I recently attended a conference and exposition here in Bangalore called "Bang!Linux". I ran into some unsavoury people whose whose actions led me to think a little about our community and specifically, it's lack of policing.
On the second day of the conference I had a little time to look around at the other stalls. Our stall, the Linux-India stall, was excellently manned and I was a fifth wheel there anyway. So I wandered about the exposition, chatting with the various exhibitors and grabbing all the freebies I could get. I came across an exhibitor proclaiming that he was the first vendor of an India specific distro. This naturally interested me, so I took a closer look. In his stall were several CDs liberally decorated with the Indian tri-colour. He also had, nauseatingly, a female penguin named "Peggy" tacked to the wall behind him.
I quizzed him a little about his distro. He pompously told me about how the unfortunate Indian Linux user was forced to settle for "foreign" distributions that did not cater to their specific needs. Their distro, on the other hand, was tailor made for Indian conditions. This all sounded very nice so I wanted to know more. What had he done to create an India specific Linux distro? He hemmed and hawwed but declined to give details. After a bit of work, I learned a couple of things. He was basically selling a modified RH6.1. He had modified the install so that it would recognise a SiS 6215 display card. He had also, amazingly, made the DOS commands "dir", "copy", "del" and so on work on Linux! Beyond that I was unable to get any definite information. This is a Made for India Linux? Later, a person from the same city as this exhibitor told me that he had tried out their distribution. As far as he was able to tell, they had grepped through all the install scripts and replaced all instances of "Red Hat" with the name of their company.
That evening I went to the Bangalore Palace, one of the former residences of the erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore. SCO was holding throwing a party there to mark the launch of their thin-client product 'Tarantella'. I am not much of a party person, but who can resist the lure of free food and drink? As a volunteer at the Linux-India stall I was liberally splattered with penguins of different sizes. I was sitting at the sidelines of the party with a friend watching the havoc, when we were approached by two guys.
"Hi Penguins!" one said jovially, "How're things going?"
"Great!" I replied, "And you?"
"Not Bad. Hey, are you guys programmers? I'm looking for some hot programmers."
I was not really looking for a change, but I thought I could point some guys in his direction.
"What kind of programmers do you need?" I asked. "
Uhhh...I just need some really hot programmers." he replied.
"Yes, but what do you need done? What are you into?"
"Uhhh... B2B! I'm into B2B."
"Oh, internet stuff."
"No..not internet. B2B. B2B using the Linux kernel. Are you interested?" he handed me his card.
B2B using the Linux kernel? This guy obviously had no idea what he was talking about. But his card described him as "Chief Technical Officer". Then I noticed something else. As addresses, his card only had a URL and a cell-phone number. No street address, no land-line. I began to smell a rat. On talking to him further I found out a few more things. He was very cagey about his past. When I asked him where he was from, he replied, "I'm from all over" and would not be pinned down any further. He claimed to be have been a programmer for the past ten years, but wouldn't say what he had worked on. Finally, out came the kicker. I asked him how much he was going to pay these "hot programmers". "Nothing!" he replied, "If they're good, really good I'll make them partners. That means that in two years when I make my IPO they'll be multi-millionaires."
At this point I was really suspicious. I could see two possible scenarios here. The first one was that he was going to lure some naive techie into business with him. Then he'd claim that for some reason he wasn't able to access his "funding from overseas backers" and that he needed a small cash inflow for operating funds. Then he'd scoot. If he was a little more ambitious he'd try the second scenario. He'd set up enough of an organisation to attract some venture capitalists. Then he'd take the money and run, leaving the "hot programmers" to face the heat. In either case, he was bad news. I finally made some non-commital noises and got out of his vicinity.
Before I go any further, let me say that I have no evidence other than rumours and suspicion. Maybe the Indian Linux distro is still at the beginning of it's development cycle and was represented by a bad salesman. Maybe the guy who said it was a disguised Red Hat had a grudge of some kind. Perhaps the B2B guy, like many others in our industry, was merely being secretive. That's why I have mentioned no names. It would be tantamount to slander. If I am wrong and have unfairly characterised their work, I apologise right now.
However, the point is not that these two people in particular were up to no good. If it's not them, it's somebody else. Despite what people say, the Indian software industry is pretty small. Word gets around pretty quickly. A few organisations like Linux One or these guys, both trying to make a quick buck from the exposure that Linux has been getting recently, would be enough to give the Linux community a bad name. As it is, we have to deal with the general idea that since Linux is not the product of a billion-dollar company one cannot really trust the hippies who are pushing it. If we get a reputation as dishonest hippies then we are sunk. Legitimate start-ups would have difficulty getting funding. Mainsream business would hesitate to deal with us. Linux is more than just a technology, it's a community. Communities everywhere have ways to handle miscreants.Shouldn't we at least think about it?
LinuxOne is another company that allegedly tried to cash in on the
Linux hype. See the following Links: