4th feb, 2008

Proprietary open source

Behind the somewhat curious headline lies an article from ZDNet where Dana Blankenhorn considers the subject. She says about POS “This is an open source project which is owned or controlled by one company. Even though it may have a GPL license, you have no more power over it than a single voter in a political system.”

She considers open source projects tied to big players as hard to steer for the single contributor as a single stockholder in a large company. As she says if your fixes and features are ignored whats the use? Of cause you can fork the project because you have acess to the code – as opposed to proprietary proprietary software – but whats the use if you are not part of the mainstream…who wants to be betamax??


Hi Kristian,

Dana is a “he” not a “she”.

It is hard to see what your comment really aims at. GPL gives you freedoms on how to use and share code. It does not give you freedoms to change the mind of other Free Software contributors. Nor the freedom to force your will or you fixes and features on them. But I think the last part of Dana’s comment is relevant.

“In open source, however, at least you can see the code, add your fix, add your feature, tell your friends, blog about it, put it on your Web site and hope, through the magic of Google, it’s found by those who need it.

That’s a big achievement. That’s reform. That pushes history forward just a little bit.

Which is all any of us can legitimately ask for.”


An extra comment:

Forks may be more useful than you think. There are two Free Software project which seem very hard to influcence because of their nature and size: the Java OpenJDK and OpenOffice. And which are heavily controlled by their corporate sponsor (SUN)

In both cases I (and many others) run mini-forks. IcedTea and Go-oo respectively.


My apologies to Dana:-)

My point in my original post was that if a company swoops up the program and determines its mainstream destiny its almost just like an ordinary proprietary piece of software. If a board screens all fixes and add-ons it can determine the direction of the software, and is that not just like old days?

The advantage is that a fork is possible I agree with you in that. But a fork is most likely to be outside the mainstream and will make a smaller dent in the world.

“If a board screens all fixes and add-ons it can determine the direction of the software, and is that not just like old days?”

Well, I think the freedoms that e.g. the GPL gives is “as good as it can be”. That Free Software often is developed in the open helps further, in allowing common sense to prevail.

So, even though the situation you describe can be a problem, it is also important that one would like to be able to have trust in the name/brand of the software. I remember just a few years ago hearing a lot that one couldn’t trust Free Software because “anyone could make silly changes”. That this is not a worry anymore is positive to me.

And really, forks do succeed if the need is great enough or if the conditions are favorable. Go-oo, and Icedtea is what is on the majority of Linux distributions. And Xorg and GCC (two other major pieces of) software are also results of semi-recent forks.

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