crypto and public policy


Filed under: Free Software — November 8, 2005 @ 12:45 am

Jason Matusow, Director of Microsoft’s Shared Source Initiative, is a smart guy. I’ve heard him speak in person. He’s managed to keep his job for a few years while weathering unfriendly crowds and debates with the likes of Larry Lessig. So, clearly, when he says the following, I can only imagine it’s planned FUD:

But if a customer modifies the source code, [Red Hat] can’t help you [without charging you extra]. They have to lock things down to provide value. As open source becomes commercialized, it becomes less open.

Come on, Jason, you can do better than that. This is a classic point-of-view confusion argument.

Open-source and free software give the customer the option of modifying the source code at any time. Does that mean that it’s a good idea to change source code on a mission-critical application that you’re paying RedHat to support? Of course not. Of course RedHat is going to support only the official RedHat version of Linux.

But if RedHat starts to do stupid things, open-source lets another vendor fork the code and provide support. Or if said other vendor figures out how to add a fantastic feature to RedHat Linux which they will then happily support, then open-source lets them do just that.

Open-source is not about modifying mission-critical code willy-nilly. It’s about freeing the software vendor market. It’s about allowing the customer to disentangle his choice of software and his choice of vendor. It’s about letting a thousand flowers bloom, creating a market that lets software evolve until it truly fits a need. And when it does, companies like RedHat will support that software version, while other versions of the software continue to evolve for other purposes.

Jason was focusing the crowd on the micro level: the relationship between one support vendor and one customer. Yet the forces of Open-source and Free Software operate at the macro level, influencing the general trend of software development. Macrosoft, if you will.

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