As Red Hat's modifications to the Linux kernel to improve real-time scheduling near completion, their director of emerging technologies, Tim Burke, has been pushing for its use in the business world. At a recent Wall Street conference, Burke made his case for real-time Linux's abilities to fulfill investors' needs for instantaneous trades. This is a prime example of the beauty of open source and the GPL, and the growing fallacy of closed-source.
The GPL, a license most closely linked to the open source movement, governs much of the code found in any Linux distribution. It is built around the premise of four freedoms for users: to run the program as one wishes, to study and change the source code as he deems necessary, to help one's neighbor by distributing copies as he wishes, and finally to distribute modified code as he wishes. Though nothing is said of any obligation to release modified code, its redistribution is the core of Linux's ability to evolve and grow.
The participation of companies such as Red Hat in the open source movement are, while not necessarily crucial to its survival, major boons to Linux's ability to quickly respond to changing needs. Though kernel modifications such as the option of real-time scheduling are certainly not unattainable without the help of corporations, they would not come as easily or on a timely basis otherwise. According to Burke, the addition of real-time scheduling involved modifying some 1.2 million lines of code—quite an undertaking for any developer.
Even though Red Hat has invested many hours and lots of money into this project, they continue to follow their mission statement: to keep all of their source code open and available for all to view and modify. Because of this, everyone will be able to use and improve Red Hat's new real-time scheduler, even as they sell their new technology to groups such as those governing Wall Street.
It is instances such as these where the ideals of open source really shine. If companies can simultaneously profit from open source (as Red Hat has) and make major contributions to the Linux community, it seems that closed source software will have some major challenges ahead. The oft-asked question is, companies such as Red Hat could be making far more money by keeping their code proprietary. Why do they release it?
Proprietary code, of course, is not an option for a company such as Red Hat, which built its software around GPL-governed code. As a result, their source must remain open. But what is motivating companies such as Microsoft, ATI, and others from releasing the source to software they developed in-house? The ability to have security holes filled quickly and efficiently? The warm fuzzy feeling from upholding the GPL's ideals? To a corporation, ideals do not matter (as they do not result in nearly as much profit), so the answer is: there is no motivation. However, as open source continues to grow, the promise of low-cost software will motivate consumers to close down closed source.