Enterprise Unix Roundup: Success Breeds Change

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Apr 14, 2005


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Michael Hall

Amy Newman
Even as more conservative analysts say enterprise Linux is here to stay, the spread of open source software may be undermining one of its oldest institutions. Plus ... if you're looking for a high-performance DNS server, PowerDNS might be the ticket.

There are worse careers than being a "pundit" or "analyst." If you've got the knack for brevity and pithiness, the world beats a path to your door. But sometimes an angry mob beats a path to your door, too. For any preference people can have, a vocal and irritating group that holds that preference will be demonstrably loony.

So when we heard that Gartner analyst George Weiss had said of Linux penetration into the enterprise, "If there are show stoppers or hurdles it would be more in the process of what's going in the community," we pricked up our ears.

Gartner — though long the target of opprobrium from Linux advocates who think the company's customary conservatism is some sort of smoke-screen to shield Microsoft from competition — has never really bothered to talk about "the Linux community," even as other pundits and analysts have made complaints about online abuse from the loonier Linux advocates.

But it turns out that "what's going on in the community" from the Gartner perspective is the same as what's going on at just about any software house.

Having approved Sun's license, the OSI is on the record in such a way that it's now much easier to be both open source and openly anti-GPL or anti-Linux without any recrimination.
Mr. Weiss' presentation dealt with familiar issues: the potential for fragmentation, high support costs, confusing and contradictory licenses, and last year's hottest topic — potential intellectual property infringement. And, in each case, Weiss provides an answer in one way or the other.

One of those points to which we'll be paying close attention, though, is the one that provides the largest area of intersection between the coders and non-coders in the Linux community: so-called "license proliferation." In a nutshell, there are too many open source licenses with too many conditions and too much in the way of impediments to code reusability, part of the point of the open source model.

As we noted last week, the Open Source Initiative (OSI), which has long been the arbiter of what may be called "open source," is gearing up to winnow the field of potential open source licenses from more than 50 to a small handful of "preferred" licenses, a larger collection of "recommended" ones, and another collection of "deprecated" licenses.

The OSI's page on the topic is mildly self-serving, justifying its seven years of relative permissiveness in this area as a planned experiment that must now be called to a close.

We're inclined to think that the real motivator for the OSI's interest has to do with mounting displeasure from the only real "enforcement arm" it has (since it has no legal control of the phrase "open source"). The enforcers are the open source developers and advocates willing to make a lot of negative, public noise about companies that talk the open source talk without walking the walk. Though enterprise reporters like to think that the decisions companies make aren't influenced by a little bad buzz, we know differently: A few days of abusive e-mail and public humiliation can shape all sorts of decisions.

At the moment, that enforcement arm isn't uniformly happy with the OSI or its procedures, because Sun's arrival in the open source scene with OpenSolaris and its own open source license (the CDDL) has shown that it's entirely possible to be open source in a formal sense while carefully blocking out any potential competitors from code reuse. In Sun's case, that meant using a version of the Mozilla Public License that rendered OpenSolaris code license-incompatible with code used in Linux, or any other project that's licensed under the GPL.

Other companies like that idea, too.

LinuxToday's editor sounded the alarm last week when he pointed out that Sun's CDDL has inspired Computer Associates and possibly even IBM to consider their own take on license proliferation by creating a license template for businesses built around the anti-GPL CDDL.

And that presents one of the open source community's oldest institutional voices with a crisis. The OSI has kept its position as the arbiter of what is and isn't open source for close to a decade, based on the credibility of its founders among the people most likely to protest loudly and publicly if a company runs afoul of community standards. Having approved Sun's license, it's on the record in such a way that it's now much easier to be both open source and openly anti-GPL or anti-Linux without any recrimination.

Just as we discussed last week, open source continues to evolve. We're curious to see how one of its oldest institutions evolves along with it, or whether growing enterprise adoption of "open source" will mean the severing of old ties.

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