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Linux Foundation chief talks about Torvalds' leadership, HTML5 and mobile's future

Jim Zemlin says Linux's desktop failure doesn't matter, MeeGo lives and HTML5 is the future

By , Network World
August 30, 2011 09:47 AM ET
Jim Zemlin

Network World - As the executive director of the Linux Foundation, Jim Zemlin is frequently asked to forecast the future of the IT industry. While he's happy to do so, he's the first to admit that he could be wrong. He joked in his opening remarks at LinuxCon 2011 held recently in Vancouver, British Columbia, that he has been wrongly predicting the Year of the Linux Desktop for many years now. He doesn't need to know the future, he says, because open source projects don't need a master plan.

MORE: Linux Foundation chief: 'You are an idiot if you don't' contribute back to open source

During LinuxCon in Vancouver, Zemlin sat down with Network World editors Julie Bort and Jon Brodkin to discuss this concept. He explained why Linux's success is different from other operating systems; why its ability to capture the desktop might never matter; that MeeGo may not be as dead as it looks and that the next big thing is HTML5. Here is an edited transcript of the interview.

Linux is celebrating its 20th anniversary. What's changed for the Linux Foundation since the early days?

I've been with the foundation almost eight years. One thing hasn't changed: I still work by and large out of my home because we do everything virtually in the organization. Jenifer [Cloer] lives in Portland, Linus lives there. We have developers in Moscow, Germany, Austin, Texas. We have an office in Japan, people all over the world. So that part hasn't changed.

Let me tell you how we decide what we do every day. You basically ask three questions. One: Is this going to help move the needle on Linux? Is this going to help grow Linux from a commercial sense, from a community sense and so forth? Two: Is there anybody else doing this? Because if there is, we don't want to do it. Three: Can we get the resources together to actually make this happen? Bringing together members or raising money or bringing together technical members to do it. If the answer to each of those questions is yes, then we do it.

We've asked those questions every day over eight years, we have been a part of something that wasn't exactly a master plan. Linux has jumped from one form of computing to another somewhat seamlessly because self forming communities pop up. You're in high performance computing and servers and all of a sudden the embedded industry says, "We want to use this stuff." And then the mobile guys say, "We want to use this stuff." And what we get to do is kind of be at the front end of that and say, how can we make it happen faster? These events are an example of that. We bring together mini-summits, the KVM Summit, the Wireless Summit, the USB Summit.

It's gotten bigger. It's grown into different industries ... but the fundamental truth of what we do is that we're part of the world's largest collaborative development process. The fundamentals of that -- the principles of transparent governance, access to source code and equal participation of by all the members in the process -- has not changed. But that has enabled all kinds of cool things to happen.

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