Should we fight the proprietary open source power?

In open source, however, at least you can see the code, add your fix, add your feature, tell your friends, blog about it, put it on your Web site and hope, through the magic of Google, it's found by those who need it. http://saviorodrigues.wordpress.com/2008/01/30/proprietary-open-source/

John Edwards
Mr. Buzzword for February appears to be proprietary open source.

This is an open source project which is owned or controlled by one company. Even though it may have a GPL license, you have no more power over it than a single voter in a political system.

The definition has changed since I first wrote the Open Source Incline back in 2006. It's now a development model, not a licensing model.

But the intent is still the same, and the impact similar, as Savio Rodrigues notes. In the proprietary model your own features and bug fixes may be ignored by the project's "owner" so what's the use?

You have even less control over the project's business model. If the "owner" wants to let someone do a proprietary fork which undermines your work, there may be little you can do. Especially if you happen to work for said owner.

Few of us come to this debate with clean hands, because we all like to eat and have roofs over our heads. Savio, whose post started this thread, works at IBM, which through Eclipse offers a different model.

And Big Blue also must eat, as a commenter e-mailed me after I praised IBM's Jazz contributions. They do want to lock people into buying Rational tools, he said, and open source is a means to that end.

Even my own objectivity can be sullied by my desire to eat well. I avoid topics involving ZDNet, C|Net and my wife's employer for that reason. I may tilt at windmills here, but some windmills are more equal than others.

Which is sort of the point. As projects, or blogs, scale, they have to become group efforts, and a successful effort requires some sort of business model to pay the bills. Everyone must compromise. Someone must rule.

As time goes by, moreover, we all have to get big or get out. I supported John Edwards on my personal blog but when any market narrows you have to accept your second choice, or your third, and hope for the best.

In open source, however, at least you can see the code, add your fix, add your feature, tell your friends, blog about it, put it on your Web site and hope, through the magic of Google, it's found by those who need it.

That's a big achievement. That's reform. That pushes history forward just a little bit.

Which is all any of us can legitimately ask for.

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