On September 25th, CNet’s Matt Assay wrote a terrific post on his blog The Open Road entitled “Free software is dead. Long live open source.”
The crux of the post was that the particular brand of free software or FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) that is much-lauded by software partisans like Richard Stallman and Cory Doctorow is now irrelevant. Assay makes a distinction between FLOSS, meaning software that is free as in freedom and which incorporates no proprietary standards of any kind by default, and open source, meaning software that is usually free (as in beer) and that allows users to contribute to and derive from it, up to and including proprietary standards.
With open source, there is no reason to worry about standards strangling innovation because the community will simply code it’s way out of a corner. Information and software can be shared, and you can still make money.
The free software movement was born from a climate dominated by belligerent and aggressive software giants. Standards and software patents were created or acquired to hold developers hostage in exchange for exorbitant royalties.
Suing over patents became a business model in and of itself. It’s completely understandable why free software rose to prominence so quickly.
But a lot has changed in the past 15 years in the open source world. IBM, once Microsoft’s closest ally and creator of the OS/2 operating system, began an open embrace of…well…openness. Sun Microsystems open-sourced Solaris, laid the foundation for OpenOffice.org, and open-sourced Java.
Apple’s contributions to the Webkit project were immense in its adoption as the defacto mobile web browsing platform. Webkit powers MobileSafari on the iPhone and Google’s Android browser, cementing it as the platform to beat on mobile devices. On the desktop it powers Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome and is thus a key component of Google’s upcoming ChromeOS, a linux-based operating system that uses the Webkit browser as it’s main navigational tool.
The backbone of ServInt’s network was created using open source software and the vast majority of our server’s run CentOS, a Linux distribution derived from Red Hat Enterprise. We have included well over 50,000 lines of unique code that has better optimized and secured our products…a task that would have been considerably more difficult in a closed development environment.
Even Microsoft has approached the open source community with a level of engagement that would have seemed absurd just a few years ago. The famously closed source company even released Windows 7 as an incredibly generous open beta for nearly two years…unheard of even in most open source circles.
The point of Assay’s article, and I suppose the point of this one, is that these projects are open, but they are all stewarded by forward thinking tech companies, organizations, and individuals who seek to make a living. Revenue and profit are not the enemy of innovation, they are the reward for innovation.
Today, the biggest competitor in the software world is not Microsoft or Adobe or Google, it’s free software. The fact that we are competing with terrific no-cost solutions has forced everyone to be more creative and take productive risks.
So allow me…’Free software is dead. Long live open source!’
I couldn’t have said it better myself.