Microhoo lessons for open source

What Microsoft is saying to open source here, what Oracle said to open source in the Sun deal, was said perhaps most famously by Tom Friedman in regards to the Iraq war. The polite paraphrase of Friedman's statement is this. You don't count.

On the surface the tie-up between Microsoft and Yahoo means nothing to open source.

It's not a merger. Yahoo's open source projects remain Yahoo's. This is in contrast with the Oracle-Sun deal, where Sun's open source projects were said to be behind Oracle's interest.

But look more closely. Yahoo's open source projects are now held by a company that is cash poor. The company will be under enormous pressure to monetize its software assets, and the for-sale sign is already out.

Just this year most crown jewels in the corporate open source crown have changed hands. Java. Hadoop. Open Office. The Yahoo User Interface Library. All just pawns in bigger corporate games.

This may be hard for backers of the corporate open source model, like our own Matt Asay, to explain away. But when you support a corporate open source program, your community efforts are subject to the corporation's strategic whims.

I return again to a favorite open source analogy, Tom Sawyer "painting" his Aunt Polly's fence in Mark Twain's 19th century classic. Who winds up painting the fence? Who gets the credit? Twain meant the tale as a satire of Gilded Age capitalism, the eternal struggle where you knead and bake the bread but I eat it.

Contrast this with corporate community projects such as Eclipse or Apache. What happens with one contributor there has only a limited impact on the community as a whole. Not only does the code abide, but so does the governing structure. That's protection which goes beyond what you'll find in a mere software license.

This lesson may prove hard to swallow. Communities can be starved, but corporate projects can ignore community members' wills if they want. Those who don't like the terms can fork it, out in the cold cruel world, or they can suck it up.

What Microsoft is saying to open source here, what Oracle said to open source in the Sun deal, was said perhaps most famously by Tom Friedman in regards to the Iraq war.

The polite paraphrase of Friedman's statement is this. You don't count.

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