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Judge Jackson on Linux and Open Source

Nov 06, 1999, 16:21 (4 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Eric Kidd)

[ Linux Today reader Eric Kidd writes: ]

As covered in other stories, Judge Jackson released his findings of fact in the Microsoft case yesterday. Here are the paragraphs related to Linux and open-source application development. To summarize: Even if the Linux community can develop open source desktop software, Jackson feels that Microsoft would still remain incredibly powerful on the desktop, thanks to large numbers of Windows applications already written.

50. The experience of the Linux operating system, a version of which runs on Intel-compatible PCs, similarly fails to refute the existence of an applications barrier to entry. Linux is an "open source" operating system that was created, and is continuously updated, by a global network of software developers who contribute their labor for free. Although Linux has between ten and fifteen million users, the majority of them use the operating system to run servers, not PCs. Several ISVs have announced their development of (or plans to develop) Linux versions of their applications. To date, though, legions of ISVs have not followed the lead of these first movers. Similarly, consumers have by and large shown little inclination to abandon Windows, with its reliable developer support, in favor of an operating system whose future in the PC realm is unclear. By itself, Linux's open-source development model shows no signs of liberating that operating system from the cycle of consumer preferences and developer incentives that, when fueled by Windows' enormous reservoir of applications, prevents non-Microsoft operating systems from competing.

51. Since application developers working under an open source model are not looking to recoup their investment and make a profit by selling copies of their finished products, they are free from the imperative that compels proprietary developers to concentrate their efforts on Windows. In theory, then, open-source developers are at least as likely to develop applications for a non-Microsoft operating system as they are to write Windows-compatible applications. In fact, they may be disposed ideologically to focus their efforts on open-source platforms like Linux. Fortunately for Microsoft, however, there are only so many developers in the world willing to devote their talents to writing, testing, and debugging software pro bono publico. A small corps may be willing to concentrate its efforts on popular applications, such as browsers and office productivity applications, that are of value to most users. It is unlikely, though, that a sufficient number of open-source developers will commit to developing and continually updating the large variety of applications that an operating system would need to attract in order to present a significant number of users with a viable alternative to Windows. In practice, then, the open-source model of applications development may increase the base of applications that run on non-Microsoft PC operating systems, but it cannot dissolve the barrier that prevents such operating systems from challenging Windows.

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