Borrowing from Asimov's Foundation series I'd like to engage in a bit of psychohistory
If Linux as a marketing money maker doesn't work then there'll be a bit of a kerfuffle with another re-alignment of factions (for example Red Hat will finally have to decide whether they
believe in freedom or the mighty dollar) but the dust will settle and life will go on as it has before.
On the other hand if Linux does become a major money-spinner here is what will probably happen.
As someone else has already said saturation of communication channels will occur. This isn't a total disaster. The various commercial Linux mailing lists will be totally saturated, as will in
all probability the general Linux lists.
All will not be lost however Usenet provides a good way of examining what happens when a communication medium similar to lists is saturated by newbies and
assorted other lusers.
Some groups were totally lost. Some groups changed. Most of the groups that survived had a very active user population and a sense of their history. They basically assimilated all the newbies
who had potential and aggressively flamed off the ones who they thought didn't.
Now how does this relate to the various Linux communities?
Absorbing a large influx of outsiders can be very traumatic for a community, as we've seen fairly dramatically proven on k5 itself. What I contend is that those Linux communities who
make an active effort in educating their newbies and instilling them with a sense of history and heritage. In other words giving them a long ranging perspective on their culture are the ones
that are going to survive intact.
This is where the true damage that Open Source has caused will be shown. This is because free software has an inherently much broader appeal than Open Source because it focuses directly
on the rights of those users. Open Source has buzzword appeal but it is far easier to indoctrinate someone in the righteousness of free software.
What I mean is people think Open Source is cool but a lot more people care about free software. It's something that inspires stronger emotions.
So what I think will happen to Linux is that there will be a great divide between the commercial distributions such as Red Hat and SuSE and the ones with a more community based approach
such as Slackware and Debian.
This is because a clueful community is a great asset to any free software project because without it a large part of the edge it has against proprietary software is lost.
The commercial distributions lack of community, heritage and large number of people who don't contribute back to the system will cause them to lose ground in quality to the community based ones
(as has already been happening to some extent.)
Before anyone flames me for being elitist. When I say contribute back to the system I don't mean that everyone has to go out and write their own bug fix patches and mail the diffs to the author
(although that is nice). Just reporting bugs, requesting features without being demanding or hell even just engaging in idle chitchat with the author and thanking them is great. And from what
I've seen of proprietary products there is far less of this interaction between user and developer going on. Most users just work around anything short of a show-stopping bug and make rude
complaints for insane features if they do communicate with the author at all.
What I am more worried about however is that an overflow if non-technical newbies will sever the communication links between the two groups. At my
university there is a local Linux newsgroup.
A lot of people start out with a copy of Red Hat install, it then they appear on the newsgroup. Their questions are answered with due diligence by the denizens of the newsgroup who also explain
how it would be easier to do the same thing on Debian. And due to the advocacy of the local Debianites most people who find they like Linux give it a try.
Maybe not so much in this case but more so for LUGs and newsgroups with a larger circulation. If the s/n dropped down to a value close to zero a lot of those people would abandon the more
generalised Linux forums for Debian or Slackware specific mailing lists.
Having lost most of their knowledge base most of those lists would then (at least for a while) become useless and if any home grown talent did emerge they would have a very different philosophy
compared to the community based distributions. And it's not like the commercial distributions would be interested in introducing their users to their community-based counterparts....
Because of all this the differences between the various Linux distributions will only increase. A vicious cycle of lack of cross-pollination allowing further drift between the distributions
which further discourages cross-pollination. I wouldn't go as far as to say that there'd be a kernel fork, but I would say that the learning curve between distributions would start to get
fairly steep especially between the commercial and the community based ones.
Look at MacOS X for an example of what the commercial distributions are probably trying to aim for. I mean yes a person with *n[iu]x experience can sort of navigate their way around the
environment once they've found the console but it would take a fair chunk of effort for them to get the tools they are used to such as GCC working on it not to mention learning about netinfo.
And once OSX gets released and becomes at least somewhat popular among the general user populace imagine the learning curve they'd face moving from it to say a Linux or a Unix?
Heh... Anyway that's enough from me... Maybe I've given people something to mull over...
"kraant, open source guru" -- tumeric
Never In Our Names...