21st Log: Name that movement: Open source or free software?


Andrew Leonard
February 18, 1999 1:00AM (UTC)

Name that movement: Open source or free software?

On Thursday morning, Slashdot, the "news for nerds" Web site, announced that Bruce Perens had resigned from the board of the Open Source Initiative, a nonprofit corporation founded in November to "own and defend the Open Source trademark." Since Perens is the person who originally registered the term "open source" as a trademark, the news came as a shock to Slashdot readers and other open source watchers. In an open letter explaining his resignation, Perens noted that it was time to start talking about "free software" again.

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A year ago, Perens and Eric Raymond, the leading spokesman for open source, cooked up the term as part of a marketing strategy aimed at assuaging corporate sensibilities that might be affronted by the radical assumptions implied by the phrase "free software." The tactic proved astonishingly successful -- but Perens now appears to be losing faith in it.

"Open Source has de-emphasized the importance of the freedoms involved in Free Software," wrote Perens, who led the Debian GNU-Linux distribution project for two and a half years. "The Open Source certification mark has already been abused in ways I find unconscionable and that I will not abide."

Perens declined to cite specific examples of such abuse. Raymond, president of the OSI board, said the falling out with Perens occurred because of disagreement over whether "discussion and debate about non-OSD (Open Source Definition) licenses" was appropriate at an upcoming Open Source Summit organized by Tim O'Reilly.

O'Reilly, the founder and CEO of computer book publishing company O'Reilly & Associates, has taken an increasingly visible leadership position in the open-source movement over the past year. Last week, O'Reilly even accepted Infoworld magazine's Industry Achievement award on behalf of the "collaborative software community." O'Reilly has also hired two of the open source world's most prominent figures, Apache's Brian Behlendorf and Perl's Larry Wall, to full-time jobs at O'Reilly & Associates.

But O'Reilly's role in the open-source movement has long riled some hardcore free software hackers, who perceive O'Reilly & Associates as profiting unfairly from free software by selling "non-free" manuals. Now Perens, who until this latest salvo appeared to straddle the line between free software idealists and the open source strategists, appears to be returning to the idealist camp.

Perens has a reputation for abruptly leaving organizations in a fashion that even he admits is "graceless." This latest dispute might strike most observers as something of a tempest in a tea pot, but its symbolism matters. Making the term "Open Source" a proprietary trademark to define a form of software development based on the idea that source code must be free was a tricky bit of contradictory business to begin with. And as the corporate world cozies up ever closer to free software, such contradictions will become increasingly sharp.
-- Andrew Leonard

SALON | Feb. 19, 1999

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Linux bandwagon starts to groan

Last June, a reporter desperately seeking to add some semblance of
skepticism to a Salon story about Linux singled out one of the operating system's main weaknesses -- its
lack of name-brand consumer applications. Until there were versions of
everybody's favorite word processing or personal finance applications ready
to run on Linux, he argued, the free operating system that all geeks love to
adore would find it impossible to dent Microsoft's control over the desktop.

Barely eight months later, complaints about the lack of applications for
Linux have begun to take on a quaintly archaic flavor. Witness the latest
news -- IBM's decision not only to start shipping computers loaded with
Linux, but also to port its groupware software, Lotus Domino and Notes, to Linux. Corel
has released WordPerfect 8 for Linux. And, perhaps most intriguingly, Intuit
is rumored to be
planning a version of Quicken for Linux.

Cynics might wonder whether IBM, Corel and possibly Intuit really see a
market for their applications in Linux users, or whether the companies are
simply agile players of the public relations game. In today's overheated
media frenzy over open source or free software, there's no better way to get your name or the
name of a particular product splashed all over the trade press than to
announce that you're jumping aboard the Linux bandwagon. Still, the momentum
is undeniable: The entire computing industry is rushing to place its bets on Linux -- with one notable exception.

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In the not-too-distant future, it's possible that the only applications
that won't run on Linux will belong to Microsoft. But you can be sure that
if Bill Gates ever decides that there's a real consumer market in the Linux
"space," he'll switch direction in a hurry. He has a history of such
behavior. "Embrace and extend" Linux, anyone?
-- Andrew Leonard


SALON | Feb. 18, 1999

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Disney to buy Apple and Pixar -- rumor at 11

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Everyone on the Web loves a good rumor -- and no one, perhaps, more than the devout Mac fans who religiously visit Apple gossip-and-news sites like MacOSRumors, AppleInsider and Apple Recon. So when AppleInsider posted a detailed rumor Tuesday that Disney was going to buy Apple and Pixar in a $12 billion dollar stock swap, with Steve Jobs at the helm of the whole shebang as of June 7, 1999, Apple fans immediately went wild speculating how this would affect their beloved company.

Never mind that AppleInsider reported it as a rumor; at least one person on the AppleInsider message board said he was rushing out to buy stock in both companies. (Despite rampant rumors online, neither Apple, Disney nor Pixar saw major stock value fluctuations Tuesday.) At Slashdot, geeks mulled over Jobs' CEO-worthy qualities, evoked memories of Atari's time in the Warner Brothers fold and swapped jokes about the upcoming iMick -- to the tune of over 100 posts in just a few hours.

But, as it turns out, the Disney-Apple buyout rumors are old news in the Apple gossip industry. Apple Recon, another gossip-news site, immediately posted its own sarcastic response: "AppleInsider is reporting on a rumor that had been shopped around to us for months ... The fact that we didn't comment on the rumors, report their existence or even reply to those who promulgated the 'Disney+Apple+Pixar & Steve Jobs as CEO' rumors should be telling." (MacOSRumors, the most celebrated of the Apple fan sites, didn't even give a nod to the hot gossip.)

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AppleInsider admits that "rumors of an Apple-Disney partnership have circulated the Web for as long as we've been publishing," but the site's staff felt it had received enough "insider" confirmation to justify printing the rumors. The odds certainly seem long -- Steve Jobs as Mr. Mickey? Disney as a purveyor of computers? -- but envisioning such combos is amusing enough. And, after all, isn't that what gossip is all about?
-- Janelle Brown


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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