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As a top-flight consultant who has previously worked with some of the top Fortune 500 companies, I am engaged in an ongoing research project into the social and technical phenomenon known to its advocates as "open source," started in 1991 with the birth of the Linux (or is that GNU/Linux? Nobody seems to have a good answer for that. In fact, nobody seems to have a polite answer for that) operating system and championed by noted anti-capitalist Richard M Stallmann.
Here is my prelimary report on the shadowy world of "open source."
Open source software (hereafter referred to as OSS) started in 1991 when a young Finn named Linus Torrvolds decided that he could do better than the commercial OS vendors, and began to write an operating system himself, using the code from Andrew Tanembaum's mini-operating system Minix as his initial code base. For reasons currently unknown to myself, he chose to use an obscure license written by an acedemic who had a grudge against Xerox, called the GNU Public License (or GPL).
In the years since then the takeup of Linux in the technical community has been immense, helped mainly by the rise of the Internet during that time rather than on any other merits. The ability for so many people with social maladjustments and personality flaws to connect has encouraged dangerous levels of fanaticism and groupthink - I myself have encountered anger and vitriol on websites such as Slashdot, a site I now know is little more than somewhere for the unimportant to feel important.
Alongside the rise of Linux has been the rise of the open source movement, bouyed by the use of the GPL for Linux and the tireless crusading of Richard Stallmann (hereafter referred to as RMS, as he is known in the "open source" community). Many programs of varying quality have come out (as can be seen on sites such as "Freshmeat" or "SourceForge"), although only one or two have got to anything like the level of quality commercial software has displayed, and innovation has been sorely lacking.
In recent years the "open source" community has suffered from an ideological split, with the anti-capitalist side being championed by RMS and the pro-capitalist side being champtioned by Eric Raymond (also referred to as ESR). It is my opinion that in dealing with the "open source" community, it would be beneficial to approach ESR, as current indications show he is willing to pander to corporate concerns over the trivial concerns of end-users. The two sides in this debate argue tirelessly, only stopping to launch rabid and incoherent attacks at "Micro$oft".
So what is the benefit of "open source" for the business world? Very little I am afraid. While low-end businesses may benefit from the low initial costs of setting up "open source" solutions, such systems have poor scalability, innumerable support problems and leave customers at the mercy of the frenzied hordes of developers who seem to think this "bazaar" approach (bizarre more like it!) to software development is superior, despite a complete lack of proof that this is so.
Indeed, the fact that so much "open source" software has been tainted by the anti-capitalist GPL means that it is worthless to the business world as a raw resource. It may well be possible to challenge this in court given the resources - despite rabid zealotry, few "open source" proponents are willing to put their wallets where their mouths are and fund those organisations that represent "open source." So far the only reason that no company has challenged the GPL is because of the inevitable negative publicity it would generate, and possible reprisal DDoS attacks from angry "hackers."
However, my investigations will continue, for if nothing else the "open source" community is ever changing, if not progressing.