June 29, 2004
Future of Open Source
Skip this month’s sensationally-headlined Wired article “The Linux Killer.” But check out its sidebar, an article about how Linus Torvald’s laissez-faire approach to sourcing Linux is causing the enterprise legal headaches today.
To put Linux on more solid intellectual property footing in the future, the company has to become a little more corporate and a little less Dangermouse. It has to be a lot more meticulous about making sure all of its code is properly licensed to and by developers, keeping a thorough library of who-coded-what. In fact, the company may send Torvalds and the developers to re-write all the code that’s already been written, making sure to pull any proprietary code out of there.
My experiences with open-source technology have been dim so far. I tried working with OpenOffice for several months on my last computer, because Microsoft Works documents only work in MS Works and MS Office was too rich for my blood. The software just had an amateurish feel about it, it crashed my computer regularly, and the interface was unintuitive (it was a little too open-source; i.e., I felt like I had to code a macro to get it to register a carriage return). MS Word may be a fascist, irrational piece of crap technology that mucks up my documents twice as often as it improves them, but at least it deceives me into feeling I have a modicum of stability there.
Open-source browsers have been a mixed bag. There’s nothing wrong with Opera or Mozilla, per se, and especially on my old computer, I would go through weeks of heavy Opera usage, but the tangible advantages I would get from making them my primary browser and customizing them to fit snugly with Windows the way IE does (yes, yes, another proof that MS is eee-vil) seem small. It’s not all that inconvenient to me to download yet another patch to fix yet another gaping security flaw every few weeks. Ha ha.
I love the idea of open-source — distributed creation, flexibility, affordability … it sounds like the future. I refer to WikiPedia regularly, and I’ve long dreamt of an open-source-ish screenplay-writing website. I flirted with making Linux the OS for my new computer before some coworkers nabbed me a $20 copy of XP. Robin’s grooving on Firefox, and I may download a free copy of StarOffice (I work at an educational insitution, after all). Talk to Robin long enough and he’ll dangle before you visions of an open-source TV network.
My question: what’s the future — Linux or Googlezon? Open source or OpenSource™?
Or, as this Wired article suggests, are the two beginning to grow together towards a murky middle?