Threats (Subversive and Otherwise) to GNU/Linux Growth: Page 2

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Non-standards

There is actually a fine intersection between the issue of patents and the issue of standards. Universal standards exist to accommodate the need for free interoperability which mitigates patent issues or eliminates them altogether.

Without standards, there is typically ownership of protocols -- a proprietary entanglement that leads to one vendor controlling many others. It is a question of decentralization.

In a perfect world, open and free methodologies exist to facilitate a royalty-free exchange of information, such as the ones which made the Internet a wonderful thing based upon low entry barriers. In reality, however, there is a resistance to this, which is sometimes the result of selfishness, even greed.

Buzzwords like 'innovation' may be used as an excuse to deviate from standards and obtain greater control over means of communication. It creates dependency. Examples include the use of Adobe Flash and Microsoft's ActiveX in public Web sites. This undermines the raison d'etre and fundamental principles that made the Web accessible, indexable, portable and simplified enough for archival purposes.

Lobbying

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To an extent, lobbying is related to the first and second points, namely standards and patents, at least in the sense that it sometimes brings them together.

When governments do not prescribe standards, companies can take advantage and introduce patent-encumbered, vendor-specific, and sometimes DRM-laden ones as 'standard'. Government-imposed restrictions and policies often stand in the way of new disruptive technologies and those who write and rewrite the law serve as gatekeepers in the face of change. They essentially serve as 'agents of status quo'.

Lending a hand to issues around patents and standards, lobbyists are also involved in the process of making patent law and restrictions (e.g. requiring secret code for media playback). Watered-down bills and procurement which are not open for bidding are another serious issue. We saw plenty of this even in the ODF/OOXML debate, which ceased to be technical though it should have been all along.

Lobbyists sometimes use a personal perspective, which is seen as self-serving (serving those whom they are paid by). There is plenty of evidence out there about DRM disinformation. For example, when it gets used to pass laws around the world, disguising the need for stubborn vendor lock-in as an elixir to copyrights infringement.

Competing Free Software Projects

Competition, of course, always plays a role. Although GNU/Linux came under the most legal scrutiny in the past year -- no matter how imaginary or spurious this scrutiny has been -- other similar projects such as Hurd (part of the GNU operating system), OpenSolaris and BSD do exist to serve similar needs.

They needn't be seen as a threat because there is a great deal of intersection between the projects and their licensing terms permit a fair deal of exchange in terms of code. Hostility between the projects remains a danger. It's a social barrier to be avoided because the projects can share space while there is plenty of market up for grabs.

Recently, Microsoft's CEO reluctantly admitted that Linux is the biggest competitor to Microsoft. Not Sun Microsystems, not Google, not IBM and not even Apple was the primary concern in Steve Ballmer's mind. It seems to be the great momentum enabled by free software licenses such as the GPL that Microsoft is most allergic to (i.e. afraid of).

Looking ahead, GNU/Linux will continue to evolve very fast. No other highly-distributed programming project thrives in development by a group so large and so highly motivated. It has become apparent, however, that some of the challenges to address along the way are more than just technical.

It is important to be aware of them and respond to them appropriately. Embrace standards, favor Free software, antagonize software patents and keep a close eye on attempts to change the law. No battle is won without a fight and those who lose to GNU/Linux never rest on their laurels. They only make it seem that way in order to create apathy and unawareness of looming response. Secrecy can sometimes be predatory.


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Tags: open source, Linux, Microsoft, GNU/Linux, Storage


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