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i-Technology Viewpoint: Open Source is Open to Debate

Microsoft, Intel, Sun, IBM and Others Get Drawn Into It

One would think that defining the term "Open Source" is a simple task. After all, an environment is either open or it's not, right? To believe this would be to believe that corporations always have your interests at heart, that there is one true religion, and that politicians play fair.

For the current debate over Open Source involves a number of major corporations, is often religious in tone, and is relentlessly political.

The most recent major development came last week when the Open Source Initiative board held its Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco, at which it clarified its stance by stating that "license proliferation has become a significant barrier to open-source deployment-approved licenses must meet three new criteria of being a) non-duplicative, b) clear and understandable, and c) reusable." It added that it will adopt "a three-tier system in which licenses are classified as preferred, approved or deprecated."

The OSI's statement does not legally bind anyone to comply with specific guidelines or to behave in any particular way when developing and marketing its own "open source" products. And therein lies either the problem (if one believes in de jure standards and practices) or the opportunity (if one believes in de facto standards and practices).

The realm of SYS-CON Media publications--which embraces Java, Microsoft .Net, and Linux--encompasses much of the debate about Open Source, with advocates from all sides getting their points across in print and online. SYS-CON, as the world's leading i-technology media company, is able to accommodate the diverse points of view inherent in this debate.

And the debate can get fierce. Most industry cognoscenti are well-aware of a lawsuit filed by SCO against IBM regarding what could be viewed as arcane and abstruse pieces of potential intellectual property. This story has been well-reported at www.linuxbusinessweek.com as well as at an oddly-named website purporting to cover aspects of Internet Age law but actually focusing on this case and on the coverage of Linux Business Week!

But this story hardly merits the only place at the table of Open Source debate. Many of the industry's big gorillas are sitting at the adults' table as well, including Microsoft, Intel, and Sun Microsystems.

The latter company has already displeased some members of the Open Source community with its CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License), which is not compatible with at the GNU General Public License, the source of the Open Source movement and foundation upon which Linux was built.

Intel has cautiously moved to remove its Open Source License as an approved OSI open-source approach. And the OSI has deemed that all "asymmetrical, corporate licenses (have) failed. (Our) new policy will discourage them (in the future.)"

On a slightly different tack, Microsoft would also argue that its .NET application development environment provides the best openness and flexibility on the market. Sun would argue the same for J2EE. Yet, in a special to LinuxWorld, developer and writer Steve Michel stated his support of Linux-driven LAMP rather than drinking "the .NET or J2EE Kool-Aid." (see www.linuxworld.com/story/49141.htm)

The fact is, every major hardware and software company had better have its Open Source "golden pitch" ready for eager customers who have tried to abandon proprietary systems (and their anticipated expense over the long haul) for less expensive, "open" systems over the past few years.

This thinking has driven Dell from an interesting Top Three PC distributor to an industry colossus that is driving toward a goal of $80 billion in annual revenues. But is a Dell system running Linux really "open?" Microsoft would argue that there are more third-party applications for its Windows software than for any other environment, making a traditional Dell Wintel machine no less open than one driven by Linux. Yet anyone closely associated with the "Open Source movement" would howl at this assertion.

The OSI seems well-aware of this confusion, noting that a problem with its open-source definition is that it "did not specifically address was deployment." No kidding. It also notes "code written under different licenses gets mixed together, combined in new source code, linked in the same runtime, called from the same script, included on the same media."

The bottom-line to this situation, the OSI believes, is that "partisans of a particular license and companies will have to give up their vanity projects. The day of the open-source license as tribal flag or corporate monument will have to come to a close."

Given the instinct of corporations to promulgate their "standards" come hell or high water, this may be unlikely. Also unlikely to be fulfilled is the OSI sentiment that "open-source licenses are written to serve people who are not attorneys, and they need to be comprehensible by people who are not attorneys."

The reality is that the use of attorneys may be the bright spot in this story, as it keeps people from drawing guns at the OK Corral. This story is very complex, involves the future of many large IT providers, and will continue to be a top-tier story for developers and corporate IT execs for years to come. Watch this space as we seek opinions from all sides to tell us what the situation is exactly, and what their companies intend to do about it.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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Most Recent Comments
VHI 04/12/05 01:40:40 PM EDT

What is this article about? Lots of words, but no matter.

Renier 04/12/05 07:35:18 AM EDT

This debate is simply a smokescreen designed to confuse. The spirit of the Open Source Movement is freedom! GNU GPL seems to me an adequate definition, all these other licenses seem to be designed simply to curtail freedom.

Andreas Kuckartz 04/12/05 01:51:24 AM EDT

Roger Strukhoff writes about "an oddly-named website purporting to cover aspects of Internet Age law but actually focusing on this case and on the coverage of Linux Business Week".

1. He seems to write about http://groklaw.net here.

2. Criminal activities of SCO (such as stock manipulation, fraud and extortion) are a significant aspect not only of the "Internet Age" but of American society.

3. The "coverage" of the "Linux Business Week" regarding SCO consists of systematic lies and distortions on behalf of the Yarro/McBride-gang.

MOG fan 04/11/05 02:44:04 PM EDT

One don't have to be closely associated with the open source movement to 'howl' at your assertions.

Windows is not free in any sense. And you are less and less allowed to run ANY third-party software on it. It seems that a company which writes software for the Windows platform is either gets sued/threatened by M$ (Windows Commander), gets stolen their property (Stacker), gets pushed out of the market by unfair competition (WordPerfect, DR Dos) or just gets gobbled up (FoxPro, Visio) etc.

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