Linux's worst enemies? Linux fans

Do you know why Unix failed to take off as a mainstream operating system? It wasn't because it was too hard to use. Mac OS X, the universally acclaimed 'easy' operating system is built on top of BSD Unix. It's certainly not because Windows is better. It wasn't and it isn't. No, I put most of the blame for Unix's failure on its internal wars. Unix International vs. Open Software Foundation; BSD vs. System V, etc., etc. For the most part, Linux has avoided this.... for the most part.

That's not to say that Linux doesn't have its share of internal battles that don't do anyone any good. Free software founder Richard M. Stallman's insistence that Linux should be called GNU/Linux puzzles more people than it does bringing anyone to Linux, or GNU/Linux if you insist. In the last few days though, another Linux family fight has erupted.

This time around, it's open-source developer and anti-patent political lobbyist Florien Mueller accusing IBM of breaking its promises to the FOSS (free and open-source software) community of not using patents against it. Mueller's is ticked off that TurboHercules, an open-source z/OS emulator company, over its possible misuse of IBM patents, which includes two that's covered by IBM's pledge to not sue open-source companies or groups using these patents.

I have several problems with this. First, as Pamela Jones of Groklaw points out, TurboHercules started the legal fight with IBM and the open-source software license it uses isn't compatible with the GPL--the license that covers Linux. Second, this is really just a standard-issue business fight that involves patents. It does not, as Mueller would have it, show that "After years of pretending to be a friend of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), IBM now shows its true colors. IBM breaks the number one taboo of the FOSS community and shamelessly uses its patents against a well-respected FOSS project, the Hercules mainframe emulator."

Come on! IBM has been one of Linux's biggest supporters for over a decade. Why do they support Linux and open source? Ah, would that be because they've invested billions it and they've made even more billions from it? I think so. Does a minor legal-clash with an obscure company means IBM is now a traitor to the cause, and, more importantly, that they've abandoning a wildly successful busiess plan? I can't see it.

To me, this is all a piece with Debian's moronic fight with Mozilla which ended up with Debian re-naming Firefox, IceWeasel, in its Linux distribution; Red Hat's 'betrayal' of Linux by abandoning the consumer side of Linux for RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux); and the never-ending Debian vs. Ubuntu fights.

There's this love of ideological purity that burns in the heart of too many open-source fans that makes them require companies and groups to pass litmus tests before they can approve of them. No matter, for example, that Novell has carried the burden of fighting off SCO's anti-Linux claims, Novell partnered with Microsoft, therefore, Novell must be boycotted!

I'm sorry people. We don't live in a black and white world, nor, for that matter one filled with shades of gray. It's one filled with a multitude of colors and business and ethical choices aren't binary.

I'm not the only one who sees it this way. I recently talked to analysts and executives about the IBM/TurboHercules patent mess and they agreed with me that these fights only end up hurting open source and Linux.

You know, we've been here before. The one real winner when the Unix companies slugged it out was Microsoft. Why would anyone think that turning Linux into dueling fiefdoms arguing over who has betrayed open-source last is going to help anyone except Microsoft and other pure proprietary companies?

Finally, don't you think it more than a little interesting that the other 'open-source' companies, which had attacked IBM on similar grounds in Europe, counted Microsoft among their stock-owners? Coincidence? I think not. Might I suggest those attacking IBM take a long, hard look at what they're really doing and which side of the open-source debates they're really on.

Last, but not least, might I suggest that anyone who thinks that extremism for one side or another in the various open-source debates is a virtue contemplate this classic John Cleese video.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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