2010: The Year in Free and Open Source Software: Page 2

Posted December 21, 2010

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

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Another court case watched by FOSS advocates that concluded in 2010 was Re: Bilski, which was ruled upon on June 28. FOSS advocates had hoped to use the case as a means of eliminating software patents altogether, viewing them as stiflers of innovation and a method for attacking free software. The decision stopped short of eliminating software patents altogether in the United States, but placed some restrictions on them that could make them saner in the future.

While these cases were winding down, the seeds of future concerns were also sown. In 2010, the Free Software Foundation, which has long opposed Digital Rights Management through its Defective By Design Campaign, turned its attention to Apple's iPhone and App Store, and Amazon's Android App Store.

Besides the issues themselves, these issues make 2010 the year in which Microsoft lost its position as the major opponent of software freedom to other companies. However, since Microsoft has recently entered the mobile device market, this is most likely only a temporary change.

Community Concerns

By far the most widely discussed community story in 2010 was the forking of LibreOffice from OpenOffice.org. The fork has been waiting to happen for a long time, due to widespread disillusion with Sun Microsystem's centralized control of OpenOffice.org. However, the timing of the fork makes it a vote of no confidence in Oracle's ability to run the project for the benefit of the community. In place of Oracle, LibreOffice has created The Document Foundation.

Since the fork is only a few months old, its effect is still unknown. So far, LibreOffice's mailing lists and code contributions seem far more active than OpenOffice.org's have been for several years. Nearly everything is being re-thought, down to the names of the applications in the office suite.

However, whether The Document Foundation has the resources to implement all these changes has yet to be tested. Working against it is the fact that OpenOffice.org has considerable recognition value. To what extent OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice will borrow code from each other is also uncertain. Possibly, the two code bases will diverge rapidly -- which would be wasteful, although possibly unavoidable.

Less publicized, but potentially as far-reaching in its consequences is the project begun in 2010 to draft an anti-harassment policy suitable for technology conferences. Such policies have already been adopted by a number of FOSS conferences, including LibrePlanet, Linux.conf.au and all of Linux Foundation’s events. Given the ongoing concerns about sexism in FOSS, this development could help to mitigate at least some of the symptoms of this often unacknowledged problem.

When the Letter Replaces the Spirit

However, for me, the biggest story in 2010 is one that has gone largely unrecognized: The increasing number of ways that companies have found to keep to the letter of FOSS licensing while ignoring the spirit.

Nothing is new, of course, in companies exploiting FOSS for their own benefit. In the past, however, most companies, however, have eventually realized that at least limited cooperation with a community that includes their rivals can benefit them. What is different now is the number of ways in which companies are technically conforming to the requirements of FOSS while finding ways to continue business as usual.

This trend takes numerous forms. At Oracle, it takes the form of maintaining projects, but limiting releases and development, and of bringing a claim of infringement on Java patents against Google.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Linux desktop, OpenOffice, SCO

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