What's going to be the biggest difference in the open-source movement three years from today?
The most important difference will be that some legal decisions will be made. There are a lot of efforts going on to legally restrict open source in the name of "security" (but really to benefit certain companies) and to shut us out of the Net.
Will there be other threats?
(Microsoft's security initiative) Palladium and other forms of "trusted computing" are a tremendous threat, because they could leave open-source software unable to exchange files and intercommunicate with so-called "trusted" systems, which could be all proprietary operating systems after a certain date. The patents-in-standards thing is another threat. Fortunately, we've shown that our software is useful and even important to the economy, and that we're often more trustworthy than the closed solutions.
What will it take for open-source software to be considered as "safe" to use as, for example, an application developed by Microsoft?
Are you sure we haven't already won that battle? The Apache server dominates the Web. The entire domain-name system of the Internet runs on BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain), which is an open-source name server...I don't think corporate IT folks ever considered Microsoft applications or operating systems to be "safe." They did what they could, with firewalls, backup schedules, help desks, etc., to mitigate the problems of software that wasn't designed to be secure or reliable. If they consider something more "safe," maybe that's Oracle on a Unix system, not anything that came from (Microsoft).
Do you think open source will ever reach the point where it could economically cripple for-profit software companies?
Crippling for-profit software companies isn't our goal. But this question takes a myopic view of the industry of software. Ninety-five percent of software is written for internal company use and is never sold. A horrible lot of it duplicates things written at the company down the street. That is the real software industry. That industry, the user-driven software development, is the one that can profit most from open source.
When do you think big companies will seriously consider Linux for the desktop?
Enterprises are starting to accept Linux on the desktop. We have reports of 6,000- and 10,000-unit deployments inside of companies. As those people get Linux on the desktops inside of companies, it's inevitable they will branch out. People will start running (Sun Microsystems') OpenOffice on those desktops as well.
Is the future growth of open source going to be able to match the tremendous increases it registered over the past few years?
Yes, I think the expansion of open source will continue, but it's going to be in new areas. For example, (the movement is) actually showing some competence with the GUI (graphical user interface) these days, which is something that it took us a few years to do. And because of that, we're seeing some interesting directions.
Do you think the open-source movement is going to become divided--in much the same way that the Unix movement became fragmented?
Fortunately, we have better Linux standards than Unix had at the same point in its development. All of the vendors are providing standards-compliant systems. There have been a number of efforts to make sort of proprietary Linux systems that aren't too compatible with the free versions. They always fail commercially. Without the "free" part, a Linux system is just another SCO (Santa Cruz Operation)--nothing exciting, nothing worthy of the collaboration that has made Linux great, and not something that will win the market. So, I'd be wary of some of the "enterprise Linux" projects. The ones that can't maintain their free-software roots won't succeed.
How do you think a fracturing might affect the quality and quantity of open-source software that gets developed?
I don't think open-source programmers are going to flock to half-proprietary systems. They don't want to feel that they're unpaid employees of some company. So, I think they'll track the "free" efforts, and since there are so many open-source programmers, they will outcompete the less-than-free systems.
What about the balance of power between software users and the industry that develops it? The industry has been in the driver's seat for so long. Will that change?
There will be a shift to customers having more of a voice in what happens to their software than they do now. Today, we take an extremely vendor-centric view of the software industry. Propose a new software product, and the first question you get is, "How will you be the next Microsoft with this?" People don't even stop to think that you can make a healthy living without being the next Microsoft, or that the function of software is to do a job for the customer, primarily.
What's going to drive that change?
We're seeing interest among Fortune 500 companies to make sure the software they need for their business continues to be available in open source. They've gone through this latest license nightmare with Microsoft, where suddenly their outlay became much larger and got locked into multiyear-long deals. A bunch of them don't want to be on the pusher-addict model of software anymore and are going to take a more active voice in directing that software.
Do you think open-source activists will become more involved in the political process?
I've actually heard it as a criticism that we're increasingly political. If you had a giant corporation trying to stamp you out, and the entire film and recording industry trying to restrict your software from playing their media, you'd be political too. It's just self-defense.
Are you personally planning to get more politically involved?
I am devoting half of my time to political action, and have founded an organization, the Global Technology Policy Institute, to work on political and strategic issues of open source. I lobby in Washington about once a month, and was in Copenhagen in October to speak with one of their ministers and keynote a conference on free-software use in their government. I am also considering whether I should run for political office.
Why is it necessary for open-source supporters to get involved with governments?
Because the other side does. We've seen a very strong and well-funded thrust, which is run by Microsoft. They say they are asking for fairness, but then they say, "Let's have software patents with royalties in standards," and thus open source would not be able to participate, and it's not fair at all.
The community is obviously made up of people who have wide-ranging views about software. Who do you think is going to win out, the pragmatists or the philosophers?
I think that the ideas of the philosophers are very much to the benefit of people who call themselves pragmatists. The pragmatists just don't realize that...If you use something that is less than open source, it comes back and hits you. You often see people who come in as pragmatists, and a couple of years later they're writing "(Richard) Stallman's right about a lot of things, and it took me a while to realize it." At the same time, Richard is his own worst enemy because he is very bad at dealing with people who do not believe the way he does. If you're too far in your viewpoint away from Richard, what will happen is that Richard will simply become infuriated, and I have seen it happen in embarrassing public ways.
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