple's native applications) would likely have floored them had they known.

Granted, Apple's Macintoshes are running these applications in a *nix-like operating system, so it should not be so surprising that these programs run on OS X, which is POSIX compliant. Granted this operating system is a proprietary fork of *BSD and the MACH kernel and as such Apple is free to drop and even lock out POSIX compliance should they wish. Granted even that this is all running on Apple's own proprietary hardware running its exclusive version of the Power PC processor in an undocumented chipset.(Efforts of reverse engineers managing to make booting Linux on these chipsets possible notwithstanding, they are considered undocumented by Apple itself.) Accepting also the fact that Apple is primarily a hardware company and that these desktop computers are running a proprietary Desktop Environment-- Granting all these things and many more besides, one fact remains. . .

Apple is 'selling' free and open-source applications to the world on their proprietary hardware, and if their quarterlies to date can be believed making a nice profit at it besides.

Now, let's look at another company making a nice profit from selling open-source software on proprietary hardware, Sharp with its Linux Zarus platform. In comparing the Macintosh and the Zarus platforms, we find them to be alike in many ways. Similar in many ways, but as I'll explain not quite the same in one important way.

To start with, while its true that the Zarus is also running a *nix-like operating system with POSIX compliance, its kernel and much of its operating system is non-proprietary. Also, while its Desktop Environment IS semi-proprietary and from another company altogether (Qtopia), it runs a customized stripped down kernel optimized for the Zarus device by a team of Sharp engineers who likely know their hardware just as well as Apple's team knows theirs -- if not better due to the PDA's innate lack of various upgrade hardware cards. Wireless modems and other such accessories notwithstanding, as these are all external to the main hardware of the device itself. Just as Apple has its own applications bundled with each OS X Macintosh, so does Sharp also have a few applications bundled with their Zarus systems. To be sure the types of applications and the capabilities of each system vary, but that is due to the targeted nature of these computers more than anything else. The Zarus has been a widely reported success in its native Japan, each new release garnering multitudes of early adopters. Likely the device, especially in its newest configuration, could be a major success for Sharp in other parts of the world as well if only it were released with competitive pricing and perhaps larger storage ability to show off its impressive capabilities.

Yet, for all their similarities, despite even the fact that both systems can conceivably run the same applications, there is a key difference that will forever set them apart. Apple need not ever worry that someone could one day release without their approval a modified version of OS X to compete with them on the Macintosh, while Sharp must already contend with competition from a distro of Linux called 'Open Zarus'. To many this seems to be the fatal flaw in comparing Linux systems to *BSD and in the case of ordinary distros I'd agree--that need not be the case here as I'll try to explain.

Table of contents
  1. "Future of Linux is Proprietary, Page 1"
  2. "Future of Linux is Proprietary, Page 2"
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