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TechCentralStation: Why Open Source May Be Doomed

Oct 06, 2003, 23:30 (87 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Megan McArdle)

[ Thanks to Jason Greenwood for this link. ]

"I have to admit that I was never much of a believer in open source. Maybe my business school coursework rendered me blind to the glorious vision of a 'gift culture' in which people contribute their work to a decentralized development project like Linux for honor instead of money. Or possibly I'm just too thick to understand how cutting off a multi-billion dollar revenue stream from software sales, without putting anything else in its place, could be good for the software business. Whatever the problem, I never quite believed in the fairy tale world they promised in which we'd all get an operating system that was better than Windows in every way, for absolutely no money--not even when IBM started retailing Linux PC's and the juggernaut of fabulous free operating systems seemed unstoppable. But I confess that in all my skeptical musings, I did not imagine that Linux might be brought down by something even more prosaic than a lack of funds: a lawsuit.

"Yet that's looking ever more likely. SCO, which makes a proprietary version of Unix that Linux competes with, has filed a suit against the manufacturers of Linux boxes for copyright infringement. IBM, which has been promoting Linux relentlessly, is now announcing a countersuit, but it centers mostly on side issues, rather than the key question: did one of Linux's thousands of volunteer developers illegally stick code stolen from SCO into Linux? Though those who have seen the code in contention say that SCO probably has a case, it doesn't seem to be much of a case: the stolen bits seem to be fairly trivial and easily replaced. But of course, the object of this lawsuit is not to stop Linux from using the code; it's to stop Linux from eating SCO Unix's lunch. And it seems to me that it's very likely to succeed..."

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