Saturday is the 10-Year Anniversary of Open Source, the initiative
to promote Free Software to business. Obviously, it’s been incredibly
On February 9, 1998, I published the
Open Source Definition
and the public announcement of the
Open Source Initiative
that Eric Raymond and I were starting.
This was the first time that the general public heard what
was about. Friday, February 8 is the
last day of
of Open Source. Saturday, February 9 is the anniversary of Open Source
and the start of
It’s a computer scientist thing. We always start counting from zero 🙂
Of course, in building our Open Source campaign, we were standing on
the shoulders of a giant. Starting in the
early 1980’s, Richard Stallman
blazed the trail with his philosophy of
and the creation of the
which, most notably when it was combined with the Linux
kernel, changed the way software works forever.
And that brings me to our first mistake: for a time, there was
a conflict between
My intent has always been for Open Source to simply be another way
of talking about Free Software, tailored to the ears of business
people, and that it would eventually lead them to a greater appreciation
Richard Stallman’s arguments. This has come to pass, and I hope you’ll
continue to make it so. One only had to witness the attendance of the
GPL 3 committees to see that the importance of FSF’s work was
appreciated by the largest of corporations.
Had you asked me in on that day in 1998 how far I thought this
phenomenon would go, I would not have come close to predicting the
success that exists today. As we enter decade one,
Free Software / Open Source is mainstream. Indeed, we are the leader
in many business computing categories.
Our most pervasive penetration has been in business servers and
These days there are, for the most part, two sorts of businesses
regarding Open Source
use: ones whose management is aware of how much they depend on Open
Source, and the ones where the boss doesn’t know yet.
In contrast, we have not yet achieved the penetration that we might
have desired on user desktop systems, at least if you don’t count the
fact that Free Software provides a large part of Apple’s MacOS today,
and critical elements of Microsoft Windows as well. Both
companies have been forced to develop strategies to live with us, some
of them less comfortable than others. Today we are seeing much of the
value of software move from the desktop to the network, an area in which
we are already entrenched. This can only lead to the expansion of Open
Source on the
systems in individual user’s hands.
There been a phenomenon of wealth creation by Open Source
companies, starting with Red Hat’s IPO and leading most recently to the
purchase of MySQL for 1.1 Billion dollars seven years after the company’s
creation. But I would warn those of you who consider Open Source by its
you’re missing the biggest part of the phenomenon.
Open Source today is software being produced by its users, for its users.
The largest part of the payment for Open Source development today comes
from cost-center budgets of IT users, be they companies, institutions,
or individuals, rather than profit-centers based on Open Source like
that of MySQL. By participating in Open Source development, users
distribute the cost and risk of the development of enabling technology
and infrastructure for their businesses. Their profit centers are not
tied to software sales, but to some other business. To find them, look
to the communities rather than the companies.
One recent phenomenon has been the appearance of government officials
openly on the stage at conferences concerning Free Software. Of late,
it’s my turn to speak when the minister has finished his greeting, and
they are always announcing some national government initiative concerning
Open Source. OK, I speak outside of the U.S. a lot, but even in the
U.S. we are seeing Linux (and presumably the GNU system) in a USD$200 Billion
defense project with Boeing as the prime contractor. Nobody’s apologizing
to the proprietary software industry for doing this any longer. Indeed,
we have become such an accepted part of the software industry that
most proprietary software vendors make use of Open Source in development
or to inter-operate with their products, and many
include Open Source components in their products. Only a few
remaining bad apples feel a need to fight us.
We have actually changed the way that innovation happens.
Innovation has gone public.
Many companies, institutions, and individuals share innovation on a
daily basis, entirely in the open, through Free Software development
communities. The products they produce are the leaders in their field.
Public innovation eliminates the high transaction costs of lawyers,
lawsuits and licensing.
It focuses on
building a fertile community
across the market
for idea creation and utilization rather
than dividing the market for the direct monetization of ideas as property.
This is the economically most efficient approach for most companies.
My previous reports have discussed SCO. SCO is toast. Good riddance.
However, many in our community have been damaged by SCO’s allegations
and will never be compensated. Mr. Ralph Yarro made some tens of millions
from the rise of SCO’s stock on anticipation that they’d win something.
He has been allowed to keep those funds. I see no suit, legal charge,
or SEC investigation against him so far. We must also note Microsoft’s
participation as financial backer of SCO, as revealed in sworn testimony
during the case. And finally, there were two suicides in connection with the
SCO case: Val Noorda Kreidel, the only daughter of SCO founder Ray Noorda,
and Robert Penrose, IT director for SCO holding company Canopy Group.
One can only wonder at the pressure these poor souls were under.
Microsoft remains a problem, as the bastion of the old way of thinking
about software, and as the epitome of the old school of dirty corporate
fighting. Their current strategy seems to be to poison
us with money, most recently by making patent agreements with a number of Linux
These agreements go against the spirit of the software licenses used by our
developers, and were perhaps intended to dissuade developers from
contributing their work.
To this end, Microsoft poured more money into Novell
last year than Novell’s annual profit – indeed Novell would have had no
annual profit without Microsoft.
But Microsoft’s continuing attempts at
patent-based FUD, for all they cost, don’t seem to be effective.
