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Ransom Love speaks about UnitedLinux, SCO & Where He’s Going Now

October 1st, 2002 · No Comments

Love him or hate him, if you were in the Linux business, Ransom Love, former CEO of Caldera, now SCO, and mid-wife to UnitedLinux, was impossible to ignore.

One of the very first to champion Linux in business, had he had his way, Novell, not Red Hat, would now be the major business Linux vendor.With Novell deaf to his pleas that Linux would be the operating system of the future, he, along with fellow Novell veteran Bryan Sparks, later the president and CEO of the embedded Linux business, Lineo, founded Caldera in 1994. Backed by Ray Noorda’s, Novell’s founder, Canopy Group, Caldera was the first business Linux company with Red Hat following it in 1995.With Sparks at the helm and Love as the VP of marketing and sales, Caldera was also one of the few companies to actually beat Microsoft. For four years, Caldera, which had acquired the rights to DR-DOS, an MS-DOS clone, from Novell in 1995, fought with Microsoft claiming that the ‘evil empire’ had used anti-competitive tactics to discourage users from using DR-DOS. In early 2000, Microsoft settled with Caldera for an amount believed to be about $155 million.

Soon thereafter, Love guided Caldera to its IPO in March 2000. While it wasn’t the run away success that similar, previous IPOs of other Linux companies such as Red Hat, VA Linux, and Cobalt Networks (later acquired by Sun) had been, Caldera has so far proven to be a survivor in the difficult stock market that has floundered so many other new technology companies.

While Red Hat gained popularity by appealing to end-users, Caldera under Love’s lead, moved slower and always kept its focus on the business market. To further its pursuit of the business market, Caldera bought the then struggling Unix on Intel leader, SCO in August of 2000. This gave Caldera, SCO’s strong reseller channel and two other major business operating systems: the never-say die OpenServer and the often-renamed UnixWare.

This done, Love who had been a leader in Linux standardization efforts such as the Linux Standard Base (LSB), got together with the CEOs of Conectiva, SuSE and Turbolinux to form the UnitedLinux consortium. The purpose of this organization is to create UnitedLinux, a high-end server version of Linux to compete against Red Hat Advanced Server (RHAS), the proprietary Unixes and W2K and Microsoft’s forthcoming .NET Server.

To get UnitedLinux off the drawing boards and onto production CDs, Love resigned as Caldera’s CEO and helped co-ordinate the four companies business and development efforts. And then, but let’s Ransom tell it.

Love Today

Q: Many people were surprised to discover that you were not at the head of UnitedLinux, since you had stepped down as Caldera’s CEO and you had essentially acted as the spokesman for the group since it went public in May. What happened?

A: I was never stepping into the role as manager of UnitedLinux, but I was stepping over to give guidance to UnitedLinux while we selected the general manager. All the CEOs who were driving the vision were so caught up in managing their individual companies that I volunteered to step aside at Caldera to put the structure in place.

So, what I did in those two months was work with the CEOs and what would become the Board of Managers to provide some guiding concepts, come up with the by-laws defining how new companies could join UnitedLinux and how everyone would work together and begin the search for a general manager. I did put my name in the ring.

Q: What happened then? Even analysts and reporters were surprised to see Paula Hunter, someone with little Linux experience and known essentially as a marketing officer, than you at the top.

A: Some people had concerns about me doing it because I was a founder of Caldera and because they felt it would shift the ship one way or another.

Q: Who?

A: Well, SuSE. But, in all honesty it was just timing. Gerhard (Burtscher, SuSE’s CEO) was all for it, but SuSE’s board was worried about the timing. With multiple-companies and boards involved, they needed more time to get more comfortable with Caldera and each other before they’d go with the former head of one of the companies.

Q: And, of course, going back to Caldera was impossible by then?

A: Yes. Darl McBride (the new Caldera/SCO CEO) was in charge. And, staying on Caldera didn’t make much sense, once there was a general manager for United Linux, because I’d get in the way of the new Caldera and UnitedLinux management teams.

For me personally, I had already worked out the severance arrangement with Caldera and Caldera was very generous. I’ve no complaints.

Q: So what do you think of what UnitedLinux is doing now?

A: I think they have the right team in place to make it a success.

Q: And what do you think of Caldera switching its name to SCO?

A: I wasn’t involved in that decision, but I could see it coming. I collected and saw the data and the resellers thought things were better with SCO. The bottom line as we went around the world, trying to analyze what was going on with customers and resellers, we got a lot of really good feedback and the reality is that on a global scale SCO is a known brand and Caldera isn’t. Caldera has some brand recognition in the US in Linux, but SCO had a lot more.

Q: A lot of people, even analysts, see this as a move backwards.

A: That is a negative. Many people will see SCO as heading back to Unix, but that’s not what they’re doing. They’re re-emphasizing that SCO is about business and resellers. SCO does have to follow up with very strong public relations measures to insure that the message is clear.

The nice thing that Darl has a very strong reseller background so the message should get to the resellers and I think they’ll put together some exciting reseller programs.

Q: So what will you be doing now?

A: It gives me a chance to work on a book that tells the story of the commercialization of Linux, and that’s a story that hadn’t been told. That, and deciding what to do when I grow up!

I’ve delving down multiple-paths. I’m even looking at possibly getting a Ph. D. I really want to share what I’ve learned.

Q: And that is?

I think we’re on a cusp of how organizations work. I find it fascinating how organization structures change and evolve to handle today’s constant information flow. The traditional information structure and compensation aren’t going to hold up in this new world of information exchange.

There must be something between Linux’s managed chaos and the old business hierarchy. I understand where open source is strong and weak, but I understand the old ways as well.

I think the new business world requires a different kind of management, compensation and structure and empower people to stay where they’re good.

Q: Sort of an attempt to defeat the Peter Principle? (The idea that employees advance to their highest level of competence and then are promoted to and remain at a level where they’re incompetent.)

A: Yes, we can defeat the Peter Principle. I’ve love to do more research in it, because all these businesses are dealing with these technologies now.

I think the key is the people. People are by far the greatest assets in any company if they have a vision and power to do something that with vision then they can really make change.

You can’t rely on that happening at executive level at every corporation and government. It used to be that’s how we had to do it. We’d had to have a head of the hierarchical structure. Now with technology everyone from the stock clerk to the CEO potentially has the same information. Now how do you empower this information at the lowest possible level? I loved to explore it.

Q: That does sound fascinating. Do you think you’ll ever get back in the technology business again?

A: I’ve love to find another small company especially in technology or Linux, but one that doesn’t have a grand idea of changing the world.

Q: But changing how people work in that company?

A: Yes!

Q: Thank you for your time Mr. Love

A: Anytime Steven.

Tags: AIX · Business · Legal · Linux · SCO · Unix