Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Linuxworld: Looking to the Future of Open Source

Linuxworld was very interesting this year. As Bob Sutor noted, we stand at a crossroads on the development of Linux and open source (see below for Bob’s predictions).

I spoke on Implementing Your Open Source Business Strategy The audience was very interesting: although we had some open source companies, most of the attendees were traditional software companies who are trying to learn about implementing open source strategies. This shift is consistent with my experience working with software companies in Silicon Valley and around the world: open source software is becoming part of the mainstream software industry. We have recently seen this trend among large companies: Adobe Systems, Inc. released Flex and Nokia releasing the Symbian operating system under an open source license. This is consistent with the conclusion of the CEOs and senior executives of the Open Source Think Tank 2008 and the recent Open Source Alliance survey

One of the most interesting presentations was by Bob Sutor from IBM. Bob reviewed the history of IBM’s involvement with Linux and then went on to discuss the future (you can see his slides at His predictions are as follows:

1. The desire to be “green” will drive use of Linux with hardware optimized to reduce energy use

2. Linux will not be replaced by another open source operating system

3. Linux will expand on many hardware platforms but x86 will be less important; the use of Linux will be less visible through SAAS and cloud computing where the operating system is not clear

4. The concept of Linux desktop will shift as Web 2.0 and new technologies will change the concept of desktop

5. The path of SMB adoption is unclear: will they adopt open platforms vs. cloud computing

6. The adoption of new FOSS licenses will probably slow down and the adoption of licenses will focus on the five or six most frequently used licenses, but products will be issued under multiple licenses increasing complexity of legal issues

7. Open standards in licenses will grow and a model similar to Creative Commons will evolve

8. Proprietary applications will be developed for Linux, but some industries (such as education and health care) will continue to develop open source applications specific to that industry

I think that most of these predictions are very insightful. However, I don’t agree with his seventh predictions on licensing. As the General Counsel of the Open Source Initiative for many years and being involved in our efforts to reduce license proliferation, I think that the legacy of multiple licenses (we now have more OSI approved licenses than when I started) will be difficult to overcome. Sadly, I think that we are beyond the point where we can take the rational approach adopted by Larry Lessig in the Creative Commons. The existing licenses have such strong backing that the adoption of a new “cleaner” approach is not likely to be successful. I hope I am wrong, but habit is hard to overcome.