Why Open Source Isn’t Succeeding

“It’s not the big that beats the small; it’s the fast that beats the slow.” Niklas Zennstrom

There was a time early in the dawn of computers where .edu’s and .orgs co-mingled ideas and thoughts via IRC and newsgroups in a conducive and non-proprietary way. The great ideas that were born from this still thrive today in the form of RFC’s, Internet Standards, Protocols, and other surges of genius that sprung from these beginnings.

Lately however, certain things have begun to become apparent. Proprietary software vendors have locked the advancement of technology. This is to be expected. The open source movement is in full swing to counteract that. The only problem with the open source movement is in trying to counteract this huge pendulum and swing it from closed source proprietary toward a multi-source, multi-national technological advancement (for the gain of mankind and not company kind). Instead, open source has begun to push the stone uphill on it’s own without assistance from the VERY companies that take from it.

The bottom line is that companies will take from open source without any inhibitions at all. But when it comes to defending that which they take, they shrivel into the shadows and hope no one notices them. Companies are not in symbiosis with open source…oh sure, some of them might be sympathetic to open source. As we’ve seen with the Linux Core Consortium, companies will pledge their favor but not their resources. But until ALL companies that take from open source give back through REAL support (financial or otherwise)…they’ll continue to be identified as an entity that takes from another without providing anything in return. The word for that is PARASITE.

Companies that take from open source without giving back are a parasite to open source; they are killing it from within. The bad part about this is that we are helping this parasite…even applauding what it is doing. Many of us cheer when company X converts 250 computers to Novell or RedHat…but that isn’t open source anymore! They’re companies who happen to use Linux…they’re just not pure open source no matter what their beginnings are or were. The support and recognition go to Novell and Redhat…the financial gain goes to those companies and not back into open source. Sure, they provide some packages and free-for-home-use downloads and other niceties to try and counteract things…but open source still loses. It loses because there are more takers than givers.

Open source advocates shouldn’t be cheering when company X converts 250 computers it has to Novell or Redhat because they’re just cheering for the company. Even when Linux becomes THE accepted alternative for business and enterprise applications we should refrain from cheering companies such as Redhat and Novell because the money they earn doens’t go back into open source…and the name they make for themselves…does nothing for open source. No matter how hard they try, they’ll always take more than they give.

Some of you might be saying, “But the simple fact is that when Company X converts to Linux, they are embracing Linux in general…not just the company that sells it. This means that they’ll open up more to open source programs such as OpenOffice and Firefox”. Perhaps. But I’d be more willing to believe that company X won’t do ANYTHING that the vendor who provided them with Linux advised against…especially if warranty and license prevent it. So if said Linux vendor who provided them with 250 Linux desktops decided they didn’t want Company X to use OpenOffice…that company wouldn’t use it. The power of choice has been removed.

Until companies aren’t afraid to offer FULL and unadulterated support for Linux (LSB 2.0 standard or the Linux Core Consortium) and free open source software, the open source movement will not succeed.

Author: devnet

devnet has been a project manager for a Fortune 500 company, a Unix and Linux administrator, a Technical Writer, a System Analyst, and a Systems Engineer during his 20+ years working with Technology.

47 thoughts on “Why Open Source Isn’t Succeeding”

  1. Ha,

    And that rock there pushing uphill is the one that you have been living under. I could write a comment to almost every line you wrote, but I decided not to.

    It’s just because of your way of thinking that it’s not getting of the ground fast enough. Open Source never was about what they’ll be getting back it’s a one way form of free sharing you just can’t understand I guess.

    Greeting From Roel

  2. Customers want to know how you can solve their problem today cheaper than the opposition. They respect open source/free software for that when they use it, and they give back in a variety of ways – not least of which is those running Red Hat and SLES are funding more development.

    Philosophy is not interesting to your average CEO I’m afraid. Explain in business terms why free software is good and its the same message in a form they understand – competition, freedom from monopolies, control of your own destiny, and the big one “reducing risk” /reducing dependance.

  3. Not only that, but companies would rather PAY than get something for free. The standard line is:
    Free software isn’t supported (as well).

