Matt Asay today on his blog made the statement (links added) that “Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and other industry organizations have miserably failed”. I take exception to that. OSDL, today the Linux Foundation (LF), has had an important and positive impact on Linux. I think people forget the original premise of the organization when it was founded, what it has done to advance Linux, and how it has evolved to serve the changing needs of the Linux vendors and the Linux community over its lifetime.
OSDL was originally founded to make advanced hardware (hence the “Lab” in OSDL) available to the broader Linux kernel development community. The original idea being that access to a variety of hardware, in particular large-scale hardware with (at the time) advanced features such as 4-way and greater SMP systems, was necessary to advance Linux and not generally available to most kernel developers. This enabled, for example, the first TPC workload testing tools for Linux available to the community. The array of systems available also allowed OSDL to develop and make available to the Linux kernel development community regression testing to help converge stable kernel releases. I could go on, but many of the successes of OSDL during its “Lab” phase focused on the infrastructure of Linux, and are not as likely to be visible at the open source application level (like Alfresco), but were still important in the broader success of Linux, particularly in the Enterprise data center. This doesn’t even consider services such as providing a safe and neutral environment place for people like Linus Torvalds.
Over time it became apparent that the “Lab” function of OSDL was becoming less necessary to the success of Linux. I believe, in part, due to the fact that more and more Linux development was moving to paid employees at larger companies who could provide access to the types of systems OSDL was hosting. OSDL, preserving the original vision of advancing Linux, began to look at other barriers to the adoption of Linux. IP is one example where OSDL was able to respond to industry needs, creating the Linux Legal Defense Fund in response to the SCO lawsuits. In addition, OSDL addressed patent issues with the Open Source as Prior Art (OSAPA) and Patents Commons Project initiatives.
OSDL Workgroups were also formed to bring together people interested in enhancing Linux to make it suitable for new and broader markets. These included everything from development efforts to support telcos and desktops.
Late in 2006 it became apparent that OSDL needed to undergo yet another transition to continue its broader mission of advancing Linux. In early 2007 OSDL merged with the Free Standards Group (FSG) to form the Linux Foundation, finally bringing the important role of standards together with the other efforts to foster the growth of Linux. Today the Linux Foundation incorporates three broad classes of activities:
1. Protecting Linux - LF continues the efforts around IP, patents and legal protection launched by OSDL, including as I already mentioned the Open Source as Prior Art project, the Patent Commons Project, and sponsorship of the Linux Legal Defense Fund. In addition, the Linux Foundation also manages the Linux trademark.
3. Promoting Linux - LF serves as a neutral spokesperson to advance the interests of Linux and respond with authority to competitors’ attacks. It also fosters innovation by hosting collaboration events among the Linux technical community, application developers, industry and end users.
So while one might argue that OSDL/FSG/LF might have done more or been more effective, saying it “failed miserably” is I think totally unwarranted. I’m a firm believer in Jim Zemlin and his vision for the organization today, and trust that with the support of board members like Mark Shuttleworth, James Bottomley, Tim Golden and many others he will continue to help Linux grow.