Look Ma! That Bengal Tiger is Charging Right
-- Bob Young Speaks at LXNY --
The multicast packets were going out the tunnel but not in. Hmmm.... I'll kill mrouted, and change the TTL threshold on the tunnel to 1 in /etc/mrouted.conf. Restart mrouted, kill it with a USR1, and check the routing tables it just dumped to /var/tmp. Hmmm.... Again, packets go out, but not in. Ok, lets ftp the very latest version of mrouted (beta version number increments by one), recompile, kill the running version of mrouted and startup the new one. Ah, now I have mrinfo with this package to help debug the multicast tunnel I've setup. New version of mrouted but same problem; packets go out, but they don't come in. I've managed to fully configure a one-way multicast tunnel.
Open Source/Open Science 1999. My life has been turned totally upside down trying to get this conference together, and setting up this multicast tunnel into the Internet is a vital step. The conference will be broadcast onto the Internet come hell or high water! But, another very important event was happening that day. Bob Young was taking time away from his schedule to go back to an old haunt of his, LXNY, and spend about 4 hours answering questions and later going to dinner with his old user group. So I spent the day fighting the multicast tunnel dragon, a fiery beast which spewed out multicast packets with deadly force. I defended and attacked with my source code armor and sword, deflecting those deadly packet attacks with emacs, GNU make, gcc and lots of greps and mores. The meeting started at 6:30pm and this time I was damned if I wasn't going to catch the 4:05pm train into the city. 3:30pm rolled around and the multicast dragon hurled one last fierce round of flaming packets at me. Emacs, man, grep, make and gcc couldn't deflect them and baaam! I got a direct hit. Ouch. With that, I laid down my sword, grabbed my notebook and car keys, and ran to catch that 4:05 to Penn Station. I'll take up the battle with the multicast dragon tomorrow. For now, I had a very important users' meeting to attend. (Important on a historical level...)
Take a step back and think of this IPO phenomena. A company with something on the order of 10^2 employees packages and distributes free software, offers services on getting it up and running on your PC, offers only about 10% of its shares to the public and is now worth over 5 billion dollars! Red Hat's driving force, like many other companies', are its employees. Therefore one can put a market value on each one of those employees at about 10 million dollars a head! Think about this: the free markets of western civilization value an Open Source employee at 10,000,000. That's a lot of zeros.
The unbelievability of the numbers behind Red Hat's IPO dominated my thoughts as I swerved over to the Southern State, down the Southern State, then onto the Cross Island, back onto the LIE and finally handing over my $3.50 to the toll booth guy to pay for my passage under the East River at Midtown.
The rain from hurricane Dennis was now coming down over Manhattan rather hard. I got only slightly wet this time, as I dashed over to the IBM building. Knowing that the remains of Dennis were on their way to NYC, I was wise to bring my umbrella along.
There was a small crowd of people waiting at the main entrance to the IBM building for the rain to stop. At first I thought they were all there, waiting with baited breath to glimpse Bob Young for the first time. I imagined this grand long black limousine pulling up to the building, the driver quickly running over to the passenger door to open it for Bob. I never saw such a limo drive up and I strongly suspect that Bob arrived in a yellow NYC taxi cab. As a matter of fact, I think only about 3 or 4 people, of the 20 or so standing out front, were waiting to get into the IBM building to attend the LXNY. The rest were taking cover from the rain under the entrance way into the IBM building. I had a chance to meet one of them, who introduced himself as a journalist. After some small talk we both headed in, got our stick-on badges, and headed up to the 6th floor.
The meeting room was a large one. There was ample room to fit at least 100 people. When the journalist and I arrived, there were about 20 people there. I got to work handing out fliers to my Open Source/Open Science conference and also took some pictures.
I saw some familiar faces from VA Linux show. There was one guy with a very nice VAIO note book running Quake. Jim Gleason of VA Linux was promoting his Linux demo day event. A day where a bunch of guys get together and play Quake all day on a bunch of VA Linux PC's attached to an OC-48 fire hose into the Internet. (What ever happened to sex, drugs and rock 'n roll?)
I noticed the door to the meeting room close and went over to try get it to stay open, figuring people showing up may miss the meeting if the door is closed. As I was futsying around with the door, I turned to find Bob Young looking to get into the room. "Hi Bob" I said, "Welcome to New York." He cracked a smile, returned the greeting and went in to mingle with the rest of the gathering crowd. I followed him in.
