Is the source of open source the root of all evil

Even if software is free time is not.

My old friend Matt Asay is out with an especially true-but-galling point.

(We're now more distant in time to the release of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon than that date was from the debut of Frank Sinatra. The former is still available at Amazon.com. But the latter may be outselling it.)

Most open source software does not come from open source companies, or the open source community.

It comes from proprietary companies. It comes from folks wanting to sell stuff by connecting their wares to the power open source provides.

Increasingly manufactured goods of all kinds -- from medical devices to cars -- is filled with software, which takes measurements, conducts an analysis, and controls functions. By deriving this software from open source prices can be kept low.

Microsoft writes a ton of open source software. So, like it or not, does Oracle. Google isn't contributing to open source because it's Santa Claus. It wants to make money.

The question is how should we react to this?

One way to react is to stick our fingers in our ears and yell very loud. I think a lot of FLOSS advocates, like Alex Oliva, might prefer we do that.

True open source advocates don't care. To us it's a feature, not a bug. Open source has always been business-oriented, so whatever does business without violating license terms is fine.

Matt left CNET after becoming COO of Canonical, the people behind Ubuntu. Canonical may be the most FLOSS-centered open source company around. Founder Mark Shuttleworth truly believes in the promise of free software. The main criticism I read of him is that it gets in the way of making money.

Yet here's Matt, his number two, admitting that most open source is going to come from the proprietary world, now and forever, that proprietary contributions are useful, that we need to get used to it.

There has always been a political divide between those who see free software as liberating and those who see it as a tool. Once this was spelled out by the divide between the GPL "copyleft" license and "permissive" licenses like Apache and Eclipse.

That's no longer the case. The obligations of the GPL led to the "open core" movement, which critics like Oliva call "free bait," open source used to bait you into some proprietary purchase. And groups like the Apache Software Foundation, while having leaders with jobs, are far more principled than their license terms would indicate.

What's happening, in my view, is we're all dealing with the requirements of making a living. Even if the software is free, time isn't. Time is money. Money may be the root of all evil but it's a necessary evil.

And if you ask for a raise, no surprise they're giving none away.

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All