Open Source Community or Industry? - Predatory Open Source?

by Todd Ogasawara

I'm old enough to remember installing and using GNU EMACS, Perl, and even Linux before the term Open Source was coined. I remember patiently waiting for bunches of uuencoded installation files to appear slowly over USENET (I think GNU EMACS required something like 50 newsgroup postings). And, yes, I know RMS hates equating Free Software with Open Source. But, let's put that aside for a moment.

So, when I saw the Slashdot item titled Has Open Source Lost Its Halo?, I felt compelled the read the Illuminata Perspectives blog item that prompted that item: Predatory Open Source? by Gordon Haff.

It hits on one aspect of the many changes we've seen in the Open Source community for the past five years or so. It seems like Open Source has become somewhat less of a community and more of an industry over the years. For me, the big event was when Red Hat stopped providing free ISO downloads and updates for Red Hat Linux (after RH9). Fortunately, the community was still strong and the Fedora Core project (later absorbed back into Red Hat) and CentOS distribution picked up the slack. More recently I watched MySQL fork their database into Enterprise and Community Editions. But, although the Community binary (RPM) distributions will be limited to twice a year releases, the source code seems to be flowing at its regular pace. And, it is very easy to configure and build MySQL from source. Let's hope it stays that way.

In his blog, Gordon looks at the more recent Open Source phenomenon of firms Open Sourcing their (previously) proprietary code and ponders on possible hidden agendas. He says In effect Open Source has become a free pass for all sorts of competitive actions that would once have been--at a minimum--roundly criticized.

And, of course, the various proprietary-Open Source joint efforts (e.g, Microsoft, Novell, and Xen) and outright control by purchase (e.g., Oracle purchasing InnoDB) has raised all kind of eyebrows and questions.

One has to wonder if it is even possible to launch a new large scale Open Source project without major corporate support in today's environment. The attorney fees alone would be daunting.

That said, I still support the cooperation and convergence of the proprietary and Open Source industries (community no more? I hope not). And, I still hope that someday one of the best lightweight operating systems built gets converted from proprietary to Open Source. Which one? Windows 98 Second Edition. It requires fewer resources (RAM and disk space) than most current Linux distros, has pretty good driver support, works with a lot of peripherals, and runs some great old games that won't run in Windows XP or Vista. I'm looking at the Windows 98SE VHD file I use with Microsoft Virtual PC and note that it is mere 180MB (and runs comfortable in 64 or 128MB RAM)! Yep, you could burn it to a CD-R and have room to spare. Ok, I know it will never happen (see my tongue in cheek blog item from 2004 Microsoft should release Windows 98 SE as Open Source). But, it sure would be nice to have a bunch of FOSS developers take a swing at bringing Windows 98SE into the 21st century without making it too much bigger. :-)

And, as I said in my previous blog... I hope the new Microsoft-Novell Joint Interoperability Lab staff create a community around their work rather than just tell what will happen. Let's hope the nice folks over at Microsoft's Port 25 encourages the new joint teams in this direction.


2007-02-16 12:46:24
One has to wonder if it is even possible to launch a new large scale Open Source project without major corporate support in today's environment.

What type of project do you have in mind? Would Perl 6 qualify? (If yes, my short answer is: yes, but it's difficult.)

Todd Ogasawara
2007-02-24 23:37:35
Yes, Perl 6 definitely qualifies. :-) But, it seems more like outlier among other large FOSS projects like Red Hat, JBoss AS, SugarCRM, MySQL, etc. that seem so tied to a specific commercial entity.