Books about 90s Linux business impacts?
April 12, 2022 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Are there books about the impacts Linux had in businesses in the 90s? For example, in the early 90s, Sun Microsystems had a very popular Unix. Yet by 2000, Sun gave away their OS with their hardware and made source code available. Microsoft had the famous Halloween memos in the late 90s. Are there books that talk about that, how businesspeople reacted to Linux’s marketshare in those intervening years?
posted by Monochrome to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Relatedly, I’m also curious about books about how Linux was commercialized by eg Red Hat. How did IT folks convince the CEO to use SUSE or Red Hat instead of Sun or Microsoft?
posted by Monochrome at 4:17 PM on April 12, 2022

Neal Stephenson published In the Beginning was the Command Line in 1999. Not really long enough to be considered a book, and maybe a little early for you, but essential reading about the OS wars.
posted by Rash at 5:33 PM on April 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have not read it since 1999, but "Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution" covers the subject in media res.

The documentary "Revolution OS" might also be useful if it doesn't have to be a book.

I don't know the extent some of this was covered in books. Many IT people at the time would talk about how they put up a linux server and started using it without management permission, and then presented them with a fait accompli. This is the kind of thing you discuss at a LUG meeting or perhaps on a mailing list but not for publication..
posted by joeyh at 8:36 PM on April 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Many IT people at the time would talk about how they put up a linux server and started using it without management permission

Waves Hi! Linux was still a bit of a no-no when I started job in 1999. I had run Linux almost since it came out. I did anyway because I could get away with it. Took a bitchin' IBM dual processor workstation that nobody wanted to put Windows NT/Server on to use both processors, put Linux on it and made an awesome workstation out of it. And put Linux on my work laptop, turned it into the best sort of network diagnostics machine ever (compared to Windows). It took years more for Linux to edge into being thought of as reliable, mostly after they started using it in the High Performance Computing Cluster along with the older Suns. The big downfall of Sun in my workplace was when they sold to Oracle, no more sweet deals. Before then, Sun hardware was much more capable and reliable and scalable than any x86 box available. It was really the Enterprise Software providers who sorta forced most hands, supports Solaris or Linux (Red Hat/CentOS) and x86 had caught up.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:25 PM on April 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

I don't know of many books, there will be many lived histories similar to zengargoyle"s experience, which will speak a little for the dotcom boom companies that are no longer with us. Then there's titans who survived the dotcom, Red Hat being one and their CEO Jim Whitehurst wrote The Open Organisation to describe giving away their product while empowering users with training and education (plus charging for support, that's aligned with IBM's consultative model that made possible the consolidation of these two titans).

Somewhere in there should be a history of Netscape/Mozilla, maybe look at Michael Lewis's The New New Thing which explains the money of the dotcom and the founding of Netscape company, but not what you're looking for: disruption because the cost to get your startup business on the playing field is mostly eliminated (it's merely a subtext, this Silicon Valley race to be in the market before better-resourced, established businesses replicate your work and make you redundant).

Maybe some books about [performs rite of cleansing] Jeff Bezos and Amazon choosing to pivot from selling their own catalogue to selling anyone's catalogue to pivot to renting out their unused server capacity for anyone to run their web-based business, which triggered "cloud computing." The Amazon Web Services catalogue packages a whole bunch of free-at-point-of-use software in ways you can set it to work near-imediately, with profound impact on that time-to-market and cost of getting your startup on the playing field.

Other stories worth looking out include Netflix's pivot to streaming and their "simian army" for improving reliability of the vast banks of rented servers that stream video, plus WhatsApp before selling to Meta was serving 300+ million daily users with only 80 (extremely effective) engineers -- they didn't need many experts to run a global messaging network at that scale because of the platforms already available and the extent of automation they used.

Also, Biella Coleman is an anthropologist who worked inside the Debian (Universal OS and/or GNU/Linux) cooperative project, from 2005 or so onwards. Debian persists and has roots back to September 1993 while organising itself around collaboration and voting, plus it provides the software foundation for a bunch of other OS's built on Linux, including the Ubuntu software that powers Windows Services for Linux. Coleman's writing records some of the mindset that says "do it anyway" and "share forward your gains" on which grace sits the cloud computing landscape.
posted by k3ninho at 12:05 AM on April 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

andecdota but lots of IT people interested in linux and open source also had (or found) the need to provide a print or file server for their group or company. in smaller places this might have been out in the open but larger orgs they just mysteriously appeared on the network. usually on some cast off piece of equipment so it was a zero budget solution.

soon there would be a fast-growing need for web servers, and an abundance of open source solutions. the linux servers were running already. sun, a major player at the time, released and heavily promoted the 'write once run anywhere' java runtime to write applications for them and it was a perfect storm to challenge microsoft solutions.
posted by lescour at 5:39 AM on April 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

Most of the books around this focus on the "cultural revolution" aspect of it, and include biographies and autobiographies because cultural revolutions need "heroes", because that's what's so appealing about the whole deal for so many people. But the scaffolding and settings around the stories generally have what you're actually asking for. They're all fascinating, even if some of the people and concepts have not held up over the years.

Some books that were on my shelf when I was hip-deep in this world, in rough order of how much direct insight into the business impact I recall them having:

- Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution
- Open Sources 2.0: The Continuing Evolution (a 2005 followup to the 1999 Open Sources: Voices of the Revolution)
- Just for Fun: The Story of An Accidental Revolutionary
- Free As In Freedom
- The Cathedral and the Bazaar

For other forms of media:
- Transcript of a talk from a developer-turned investor called "Open Source: From Community to Commercialization"
- The 2001 documentary RevolutionOS

There were also tons of business-y books in the early 2000s about using open source to power up your business or whatever--those types of books go out of print so fast but used bookstores in college towns or just around places like the Bay Area might have some gold.

You'll probably find books on the history of the Internet, especially up through the very beginnings of "cloud computing," have a surprising amount of what you're looking for, too.
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:32 PM on April 15, 2022

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