02.08.08

Using Open Source Merely to Sell Proprietary Software

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft, SUN at 10:28 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Redefining open source, forgetting Free software

What’s in a licence? To a developer — almost everything. See the citation at the bottom of this post (from a KDE developer).

“Microsoft ‘Open Source’ casts a shadow on the meaning of the term because such source typically depends on the availability of a proprietary software stack which may include SQL Server, SharePoint, .NET and Windows.”Sun's embrace of MySQL is an interesting one because we are told that we should like it, but affinity very much depends on whether we care about the Linux kernel or Free software in the broader sense. And then there’s open source. Microsoft ‘Open Source’ casts a shadow on the meaning of the term because such source typically depends on the availability of a proprietary software stack which may include SQL Server, SharePoint, .NET and Windows. It is open source only at one level of abstraction (think about the ‘Java trap’) and it mainly serves the producer of the stack, not just the developer and maintainer of the source code.

I happen to know this pretty well because my MATLAB contributions, for example, despite the fact that they are free and open source, are just helping MathWorks market itself. Without MATLAB, which is expensive, the code cannot run. That is open source as a development paradigm, but sometimes it entirely misses the point of Free software.

Linus Torvalds recently spoke about this issue. Dana Blankenhorn and Ed Burnette spoke about this too and here is an interesting discussion whose focus is Sun Microsystems.

In an interview at the Linux Foundation, Linus Torvalds warned of commercial control of open source. Using Java and OpenSolaris as an example he pointed out that “Sun ends up having rights that nobody else has – even if they then act perfectly and they really behave well, just the fact that they have special rights makes people legitimately feel like they are second class citizens.”

Fellow ZDNet blogger Dana Blankenhorn refers to this situation as “proprietary open source“.

Speaking of licenses and Freedom, Avionica has just made a press release available and it indicates that the GPLv3 was chosen.

Avionica will be releasing the Iridium(TM) Portal technology under the GNU GPLv3 license. Under these terms, any licensee who makes improvements to the source must re-submit those improvements to the community under like terms. For more information on the Avionica Iridium(TM) Portal, please contact Raul Segredo.

The next post will briefly look into the way Microsoft fits into this picture, especially in light of recent developments.

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5 Comments

  1. Victor said,

    February 9, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Gravatar

    Linus has a strange sense of what business means… he should only talk about kernels… (just like his recent comments on Vista and Leopard shows his ignorance on why a user interfaces exist..)

    MySQL has always had the same model (the rights to the code belongs to them)… why is it an issue now?…

    Not being able to take ZFS and DTrace surely is a torn on his side, it seems

    “even if they then act perfectly and they really behave well, just the fact that they have special rights makes people legitimately feel like they are second class citizens.”

    why would anyone feel they are second class?… the only difference now is that the LAMP stack may not need the L so much… is that a problem?… surely we don’t want to change the Windows monopoly with a Linux monopoly, do we?

  2. Brendan said,

    February 9, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Gravatar

    “why would anyone feel they are second class?… the only difference now is that the LAMP stack may not need the L so much… is that a problem?… surely we don’t want to change the Windows monopoly with a Linux monopoly, do we?”

    It’s not that we are against Windows’s monopoly, It M$ is about money, vender lock in and not innovation. Where as Linux on the other hand, doesn’t have the money “cloud”, that software cooperations have. And as such are not driven to sell their project and can spend more time on developing innovation in their project. Also Microsoft is about

    Also your remarks about the LAMP stack proves my point. As the open source community is not controlled by money, Apache, MySql and PHP(not to mention firefox, and others) are all cross platform and therefore have more ‘market share’ than ASP will ever have. Every part of the LAMP stack can be changed, but still makes the structure open source.

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    February 9, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Gravatar

    Victor,

    While I’m not against Sun (definitely not against BSDs), I’m also aware that they want to control the *AMP stack for profit. They want to sell you additional services, including some software which may be proprietary (on top). In fact, MySQL started something like this about 2 months ago. I trust Linux and the Linux Foundation more than I trust Sun. Heck, Sun still uses the CDDL, increasingly within a dual role.

    If Sun chose the GPLv3 (no duality), that would be a game-changer. In fact, Morton said that had Sun done that, Linux would probably follow suit. Linux could get a ‘kick in the pants’ and feel some heat not just from Microsoft. I’m very convinced that POSIX will defeat Microsoft on the desktop (this includes Apple), so we need to ensure it’s beneficial to customers and developers, not just the Master of the Domain and Keeper of the Gates [sic].

  4. Victor said,

    February 10, 2008 at 2:33 am

    Gravatar

    Roy, of course linux will follow to GPL3 if solaris does… there’s so much technology to gain… just as apple did on mac os x

    I see no wrong in trying to get some profit from the AMP stack… after all, sun paid $1 billion for mysql… it is still under the GPL, nothing has changed… only the hands under the “additional services” fall upon (which most users wont ever use, as it always has been…).. and that’s the common open source business model

    CDDL is an open source license, approved by the FSF.. there’s no duality in it, as it follows the 4 liberties… only that the GPL is incompatible with it

    I don’t see so much future on linux as you do… remember that most of it’s decisions fall, not under the FSF or the linux foundation, but under Linus Torvalds and his “only developers-no common users” philosophy for an OS… his elitist point of view is the main reason why linux as not taken over yet… and is why he criticizes apple for the most… because they did with a unix-like system what he hasn’t been capable of… being a thread to MS

    Brendan, I don’t see how your post is an answer to mi first post, but anyways… do you consider that sun buying mysql is a vendor lock in?… mysql still supports linux, windows, symbian and all the others OSs….

    that it will get improvements on solaris using ZFS, Lustre and Dtrace, that’s true…. but it is still under GPL, cross-platform and with no plans on changing any of that, money or no money…. Schwartz has stated so on his blog, if you care to search for it… and improvements is always a good thing

    remember that open source != linux… there are many options to follow, other than a simple kernel choice… solaris is as much open source as linux is… and so are the BSDs

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    February 10, 2008 at 2:48 am

    Gravatar

    Good insights, Victor, with which I largely agree. To say more on that last point you make, while I use GNU/Linux on all my computers, I do always remember that the kernel makes up about 3% of the whole (judging by the Debian example).

    Tying this to the context of this Web site, Novell did not betray Linux. Novell betrayed Free software as whole. This happens to include OpenOffice.org, for which Novell received ‘protections’ before Microsoft came blasting 7 months later, claiming that OOo infringes on its software patents.

    Novell has helped Microsoft fight not only Free software (BSD, Linux, OpenSolaris, etc.), but it also assisted Microsoft’s battle against open standards, among other things. This is very disruptive and Novell might be remembered in a negative flight for doing this.

    The amount of Free software out there is vast. For companies to produce a good kernel and sell some software is no sin, I agree. If they improve an already well-engineered kernel and license it properly, that’s grand. Tomorrow I’ll post a video about the Linus/GPLv2 – FSF/GPLv3 debate.

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