    While this is not valid reasoning, it still exists.

  4. IMHO, *you’re* a much bigger threat to open source than any firm.

    For example, you don’t even take the time to get correct facts. Take the line “we should refrain from cheering companies such as Redhat and Novell because the money they earn doens’t go back into open source…” This conveniently ignores the fact that Red Hat (note the space and capital H) and Novell have donated a fair bit of IP to open source (e.g., YaST) and pay for the salaries of a large number of contributors to open source projects. Now, does 100% of income get devoted to open source? Of course not — not even the most efficient charities in the world are able to convert 100% of funds into positive contributions. After all, there’s rent to pay.

    If you feel these firms, having already contributed hundreds of thousands of lines of code to open source and more every year, are insufficiently “giving back” to open source, what *does* constitute “giving back”? A million lines of code? A billion? Your face adorning a statue in Golden Gate Park? I mean, after all, you’re trying to set yourself up as the Mao Zedong of open source, and Mao did like his statues.

    I suppose your problems stem back to the “It loses because there are more takers than givers” concept. Of course, when people kvetch about kids downloading music for free, others are quick to rush in saying “there’s no harm” since they wouldn’t have paid for the music in the first place. If the music industry can support some degree of “freeloaders”, then so can open source.

    Companies aren’t pure as the driven snow, but then again, nobody is. If you can’t appreciate the value of open source being carried places where open source advocates ourselves would be hard-pressed to take it, that’s your call. What worries *me* is that your drivel got linked to from Newsforge.

  5. Lemme guess … you’re one of those Debian or Gentoo whiners that gets their panties in a bunch every time someone selects Red Hat or Novell for a Linux project. Or maybe you’re just Bruce Perens or Richard Stallman writing under an assumed name.

    Open source IS succeeding. You’re not going to get everyone to go whole-hog for it overnight. The world is slowly waking up to the benefits of using free software, and slowly deploying it in new projects. Just ride it out.

    You have to remember that most people don’t care about freedom. They just want software that doesn’t suck. For those of us on the inside, open source may be an end in itself, but for the majority of people who select software, it’s merely a means to an end. That end is, of course, software that is high quality and low price. Open Source can deliver that.

    Red Hat, Novell, and even Sun have given back quite a bit more than you give them credit for. They’re part of the community. So quit whining.

  6. Nonsense.

    Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) are being supported by LOTS of companies that do give back what they take. Just to mention some, I shall remember that US$ 1 billion IBM is giving away yearly for FOSS development. Also Novell’s opening of SuSE’s YaST or Evolution’s exchange connector, Red Hat’s offerings of ALL their enterprise systems’ code for free download, Sun Microsystems’ releasing of StarOffice’s code (that originated OpenOffice.org), Apples’ OpenDarwin and Safari etc. etc. etc… Even Microsoft is releasing stuff as Open Source Software (e.g. Windows Installer XML, aka WiX, toolset)!

    Sorry: try better next time.

    Kind regards,

    Editor in Chief
    Linux Magazine Brasil

  7. Show me a company that isn’t about making money and I’ll agree with you.

    Those companies give back to Open Source so they can further they’re own ends…it’s all about making a buck. They’ll let the standard person download and beta test everything, then they’ll take it back, stamp 1.0 on it and charge money for it. And if the guy who beta tested it tries to create his own based on the beta? what’s to say he won’t be sued? Hell, Bruce Perens agrees with me..


    As stated in this blog entry…they may open up a distro for download or give access to repositories and other such things or drop some cash into an open source pot…but they do their ‘testing’ in the community (think Fedora) and then close the license off on it and sell it for 4,000USD. And they’ll keep on using the common user as a stepping stone to race up that same money hill.

  8. You misinterpret me. I’m not whining. I’m worried. I hope people don’t put too much faith in companies such as IBM, Novell, and Red Hat. The main reason being…Microsoft started off designing RFC’s with IBM and look at what they (M$) are now. I sure hope open source isn’t forgotten by these companies…I hope they really support it and don’t do sheisty stuffs like closing down a program after only open sourcing it for testing. That stuff is what I’m worried about. And with Enterprise Linux becoming huge now…it could be that this is the way things might go. So…not whining…but worried. And not Gentoo or Debian…but Red Hat 9.0 and Slackware.