By this time, there were closer to 40 people in attendance. Mike Smith, one of the co-organizers of LXNY, was there, writing information down on a large paper pad which sat on an easel about the various Open Source/Free Software related events going on about town. He was also waiting for his counter part, Jay Sulzberger, the other LXNY co-ordinator, to show up and start the meeting. Jay never showed. So Mike called on everyone to listen to a bunch of announcements he had, as the meeting formally got started.
Bob started by talking about the amount of travel he was doing lately in promoting Red Hat to private industry in the pre-IPO days. Those days were long and the travel extensive. The same presentations were made over and over to the point that he had a hard getting his mouth just to form the words during these presentations. Through this ordeal, he learned the truth of the equation "opportunity - sleep = trouble." He was also amused to realize that the corollary also held true, "trouble + sleep = opportunity." A neat equation of state in the world of sales. During his travel many mistakes were made and this was done under high pressure situations and little sleep when he and other Red Hat management types were pitching Red Hat to heavy weight investors. He recalled one time when they were scheduled to be in New York on such a day, and someone had scheduled a meeting with just one investor in Dallas the day before. He and his colleagues who were touring the country, did not want to go to Dallas, give their presentation in front of just one investor, and then have to fly that night to NY getting there at 2am, and then try to be fresh for a really big, high pressure pitch to a bunch of NY Wall Street types the next day. So they decided to play a trick on this poor Dallas investor. During their presentation, they were going to redo all their mistakes they made during all their other presentations to date. Bob continues, "I got up and gave my introduction, going through all the mistakes I could remember while I gave my talk, I then handed the floor over to Matthew Szulik, (the current president of the company.) Matthew started. 'We at Red Hat are committed to bringing and supporting the best software Open Source has to offer to the Amiga platform!'" Well, maybe you had to be there to get the irony of the story.
Talking to the computer users at the time, it became clear to him that Free Software had something important to offer. He recalled how people would wax poetic about the wonders of Free Software. It was much more stable and reliable than its commercial counterparts. Thus Bob featured Free Software articles in his newsletter. He didn't tell the audience if his newsletter was a success or not, but Bob had found his niche.
So Bob started down the Free Software path. This was sometime around 1992 or 1993. Being the entrepreneur he claimed to be, he started to research the Free Software market. He would talk to people about this concept of trying to make money from "free" software and the consistent answer was that no, you could not. Bob found this strange. Everyone he talked to about it raved about how good it was, and yet you could not make money from it? This struck an odd chord in his marketing and sales intuition. The whole idea of a free market economy is that you look for a need, and you work at fulfilling it. He was doing this to some extent by publishing a newsletter on free software. The next obvious step was to somehow make this free software available to those who wanted or needed it.
At that time, Linux was making its way into the free software world, and Bob saw an opportunity to exercise his entrepreneurial skills. In grand entrepreneurial style, he hooked up with Mark Ewing, and started up Red Hat, which he ran out of his wife's sewing room. Some time later, he and Marc moved to North Carolina where Red Hat is now stationed.
Bob went on to describe how the railway monopolies of the beginning of the 20th century were broken. They were not broken by other companies building better trains or tracks, they were broken when the interstate highway system was built and truckers could deliver goods from door to door, rather than from region to region. In a similar fashion, the software industry will have to use Free Software to break the monopoly held by Microsoft which it enjoys now.
Bob had some more points about Free Software which need mentioning. He talked about how the market for overnight package delivery changed. When Federal Express entered the market, their goal was to reduce the cost of delivering a package overnight from $200 down to $10. "What happens when you do so?" You change the way people use overnight delivery by expanding its use tremendously. And we see this today, with everyone and his uncle sending or receiving packages overnight. Now with e-commerce, the overnight delivery volume is just going to get bigger. Bob segwaied into this thought, what will happen in the OS market if you change cost of an operating system to $0? "You will change the way people use it," implying a great expansion in the use of Free OS.
