Free software: A virus in Microsoft's eyes
This ability to freely copy lines from source code without giving anything in return is something the GNU directly stamped out with its licence, the GPL, which mandates that anything using GPL components should itself fall under the terms of the GPL. If you write a program and include in it work cut'n'pasted from GPL-licensed source code, your program also falls under the GPL and you'll have to make its source code available. This establishes a level playing field and enables Stallman's ultimate goal: the ability to freely modify whatever software is running on his computer and share it.
That's why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer declared the licence "viral".
When Unix was young, it was an elegant command-line driven OS, built around the idea that everything is a file and small single-function programs could be linked together with pipes to achieve sophisticated results.
But today's Unix descendants are large, complex graphical beasts, and so are their apps. Any significant modern application is a big project, which means teams of cooperating developers - and programmers are just people. Sometimes they fall out, sometimes they just want to go and do their own thing. Result: lots of competing projects.
Linux itself hasn't split is the forceful, charismatic leadership of Linus Torvalds, but - unfortunately - Linus doesn't scale. Very few projects get to have a Torvalds-like leader.
The other issue is that as the tools to build software mature and grow more powerful and flexible, it's getting easier for relatively inexperienced, unskilled programmers to assemble complex apps out of many supplementary components - subsidiary parts that they may not know very well. This increases the chances of people reinventing wheels which might differ in nothing more significant than their colour.
The GPL per se does nothing to prevent this, which is why forks are quite common. Sometimes it's because different developers want to focus on different things - which is why the original Linux clone of WinAmp, XMMS, has begotten the Beep Media Player, Audacious, Youki and two projects called XMMS2. Sometimes, rival projects happen over political differences - as in the resistance to KDE's use of Qt and C++ which led to the creation of GNOME. Today, they're joined by half a dozen rivals - along with umpteen Free Software web browsers.
It's widely held that the reason Linux itself hasn't split is the forceful, charismatic leadership of Linus Torvalds, but - unfortunately - Linus doesn't scale. Very few projects get to have a Torvalds-like leader.
So aside from careful choice of licence and project leadership, is there anything to be done? Perhaps not, but this might not always be a weakness. Diversity means adaptive radiation: some projects will win users, favour and support and thus prosper; less popular ones will atrophy. Occasionally, projects merge, as did Compiz and its forks Beryl, NOMAD and Compiz++.
Flock of C-gulls
This may turn out to be a defining aspect of free and open-source software (FOSS). From the start, part of the Unix philosophy was that it was a mosaic of many smaller parts. Linux has been memorably described as less an operating system, more a flock of several thousand separate packages flying in close formation. Perhaps its vast numbers of alternative, competing components is actually a strength.
The other possibility is that if the industry moves beyond C and toward other languages, that pooled resources akin to Perl's CPAN or Python's PyPI will become more widespread, making code reuse easier and more convenient. Another trend that might help is languages that run on top of shared runtimes, such as the JVM or Microsoft's CLR, allowing code in one language to call libraries written in different ones.
If that becomes an insuperable problem, well, there are others FOSS operating systems and platforms out there - plus some with very different approaches to OS design waiting to be discovered.
Linux is a remarkable wad of code, but as operating system design expert Professor Andrew Tannenbaum pointed out in 1992, it was already obsolete. The answer may lie in not merely reinventing the wheel, but the entire car - or replacing it with a bicycle instead. ®
And your point is?
I can't really get a handle on where the article is supposed to lead me.
Linux is running on more machines worldwide than just about anything else. Just Android smartphones, TomTom navigation devices, various set-top-boxes and smart-TV's outnumber the only operating system ordinary people have ever heard of (Windows). BSDs? I'd be hard pressed (apart from certain parts that made their way into things like the Windows TCP/IP stack decades ago) to name anything that's really come from them. So it's not really unpopular in either in-depth-hardware-geek territory (who most certainly would have heard of BSD, and would use it if they could - because it doesn't require them to expose their own code - but yet hardly anyone makes embedded devices that run on it), or even just general usage in homebrew projects (Raspberry Pi, various handheld consoles, etc.). I don't get the argument you're trying to present there by suggesting it'll all go titsup.
And Linus is preventing Linux forking by being unique - so if it forked, who would do Linus' job in the fork? Either someone would come along (and thus Linus wouldn't be unique), or someone wouldn't (in which case it wouldn't be forked).
I've lost the point there, apart from suggesting that the GPL (*the* most popular open source license) is somehow corrupting. I believe that was its intention, so people couldn't freeload from it for their own commercial purposes and not contribute back (for hobbyist purposes, it has no real hindrance because you only have to offer your code to the people who end up with the end product of your derivative work, which is probably just you).
And quoting Tannenbaum is really the last straw - his own progeny MINIX hasn't been touched in years, barely runs any of the huge amounts of code out there today and is unheard of outside of academia teaching operating systems. He operates in a world of perfect mathematical programs and no real-life OS would ever satisfy those criteria and always be "obsolete" (and, don't forget, MINIX predates Linux and Linux is basically the "I can do that better" version of it that Linus wrote - I think he proved his point).
I'm not a massive advocate for the subtleties of open-source, I avoid licensing wars like the plague (seriously, BSD, GPL, or proprietary is all I really care about - even the versions don't bother me much), and I don't care for the personalities and their opinions much. But this article is a rambling mess that somehow tries to sow seeds of doubt about Linux with no, actual, real point to do it with. It's the sort of thing I'd expect on the FSF website, not here.
Re: And your point is?
"... you only have to offer your code to the people who end up with the end product of your derivative work, which is probably just you."
As far as my understanding goes, (please correct me or give other opinions if you can), this also extends to in-house corporate use. If a company decides to use Linux, or any GPL software, for purely in-house use as part of its internal operations (e.g. process monitoring/control, networking, e-mail, etc), and they develop clever modifications and add-ons; then that corporation does not have to make their new source code available. In asking their employees to operate the clever machines and systems they have developed, they are not actually 'distributing' the code (as specified in the GPL license), they are simply making tools for employees to use.
There are some people who argue against corporate use of GPL code by saying, " .. if we develop anything useful and clever, we have to give it away to the rest of the world, according to the license." I believe this is not true. They also say, " .. at least with Microsoft, we'll get years of product support." Hahaha.
I thought this article was about GPL
...then we go and invoke the old micro vs. monolithic kernel debate in the last paragraph. It leaves the impression of a hatchet job - [let's pile every bit of anti-Linux FUD we can find and throw it into one article and see what happens].
Differing opinions are well and good, but in the end the current state of affairs for Linux is that its use is exploding pretty much everywhere other than the desktop... so the title premise - that something is killing it - is provably false.
To the contrary, in the past few years I have seen a marked move on the part of server software vendors to closed, appliance VMs based on Linux and away from self-installed versions of their software for various OSs. Forking and the GPL make that possible.
You can do better than this Reg.