  9. I have an idea! Lets make a clause in the GPL that says you have to give back to the community if you use the product! No, wait, that won’t work for companies who don’t add any extra features. A better idea! We’ll make it so they have to *pay* to use it! That will ensure they give something back to the community.

    Oh, while we’re at it, lets change it from “free software” to “proprietary software”. Apparently you don’t know the difference.

  10. “..Debian or Gentoo whiners…”? You’re slamming a set of not so insignificant supporters of FOSS.

  11. The beauty of open source is that it dosn’t matter how much you take from it, only how much you give.

  12. When I first came across this article about Open Source coming up as the loser in the software world, I of course was almost immediately up in arms. I am a very public, very fierce supporter of the Open Source movement. However, as I read through some of the points that were being made in this article, I could begin to see this persons cause for concern. While I still do not completely agree with many of the points that are being made at linux-blog.org, some of them do really make you stop and question the give/take relationship from deep within the movement. Regardless, I believe that the movement is going to continue to succeed and grow well into the years to come….

  13. *Those companies give back to Open Source so they can further they’re own ends…*

    Absolutely… that’s _why_ Open Source works.

    *it’s all about making a buck.*

    Half-true. Really, it’s all about getting out what you want. Sometimes it’s as simple as the satisfaction of doing something constructive or finding a useful home for lost software. Sometimes it’s fame or CV fodder. Sometimes it’s a buck.

    The important thing is that the process works, it continues (it’s self-sustaining), and it potentially benefits everyone. I’m _delighted_ that someone can make a buck off that, just as long as they don’t try to stop _anyone else_ from making a buck, _or not_, as well.

  14. (*Show me a company that isn’t about making money and I’ll agree with you*)

    Surely even you can understand that the first priority of any company is about staying alive. That’s why you eat first, before starting coding again. It’s only natural.

    Negative nonsense like this is a good laugh, but in the end I truly believe that FOSS is succeeding.
    To give you another idea for a new story: he who downloads a GNU/Linux system and uses it, can also do this only for his own benefit:
    – he doesn’t have to pay for a license
    – he doesn’t have to give anything back to the community

  15. I sure hope open source isn’t forgotten by these companies…I hope they really support it and don’t do sheisty stuffs like closing down a program after only open sourcing it for testing.

    Right there you show your understanding of open source, or lack thereof. IBM has open sourced Cloudscape (under the GPL I believe). If they decide to “shut it down”, then all you have to do is fork any code that is already released under the GPL.

    “They’ll let the standard person download and beta test everything, then they’ll take it back, stamp 1.0 on it and charge money for it. And if the guy who beta tested it tries to create his own based on the beta? what’s to say he won’t be sued? Hell, Bruce Perens agrees with me

    Oh, well, Bruce Perens agrees with you, enough said, let’s quit argueing :-P. If Red Hat releases Project X under the GPL, they CANNOT sue me for releasing my own version of Project X as long as I remain in compliane with the GPL. Name one court case where someone has been succesfully sued for forking a GPL project while remaining in compliance with the GPL.

    KDE and Gnome continue to get better and remain free to download, thanks to the support of Red Hat, Novell and other companies. The Linux kernel has a whole crapload of Red Hat and IBM code in it, and continues to remain free for download, while getting better and better. OpenOffice was successfully forked (SOT Office…although I think it has died as it didn’t offer much over OpenOffice) and SOT wasn’t sued by Sun. Novell and Red Hat continue to bundle OpenOffice in their products while not being sued by Sun.

    Offer some proof other than Bruce Peren’s opinions (which don’t mean much IMHO) or else quit trolling.

  16. To start, we must remember that business is dedicated to the bottom line – period. Businesses exist to generate profit, and are obligated to generate profit for investors. If a business does not generate profit, it will stop doing business and cease to exist. We can no more condemn a business for being what it is than we can a shark in the sea for being what it is.

    On the other hand, the Open Source Movement consists of a community of people, some of whom represent businesses. The Open Source Movement owes its success to the community of people who comprise it, and it is the people of the Open Source Community who insure its continued success.

