Linux without commercial backing = failure, says Linus Torvalds

Open source as source without a fee misses the point.

Some developers think that free and open-source software would go along its merry way without commercial interest. Not Linus Torvalds. In an interesting interview, he suggests that Linux would have been dead on arrival had it not been for commercial backing:

Linux really wouldn't have gone anywhere interesting at all if it hadn't been released as an open source product. I also think that the change to the GPLv2 from my original "no money" license was important, because the commercial interests were actually very important from the beginning. The commercial distributions were what drove a lot of the nice installers and pushed people to improve usability. You need a balance between pure technology and the kinds of pressures you get from users through the market.

What we don't need, however, is the commercial interest of the kind Microsoft brings to the table:

Q: Microsoft has recently claimed that free software and some e-mail programs violate 235 of its patents. But Microsoft also said it wont sue for now. Is this the start of a new legal nightmare?

A: I personally think it's mainly another shot in the FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] war. Microsoft has a really hard time competing on technical merit, and they traditionally have instead tried to compete on price, but that obviously doesn't work either, not against open source. So they'll continue to bundle packages and live off the inertia of the marketplace, but they want to feed that inertia with FUD.

Bingo. Microsoft's patent FUD is primarily a way to increase the price of open source to something with which Microsoft can compete. In other words, it's a business model war that Microsoft is fighting, not a development model war.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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