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04.07.08

Is “OpenSource-isation by Corporation” the Next Big Threat?

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, ISO, Microsoft, Patents, Standard, SUN at 2:58 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“The days of open standards development are fast disappearing. Instead we are getting “standardization by corporation”, something I have been fighting against for the 20 years I have served on ISO committees.”

Martin Bryan, former Convenor, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34 WG1

We have had our share of complaints about OSBC [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10], which is sponsored by Microsoft seemingly for Microsoft to strut its presence in front of an audience comprising players Microsoft views as the disruptive wave which it wishes to envelope. It’s also a show for the media.

Increasingly, what used to be referred to as the “Free software movement” seems to be commercialised only in the sense that a “business” slant of it receives broader attention. In a way, businesses and various semi-unrelated waves like SaaS steal the thunder from the very same foundation on which they were built. This is nothing new and the danger here is that companies which fear Free software will try to pull developers onto a middle ground they gradually change.

Have a look at this new writing which speaks about that trend.

Each year it seems that there are more and more grumblings about how commercial Open Source conferences are moving further and further away from Free Software and Open Source communities. Incongruously, some of the loudest (or at least most noticed) complaining comes from some of the most consistent participants on the conference circuit. I myself have joined in the guilty pleasure of kvetching about how this year’s iteration of a given conference just doesn’t have the same soul as some previous year.

Here is another new take on the situation.

Historically, as far as I know, commercial open source was first practiced by MySQL, even though the term was only invented later by SugarCRM. A core go-to-market approach is the dual-license strategy. Only commercial open source can apply this strategy. The term professional open source was invented by Marc Fleury of JBoss to give open source a better reputation; mostly it refers to the provision of services around some particular open source software.

Both commercial and professional open source are go-to-market approaches and core strategies of a firm’s business model. Community open source is not a business model.

As we stressed before, the concern here is that companies like Microsoft and maybe even Sun Microsystems will attempt to paint Free software with a new brush that includes shades of software patents and a relationship too close to a single vendor, which in turn gains great control and influence. Another issue is of course the dilution of the term “open source” — a dilution to which Microsoft contributes 'generously'. Microsoft is not alone, however, because its partners Novell and Aras, for example, have the very same negative effect. And here comes yet another new example of this dilution:

I am often dismayed by the misappropriation of the term open source. Companies apply the term to products that are free though not open source. It’s a classic marketing maneuver to leverage a brand that already has broad recognition.

A clothing company sent me a release not too many months ago about their new open source clothing line. After close inspection they meant design your own outfit from their catalog of designs that they owned. It wasn’t open source but I recall a number of open source trade publications picking up the story. Good marketing stunt but not accurate.

If the “open source” term isn’t repaired or policed more properly, it will continue to devolve and be assimilated to something that already exists: proprietary software. And at that stage, it no longer matter if even Microsoft’s Partner [sic] Groups says that open source will dominate. At that stage, open source would have absolutely nothing to do with freedom, let alone control by the user/customer. The same bruise had its effect standards, particularly after what Microsoft had done to ISO.

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A Single Comment

  1. akf said,

    April 7, 2008 at 6:18 am

    Gravatar

    The term Open Source has always been a distraction of Free Software. In the beginning they said, it was a two step plan: first keep quiet about freedom to get companies hooked and in the second step tell them, what it is really about.

    Maybe it would have been a good plan. But the second step never came, and I have my doubts today, whether it was really planned.

    So if the “brand” OpenSource goes down the drain, I won’t shed a tear. I use “Free Software”. When it becomes more clear, that it is not the same, the better it is for Free Software.
    (That’s also the reason, why I don’t support Perens)

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