Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Is Open Source the Winner or Not?

It is a very critical question which rages on and on in chat-rooms, blogs and websites. But if we look at a few facts we can become aware of the situation at present.

Open Source as a standalone business is very marginal. However, successful companies that leverage open source in various ways make a good profit - selling systems, proprietary software, services and advertisement.

Basic pay-for-support models tend to have low conversion rates and haven't mostly been big moneymakers.

The Linux desktop remains a niche. There was a time when the desktop looked to be the next great frontier for Linux. That hasn't happened. Ironically, Apple Macs, which are arguably even less open than Windows PC, have been the big desktop winners over the past few years--not Linux.

Firefox is the marathon winner in the Olympics of 'Open or Closed' and is still going strong. Others such as Sun's OpenOffice, although they cannot replicate the firefox numbers are monumental in pressuring proprietary software vendors on various fronts such as pricing and standards.

There's a tension between cloud computing and open source. Most of the open-source licenses that were written to require that modifications and enhancements to open-source software be contributed back to the commons don't apply when software is distributed only in the form of network services, rather than directly in the form of the software bits themselves.

More broadly, as the Free Software Foundation's Richard Stallman has been lately complaining, the very idea of the cloud can be seen as conflicting with "Software Freedom" principles, to which open source was a means and not an end.

Although these are small minuses considering the tremendous change that Open Source has brought to virtually every field of computers, and, yes, Open Source is a winner.

Source: CNET News, San Francisco, CA, USA

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