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The American Prospect: Storming the Gates

Mar 28, 2000, 17:05 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Nathan Newman)

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"And yet it can be argued that an even greater threat to Microsoft's dominance is a motley collection of free software tools and operating systems often called "open-source software" or "free software." Two key characteristics distinguish open-source software. First, unlike most commercial software, open-source software code is intended to be studied and improved upon by other programmers. Second, all such improvements must be revealed publicly and (under most licenses) distributed freely in a process that encourages continual innovation. Ranging from an operating system called Linux, named for a student from Finland who wrote a key part of its core programming code, to a Web server named Apache, put together by a band of volunteer programmers as literally "a patchy" set of updates for older government-funded software, open-source programs are emerging as not just inexpensive but also more robust and dynamic alternatives to commercial software."

"But to say that open-source programs are just now emerging is not quite right. Largely funded by the federal government, open-source software was the creative force behind the explosion of the computer industry; it also drove development of the Internet and still comprises much of the Internet's inner workings...."

"Open-source software has re-emerged today largely as a reaction against the Microsoft proprietary standard. Companies that have seen their own proprietary alternatives crushed by the Microsoft steamroller have turned to alliances with open-source software to combat the Windows monopoly. For this resurgence to succeed, however--and if it is to provide an effective antidote to the Microsoft monopoly--the federal government must revive public policy that supports open-source computing. Fortunately, the outline of such a policy can be gleaned from recent history."

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