Lotus Founder: Open Source is Route Worth Taking

"Free riders" that used open source but fail to contribute anything back to the community could doom open-source projects to "slow starvation," Mitch Kapor tells software developers.

Will open source become the predominant development model for software? "Its just a matter of time," Lotus founder Mitch Kapor told an audience of software developers this morning.

The audience of more than 300 was gathered at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., for PyCon, a conference organized by volunteers from the Python community. The founder of Lotus Development Corp., called Lotus Software since its acquisition by IBM, told the gathered adherents of the open-source software-development language that open source is the only viable model for developing new desktop applications because of Microsofts dominance in the space.

"The landscape is littered with the corpses of commercial software companies that went up against Microsoft," Kapor said.

While extolling the open-source approach to development, Kapor cautioned developers about potential roadblocks ahead for the language and for open source in general. The most dire problem, he said, is the need to maintain funding for research and development.

"An increased focus on sustainable support is at the top of the list" of concerns for the open-source community, Kapor said. He warned that "free riders"—businesses that used open source as a major component of their business operations but fail to contribute anything back to the community—could doom open-source projects to "slow starvation."

Kapor also warned of the growing legal threats concerning software patents and intellectual property claims. But he noted that lawsuits such as those from The SCO Group are also symptomatic of open sources success. "You know youre (really successful) when the big-time parasites show up," he said, to much applause.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read an eWEEK interview with the Lotus founder.

Kapors current venture, the Open Source Application Foundation (OSAF), is developing its "Chandler" messaging and productivity application in Python. Chandler grew out of Kapors frustration in trying to help his wifes consulting firm set up group calendaring and collaboration tools. He said he found himself recommending Microsoft Exchange, which was far more complex than what the small firm really needed, because it was the only viable option available.

While Kapor is now a high-profile member of the open-source community, he wasnt always held in high regard by its evangelists. He recalled his first meeting with Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project and Free Software Foundation: "The first time I encountered Richard, he was picketing me."

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