Is open source a train anyone can stop?

This past decade the software community has experienced significant turmoil and success. Linux, a mainstream operating system is proof you can monetize open source software with application service and support around the world.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor on

This past decade the software community has experienced significant turmoil and success. Linux, a mainstream operating system, is proof you can monetize open source software with application service and support around the world. Red Hat harnessed Linux and initially it took off into the stratosphere. It has struggled since those early years but continues to survive. Legal battles surround it, mainly from suing other open source companies like SCO.

Open source code is steadily seeing growth. Wordpress, Opera and Mozilla are companies making significant financial inroads in the software industry. With thousands of open source developers and volunteer programmers adding features and plug-ins, open source software continues to rise in popularity and is for many a profitable industry. Using a variety of software licence options within GNU - GPL, vetted by several organizations such as Open Source Initiative and Free Software Foundation, the genesis of a software application now flourishes, creating a never ending ecosystem of growth and updates. This allows continued increase market share and user base. None of these companies have been on the radar screen of any government oversight or anti-trust litigation.

The other side often referred as the dark and/or evil side is the money-grabbing power side with the likes of Microsoft, IBM, HP and others. Google's foundation is built upon open source software and now it's stuck somewhere in the middle of knight in shining armor and evil empire. We know who traditionally winds up in court versus the Department of Justice or the European Union. Never has an open source company been in defendant position. The open source community have been witnesses and appellate to the software giants and the benefactor of government actions.

What would happen if the shoes were reversed and every open source developer had to defend themselves in a court of law? It's not as though the open source community is not without experience. Microsoft vs. Java is just one of big cases which Microsoft lost. Had Sun Micro Systems lost that case, Java may have been well destroyed and along with it, thousands of opportunities for software developers. In fact, some courtroom drama of the past has been as exciting as an old Perry Mason rerun. The amount of lawsuits involving UNIX / Linux / BSD against each other is the same league as the for profit big boys, with some cases continuing in court (Appeal of 2006 Federal Suit: Novell vs. SCO Group). Novell is but a shell of its former self (but still very healthy) and SCO's, future is unknown after its filing of Chapter 11 and is still under trustee management.

Would the open source community collapse in a major government or civil litigation battle? That's simply not possible. With the government continuing to ride herd on multinational corporations along with the defensive nature of open source software culture, it has no rear guard to worry about. Augmenting that foundation is that there are simply thousands of persistent software programmers willing to soldier on. If any become a defeated group, another takes their place, backstopped by those who make open source software live on forever. Larry Ellison is currently under the microscope, worrying many that he could kill Java and MySQL. This is not realistic and is impossible given the structure of the licences these applications have. A few open source founded companies may take each other out, and all that does is open the door for another group to replace them. Microsoft, Google and Oracle are today's giants. The other side is coming through the tunnel; it's not a light you see...

Correction: Opera is not open source.

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