The final major point of Bob's introductory talk was his thoughts on where the Free OS market was going. Being a businessman, he had to keep in mind the bigger picture of whatever business he's in. For example, when he was in the computer rental market, he knew when his company went from a startup to a major player. This market grosses about $100,000,000 a year. If your company grosses $10,000,000 then you can consider yourself a mature company. There is a term for this (which I can't remember now) which means that you have gone from a startup to a major player in the market, thus your quarterly revenue increases will start to taper off. That is, you grow by a factor of 2 a year and once you become a "mature" player in the market, you will only grow by a few percent a year since you have in effect saturated the market. Bob has been trying to apply this analysis to Red Hat in the Free Software market. How big does Red Hat have to get in terms of gross income before it can consider itself a "mature" company in the field? The answer to this date is that he has no idea. No one knows. From my own personal perspective, one can look at Microsoft's market capitalization. Right now it stands at about $500,000,000,000: that's five hundred billion dollars. And Red Hat stands at a puny $5 billion, 1% on the scale of Microsoft. This means Red Hat has another two orders of magnitude to grow before it can be considered a "mature" player in this new market of Free Software. But then, if Red Hat and other new members of the Free Software market are going to change the way people use software, as in the example of how Federal Express changed the way people use overnight delivery, then you have to factor in several orders of magnitude in the expansion of Free software on top of Microsoft's market cap. So if you consider Microsoft a "mature" company at $500 Billion, and you consider say 1 order of magnitude increase in the use of Free Software because of its $0 cost to install and distribute, then Red Hat may look at becoming a "mature" company when it hits a market cap of $5 trillion? (Yow, these numbers are so large it's scary.) But then, we are talking about software which is in every PC (not just Intel,) in every network appliance (refrigerators, toasters, fuller brushes...) in every country around the world, tied together by the Internet, so $5 trillion just may be the right scale. Paraphrasing Linus Torvalds, "This is total world domination."
At some point the meeting turned form Bob talking about his experiences and analyses of the Free Software market to a question and answer period. There were lots of questions which varied from asking about his new book, "Under the Radar," to what he thought about making money off others people's software. (He took his coat and tie off to answer that question which he started by saying, "We are standing on the shoulders of giants..."). One thing that I noticed during the question and answer session was the urgency of those who wanted to ask their questions. As time went on, more and more people were raising their hands trying to get a question in. There was an active dialog going on between Bob and the LXNY users group. The question I wanted to get in, but couldn't, was what would be Bob's advice to someone who wanted to enter this new Free Software market. I'll pop the question to him the next time I see him. He did tell me that he was going to attend my Open Source/Open Science extravaganza at BNL, so maybe I'll corner him then...
The final question finally rolled around. Something about really bad support from Dell, which went on for about 5 minutes. Bob's reply was the right one, "Send me an e-mail of your complaint and I'll forward it on to the right person." With that everyone got up and the "after the talk buzz" started. Bob was surrounded for the next 20 minutes by people trying to meet him and get another question in. I walked around taking photos. After a while, Jay in a very loud voice told every one to get out since the building management closes the room at 9pm.
The next hour was spent at Kaplan's Deli. Bob came right along with the group and sat between Mike and Jay eating some deli delight. I was rather surprised that he would take the time to go with the LXNY bunch over to the deli for dinner. He must have many demands on his time nowadays. It was way too late for me, but I wanted to get some photos of the group in Kaplan's. I had my extra lean corned beef, about 3 glasses of water, said my goodbyes to Jay, and took off for home.
If you have read my other articles, you know my routine by now. I hit the LIE east, and start counting exits until I reach exit 68. This time was no different. And again, as I drove down the LIE, (I can almost drive this freeway blindfolded) my mind wandered off into Free Software land.
The event that I just attended I considered to be at the historical level. And unfortunately, comparisons between Bob Young and Bill Gates kept popping into my head. When Microsoft went public, did Bill gather with his old Altair users group to talk about the wonders of DOS? When was the last time Bill showed up to a users group meeting to basically shoot the sh*t with his friends? When will Bob be able to do what he did tonight again? As time goes on, and the free software market expands, Bob's time is going to be more and more in demand and events like this one will just not occur. It's a sad thought but a realistic one, I'm afraid.
Bob, along with Marc Ewring, have started down a quite adventuresome path. Bob clearly has proven that he understands the world of Free/Open Source Software. He and Marc have taken Red Hat to where other Linux distribution and support companies are headed. Build an "ecosystem" of Free Software and an industry will grow from it. The contribution which Red Hat has made to GNOME is what I assume is just the first step. Red Hat has founded RHAD which will be put to use in developing further Open Source projects which my guess is to expand on the "lets make a fertile ecosystem" model, so that others can start writing application software to run on it and Red Hat will make money supporting systems which use it.
I leave you with a shot of the Roseta Stone. An inscription is repeated 3 times in 2 different languages, Egyptian and Greek. The inscriptions are hieroglyphs, demotic (another form of Egyptian writing) and Greek. From what was etched in this stone, 19th century scholars were able to begin deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs. One could argue that the necessity of open standards pre-exist our Internet times by several millennia.
Copyright 1999 by Stephen Adler
Please e-mail me any questions, comments, flames, or condemnations to adler at stephenadler dot com. I'll be posting your e-mails as they come in along with this article. If you wish to read other articles I've written, please click here. My home page can be found here.