*Editors note: The following sentence was removed from the first paragraph of #3:
“Even as recently as November 2004, there has been talk from the kernel developers about a fork in the kernel”
It was removed along with the link to an article from November 2004 due to it being an erroneous reference and based on comments taken out of context. However, I neglected to post that I had removed this sentence because I felt that it did little to support or not support the paragraph. I apologize to the readers of the blog for calling into issue my integrity.
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 entry simply addressed issues that I see inhibiting open source, specifically Linux, from fully succeeding (i.e. dominating both the server and desktop market for computers). I should have titled the article, “Why enterprise applications may kill open source”. But hindsight is 20/20 right? On request, I will clarify a few points for those that have asked it.
1. Enterprise companies and applications that take from open source CAN KILL open source.
There is a crossroads in today’s enterprise OS. Micro$oft has pushed back Longhorn and the next greatest server application. Companies have begun to wonder what they are going to do for server/desktop OS in the near future. Many are seeing their support for enterprise server applications such as NT 4.0 and Win2k dry up and blow away. Enter Linux. Affordable, stable, and now certified as a ready alternative to M$. So Enterprise Linux begins to flourish this year. Novell, Red Hat, TurboLinux, and others start to churn out a profit and go into the huge server market with actual products that can offer benefits to all. The problem is this…what happens if those companies pull the plug on their open source support? Would they? Wouldn’t they? Why should we count on them? Didn’t Lotus 1-2-3 and OS/2 count on Micro$oft to keep them in the loop as well? Is it really something the community should bet on? Will the community bet on it? I hope not. Will it crush the community entirely? No…but it could fork open source or even set it back quite a bit. Of course, no one can see into the future, but these are valid questions to consider when you bring enterprise applications and business into the open source mix. Most of this will probably mean nothing for the common desktop Linux user or even someone who uses one or two open source applications on their M$ desktop. So why discuss it? Hindsight is always 20/20 right? Why not make foresight 20/20?
2. What do you mean that these companies don’t give back to open source. After all, IBM gave X Million dollars of support back to the community and Sun released X # lines of code…
Yes, that is true. Money being given back to the community and code being released is a good thing. I hope it continues. If business enters the fray, can you really count on it? What if companies decide it isn’t such a good business idea anymore to give back to open source? Will we cry foul and expect them to listen? Instead of investing our support for these companies…I say we should invest our support for those distros and software that aren’t available for enterprise applications. The free as in beer stuff. You know, those that charge 10 bucks to help the author who’s taxed beyond his means and has taken out a mortgage on his home just to put out the last release. Those are the ones we should cheer…not corporations. If I were rallying behind a business when I began with open source in 1995 I would have gotten shunned out of every single BBS and channel I was on. When did it become cool to rally behind business?
A corporation that sells enterprise open source will try to advance it’s own means first and then that of the open source community that supports it. If the open source community gets trampled or the short end of the stick…so be it. If the corporation sees an opportunity to take more than it gives to open source…it will happen (and most likely has happened). Remember that all they have to do to get accepted back into the community is release another few lines of code or donate a fraction of their billion dollar profits…it’s all smiles and “welcome backs” after that.
The problem with business is that business as a whole is incompatible with the spirit of open source…which doesn’t mean they can’t help each other or coexist…it just makes for an unknown future. Right now, companies have found a comfortable balance with open source. This is proving a very rich environment that open source is flourishing in. If FUD isn’t just something spoken of but something that becomes a reality, then where will we be? How do we prevent it? By being aware that it is an issue and NOT putting all of our ducks into the proverbial enterprise application row.
3. What’s this about Linux forking?
Sometimes forks in major projects can be a blessing. Sometimes though, they can kill a project. So, it’s uncertain what would happen if Linux forked. If you’re thinking…hey, nothing in open source will fork…read this and reconsider things…it’s not an impossibility. The good part about a Linux kernel fork is that open source wouldn’t die. Linux might suffer quite a bit, or it might not…but open source Linux would survive. However, if Linux forked it would be used as a “I told you so” by so many FUD brewers (like your favorite and mine Redmond micro-brewery) and with this happening, overall support would most likely suffer. Of course, this is all speculation. It’s not something we should be afraid of. It’s something we should be INFORMED of. It’s not something that should be uncertain…it should be understood. It’s not something that should provide doubt for us…it should provide knowledge of the possibilities.
There is a possibility with businesses supporting Linux that Linux will fork because of decisions that the business makes. If something the community wants conflicts with what the business wants…what is the business going to go with? Will they remove their support when they decide that they’re going with what they want instead of the community? Will they put undue pressure on individual developers in order to sway the development in their direction? Who’s to say they won’t?
Rightly so, we can’t see the future and we can speculate all day long. But we can change our awareness now and we can adapt ourselves back into the original intention of FOSS instead of nipping at the coat tails of businesses and having misplaced alliances.
4. LSB 2.0 (Linux Standard Base)
With the creation, perhaps evolution, of Linux Standard Base to version 2.0 and the creation of the Linux Core Consortium…we find an interesting way for Linux to become a viable corporate component. Not just companies either…anyone can create a Linux distro that is LSB 2.0 certified. The thing that bothers me about this is if businesses make the idea of LSB 2.0 mainstream will it lock Linux in like Micro$oft’s API did? Some people believe that now is the time for Linux to stop emulating Micro$oft and to start forging ahead. This article states that with the next release of Micro$ofts operating system…the API will change rendering previous M$ versions of programs and apps completely useless. Why is this important to Linux? It would be important because Linux would be able to pick up users left in the void. But does Linux need LSB 2.0 to do this?
