This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of the “Open Source Definition” and the public announcement of the formation of the Open Source Initiative. The decade has been marked both by enormous achievements and serious setbacks.
“This was the first time that the general public heard what open source was about. Friday, Feb. 8 is the last day of Decade Zero of open source, while Saturday, Feb. 9 is the anniversary of open source and the start of Decade One. It’s a computer scientist thing. We always start counting from zero,” said Bruce Perens, creator of the Open Source Definition and co-founder of the Open Source Initiative.
While acknowledging the trailblazing role of Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, Perens also acknowledged the conflict that has existed between open-source and free-software evangelism.
“I always intended to have open source be another way of talking about free software, tailored to the ears of business people, that would eventually lead them to a greater appreciation of Richard Stallman’s arguments on that front. This has come to pass, and I hope you’ll continue to make it so,” Perens said in a blog posting.
Perens said the growth of open source has exceeded his expectations, noting that free and open-source software is now not only mainstream, but even leads in many business computing categories. “Our most pervasive penetration has been in business servers and embedded systems,” he said.
Microsoft officials have acknowledged that some of the changes in the upcoming release of Windows Server 2008 are a response to features and performance advantages that have made Linux an attractive option to its customers.
Perens said he is cognizant that free and open-source software has not really made a dent into Microsoft’s dominance on the desktop front, even though “free software provides a large part of Apple’s Mac operating system as well as of some critical elements of Microsoft Windows.”
But some commentators have said they believe that Windows Vista, Microsoft’s latest and widely criticized operating system release, has created the single biggest opportunity for the Linux desktop to take market share.
The fact that both Microsoft and Apple have been “forced to develop strategies to live with us, some of them less comfortable than others,” is another notable achievement, Perens said, as was the release of the third version of the GNU General Public License.
The Decades Negatives for Open Source
Some of the less stellar events over the past decade were the SCO lawsuit and Microsoft’s apparent belief that software patents were the Achilles heel of free software, he said. “SCO is toast. Good riddance. However, many in our community have been damaged by SCO’s allegations and will never be compensated,” Perens said.
Last May, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, claimed that free and open-source technologies violated 235 Microsoft patents, with the Linux kernel running afoul of 42, the Linux GUIs infringing another 65, the Open Office suite of programs infringing 45 more, e-mail programs infringing 15, and other assorted free and open-source programs allegedly infringing 68.
As such, Microsoft remains problematic, a bastion of the old way of thinking about software and the epitome of the old school of dirty corporate fighting, Perens said.
Perens said Microsoft’s current strategy is “to poison us with money, most recently by making patent agreements with a number of Linux distributions, which go against the spirit of the software licenses used by our developers, and were perhaps intended to dissuade developers from contributing their work.” He noted that these attempts at patent-based FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) did not seem to be working.
While Microsoft’s potential acquisition of Yahoo for $44.6 billion could curtail or corrupt some of Yahoo’s involvements in open-source communities and in partially open-source products like Zimbra, the “buy-the-loser strategy could potentially suck up a large part of its ample cash while leaving it with the loser,” Perens said.
“So, you can see that the future will present its challenges for open source. We could never have forecast how big we would become during Decade Zero, but we’ve built tremendous strength, to the point that we can consider much larger tasks. Join us now as we enter Decade One,” he said.
The coming decade will see big rule changes regarding software patenting, with open source, proprietary software and content providers all taking the same side together to make the world a bit safer, Perens said, noting that he also expects Microsoft to buy a movie studio and a music company and move more into content.
There will also be a lot of blur between the desktop of today and the embedded systems of tomorrow, with Linux a big player on those embedded systems, he told eWEEK.
“Also, expect to see the rise of a next-generation kernel that is open source, but not based on any of the things around today,” Perens said.