Corporate investment the price of Linux's freedom

JBoss fostered its user and developer communities, and there is close interaction between them. A user with a particular concern or requirement can gain access to the individual developer, resulting in more rapid and responsive development. Many of the advantages of free and open source software accrue from its dependence on a distributed development environment which is stripped of the traditional heirarchies, but demands greater debate and feedback from users and developers.

A logical corollary of this effect is that commercial "open source" software projects are more responsive to the demands of users and developers, because they have to be.

Half-hearted open source

From the perspective of developers corporate involvement in open source software development is probably a good thing, if for no other reason than it pays the wages of the developers. But chasms of misunderstanding remain, perhaps best illustrated by the differences expressed by various developers of (OOo) about Sun Microsystems' management of the OOo project.

Michael Meeks, a long time OOo developer and a Novell employee, said that Sun is following "a half-hearted open source strategy that is not truly 'Open'", and that the effect of this policy is to discourage the participation of independent and corporate developers. In the view of Meeks, a project that isn't developer driven and gives no incentive to the developers is relinquishing all the advantages of an open development model. Needless to say, Sun disagrees with this assessment and protests that OOo is in good health and in good hands.

But it is apparent that any company that runs an open source project needs to be responsive and sensitive to the demands of the developers. Although Sun uses the Lesser GPL (LGPL), developers are obliged to sign over the rights to Sun, (which means that Sun can, if it so desires, unilaterally change the terms of the license of a developer's work at a later date.)

Co-incidently, Novell, Meeks' employer, raised the ire of many developers by directly compromising the Linux kernel by signing a patent indemnity agreement with Microsoft. Corporate involvement in "open source" implies some level of corporate responsibility to the software and its developers.

Similarly, an incidental side effect of the popularity of "open source" has been a proliferation of licenses that describe themselves as "open source", some of which aren't necessarily compatible with each other, and many of which contain proprietorial clauses that don't always work to the advantage of the licensors or the licensees.

Linux and open source have been a success, but success creates its own problems. Most of the arguments about the efficacy of free and open source software, and its usefulness in many different environments, have been won, but while the benefits of free software development are well understood in most sectors of the computing industry, why it works and how it gets that way is often less well understood, and is sometimes further confused by the rearguard actions of the proprietary software companies.