According to the LSB 2.0 specification, “The LSB contains both a set of Application Program Interfaces (APIs) and Application Binary Interfaces (ABIs). APIs may appear in the source code of portable applications, while the compiled binary of that application may use the larger set of ABIs. A conforming implementation shall provide all of the ABIs listed here. The compilation system may replace (e.g. by macro definition) certain APIs with calls to one or more of the underlying binary interfaces, and may insert calls to binary interfaces as needed1”
Now let’s take a look at what an API actually is: “One of the primary purposes of an API is to provide a set of commonly-used functions?for example, to draw windows or icons on the screen. Programmers can then take advantage of the API by making use of its functionality, saving them the task of programming everything from scratch. APIs themselves are abstract: software that provides a certain API is often called the implementation of that API2“. Anyone can tell you that the first way Microsoft ever locked in vendors was with the release of Win16 followed by Win32 and soon to follow WinFX (Longhorn). Windows API’s help proprietary lock-in. Yet we are applauding it and supporting it in open source? Is there a reason why the only package format mentioned in LSB 2.0 and 2.0.1 is the rpm? It really makes one wonder if LSB 2.0 is going to ‘revolutionize’ Linux for everyone or for just a certain select group.
Some of you might think that I’m exaggerating. Some might think I’m only here to cause strife and to go against FOSS. Quite the contrary…I feel that I am helping to preserve FOSS by writing this. I would like people to be aware that LSB 2.0 might not be the fantastic ride that everyone is saying it will be. While I don’t think it will completely wipe out FOSS, it could really hinder development if used against the community…if you disbelieve this, allow me to give an example.
Let’s set up a hypothetical situation. Say that Tom is a software developer who writes a stellar program for Linux that starts to garner him some attention. His software is quickly adopted in both KDE and Gnome desktop environments and begins to be included in default installs for Linux distros. However, Tom does not have the resources to port his application over to LSB 2.0 compliance. So, company X comes in and takes the code that Tom developed and re-releases it for their own OS. Will they give that code back to Tom? Will they employ Tom to develop for them? Will they donate to HIS original cause (i.e. developing HIS software)? Or will they just take this and say that “well, we give enough back to the community because we donated X lines of code or Y applications as open source.” In this instance, the fact that Tom wasn’t able to get up to LSB 2.0 standards inhibited his program from fully realizing its potential. Will these situations make developers look into adopting a different Licensing scheme such as the creative commons or others? Only time will tell. One thing is certain; the danger of things like this happening because of LSB 2.0 is there.
5. The real threat to FOSS is YOU!
Main Entry: 1threat
Etymology: Middle English thret coercion, threat, from Old English thrEat coercion; akin to Middle High German drOz annoyance, Latin trudere to push, thrust
1 : an expression of intention to inflict evil, injury, or damage
2 : one that threatens
3 : an indication of something impending <the sky held a threat of rain>
As an avid open source contributor and user…I do not threaten nor intend to cause injury, evil, or damage to open source. I do however, try to inflict awareness, knowledge, and informed opinion toward other users of FOSS.
6. But you IDIOT! Open Source IS succeeding!
Agreed. It is currently enjoying a surge in success with applications such Firefox, OpenOffice, and various Linux distributions. However, open source is still used on a minority level by the common end user. It may be succeeding in the opinions and perspectives of those that use it on a daily basis…but overall, it’s still not successful. Take your common computer user for example. They go down to Wal-Mart or CompUSA and pick up a 500 dollar desktop. They come home and hook it up to their dialup connection and begin to surf the web. Of course, they don’t install any huge programs because that would require them to be online all day downloading it. Not only that but your average person doesn’t even know what open source is! I took a quick poll of the 40 people I work with (I work Electronics for the Military) and only 14 people even knew what open source was!
The bottom line is…open source hasn’t had the amount of exposure that it deserves…and probably never will because it isn’t a business (thank God). The common computer user still isn’t savvy enough to understand what open source is and how it can benefit them. Open source is winning small battles currently through programs gaining popularity…but isn’t successful overall. When common users a) know what it is and b) use it as opposed to proprietary alternatives…then and only then will open source be a complete success.
6. Proprietary vs. GPL
I’ve stated previously that if DeveloperX develops a program under the GPL and CompanyX snags it, stamps 1.0 on it, makes small changes, closes the source, and releases it under their own license…that they could possibly bring developerX to court later. Most of you told me I was crazy because the GPL/LGPL/SISSL or whatever license FOSS was licensed under would protect the developer. Would it? When was the last time a company brought a small developer to court? Would the small developer even last out a large legal campaign (Remember that a legal campaign for patent defense costs over 2 million USD)? Before you answer, consider the following:
- We have a patent system that is corrupt. Anyone can sue anyone for patent violation even if they do not own the rights to what they are suing over. Think SCO on this one. Those guys have no case and still they are allowed to sue draggin people into a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
- Even industry standards can be patented…look at TCP/IP, small revisions, and CISCO.
- With a lack of central ownership of Linux…businesses might see a gap in which they can get an ‘inside advantage’ through picking off small developers one at a time. With the lack of corporate representation…small developers are ripe for the shooting.
- Small open source developers can be sued for just about anything at anytime…think mambo (now I know it wasn’t brought to court…but what was stopping the idiot that brought it up from taking it to court? Nothing. He could have had he wanted to…what a crappy patent system we have).
You may not like what I have to say. You may not agree with what I say. However, there are those out there that share the same opinions and concern that I have outlined in this entry. Most of the people that express this concern have been involved with open source since the inception of it into mainstream technology. Most that disagree use only a few open source applications or run one version of desktop Linux and have been involved with open source for a few years. You can state that concern like this is misplaced and not worth the read. Remember though that I write this not to turn people away from open source…but to inform those that use open source that there is a change in the tide for Linux. I hope that everyone takes this entry as such.
“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.” James Carse.
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