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The Bazaar was held this week in New York. It was a rather lightly attended event - much smaller than most of the other conferences of recent memory. Nonetheless, many interesting people were there, and a lot of interesting sessions were held.
LWN editor Liz Coolbaugh has sent back a couple of reports from the event - we hope to have more shortly. For now, have a look at the following:
One highly-publicised event at The Bazaar was the awarding of the Free Software Foundation award. The contenders this year were Miguel de Icaza, John Gilmore, and Donald Knuth. Choosing between those three would not be an easy task; in the end, the FSF gave the award to Miguel for his work with GNOME. Here is the FSF's press release on the award. Congratulations to Miguel, and to John and Donald as well.
Stock market craziness. If there was ever any doubt about whether the stock markets are aware of Linux, it has been certainly put to rest by recent events. Linux is now a highly visible - and highly commercial - phenomenon. We'll look over a few of these events, and ponder on what they mean for the future.
Topping the list, of course, is VA Linux Systems' IPO, which set a new record for the biggest first-day gain on the NASDAQ. The stock has since fallen back substantially, but it remains expensive. Investors clearly think well of VA and its prospects (and, clearly, of the prospects for Linux in general).
So what does this IPO indicate for the future? A couple of things come quickly to mind:
Who will be part of the coming flood of Linux IPOs? To an extent, the list is obvious: Caldera, Linuxcare, MandrakeSoft, Rebel.com, TurboLinux, etc. These names have been tossed around in the press for some time. Expect some surprises as well. In particular, expect a few IPOs that do not necessarily make good investments - the prospect of money raining down from the heavens is certainly likely to attract some less-than-stellar companies.
Along those lines, some have questioned our listing of LinuxOne as an upcoming IPO on our Linux Stocks Page. They have filed, so we list them, but we strongly recommend that potential investors carefully read LinuxOne's S-1 filing (or at least LWN's summary of it). Wide Open News also ran an article about this company that is worth reading.
Despite some difficulties here and there, the VA Linux directed share program appears to have gone well. This program allowed developers (as recognized by VA) to invest in a small number of shares at the IPO price. Many of the difficulties encountered by Red Hat (which had to blaze the initial trail for others to follow) were avoided.
The end result is this: VA, by way of this program, has managed to direct a large amount of wealth into the hands of at least some of the people who helped them get to where they are. The fact that a perfect job of it is not possible should not detract from that success. VA has made a serious attempt to pay some of its debts.
Hopefully all those companies lining up to go public next year will follow the examples provided by Red Hat and VA Linux. If somebody in the finance idea is looking for a good business opportunity, they might want to look at running directed share programs as a growth area...
Meanwhile, will the current Linux stock frenzy last? The answer really has to be "no." The current valuations of some Linux companies makes little sense, and, over the long term, the markets will realize that. After all, even when World Domination is fully achieved, the extent to which the current crop of public companies will participate in said Domination is not clear. The resulting correction may leave some people feeling pretty hurt. We can only hope that the image of Linux as a whole is not hurt by it.
Remember that the long-term value of Linux (and free software in general) has very little to do with the stock market. Even in purely economic terms, Linux is going to be a powerful force over the next decade regardless of what stock values do. And the benefits of free software go well beyond the economic sphere. Free software is a great thing, and investing in the code will continue to pay off - even if the markets do not.
Now that Eric Raymond is rich... One last IPO-related item: Eric Raymond has sent around this note on how he will react to the fact that the VA Linux Systems IPO has made him nicely well off. "So I expect I'll just keep on as I've been doing. Hacking code. Thinking and spreading subversive thoughts. Traveling and giving talks. Writing papers."
Back to free software: LWN took a look at GnuCash 1.2.5 this week, in an attempt to determine whether it is ready for Grandma's checkbook yet. We conclude that it is not there yet, but it is getting closer; in particular, it's at a point where people looking for a free software project to support should really think about chipping in to help finish things out.
Please see LWN's feature article for a survey of where GnuCash is, what it can do, and what needs to be improved.
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December 16, 1999