    Because I have faith in the people of the Open Source Movement, I have faith in its continued success.

  17. Open source never work out for those companies who never gives back to community. We should not get worry about those losers and companies.

  18. Now you’re being silly man. That’s not what I’m saying. Try reading again, taking 10 deep breaths to calm yourself down, shun off any presupposition you might have to triteness, and then respond.

  19. KDE and Gnome get better thanks to the support of the common person who uses open source. Remember that if a company drops lines of code in…it doesn’t mean squat without the coders to manipulate it.

    Businesses have nothing but business in mind when they do this…but the common person has open source in mind and making things A) easier for them B) free for them C) well known and they do all of this on their own without companies holding their hands.

  20. Making a buck is NOT what open source is about.

    Go back to the 1990’s and tell me that Open Source is about making a buck. Open source then and now have changed on scale…but the GNU hasn’t changed…and neither should the spirit of open source…but that is something that will be unavoidable…and that’s what this article is about.

  21. yeah….evidently “we’re” really hungry. You leave one negative line in response to the article and I’m a troll. Nice.

    As stated previously…I am not trolling. I am not looking to piss people off. I’m sincerely stating my opinion on a subject. If you don’t like it…fine and good. Just don’t accuse me of trolling when I’m not…

  22. Interesting to read that OpenSource isn’t succeeding. I wonder how much OpenSource software was used to make this article available to the Internet reader? My guess is that Bind might have been used somewhere on the line. I see a .php extension in the URL, so I guess that is also used. The webserver the article is published on is an Apache, and if something hasn’t changed since this morning Apache is also OpenSource.

    The pont is: OpenSource is already a success! Just because a single writer doen’t see it on his desktop doen’t meen the concept has failed.

  23. Open source software is not just Linux. Just take a look at the total amount of downloads sourceforge.net has daily.

    Quote: “Companies that take from open source without giving back are a parasite to open source;”
    In what way do you see companies giving back to an open source project?

    Quote: “pure open source”.
    What’s pure open source source in your opinion?

  24. OK, so I was wrong about KDE/Gnome. You missed my point. So let’s stick with OpenOffice. I could fork OpenOffice right now, and if Sun sued me, I’d march into court with the source code from Sun’s OpenOffice development tree that I forked and a copy of the LGPL/SISSL and there is nothing Sun could do about it. The author acts as if as soon as someone sues you the world is over. As is being shown with SCO, that is not true.

    Oh, and if you go into the about screens on a lot of the components of Gnome, they are Copyright Red Hat. Does that stop Ubuntu, Debian, Novell, Sun, etc. etc. from including those components in their products…?

  25. I use it to the fullest extent. I’m typing this currently using firefox 1.0 on PCLinuxOS 8

    My server is a Red Hat 9.0 Server utilizing webmin. I use noip for my ip address. I designed the pages all using a text editor via KDE to edit .css and layout.

    I don’t want open source to NOT succeed. But I’m worried that it won’t with the new ENTERPRISE application. The desktop will never die…that I’m not debating…but if Linux is forked or snubbed by businesses…and the community doesn’t stay on track..I’m worried it will doom it.

  26. Pure open source existed in the early nineties and late eighties when RFC’s were being developed…standards were being put together and everyone worked for the benefit of knowledge. Businesses and education centers were involved with it…but they didn’t turn around and release what they were working on as an enterprise application and make cash off it.

    Enter Microsoft who told everyone to develop applications for OS/2 and then secretly developed a little thing called Windows 95 which clobbered everything anyone else had out…and also clobbered all those developing applications for OS/2. Microsoft used to be one of those that gave much to open source in the early days…what changed? Can you honestly say that being a business that requires profit didn’t change them? What changed? Who knows…but their views changed and support was given to proprietary software and code was locked and sealed.

    Does this mean that every business will do it? NO. But that’s not what my post is about now is it? It’s about us not investing too much into companies that MIGHT sell us out. We need to be careful. That’s all I’m saying. If all of these companies are so open source minded and givng SO MUCH TO FOSS…why don’t they do more than pledge their verbal support of the Linux Core Consortium? Cuz they’re scared of investing their time and money in something that might not pay off. Perhaps if things go wrong..they may even pull their support eh? Makes me wonder. Hence this entry in the blog.

