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.comment: Lawyers, Guns, and Money - page 3

KDE and Corel: Working in the Real World

  • June 14, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Another corporation that is becoming involved with KDE is the Kompany, which will pay the salaries of two developers to work on KWord over the next two years; it is sponsoring the project in association with Kaiwal Software (Shane) Co., Ltd. in Thailand, which is providing equipment and workspace. The Kompany is at work on some unannounced projects, and this month is shipping PowerPlant Linux, a distribution aimed at developers. Why subsidize KWord development?

"I think KOffice is probably one of the most important pieces of KDE in terms of winning over corporate America," says Shawn Gordon, president of the Kompany. "If you can get them using it at work, they will eventually use it at home. This was part of the original downfall of the Mac--people didn't use it at work because it was expensive compared to the options. Linux and KDE are much much cheaper--free--than the Microsoft options. If we can get KOffice done, and able to handle Microsoft file types, then when Windows 2002 comes out and people don't want to pay for the upgrade, they can turn to KDE and KOffice. My objective is to get more people using Linux and KDE so that I can sell them other things that we are going to develop. I find the investment in supporting KWord to be a sound one at this point for my long range plans, which is to have a large install base to sell other products to. I would like to try and help with other aspects of KOffice as finances allow. Maybe we'll make it a revolving responsibility among our team of programmers where they each spend a month working on it and rotate back into our internal projects. It's an idea we've been toying with."

Gordon says that the nature of the system itself prevents anyone from turning a big open source project to his or her own corporate purposes.

"I don't necessarily think that trying to steer a project is a bad thing. Everybody wants features in this project, and there is a community that discusses them, and some people act on them, but there is typically consensus as to what goes on. I would say the only main difference is that if we have a suggestion for a feature, and we talk it out with the Koffice developers, and we get consensus, we know we can get the work done, because we know the programmers are available. We are very committed to Open Source and the community at large. Our developers are very much a part of the mind set, and even if I wanted to do something nefarious, they wouldn't do it because they know it won't fly. So I don't think we benefit directly really, it's more of a long term objective and having a stable, solid KDE and KOffice package available helps that objective, not to mention I really dig KDE and KOffice and want to see them done and out there kicking ass."

Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money
Wherever you look, corporations are getting into Linux, and more and more of them are getting involved in open source software. As early as two years ago, Forbes Magazine ran a story about IBM and Apache, which began with a hilarious anecdote about IBM lawyers trying to find someone with whom to negotiate. Recently, Inprise/Borland announced that it would use the Qt libraries in porting its development tools to Linux. Observers of the software scene remember that it was only recently that the plan for Inprise/Borland to merge with Corel fell through; with the Inprise/Borland announcement, KDE would in some respects have been virtually surrounded. (It works both ways: KDE being by far the most popular Linux desktop, and KDE being built against Qt, can it do anything but help TrollTech, the developer of both the free and the commercial versions of Qt?)

And then there is Microsoft and Kerberos. Taking free code, modifying it so that it doesn't work with anyone else's system, and locking everyone else out is at the moment a stunt that only Microsoft could pull off. At the moment.

I don't know of any lawyers who would be eager to try to defend the GPL if offense came to judge and jury. Commercial software companies have over the last decade tended to give the best parking spaces not to programmers but to lawyers. It would take some heavy-duty mobilization to take on a big software company and not die of attrition before a dispute ever came to trial. I think there will be offenses, as surely as there will be another VBX macro virus.

It's frightening, the idea that Linux and its applications could fall victim to its own success. But wherever there's money, big money as there is now in Linux, there is someone very clever who will try to take it away.

Corporations and open-source development are for the most part diametrically opposed as to organization and goals. Neither is bad; indeed, neither is better and both can be abused. But when the two come together, it's oil and vinegar--it needs a little shaking up before it can go onto the salad. And these are indeed the salad days of Linux.

It's not difficult at all, though, to imagine the companies that make commercial software for other platforms looking upon Linux as some kind of odd little brother. And, with a smile, saying, "I'm very idealistic. I want to make the world a better place for me to live in."

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