With the recent layoffs at VMware, one of the biggest surprises was the loss of almost the whole Workstation/Fusion team. For many, this is the end of an era. Not only was Workstation one of VMware’s first products, but it was the one that gave numerous people the opportunity to play with new tech and ultimately show off the systems to and get buy-in from management. It let Devs test different builds quickly and easily, and it let server teams test updates and changes quickly and, importantly, safely.

A community built up around Workstation and Fusion that was fueled by the VMTN (VMware Technical Network) subscription and forums. I still have my VMTN T-shirt. The subscription and forums offered easy ways to share ideas and provided a cheap “in” to VMware’s software, which created a huge pool of evangelists who still promote the tech today. The combination of long-lasting trial versions, easily available and readable documentation (VMware’s docs have always been some of the best in the business), and a well-moderated community lowered the barrier to entry for VMware products in a way that no other company has achieved.
Linux had a similar growth pattern: from hobbyists, through a community that saw the potential, to the core of billions of devices. Linux’s growth was slower, but it still occurred on the back of its community. The Linux community is much larger but also massively more fragmented. Without the focal point that company backing gives, such fragmentation is inevitable.
The pace has slowed down over recent years, though. The VMTN subscription died and couldn’t be revived (although it has been somewhat replaced by the VMUG subscription). The OpenSolaris movement rumbles along slowly, but it doesn’t have the impact it once looked like it would. Linux grows ever stronger, but a solid core of the developers are employed by companies selling Linux services and building on the work already done.
Even the old stalwart has moved to a much more moderated stance. The forum and long trial versions still exist. The sponsored user groups are still huge sources of news and discussion. However, new products and features are no longer so freely available. NSX is difficult to get a hold of (unless you can swing the Install and Configure course) and to test, and it is even more difficult to buy, while VMware “ramps up the team.”
It looked like the era of community action was fading into obscurity. However, another developer resource grew out of the Linux stable: Docker. Docker gives developers very much the same benefits that Workstation did. Integrating into the modern continuous integration cycle, Docker’s containers have grown through a community of developers in a manner parallel to the Linux growth story, and with many of the same names involved. Pure community efforts rarely break into mainstream use, though. The biggest community impacts have always been fueled by company involvement.
Last week, Big Switch Networks announced a community edition combining its monitoring and cloud product sets. This is a big step forward in terms of getting the product into the hands of people who can and will test the system and evangelize before any budget is available. The fly in the ointment is that the Big Switch product needs one of a set of specific Open Networking switches. It will be interesting to see how much of an impact this has in the wider community. Needing hardware is quite a barrier, but the community is nothing if not inventive when it comes to acquiring test kit.
I hope that the eradication of the Workstation/Fusion team doesn’t signal the end of the product. Its evolution has slowed, but it is an immensely useful tool nonetheless. I hope that Big Switch’s community release is sustained and succored. But most of all, I hope it isn’t a lone shining light and that others follow suit. There is an army of evangelists out there, looking for the next big tech to dive into. I hope this is the start of something that can grow.