Apr 27 2009
Two weeks ago we took a look at the roots of free software. Taking another break from downloads (last one), we’ll look at friends and foes of Open Source.
Companies that Understand Free Software
Apple – We’ve already noted that OS X’s evolving core is Open Source. Along with Darwin, Apple has made contributions that include Rendezvous.
IBM – Big Blue’s engineers are proponents open standard projects like XML’s FOAF. The company uses and promotes Open Source software, and has been a legal champion of the GPL.
HP – HP has been flakey on Open Source (the company has firm ties to Microsoft) but at a recent Linux tradeshow unveiled a Linux laptop.
Novell – Freshly burned my Microsoft’s monopolistic power, Novell purchased SUSE Linux and funds the development of Ximian (makers of Evolution and Ximian Desktop). The company joins Red Hat as a for-profit distributor of Linux.
Companies that Don’t
Microsoft – Redmond’s anti-Open Source efforts are the stuff of legend to hard core GNU’s. What is reality is the companies strategy of suing Open Source out of business over patent infringement. Microsoft claims hundreds of these exist in Linux. Companies like IBM have established legal funds to protect Open Source programmers.
SCO – This former distributor of Linux claims to own code present in the Linux core and is after licensing fees from Linux users world-wide. The problem with their claim is that the code in question was released by them under the GPL, which the group seeks to discredit. (here’s the latest on the SCO case)
Making Money of Free software
Microsoft has a right to be scared, don’t they? How are they supposed to make money on free software? Well, this would require innovative business thought (rather than Redmond bully tactics). Millions if not billions are made with free software, and here’s how:
- Distributions – Under the GPL the software must be free, but companies can charge for distribution on CD
- Consulting – Open Source software is powerful, but can be quirky. Custom installations bring in big bucks from corporate customers
- Support – OS software comes with no support. Many companies who sell Linux distrobutions offer support
- Supplementory Documentation – Manuals and tutorials are another source of revenue for software companies
For companies that use Open Source, there are great advantages. The nature of Open Source invites innovation and feedback from thousands of programmers not on the company payroll. Many have attributed the lack of OS X’s viruses to its open core. Since the source is public, more programmers and developers are available to find and plug security holes.
Open Source software isn’t going away. It is changing the shape of the industry, so it is worth taking time to understand the implications. For the Freeloader, Open Source means unprecedented, legal access to software for everyone (Free as in Freedom). For software companies it means closing a side. Now that you know the players, so you can spend your money in sopport of companies that get Open Source.
That concludes my brief history of free software. I’ll be back next week with more great Mac freeware.