Does the Open Source Model work better than its commercial alternative? This post comes on the heels of one of my fellow Staff Writer's posting the story, "A Modest Idea: What If Microsoft Open Sourced Windows?" And I'm aiming this commentary at Microsoft too but it applies to any company who seeks profit over what is fundamentally correct behavior in the marketplace. I'm not against anyone making a profit. Profit is good. Forfeiting good business sense and sacrificing employees in the name of profit are bad.

Steve Ballmer announced the other day that Microsoft is joining the host of other companies by laying off thousands of workers. In his company-wide email, he blamed the poor economy for the layoffs.

"But it is also clear that we are not immune to the effects of the economy. Consumers and businesses have reined in spending, which is affecting PC shipments and IT expenditures."

Yes, it's true that the economy is not great right now but I don't suppose their layoffs have anything to do with the dismal performance of Microsoft's flagship desktop operating system, Vista, does it? Nor does it have anything to do with the fact that many are turning away from Microsoft in record numbers because of his poor performance as well.

Could an Open Source business model prevent the Microsoft layoffs?

If Microsoft's operating systems were open source, as Ron Miller suggests, would it save jobs? I believe that it would and here's why: Development would not only take place at Microsoft but all around the world by volunteers who, by the way, generally do the work free of charge. Popular enhancements would be made to the code to make it more stable, friendly, and perhaps less expensive.
Piracy would also be less of an issue for Microsoft--where they spend millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of man-hours each year to quell.
And Steve Ballmer's role would also become less of a business driver and more of that of a spokesman for the company.

To the question: Linux and the Open Source Model: Does It Work?
You know my answer. I want to hear yours. Use the Comments area below to let me know what you think.

Anyone that knows me knows that I love open code. Anyone that really knows me knows why I love the GPLv3 over all other licenses. How ever for a open source transition to work, strategic deployments of that code are paramount. If Microsoft wants to open source their flagship product they had better be prepared to under go a Netscape to Mozilla type transition. Would the community benefit from a royalty free code infusion? I think there is good chance it might. But would Microsoft survive it? If it is done wrong I doubt it. Then again if they don't try then I do not care if they do die off.

The license for the software is as important as the fact that it is open source.

The Gnu GPL (version 3) license is founded on these highest ideals of software freedom:

* the freedom to use the software for any purpose,
* the freedom to change the software to suit your needs,
* the freedom to share the software with your friends and neighbors, and
* the freedom to share the changes you make.

Debian Linux aspires to use the GPL license whenever possible. No part of software released under the GPL license can be claimed to be proprietary or its use restricted by an individual or company. This license represents is the highest form of altruistic community software, and is the underlying aspiration of the Linux community.

The Gnu Lesser GPL (LGPL) is espoused by many commercial Linux supporters because it allows use of (linking to) proprietary modules that commercial developers do not wish to release as free software.

This license is important to allow developers to retain rights and make money for their particular modules while still using free other open source modules as part of a larger software package. Unfortunately, this type of license creates a field day for lawyers, because once free modules and proprietary modules are mixed (whether they are open source or not), unscrupulous software vendors attempt to claim that all the modules (free or not) are proprietary.

This is a very common occurrence, with recent efforts by Novell having gained notoriety.

Companies try to get "free labour" from the community while retaining the rights to submissions by the community developers. This occurred, for example, with the Groupware package Zimbra. Although an open source "community" edition is available, Yahoo (the owner of Zimbra) claims proprietary rights to all work and any improvements made by the community. In fact, it can start charging for the package at any time, even though the community edition currently is released without charge.

So, yes, Microsoft and other companies can have "open source" products, and indeed, that does give some security advantage in making the software transparent to users.

But to expect that software developers in the world that now contribute their time developing software for the world "community" would want to do so for free for a company (such as Microsoft or Yahoo) who then would retain a proprietary license on the software is a pretty cynical expectation.

The license for open source software, therefore, is as important as it being open source. Richard Stallman, who has promoted thinking about these issues for years and formulated the GPL licenses, is one of the most forward-thinking visionaries of our time. Every community software developer must be familiar with, and every end user cognizant of, the licensing issues relevant to open source software.


I think eventually MS will open source a lot of their apps. Maybe not their desktop/server or office suite but certainly they'll give away the code to Visual Studio, some of their games, and perhaps SQL Server since it's basically a rip-off of Sybase.


You're right the license is at least as important as open sourcing the code. I don't see MS going for any current version of a GPL, etc. I foresee them going with a Microsoft Open Source License that stipulates for whom and what the code can ultimately be used. They don't have a need yet to go for an existing model but you can bet their days as a completely closed source company are numbered.