Why does open source need a villain?

Summary:Jobs' Apple simply does not pose the same threat to open source Gates' Microsoft did back in 2005, when ZDNet launched this blog.

Cesar Romero as The Joker, Batman TV show 1960s
Bill Gates has been in "retirement" for less than a month (heading his Foundation may be harder than being Microsoft CEO) and already open source advocates have settled on a replacement.

Steve Jobs.

As I wrote earlier this week, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Now Jobs is rich, he's powerful, and he's the same age as Billy and me (53). But in terms of the threat Jobs poses to open source, it's like going from Heath Ledger's Joker to Cesar Romero's (above).

Jobs' Apple simply does not pose the same threat to open source Gates' Microsoft did back in 2005, when ZDNet launched this blog.

Microsoft had a lock on the desktop, it had a strong position in the server space, it had a real position in online services and mobile. It even had its own TV network. Not to mention lawyers and lobbyists talented enough to beat the U.S. government.

Apple has a tiny desktop market share, nothing in the server space. Its power lies in gadgets -- the iPod and iPhone -- and the network services feeding them. That's it. That's all.

My view may be unpopular (it may even be wrong) but I see Apple's legal manuevers as supporting open source arguments, not threatening them.

So why the obvious upset? Why is the Free Software Foundation thundering that the iPhone threatens freedom? You want freedom fries with that?

I suspect this has more to do with human nature than business reality. Gates always focused intently on one enemy at a time, and always felt himself the underdog. This was part of his strength.

But open source is not a company. Open source is a lot of things. A movement. A business model. A development model. A legal framework. (Insert your view here.) But not a business.

My own belief is that Jobs' absolute belief in the proprietary model will, in the end, be his undoing. He lost a six-year lead in desktop technology because of it. The iPhone could easily fall to the same hubris.

Don't make Steve Jobs out to be more than he is. Stop worrying about what he's going to do to open source.

Make him worry about what open source is going to do to him.

Topics: Apple, Open Source


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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