[LINK] Open-source

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Wed Jan 27 14:15:09 AEDT 2010

'Open source alive and thriving' 

January 26, 2010 - 4:08PM http://www.theage.com.au/technology/technology-

New York University anthropologist Gabriella Coleman says the open-source 
software movement has emerged relatively unscathed from the economic 

Ms Coleman was the opening keynote speaker at Linux.Conf.Au, a trans-
Tasman conference held in Wellington last week that attracted more than 
600 open-source software developers and enthusiasts. 

She took the plunge and immersed herself in the world of open source in 
2001, perceiving it was a culture worthy of academic study. 

"Anthropologists know a lot more about Maori than computer hackers," she 
says. But conferences like Linux.Conf.Au are critical to the movement's 

Hackers is a term used by the community to describe people who write open-
source software, not criminals who write malware. 

Most hackers have kept their jobs in the downturn, and there are tens of 
thousands of open-source developers involved in thousands of projects. 

But even the highest-profile initiative under way – open source server 
and desktop operating system Debian – is largely being driven by a core 
team of about 100, she says. 

A growing proportion of hackers is employed by information technology 
firms that have a commercial interest in the success of the open-source 
projects they sponsor. Conferences have allowed these virtual projects to 
scale, while reinforcing the community's values and ethics. 

Ms Coleman said Linux.Conf.Au was more technical and less "political" 
than many, but that was before open-source software guru Benjamin Mako 
Hill took to the stage to rail against proprietary software and the evils 
of its "antifeatures". 

Mr Hill, who is a senior researcher at MIT's Sloan School of Management, 
has set up a mock website where people can report unauthorised public 
performances of "Happy Birthday [to you]", to poke fun at the iniquities 
of intellectual property law. The song is still protected by copyright, 
says Mr Hill, making renditions at birthday parties technically illegal. 

He says open source products are not always more functional than the 
proprietary products they are designed to supplant – and sometimes less 
so – but they are at least free of "antifeatures" intended to exploit 
users, which are much more common than many computer users might suppose. 

These range from spyware and trial programmes that software-makers pay to 
have installed on new PCs, in the hope of gaining recurring revenues to 
digital rights management software, and code that deliberately limits the 
functionality of software. 

This can be to segment markets – so developers can charge more for 
software that is essentially the same but used in different 
circumstances – or to prevent devices using third-party adds-ons.

He says an example of an antifeature is a firmware update that Panasonic 
developed for its digital cameras this year that stopped them working if 
their owners were using batteries bought from third-party suppliers. 

Panasonic said it did this because some third-party batteries did not 
include devices to protect against overcharging. 

Mr Hill believes some printer manufacturers have begun to engage in a 
similar tactic, using sensors to detect "non-genuine" ink cartridges and 
reducing the resolution of print-outs if they find them. 

Consumers are paying for such "antifeatures" and businesses are employing 
tens of thousands of people to create them, he says. 

"The world of proprietary software is a world full of software that 
people hate." 

Google Linux evangelist Jeremy Allison said Microsoft had used a range of 
tactics to stall the open-source software movement. 

These included developing complex proprietary protocols that made it hard 
to integrate open-source products with Microsoft software and, 
controversially, persuading the ISO to endorse Office Open XML as a 

Despite Microsoft's protestations, he does not believe the culture at the 
top has changed. "Their business model depends on the maintenance of a 
monopoly on the desktop." 

But Microsoft was not a monolith. "Microsoft internally is a series of 
warring tribes. They dislike the open source community, but they hate 
each other much more. That makes Microsoft harder to predict." 

Microsoft's tactics had not worked, but it was turning to the "nuclear 
option" – using its array of patents to threaten lawsuits against 
developers of open-source software, he says. 

Mr Allison says Microsoft's decision in February 2009 to sue TomTom for 
features, including Linux features, in its satellite navigation 
systems "for me, crossed the line". 

"That was the first nuke going off. I know Microsoft's open-source team 
were horrified about it when they read about it in the press, because 
that completely undid all their work. 

"Before, Microsoft said they only had software patents for defensive 

Microsoft says Linux's kernel violates 235 of its patents, and it has 
been trying to discuss a licensing arrangement with TomTom for more than 
a year. 

Computer users should lobby against software patents wherever they are 
proposed in the world, Mr Allison says. "Eternal vigilance is the price 
of liberty." 

Open source faces another challenge in the form of cloud computing, he 
says. Companies delivering IT services through the cloud are not actually 
selling software. That means they can build on open-source software 
without having any obligation to offer their innovations back to the 
community.  stuff.co.nz



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