They’ve not caught the big fish with their agreements, but only the
third-ranking Novell and
a handful of also-ran distributions that few knew were still in business.
These companies have offended their own enterprise customers, who hate the
idea of patent FUD directed at their own operations. They are
viewed with suspicion by many Open Source developers, although some have
been too quick to forgive.
Aside from that, the most visible effect of Microsoft’s influence seems
to have been to send some
Open Source projects in arguably hurtful or merely absurd directions,
as with Novell’s
propagandizing projects to participate in Office Open XML.
Reassuringly, Microsoft remains visibly heavy-handed. Their ballot-box
stuffing around the OOXML standards process has won them few friends
among national standards organizations and has made governments take
a hard look at a situation that they otherwise would have left to
Some see the potential purchase of Yahoo by Microsoft as a threat.
Certainly it might curtail or corrupt some of Yahoo’s involvements
in Open Source communities, and in half-Open-Source products like Zimbra.
But a buy-the-loser strategy could potentially suck up a large part of
Microsoft’s unpleasantly (to us) ample cash while leaving them with the
An increase of Microsoft’s influence in the content
business could mean the entrance of DRM into conventional web pages.
Goodbye "view source", printing without a fee,
and Firefox, if Microsoft is ever successful with that. It wouldn’t
surprise me if Microsoft were to make more plays in the content market,
perhaps investing in music and film companies.
But Microsoft recognized software patents as the Achilles heel of
Free Software. This is more evident today with several running patent
lawsuits against Open Source developers. The
is notable since it is a software patent
suit against an
individual Free Software developer, and for
its offensiveness: an Open Source
developer’s work, a Java Model Railroad Interface, was integrated
into a commercial product, a model
railroad throttle, and then the throttle’s manufacturer brought a
patent suit against the very
Open Source developer whose work he capitalized
Without the fortunate participation
of a pro-bono attorney, the developer would have been defenseless.
note that the well of volunteer attorneys and defense funds for Open
Source developers is all too finite.
JMRI’s developer countersued the throttle manufacturer for violating
his license. The developer’s use of
with its rather shaky legal language, and an
odd court ruling on that license, weakened his countersuit.
The case remains in court.
The JMRI developer has since switched to LGPL. His plight should be
a warning to
developers: you need a license with the strongest legal language
that you can get to make it effective, and to protect you from software
patent holders, lest unsavory businesses pull the same trick on you.
Ask your attorney, but my surmise is that LGPLv3 and GPLv3 are about
as strong as you can get, having been reviewed by the attorneys of
dozens of major corporations, the eminent Mr. Moglen, and his attorneys
at the Software Freedom Law Center.
There are also running suits against a component of JBoss (Red Hat is
the defendant), and against the ClamAV anti-virus software (Panda
[ClamAV producer] and Barracuda [integrator] are defendants) for the
"invention" of integration of virus checking into email transfers.
At this point I don’t need to re-iterate the evils of software patenting.
That story has been well-told. But it’s notable that Open Source is
not the only entity that is threatened by software patents. Any small
or medium-sized business – meaning any company with less than 1000
employees – is at risk, and has common cause with Open Source on this
issue. But small and medium sized enterprises haven’t been sufficiently
educated on this issue. That must now change.
Until this point, Open Source evangelists like myself haven’t been the
right people to talk to non-Open-Source business about this problem,
because we’ve been viewed as outsiders by the proprietary software
business, by content businesses, indeed by most business in general.
That’s no longer the case. We’re part of their community now. And thus
we are in position to handle a problem that’s been untenable until
now: a effort to overturn software patenting in its bastion, the United
States, through the political process.
There are a number of different efforts going on regarding software
The Linux Foundation has been operating some "patent quality
initiatives" with the U.S. Patent Office, which unfortunately may
in the end only serve to strengthen the patents to which they are
applied. We must recognize that the Linux Foundation’s steering board
is composed of the very largest of corporations, who in general stand
to profit from the present system while the rest of the business world
loses. While the foundation does excellent work for us in many areas,
they would have a severe conflict with their large-corporate membership
if the radical reform necessary to solve the software patent problem was
to to enter their agenda.
The Free Software Foundation is working on telling stories about
businesses hurt by software patenting, and on bringing a court
challenge to software patenting law. My problem with a court challenge
is that it only takes an act of congress to undo what is done by the
courts. Thus, unless we simultaneously build a strong political force
against software patenting, a court challenge is worthless.
Only the Europeans have turned back the prospect of pan-Europe
enforcibility of software patents through a political process.
They have recently suffered something of a setback in a British
court decision that disallowed the outright rejection of software
patents by the British patent office. They expect that a version of
the European Patent Litigation Agreement may be back under consideration
by the end of this year, and that in its next form it will not go
through parliamentary channels, and thus will be much more difficult
for us to fight.
But where the Europeans have won so far, the Americans haven’t even
tried. Expect to see that change soon. One necessary tactic will be
decoupling the case of software patenting from the system of patenting
by the pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical companies literally
have the best government they can buy. We don’t want them in the
So, you can see that the future will present its challenges for Open
We could never have forecast
how big we would become during Decade Zero of Open Source.
But we’ve built tremendous strength, to the point that we can consider
much larger tasks. Join us now, as we enter Decade One.
Via Bruce Perens