Can or should in open source

Whether Oracle and Microsoft should do what they can do is the question.

In reading some of our talkbacks, especially when discussing Microsoft and Oracle, some open source advocates may be getting confused over can and should.

I think Microsoft probably can limit Kinect to the XBox. I think they can extract as much cash from every unit sold as possible, because they own the necessary copyrights and patents.

But they should not do this, I believe, because it would not be in their long term financial interest. It would be much better, in my view, for them to dominate the interface market, to let 1,000 projects bloom, to work with the best and be cooperative.

They might suggest to Outercurve (which is totally separate and independent from either Microsoft or Codeplex) that it launch a Kinect gallery, to which they would contribute code under, say, a Microsoft-endorsed open source license.

Write a check, put some young member of the team in charge, build some OEM and ISV channels. You know, developers, developers, developers, developers. (Didn't go where you thought, did it?

Why? Because they would make more money this way than by acting as Nintendo did with the Wii, controlling what could be done with it and isolating it to their game machine.

Oracle can try and use courts to put open source on the defensive. They can make Java de-facto proprietary, they can withdraw support from OpenOffice.org and send the lawyers after Libreoffice. They proved what they could do with OpenSolaris and mySQL.

They can try. I don't know whether they would succeed. It would certainly be a long and expensive struggle.

Should they? It would seem to be in their financial best-interest to do so.

Oracle will never be more than tolerated by its enterprise customers. It will never be loved. When it charges them out the wazoo, then uses the law to try and force smaller competitors to do the same, however, it's also helping those big fish stay big.

Should they, morally? I wouldn't. I think Oracle is engaged here in a battle for scarcity. It is trying to artificially inflate the price of software, which limits its reach. But what hurts the software ecosystem may fatten its bank balance, like dumping chemical sludge into the ocean.

In none of these cases do I get a say. Nor do you. We're speculating here. It's a parlor game.

It only gets serious when you have to do resource planning on behalf of your company or your career. Should you go with open source that looks cheap now but might be bought by Oracle later? Should you spend a weekend with the Kinect interface?

One thing I have learned at ZDNet is that a blog post is not a "story." It's not the last word on anything. It's a scene-setter, a conversation starter. The real show here isn't me -- it's you.

So what do you think? Can Oracle do what it wants to do? Should Microsoft be more open? And can we, the people, have any influence on changing the legal environment so the conclusions in both these cases change? Should we?

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