Open Source Here in Google, There in Quebec, and Maybe Everywhere

There’s quite a bit of buzz this week about open source software.

Earlier this summer Google banned open source code on Mozilla Public License claiming spiraling legal costs.

Chris DiBona of the Open Source Team says,

We did this because we have been trying as a company to make a statement against open source license proliferation. You see, we feel it is damaging to the larger world of open source development if there are too many duplicative licenses.

This week Google reversed the ban, looking for greater collaboration through the Eclipse Public License.

On Friday, open source group FACIL filed a motion in the Quebec Superior Court against the government for purchasing Microsoft products without issuing tenders to local vendors.

Roberta Rocha explains,

Procurement rules for government departments and public bodies say a call for tenders is required, but there are loopholes.

Microsoft holds a copyright on the current software used by the Quebec government. Any system upgrades could fall under an exception covering copyrighted products.

But FACIL claims the purchased upgrades, which includes Windows Vista, are significantly different from previous versions. The government should have looked at alternatives, it said.

Matt Assay claims that governments receives enormous benefit from open source and should subsidize its use, especially in education,

France’s future grip on open source looks particularly strong, as it courts the next generation of open source developers. French authorities, for instance, handed out 175,000 open-source-software-equipped memory sticks to high school students last year. Technical universities have made open source their top priority, and some offer advanced degrees.

But Asay also argues that the lawsuit is bad policy, and that governments are more likely to adopt open source when they are not legally forced to do so.

Sam Dean goes one step further, and suggests that companies themselves should subsidize open source. He quotes the Linux Foundation,

“Companies like IBM, Intel, SGI, MIPS, Freescale, HP, etc. are all working to ensure that Linux runs well on their hardware. That, in turn, makes their offerings more attractive to Linux users, resulting in increased sales.”

The point is that whether the motivation is self-serving or not, big companies with deep pockets that have relatively small parts of their businesses in the Linux arena make big contributions to Linux. Linux is hardly the only example of this phenomenon.

Google is well known for its 80/20 rule, which allows its employees to spend 20 percent of their time on projects not directly related to their work at Google. This has been a huge part of how Google employees have delivered so many open tools and so much open code. The rule serves Google, too. They want you out at the Google Code site and using Google Gears.

In somewhat unrelated news, Michael Heller of Columbia University in New York told Out-Law Radio this week that excessive IP protection actually causes economic gridlock,

I discovered a paradox in the free market and it is this: usually private ownership creates wealth, but too much ownership has the opposite effect, it creates gridlock. When too many owners control a single resource – it can be a patent, a copyright, land – when too many people control a single resource, co-operation breaks down and wealth disappears, everybody ends up losing.

Heller is the author of The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives.

It seems the consensus this week (only) is that a little bit of open source everywhere is beneficial to all.

Comments are closed.