Microsoft vs. open source

Which software license is better for the future of the software industry?

In the world of computers, Microsoft still seems to dominate the software market being the ubiquitous brand in the industry but slowly people are also starting to look for other options like Open Source Systems. Unlike Microsoft that only allows their own programmers to make the modifications of the code (thereby being "closed source"), Open Source Software such as the GNU/Linux and FreeBSD is developed by programmers distributing the source-code freely over the internet. Major government and private institution have considered the switch to Open Source not just to economize and to curb piracy, but also to make computer technology more accessible and aid the local economy which is especially beneficial for developing countries and makes them competitive in the global scale (Berger, 2002).

However, even between two Open Source Systems there is a stark contrast on how their distribution philosophy works (FSF, 2009). GNU/Linux uses the General Public License or GPL which is designed to keep software from being proprietary and the founders wanted to ensure the freedom of the software forever. In other words there are restrictions in the distribution and re-distribution and how to make profits on that software.

On the other hand, the Berkley Standard Distribution or BSD License is more permissive and allows the source code to be integrated into commercial solutions and even be 'closed source' in the future. These two schools of thought on Open Source Licensing have anti-sentiments against each other and have spawned debates on the developer's community on which actually adheres to true freedom on the internet, and which one has a future sustainability.

The main argument of the GPL camp is that it protects the programmer from companies that may want to exploit the source code by incorporating to other products and turn into a business venture by the so-called "Copyleft". This is a requirement imposed on all GPLed programs and their modifications will be bound to adhere to GPL itself (GNU Philosophy, 2009). It is worth noting that even though GPL promotes Free Software, it does not mean that there will be no profits involved. The GPL allows programmers to charge as much as they want for distributing, supporting, or documenting the software, and in case a company wants to use and modify a source code for their purposes without redistribution then they are free to keep that source code secret.

The GPL model lets different Open Source Applications to improve much faster, for example if Open Office needs to open JPEG files and GIMP already has the code for this, then they can just copy and improve this code which in turn the latter may also use on their next version. The limitation of GPL is that it forbids incorporating the source code into other proprietary programs and if a GPL source is required for compiling, linking statically, and patents associated with software as well derivatives of program must also be GPLed (GPL, 2007).

Because of these restrictions on commercializing the software and future ramifications on how the software will be improve, some experts are criticizing GPL to be pro-communist and anti-capitalists and hence are opting for BSD style license (Montague, 2008). In fact, BSD license is considered for long-term research purposes as well as for commercialization. For instance, the GPL hinders the upcoming entrepreneurs of researchers as they will have difficulty in commercializing their research results. This is also true for graduates wishing to join a company on the assumption that their promising research will be commercialized.

As for companies interested in promoting an evolving standard, the BSD is the more optimal and progressive choice as they can freely incorporate any engineering changes on the source code, linked it with other programs, and then charge for the derivative software without worrying about legal issues. This is the reason for the widespread use of the BSD code in proprietary products ranging from Juniper Networks routers to Mac OS X (Developer Connection, 2007). However, because of this freedom that BSD offers, this can be exploited by giants like that of Microsoft that admits using FreeBSD to power its e-mail service Hotmail but they are not in any obligation to release the modified code for that (Worthington, 2001).

As it turned out, the computer industry is gearing towards the Open Source Software and having a choice between the GPL and the BSDL seems to be beneficial to everyone. Having the option to remain 'Open Source' forever (GPL) or the freedom to do anything on the code (BSDL) is freedom in itself. Hence, for the future sustainability and overall development of the IT industry, these two licensing models must co-exist and instead of clashing, try to mutually benefit each other to promote better and more available free software. Both the GPL and BSDL have pros and cons and it is up to the programmer to choose how he/she would license his software. It all depends on the preference and needs of the software author and how this will beneficial in the future.

References:

  1. Berger M. 2002. Microsoft Vs. Open Source: Now It's Political. [Online] (14 Jun 2002) Available at http://www.pcworld.com/ (Accessed 08 Jan 2010)
  2. FSF. 2009. Free Software Foundation: Licenses. [Online] (09 Dec 2009) Available at http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/ (Accessed 07 Jan 2010)
  3. GPL. 2007. GNU General Public Licens. [Online] (29 June 2007) Available at http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html (Accessed 07 Jan 2010)
  4. GNU Philosophy. The BSD License Problem [Online] (18 March 2009) Available at http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/bsd.html (Accessed 07 Jan 2010)
  5. Montague B. 2008. Why use BSD License? [Online] (11 Oct 2008) Available at http://www.freebsd.org/doc/en/articles/bsdl-gpl/article.html (Accessed 08 Jan 2010)
  6. Developer Connection. 2007. Open Source. [Online] (17 Nov 2007) Available at http://developer.apple.com/opensource/index.html (Accessed 07 Jan 2010)
  7. Worthington D. 2001. Microsoft: We use FreeBSD. [Online] (18 June 2001) Available at http://www.betanews.com/article/Microsoft-We-Use-FreeBSD/992921150 (Accessed 08 Jan 2010)

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