Open source seeks to eat its young (again)

Open-source community may be its own worst enemy as it could potentially scare away would-be contributors by criticizing efforts from Adobe, Microsoft, and others.

At Hogwarts, only the Slytherins seem to care whether you're a pure blood or a mudblood. In the open-source community, too, some open-source advocates have never seen a corporate open-source contribution that couldn't have gone farther or been done with nobler purposes.

For example, Adobe announced several new open-source projects "designed to help media companies and other publishers build richer Flash applications."

Alas! It wasn't open enough, at least, not for Chris Messina, who promptly criticized the move as "open washing, applying the tastes-great, less-filling label, while doing everything they can to maintain their control and dominance in a given area--further cementing the historic distinction between 'free' and 'open.'"

Messina raises some good points in his post, but what he doesn't do is come to grips with Adobe's news: it did exactly what it said it did, which was to open source code under an OSI-approved license (MPL 1.1). Messina may believe Adobe did so with devious intent, but can we at least wait for the ink to dry on the press release before hounding Adobe for its move?

Similarly, the response to Microsoft's open-sourcing of a few Linux device drivers is puzzling. Red Hat said "congratulations" out of one side of its mouth while pestering Microsoft to outdo IBM, HP, and other companies that heavily use open source in a refusal to future patent claims against any open-source developers or users.

Roy Schestowitz, perhaps predictably, argued that Microsoft only did it because Linux can't be ignored. Indeed, the argument is now circulating that Microsoft was legally bound to release the device drivers as open source. It didn't really want to! It's a sneaky company that only contributes under duress!

Sigh. In open source, no good deed goes unpunished. There is no greater enemy to open source than itself.

A more charitable view on Adobe, Microsoft, and other companies that are experimenting with open source is that they are making progress, learning to use open source to suit various business and technical needs. Microsoft says that it's learning to use open source to lower sales and marketing costs in new markets, but also to make its software development process more efficient.

Perhaps it's lying, but why start from that premise?

I think it's fair to say that Microsoft, in particular, has made significant progress in its understanding of and appreciation for open source these past few years. Yes, as Novell's leading Linux developer Greg Kroah-Hartman articulates , "companies [like Microsoft] are big" with conflicting agendas, which can make them seem insincere in their open-source efforts.

But why would anyone expect Microsoft and its ilk to continue to court a community that ridicules and second-guesses its every attempt at perestroika? I know from conversations with several companies that they're actually scared to engage the open-source community because the responses have been so intemperate and ideological.

I'm convinced that this element of the open-source community, vocal and sometimes vicious, is a minority. I'm equally convinced that we'd better off if this enemy within would spend more time analyzing its own behavior rather than shouting down the supposed "mudbloods" of open source.


Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.

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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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