  27. So what if Linux is forked??? The Community and Linus could hibernate for 3 years while Red Hat forks the kernel to keep it going. When we all wake up, we download their development tree and keep right on programming. You seem to dance around and ignore what I have pointed out numerous times, it DOES NOT MATTER WHAT THE COMPANY’S INTERESTS ARE IN OPEN SOURCE!!!! They cannot take it away. The GPL expressly forbids this.

    Make up a hypothetical situation of what the “evil Red Hat or Novell” could do. What bad could possibly happen by these companies being involved? You seem to keep saying these companies are going to hurt open source, yet you don’t explain how. I present an issue (the terms of the GPL) to debunk your claims, and then you completely ignore what I’ve said.

    So, I ask again. How possibly could these companies hurt open source WITHOUT violating the GPL and commiting copyright infringement?

  28. first off, the GPL has not been tested in the courts…are you willing to bet everything you own on it? That’s what it’ll take if you want to win in courts against a huge company that brings infringement against you. You better be willing to put your arse on the line and possibly get put through the ringer…and all on an untested-in-court license.

  29. The beauty of opensource is the fact that as soon as a company goes into code locking and sealing, a majority of people will not follow them, they will go to the next opensource solution.
    I believe it’s within Linux administrators not to follow companies who will start developing their own software.

    When Red Hat started charging money for their “new” OS (RHES), alot of people switched to Fedora or other distro’s. Fedora is funded by Red Hat, the developers of Red Hat use Fedora sort of as a playground.

    Novell didn’t change anything on SuSE’s policies, besides opening the source code of YAST.

    Companies won’t fork Linux like you mentioned earlier, cause if they do the community won’t follow them. There’s to much software already written for Linux at the moment that if a company starts to change the kernel code, they will still have to be compatible with existing software. Again just look at the amount of opensource software that’s being developed and used.

  30. You can reject the GPL and still use GPL software! The I accept the GPL dialog boxes are contrary to the GPL.

    There is no reason to suspect that the GPL is invalid. It contains all the necessary parts of a contract. You get something of value (the right to distribute the software) in exchange for something of value (the source code of your changes) and all actions of both parties are not inherently illegal.
    In fact it is possible that most judges would not entertain a challenge to the GPL and possibly allow sanctions against the attorney that challenged the GPL. It is a more solid than a contract that says: A will Pay B one(1) euro for one(1) fluid oz. of orange juice. because there are controls on the prices of commodities.

    The the GPL has never been challenged in court is just because no one has been stupid enough to challenge it. Even SCO amended their complaint to not challenge the GPL. It is voluntary and requires active deliberate action to participate in the contract. Just using GPL software does not make you subject to the GPL. Only distributing copyrighted works requires a license. The GPL is a license that fulfills the elements of a valid contract under contract law.

  31. Let’s hope linux is forked if the current developer core ever falls asleep like the XFree86 guys did. Oh, I just showed an example of forking being good.

  32. The title of this really makes you wonder: Since when is open source not succeeding? It looks to me like its doing just fine.

  33. open Source has already succeeded. ITS everywhere. From the open tcp/ip stack from bsd that is incorporated into every device that might be connected to the net, to the majority of webservers running apache. Your take reads like a million other “why linux/open source” hasn’t arrived yet articles, with your own microcosmic view of its remaining hurdles. Your paticular flaw is in failing to understand that software distribution costs are getting closer and closer to zero all the time. and thus if you have lots a takers and a core of dedicated contributors you still get new software created. That is to say, you have proven no harm, if novell and Red Hat make billions off of open source software, (to my knowledge the vast majority of software redhat writes is open source, with a remarkably few exceptions) and give back very little, they have harmed the community exactly zero. Making a profit and cooperating within a community are far from mutually exclusive.

  34. Try reading it again without thinking it’s there to do nothing but annoy you. The only thing this WEBLOG entry is…is an opinion. I didn’t submit it, I didn’t ask for people to go off on it. And people don’t have to agree with it.

