THE high priests of open source software have congregated at Google’s headquarters to debate the future of the movement and face down recent patent threats by Microsoft.
Leading names of Linux, the world’s biggest grassroots software phenomenon, are spending three days to Friday debating whether an increasingly commercial open source community should fight or ignore the world’s largest software maker.
Dressed in the alternative software movement’s casual uniform of T-shirts and jeans, the group is coming to grips with internal divisions that sap at its success – Linux is now used to power desktop computers, major web sites, mobile phones – since rival factions often create very similar products.
But as many of the world’s top tech companies and corporate customers demand ever more from Linux, open source devotees still fight among themselves with the fervour of a tiny monastic order seeking to root out theological error in their midst.
“Guys: Be seekers of truth, not finders of contradiction,” Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, organiser of the event, only half-jokingly told the 150 attendees of what is billed their “Collaboration Summit.”
Linux is the best-known variant of so-called open source software – software that is freely available to the public to be used, revised and shared. Linux suppliers earn money selling improvements and technical services. By contrast, Microsoft charges for software and opposes freely sharing its code.
Recently, Microsoft has sown dissension by claiming open source programs such as Linux violate 235 of its patents while striking deals to insulate the customers of two Linux suppliers – Novell and Xandros – from patent lawsuits.
Linspire which sells Linux-based personal computers through Wal-Mart and other retailers, became the third company to strike a patent deal with Microsoft.