Technology analysis of the latest gadgets, consoles, and computer architectures.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Open Source - How Should It Shape the Computer Industry

A big topic in the computing world lately has to do with open source licensing. What should be open sourced, and what should remain copyrighted? The BSD license is different from the GPL in that it allows source code to be used in a commercial product; this seems reasonable because otherwise the entire software industry will move towards services. We're seeing that already with Red Hat, IBM, and other Linux-based companies, but we're also seeing companies like Sun and Novell who clearly make it known that proprietary technology will remain a large part of their business, and that the open source community can work with the business world to create products, not just services.

I would agree with the way the BSD license works, since it does allow for innovation beyond the base product. Bill Gates makes a point by saying that there will still be complex tasks that would be best accomplished in an open source environment (the video can be seen here). In the end, however, business will determine whether these BSD-based products will have enough contributions beyond the base product to have a value.

Jonathan Schwartz also argues in his blog that although Sun open sources some of its software (OpenOffice/StarOffice), software patents are necessary to incent "inventors to invent, and investors to invest". He does mention that there is a difference between open standards and open source, and that is where things get a little hazy. I would like to believe that open source software pushes for standards in areas where the standard is too complex to document (i.e. an operating system), and by commoditising software by creating an open source derivative of something a standard is essentially created. Open source is just a subset of open standards, so I am not implying that commercial software or support cannot be created around open source or open standards.

I guess we'll see how things pan out in the future of the software industry. We are already seeing two sides form, one based on services and the other integrating open source products in commercial goods. For the industry to remain as large as it has been these past few years, this mix is necessary.