Judge Jackson on Linux and Open Source

[ 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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