The Future of Free Software Lies in The Past

Free Software Foundation lawyer Eben Moglen wants to wipe out what he calls the 'scourge' of proprietary software.
NEW YORK -- Eben Moglen is convinced the software industry is returning to being about a free exchange of ideas and code.

The lawyer for the Free Software Foundation said during a keynote at the LinuxWorld Summit that the IT world will return to a time before large businesses co-opted freely licensable software for proprietary products.

When he coded software back in 1973, the idea was ''write once, run everywhere'', he said. In 2005, that mantra might seem far-fetched at a time when thousands of Microsoft sales professionals license loads of software to consumers and businesses.

But Moglen said the Free Software Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center he chairs are trying to return software to its glory days of shared development.

The lawyer, also a professor of law and legal history at Columbia University Law School, said the time has come to again treat science like physics or chemistry, by promoting a free exchange of ideas the way Galileo Galilei proposed.

''We are responding to a lengthy, but temporary period during which software was a proprietary, closed science...'' Moglen told the audience. ''The consequences of that process produced bad software at high prices. We are reversing that situation. What we do is help people think well and share.''

Moglen said certain incumbents, which he did not directly name, refuse to share their software ideas despite having originally taken much of the foundation of their products from the free software community.

The implication was clear: Despite some of the conveniences that today's popular software products offer, the free software advocate believes today's major software vendors copied the innovation of individual software developers to make a profit at the expense of users.

''We are slowly changing the environment to make their business model impossible,'' Moglen said. ''Sharing, we think, produces better technology at lower prices and enables people to succeed in all sorts of social and economic endeavors.''

Moglen was one of the staunchest opponents of SCO, which sued IBM in 2003 because it claimed Linux is an unauthorized derivative of Unix and that portions of its Unix intellectual property have made their way into Linux illegally.

The litigator also successfully helped guide the U.S. Patent Trademark Office to reject Microsoft's claim to a FAT file patent. The FAT file system is one of the technologies Microsoft has placed in its royalty-bearing licensing portfolio.

The patents came under scrutiny after critics claimed that the licensing policy was the beginning of Microsoft's efforts to shut down Linux.

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