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Business Logic vs. Free Software Idealism

Building Friction?

  • May 27, 2008
  • By Bruce Byfield

These days, business and free software co-exist with little friction.

Although you still find some members of the free software community who automatically view business with suspicion, for the most part the community considers the multibillion dollar open source industry as a validation of its beliefs. Business and free software are so closely intertwined that kernel developers Linus Torvalds and Andrew Morton are employed by the Linux Foundation, a non-profit consortium of corporations. But in recent months, this cooperation is showing signs of becoming strained.

Key datapoints in this trend are the growing commercialization of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, the renewed calls of Mark Shuttleworth of Canonical and Ubuntu for release synchronization among projects, and Matt Asay's worry about "free riders" who give nothing back to the community.

The reactions to these events varies considerably--for instance, the OLPC changes are widely seen as a betrayal of the community, while Shuttleworth's and Asay's comments have simply sparked discussion. However, what these events all have in common is they reverse the assumptions that have allowed business and free software to collaborate. Rather than having business adapt to free software, they suggest a wish to have free software adapt to business.

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