Saturday, December 13, 2003

Ransom Love has a cooler name than you.

When I was an undergrad, back around 1999 or so, I attended a Linux evangelism session in New York, run by a little company I'd never heard of, called Caldera. One of the speakers demo'd a new product called Caldera OpenLinux on a Sony Vaio laptop. During the presentation, he simply stuck an OpenLinux CD into his laptop, and a few button-presses later the laptop rebooted into a slick graphical installation program. He selected some packages and pushed the installation button. It was easy. It had pictures and icons and all the usual trappings of a graphical interface. It had a Tetris game to play while you waited for the operating system to finish installing. A little while later, the process was complete, and he brought up the KDE 1 desktop.

It was astounding: you could get this entire operating system, which looked quite comparable to Windows or MacOS, which were selling for hundreds of dollars at the university computer store, for free (or, if you wanted a box and manuals, for forty dollars or so). And you could get all the source code, not only for the kernel but for nearly all the applications. And it came with programming tools, like an industrial-strength compiler, right out of the box --- a major plus for computer science students. And, thanks to Caldera's work in packaging it all, it was accessible to people who'd never run Unix before.

My friend PSP and I snagged a bunch of free OpenLinux CDs on our way out. A few months later I installed Linux on my new machine --- the first one I ever assembled from parts --- and no computer of mine has been without Linux since. (I'm posting this from a laptop running Fedora.) Since then, other vendors like Red Hat and SuSE have surpassed Caldera, but nevertheless Caldera provided my first introduction to a Linux that I could install and use.

The evangelist's name was Ransom Love, and he was the CEO of Caldera Systems, Inc. He was sharply-dressed, with a real, styled haircut, and his personality exuded an odd mixture of geek and suit. He was charismatic and cool and at least acted like he was genuinely excited to be showing off Linux for a bunch of undergrad computer science geeks.

In the years since those heady days, the tech bubble burst, Caldera bought/merged with SCO, and the resulting monster has become a company that will live in infamy. It's sad.

Anyway, Love departed well before the current SCO/IBM debacle began. He's now at Progeny, the Linux company founded by Debian creator Iain Murdock (hence probably still on the side of Good). And Love still has some interesting stuff to say about his former company and its relationship with IBM.

UPDATE: For further fascinating reading, check out this ZDNet article on the history of Caldera: Love and his associates were working at Novell, trying to convince upper management that it had to move to Linux, way back in 1994. First of all, this demonstrates astounding foresight, if you think back where Linux was in 1994. Second, it's a bit eerie/ironic, because if you flash forward a decade, Novell's bought both SuSE and Ximian, two of the Linux community's leading lights; and they've finally admitted that Linux is the best bet for the company's future.

No comments:

Post a Comment