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Chris Wright - by Christopher B. Wright

Summary: Is Open Source the future of OS/2? More and more it looks as if it might be, and Chris Wright begins his in-depth look at the issue this week.

A Dream of Open Source

The computer press talks about it more and more frequently: the phenomenon that is Linux and the power of the distribution and development environment that is Open Source. It has become the latest in a long line of buzzwords in Silicon Valley, and is credited, even by Microsoft, as a startlingly fast way to create quality, bug-free applications.

So far it doesn't seem to bother most of the people who talk about these things that Open Source Software (as Eric Raymond likes to call it), or Free Software (as Richard Stallman likes to call it) is a radical idea -- one that would put many, many "proprietary" companies out of business. It's an idea that, if it succeeds, would forever change the way the world of computing evolves.

It's an idea I want to happen.

I believe in the promise of Free Software. What's more, I believe in the ideology and implications of Free Software, and the background it comes from -- free information, free exchange of ideas, freedom from coercion. I think these elements are sorely missing from today's society, and I think the way we use computers (and spend our time) has suffered because of it.

For some time there has been a growing murmur in the OS/2 community that IBM should release OS/2 as an Open Source product and let OS/2's advocates become its developers. Comp.os.os2.advocacy has become a battlefield between people who say "it will work!" and people who say "there's no way in hell it will work!"

Who is right? Could Open Source save OS/2? Would it be of any use to IBM at all if they were to release OS/2 as Free Software? Why should they bother? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this type of software development? Is there any rational reason why a for-profit company would ever consider releasing a formerly proprietary product as one where the source code is freely available for anyone -- including competitors -- to use?

The answers (short version): Both, Yes, Yes, It depends, Significant on both counts, Yes but not in every situation.

In the following issues I will be examining and addressing these questions (and answers). But before OS/2 users can discuss the idea of "Open Sourcing" OS/2, we need to understand what, exactly, Open Source and Free Software are. In this issue I examine the Free Software and Open Source movements. While many people will tell you they are exactly the same thing, I don't agree... and I'll tell you why.

This issue I also examine the GNU General Public License, one of the most venerable of the Free Software Licenses, under a microscope. Developers interested in using the GPL may want to read this to get a better idea of what you can and cannot do with this license.

In future issues I'll look at other licenses -- the Mozilla Public License, for example -- and examine them just as closely. And all the while we'll try and piece together whether an Open Source future for OS/2 is desirable -- or even possible -- in the long run.

Copyright © 1999 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
January 16, 1999