Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hats off to Red Hat

What a month it has been for the Linux or open source software movement. Software companies that were slow to heed the open source mantra: providing open access to the source code of software applications so that it could be changed, improved on and altered by other software developers; are now embracing Linux with new found religious zeal.

At Oracle OpenWorld 2006 recently, CEO Larry Ellison, intent on world domination in the enterprise application software space, announced enterprise level support for Linux in the form of its Enterprise Linux Program. Some commentators billed the announcement as Ellison living up to his 'pirate of Silicon Valley' reputation. For more on this visit Network World.

Oracle's announcement has re-ignited the debate around patent infringement in open source software development. In 2003, SCO Group slapped a $3 billion lawsuit on IBM alleging that Big Blue had illegally copied SCO's proprietary UNIX code into its Linux operating system. In order to head off any patent infringement allegations from the major software vendors, Red Hat told its customers it would rewrite code found to violate another's intellectual property.

Late last week Microsoft, a long standing critic of the open source software movement got into bed with Novell, which following its acquisition of Ximian and SUSE, shifted its allegiances from the Unix to the Linux camp. In an effort to preserve the dominance of its Windows servers and operating system Microsoft has long resisted the allure of the open source movement.

But with Ellison upping the stakes in terms of Oracle's enterprise application support for Linux, Microsoft obviously twigged that it could not afford to maintain its nonchalant stance towards Linux for much longer so it jumped into bed with one of Linux's biggest proponents, Novell.

Microsoft's business and strategic partnership with Novell is meant to help solve integration issues for those customers running Windows and Linux environments. These customers are likely to benefit the most from the Microsoft/Novell announcement which addresses some of the key interoperability challenges that have prevented Linux from gaining wider market traction. The Oracle and Microsoft announcements should also mean more widespread availability of products and enterprise applications that have Linux embedded in them.

But for the true proponents of Linux, those that have always believed software should be for the people by the people, what will they make of Microsoft's sudden about face on Linux and Ellison's efforts to hijack a technology which truly innovative software companies like Red Hat helped pioneer?

While no software company should be exempt from competition, does Microsoft and Oracle's increasing stranglehold on Linux seriously challenge the true essence of the open source software movement; open access to code, free redistribution of software, and for any software modifications to be readily distributed under the same conditions as the original software license? For more information on the core principles of open source software click here.

Unfortunately, the true software innovators like Red Hat are likely to be overshadowed or swallowed up by their far bigger and wealthier competitors; the very companies that first shunned open source developers as 'pond life' on the outer edges of the software development community.

I wonder what Linus Torvalds, the father of the open source software movement, makes of all this? Would he it see as a boon for Linux or a retrograde step?

The illustration above first appeared in Le Virus Informatique hors serie numero 01. For more humourous illustrations on Linux and Microsoft, click here.

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