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Perens: 'Badgeware' threat to open source's next decade

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Reducing security risks from open source software

GPL3 and LGPL3 ensure the author's identity while also providing developers the best line of legal defense. Perens, who has been involved in a number of GPL law suits, said GPL reserves the author's rights so attorneys get noting, and give up fighting. "There was never a question of weakness in these cases... there's this 100 per cent record - everyone settles. Why? Because they [attorneys] can't gain anything."

As such, Perens believes Linux creator Linus Torvalds is mistaken to resist putting Linux under GPL3, keeping it under GPL2. "I think Linus has been a really been a loose cannon on that. I think the kernel would be stronger under GPL3 and there's no reason not to do it."

Licensing aside, Perens believes the Open Source Definition has stood well during its first ten years. Linux and open source have given users freedom from vendor lock-in, which put the fiscal interests of vendors ahead of those of the end user. He served as Hewlett Packard's senior global strategist for Linux and open source, and was charged with revisiting that company's Linux strategy against Sun. He reckoned that HP's Unix-based HP 9000 notched up 70 per cent margins simply because HP 9000 users had no choice other than to pay whatever price HP wanted to set.

Linux and open source have also freed the IT industry from being beholden to a single vendor, Microsoft, which hurt businesses. Back to HP, he cites that company's misplaced decision to shift from Unix and place its server bets on Microsoft's then-nascent Windows NT (since Windows 2000 Server), which failed to materialize as promised. "They [Microsoft] took years longer to deliver a reliable [version of] NT and during that time, because HP had stepped out the Unix spotlight, Sun [Microsystems] ate their lunch," Perens said.

Such has been the force of Linux and open source, that big vendors such as IBM, Oracle and Sun have come to realize its potential for reducing their product development costs and exposure to risk, because they can rely on a broader level of input on code development and support. Also, according to Perens, it's become impossible to deny how good open source and Linux is. In a testament to the strength of companies selling open source services, big systems and closed-source vendors are now buying up open source specialists; to name just five, Sun is buying MySQL and Nokia Trolltech, while Oracle bought Sleepycat, Novell SuSE and IBM Gluecode.

While some might worry about what the trend for ownership of open source companies by commercial or closed-source vendors means, Perens is confident the open source products and communities themselves will thrive. For example, Nokia could take Trolltech closed source, but then it would become just another portable GUI platform. "The big deal about Trolltech today is there are so many programmers who know how to program because they use open source software," Perens said. "I think their longevity comes from their open sourceness."

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