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Editorial — Welcome to Opensville

EOS Editorial — Welcome to Opensville

I had originally written an editorial for this month's issue titled, "Is Commercialization Killing Open Source?" Then I read William Hurley's blog (http://talk.bmc.com/blogs/blog-whurley/whurley/opensville). William or as his friends call him, "whurley," is the chief architect of open source strategy at BMC. He gets to the heart of an issue that is being brought to light as a greater number of businesses adopt open source business models: "As a greater commercial influence exerts itself in the open source community, will these companies run roughshod on those early pioneers who have demonstrated the effectiveness of the open source model?"

Presently there are four multi-billion dollar companies that have a very significant open source element to their businesses: IBM, Sun, Novell, and Red Hat (you could make an argument for HP and Dell too if you like). In addition to these juggernauts, there is growing investment in open source models. In the first quarter of 2007 the following companies raised approximately $100 million to fund businesses that directly rely on open source software or services.

As money flows into an industry that was once largely dismissed as subversive by proprietary software vendors, new entrants are claiming their "open source" status as an advantage over proprietary vendors.

Rather than my usual rant, I thought I would let someone who ironically works for a company that has a proprietary software heritage make a plea for better citizenship in the open source community:

Nestled between Proprietary and Freedomberg, Opensville is a utopia. Everyone who lives in the adjacent cities spends their free time in Opensville. The parks are beautiful, the shopping is amazing, and the nights are pure Vegas. Sounds like a great place, huh? One problem: no one actually wants to live there. No one wants to pay the taxes or put in the effort it takes to keep the city running. Welcome to Opensville, population zero.

Wit or truth? Why, a bit of both, of course. There are too many entities taking advantage of open source technology without giving back. Some are literally pillaging the community that butters their bread. How long before we all suffer the effects? If major project contributors were to stop work, how would that affect the industry as a whole? Let's use the monitoring segment of systems management as an example. Several "open source contributors" simply download code from popular projects and then "build" their software, service, or company on top of it. These contributors often refer to "improvements" they've made. Where are these improvements? Why weren't they contributed to the community from which they took the code? Open source should be about working together for common benefit.

Nagios is one of the most popular monitoring projects in open source, and one of the most abused. There are countless projects, products, and services predicated on the Nagios code base - some symbiotic, others non-contributing parasites. What separates legitimate use from outright exploitation? Where would you draw the line? Should violators be black-listed by the community?

To me, open means that everyone can participate on a level playing field. As a community we have to take the good with the bad, but I cringe when I see a project taking more than its fair share of punishment. How will the community address this problem? Should there be a ratings system? A sort of mooch-o-meter to rank companies and projects that use open source? Would that subjective hierarchy help or hurt the community? How would it be regulated?

The community has to answer some of these questions if open source is to continue to flourish. Everyone who leads, participates in, or utilizes an open source project should realize they have a personal interest in protecting it from abuse. Keeping the pirates honest will take effort, but the repercussions of apathy will affect us all in the future. Besides, tales of the pirate hunters are often more exciting than the tales of the pirates themselves.

You can read this and other open source musings by whurley at http://talk.bmc.com/blogs/blog-whurley/whurley/.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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Most Recent Comments
AAM 04/30/07 06:25:03 PM EDT

It's true, and its bleedingly obvious! The end result of exploitation is that the used will make the only choice they have available - stop making themselves available for exploitation.

Code will get 'buggy' and insecure (gasp, horror, no! this wouldn't be done deliberately would it? watch!) and the right stuff reappear in a commercial offering to return the favour.

I wonder whether the time has come to look at a Creative Commons-type hierarchy to the GPL - something like free unless commercial use. That would leave the problem of fund splitting between coders but that's at least a different kind of exploitation which I suspect will be of a lesser scale though no less prolific (we are dealing with human nature here!).

roderickm 04/28/07 11:01:33 PM EDT

The CEO at Fonality (one of the companies listed) wrote, "Fonality is *not* an Open Source vendor. Rather, we utilize Open Source technology inside of our company." Reference: http://technology.rustybrick.com/blog/archives/003109.html

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