Face to Face with Jordan Hubbard, BSDi
"We'll sleep with anybody that we think will advance our cause. We're in bed with BSDi to see what we can get them to do for us. But we'll maintain a degree of separation - it's just a relationship of mutual interest."
Provocative words from the self-styled 'chief evangelist' of FreeBSD, but Jordan Hubbard likes to tell it like it is.
A co-founder and public face of the FreeBSD Project since his previous company Walnut Creek was acquired by BSDi in March, Hubbard has also been Vice President of Open Source Solutions for BSDi, a company that distributes licensed versions of the Unix developed at California- Berkeley. He sees no conflict in his dual role.
"I'm not involved with any of the commercial version work. BSDi it attempting to service both communities, and I'm purely on the side that's servicing the open source community, so it pretty much hasn't affected me at all. I still see all the same old faces and still do all the same old things."
The same old thing is developing open source BSD, an operating system that, along with Linux, is growing faster as a server system on the Internet than their competitors, including Microsoft's Windows NT and Windows 2000 combined. According to Nancy Stewart, a senior analyst at Survey.com, Linux and FreeBSD will grow 177 percent as Web server systems by the end of 2001.
"BSD is a great operating system for servers, that it's primary niche, although it's a great OS for the desktop as well. It's used as a server OS by people like Yahoo, Internet Movie Database and Ireland On-line because it integrates very well with Internet services and it's very robust under a heavy load."
Hubbard denies that BSD is trying to compete with Linux, however. "We've already differentiated ourselves from Linux. Linux is really going after Windows as its primary competitor, so it's done a lot to try and be desktop-friendly.
"We see Sun as our main competitor, but we're not going to be able to compete with them effectively until PC hardware comes up another notch or two. But in the last year a lot of hardware seems to be much more tightly integrated. So while I would give the nod to Sun at this moment, they're not going to keep that lead for too much longer."
And obviously, having the resources of a major player at your disposal doesn't hurt. But is there a danger that BSDi could overly influence the direction of FreeBSD for its own commercial gain?
"The FreeBSD people have always had their own self-interest very much in mind in all of the co-operative deals we've done. BSDi is by no means the only commercial partner that the free BSD project has had; we've also worked closely with Yahoo, Intel, and others. So there's no way that
we're ever going to allow any commercial entity to dictate our direction or tell us who we should bring into the project if we don't approve of those people already. We're still very, very autonomous."
So what about the recent Microsoft/Kerberos controversy, where Microsoft has taken the Kerberos security system and attempted to extend the protocol while keeping the extensions secret? The Kerberos code is distributed under a BSD-style licence.
"I wish to God that Microsoft would take major chunks of BSD and put it into Windows," Hubbard laughs. "Maybe then it would become a reliable operating system.
"But no, I'm not worried about Microsoft hijacking BSD. It's not that the licence prevents it, the licence has never really been an impediment to that, but there are other forces greater than the licence mitigating against it."
He said the real barrier to prevent people from going wildly off the rails with things like Kerberos is market acceptance and engineering difficulties. The market will be resistant to new variants when they find that they don't operate with any of the Sun, Linux, or FreeBSD servers or clients.
So how does Hubbard see BSD developing?
"I certainly see it continuing to be a big part of the core Internet infrastructure, but I also expect to see it being even bigger in the embedded systems. As BSD is getting better and better, it's really developing into these niche areas, and the hardware has been climbing up towards BSD as
well. So I think it'll be used in more PC and desktop appliances, and it'll move into what used to be the territory of IBM and Tandem as well."
NAME: Jordan Hubbard
COMPANY: BSDi, www.bsdi.com
TITLE: Vice President of Open Source Solutions
WHAT ELSE: Founder and current release engineer/PR guy for FreeBSD, the open source version of the BSD operating system distributed by BSDi.
Aoidin Scully is at firstname.lastname@example.org