It’s open season on open source

Mark Gibbs: It’s open season on open source

Last week Darl McBride, CEO of The SCO Group Inc., took yet another pot shot at the open source community in the form of an open letter.

In his letter, McBride complains about the denial-of-service attacks against SCO’s Web site (yes, McBride, we too wish hackers wouldn’t do that), tries to sell us on the idea that SCO is really full of good guys and trots out the disingenuous statement that open source software is “healthy and beneficial.”

Now I must admit that I view McBride’s letter with an extremely jaundiced eye. It would be hard to do otherwise given SCO’s attacks not only on open source but also on Linux and anyone using Linux.

Be that as it may, SCO has managed to do one good thing: it has shown that provenance of code is a crucial issue for open source projects.

If this hadn’t become an issue because of SCO it eventually would have cropped up with some other company – although I doubt whether such a ridiculous three-ring circus would have accompanied it. But the downsides are far greater than this benefit because the whole fracas has, at least temporarily, warped the business world’s perception of open source.

First, it has created, at least for some organizations, a belief that using open source is a risk. The idea that SCO has managed to put forward somewhat successfully is that organizations using Linux require some kind of license to be legal and that the original acquisition and deployment makes them somehow liable for something. This is pure bunk.

Second, there has been a lot of negative talk by SCO and others about the quality of open source code. The implication is that open source code is somehow inferior and suspect because it is a collaborative effort by unknown people working outside of a profit-driven business structure. McBride says, “The open source community has its roots in counter-cultural ideals – the notion of ‘hackers’ against Big Business,” as if we should all throw up our hands in horror at such rampant hippiness being acceptable in our serious business world.

In the letter McBride goes on to assert that “it is clear that the open source community needs a business model that is sustainable if it is to grow beyond a part-time avocation into an enterprise-trusted development model.”

This is a ridiculous contention that trades on the bogus idea that an effort without a profit motive is at best a poor effort and, at worst, flawed. It also implies that the methods of business entities are somehow more structured and productive than those used by open source projects.

I believe in open source and I believe that the results of open source projects are generally on par and often significantly better than those of commercial software. Why else would Linux and Apache be capturing server market share at such a rate?

No, as much as McBride would like to declare open season on open source, there is no reason to allow or even consider such a proposition to have any truth or reality.

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