    Open Source has not succeeded as a whole…only parts of it has. When it dominates the desktop and litters the server market, then I’ll agree with it being a success.

  35. Some of you may have read my previous entry?that sparked quite a bit of debate.? Looking back on the content, I realize that the title of the entry could be misinterpreted as FUD or even trolling.? Please understand that this wasn’t the intention.? The en

  36. HI:
    I am a Fedora 3 user. I have set up a duelboot sys with MS Xpp on other drive. I use Linux 90% of the time. I mainly surf and read tech articles. I am not a big gamer fan. I am a relative newbe to linux and enjoy it. I think MS will loose a lot more users once we get them to try Linux.
    Windows is a good operating sys but it is getting too expensive.

  37. Actually, considering the nature of large corporations, I think the level of cooperation has been remarkable.
    The opinion stated by the author about limiting choice because the influence is in the hand of the providing Linux company is a valid one. But this is unavoidable when you roll in a company to do your solutions for you, isn’t it? And Linux won’t make it in the company if it’s technical merits aren’t adequate (or at least, I think so. I seem to remember 10.000 Windows PCs in the city administration of Stockholm, and they did not want to change…)

  38. Found this on the Yet Another Linux Blog via LinuxToday: Some of you might be saying, “But the simple fact is that when Company X converts to Linux, they are embracing Linux in general…not just the company that sells it….

  39. I’m quite worried at your poor use of the word “parasite”. The word implies that one entity gains something at the _expense_ of the other.

    A company which uses open source may often not give back to it, but they don’t do any significant harm to it either. Unless you start counting bandwidth charges, the worst the company can be is neutral. This type of relationship is called ‘commensalism’ and is completely different from parasitism.

    From reading the article and replies, the most obvious thing is that you don’t seem to quite comprehend the strength of the GPL. If software is released under the GPL, it can _never_ be recalled. Subsequent versions could be released under a different license, but users may still distribute the old version and even improve it under a different name perfectly freely.

    The fact that the GPL hasn’t been tested in court shows that even the best lawyers haven’t managed to find any loopholes in it with a good enough chance of success to make it worth the cost of taking somebody who just forked your GPL program to court.

    You mention that these companies are using the open source community as a “test bed” for beta versions of commercial products. Good on them! Even if they hold back on some of the extra features, they’ve still given a functional program to us with permission to modify it for our own purposes. Forking time, anyone?

    Many companies also give back to open source as a by-product of helping themselves. If a company has 200 computers and wants a single feature that a proprietary program has that their open source program doesn’t, it might well be more cost effective to pay a programmer (perhaps the original development team) to add that feature than it would be to buy a license for the proprietary program for _each machine_.

    If the company have to pay extra for exclusive rights to the feature, in most cases they won’t pay the extra cost unless their competition would also be able to use it. Even if they get exclusive rights anyway, it sometimes only takes one open source fanatic in the tech department to persuade the management to release it on a “why not?” basis.

    In short, open source can at worst not benefit from these companies. At best, companies can and frequently do invest significant resources to improve open source software, which is a good thing regardless of their motives.

  40. Sorry, a bit of clarification. When I said “Even if they get exclusive rights anyway” I meant if they get those rights at no extra cost. It reads very differently from the way I meant it.

  41. Right there you show your understanding of open source, or lack thereof. IBM has open sourced Cloudscape (under the GPL I believe). If they decide to “shut it down”, then all you have to do is fork any code that is already released under the GPL.

    Did they GPL all the patents used in that software?

    Try this one:
    Company X releases product Y as GPL.
    It gets inproved by FOSS developers.
    Company X wants to make money by all this free effort.
    They make their next version closed source.
    Users that have come to rely on Product Y have two choices, pay or use the old version without security fixes or new features.
    Anyone that uses the GPL source to create their own fork get sued for patent infringement.

  42. "One country . . . one ideology, one system is not sufficient. It is helpful to have a variety of different approaches . . . We can then make a joint effort to solve the problems of the whole of humankind." Dalai LamaOpen source and Linux is cur

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