Open Source: Its Still All about Control

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-08-23

Open Source: Its Still All about Control

What do Microsofts offer to do a joint, independent research project to analyze the benefits of Linux versus Windows, Miro fighting with Mambos developers over Mambo management and Suns Common Development and Distribution License all have in common? Theyre all about control.

There is this delusion by some open-source opponents that open-source and free software is some kind of wild-eyed, long-haired socialist experiment by neo-hippies who dont bathe, dont have real jobs and sneer at the capitalist, work-a-day world.

The fact that IBM—capitalist company of capitalist companies!—has bet it all on Linux seems to have escaped them.

Its not just IBM though.

Despite the dopes who insist that theres no good reason to switch from Windows to Linux, Microsoft knows better. CEO Steve Ballmer himself counts Linux among the most significant challengers Microsoft faces—not because of anti-Microsoft bigots—but because there is a real business choice between Linux and Windows.

So, since Microsofts Get the FUD—darn I keep doing that!—Facts propaganda campaign isnt holding Linux back, Microsoft is trying to regain control of the marketing wars by claiming that it wants to get past the hype and let the best operating system win in an independent test.

Microsoft asks the OSDL to work with it on a joint, independent research project to do some facts-based analysis of Linux and Windows. Click here to read more.

Yeah, and Cindy Sheehan really expects George Bush to meet with her and fall down on his knees and beg for forgiveness for the Iraqi war.

This is a standard PR gambit, in which you offer something that sounds reasonable to the naive, but is impossible in the real world. Were the OSDL (Open Source Development Labs) to meet with Microsoft, just how successful do you think theyd be in reaching an agreement with Microsoft on an independent study?

Somehow, I dont think Microsoft and the OSDL could ever get on the same page. And with every delay Microsofts head penguin basher, Martin Taylor, would wring his hands and say how Microsoft is bending over to be fair.

The very thought is enough to make me gag. The OSDL should turn down Microsofts "offer" as quickly as possible.

Next Page: Battle over Mambo.

Page 2

Now, lets switch gears and look at the battle over control of the popular Mambo CMS (content management system) between developers and Miro, the company that first open-sourced Mambos code under the GPL.

Here, the original owners, when you get down to it, want to regain control of the project. The developers, realizing that they were being cut out of executive management, decided to take the code and run.

Some people might look at this and say, "See? This is how open source causes project forking."

No, not really. The best code survives.

Open source is all about the Darwinism survival of the fittest program.

Since Miro no longer has the developers, it and Mambo will die off.

The rebels, since theyre the coders, will continue to develop whatever they end up calling their version of Mambo. Their concerns, once the immediate fuss with Miro is over, will be other open-source CMSes like PHP-Fusion and Drupal, not Miro.

I strongly suspect thats why Sun didnt go the GPL route.

As Miro is now learning, if you go GPL, or many of the other popular open-source licenses, you lose control of your code. Its that simple.

Now, thats fine … if youre the best of the best.

Is someone going to fork Linux away from Linus Torvalds? I dont think so!

So, Sun, realizing that control in "pure" open source resides with whoever are the consistently best programmers, decided to create its CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License).

Personally, I have problems with the CDDL because of those issues. That said, Sun will never face a Miro-style problem with OpenSolaris programmers.

Now, I think theyll have other troubles—getting a significant programming community on board to work pro bono for Sun—but Sun does keep what it wanted: control.

And, if that makes it sound an awful lot like how traditional business works, well, in the immortal words of The Whos Pete Townshend,

Ill tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then Ill get on my knees and pray
We dont get fooled again
Dont get fooled again
No, no!


Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at

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