Open source founding father, activist, exponent, call him what you will, Bruce Perens has put out a call to arms to sysadmins claiming their help is needed now in lobbying vendors to support open source.
Perens' views are well known and he reiterated them in an interview today on SearchEnterpriseLinux.com. "It is in IS managers' interest for open-source software to remain viable," he told the site. "The risk is for the entire industry, from top to bottom. Intellectual property issues will affect small and medium-sized businesses just as much as large companies. It's time for the open-source community to push back. IBM and HP are doing great business for Linux and open-source software, but we need their help."
Asked what he believed was the biggest risk to open-source software, he said software patents. A timely answer since a big protest is planned for noon today (Wed 27 Aug) outside the European Parliament in Brussels over suggested reform that would introduce software patents into EU law for the first time.
Perens explained: "Open-source developers are happy to keep writing software, but we do need companies like IBM and HP that have been our friends to help us with the issues surrounding software patents. I have developed OSS independently, on my own time. I am at risk, technically, from software patent holders. I think we need some change there. I would prefer not to lose my house, my car, due to a legal action against me."
With patents, the risk of legal action by big computer companies is high, he said. And despite highlighting a $1 million contribution to a legal defence fund for open-source developers from Red Hat, he claimed that a patent court case costs about $2 million (we would disagree here: according to more objective sources, the cost per case is more $500,000 - still not cheap though).
Perens fears that this financial threat will see many Linux distributors be bought by IBM and HP and a major aspect of open source philosophy lost as customers again become tied into one particular supplier.
It seems to us though that one sign of Linux' final success and acceptance would be companies' fitting it into the accepted OS models of business. After all, businesses want service with their software and they want a service company they feel they can trust.
Perens also feels 2003 is the year of the Linux desktop. "Say, you're a secretary, what do you do with Microsoft Office? You use a word processor, a Web browser, and maybe a spreadsheet. So 80% of these people don't need specialised software," he told SearchEnterpriseLinux.com. "We can satisfy them now with open-source software. All the ingredients are ready."
Again, he overlooks the fact that just because people don't use more of a system, it doesn't mean they don't want the ability to expand it at any time. The self-same thing happened with Apples and PCs. Despite a better OS, PCs won because they had so much software available from companies all over the world.
There is no reason however why Linux couldn't become an OS platform of choice for application developers, but, as Perens argued, there needs to be greater awareness and backing for open-source software. And the one people that understand its possibilities are sysadmins.
So fight for your rights, or lose them.