Shared Source vs. Open Source

Open source and other choices.

There have been a couple of reports recently about Microsoft preparing to release code to open source. Computer Business Review bunks (I declare that should be a word) the story, The Register debunks it.

In my opinion, Microsoft is never going to depart from its core model of selling software (or “licensing,” depending on whom you believe) rather than giving it away and charging for support.

The open source movement is interesting, because it is providing consumers with real choices. Linux is a viable desktop alternative, especially for those with extra WinTel hardware lying around, and Macintosh OS X is a good option for those who want both a powerful GUI and a UNIX-like operating system underneath (Darwin, a FreeBSD derivative).

The open source movement also provides real choices for software companies. The choice to build and sell/license (like Microsoft) or the option to give away and support (like Red Hat or MySQL). Both choices are valid.

Other professionals who are in the business of creating digital products could benefit from re-thinking their business models. Ease-of-copying is the Internet’s greatest asset, yet many businesses, like the RIAA, are treating it as a liability. Imagine if musicians decided to give away all of their music and then doubled the price of concert tickets. Or if musicians gave free rock concerts and doubled the price of merchandise sold at the concerts. Both choices are valid.

You could fight the Internet’s greatest asset, but it feels a bit like fighting gravity.

I prefer open source, but this is not the best solution for all projects. For example, I, like most people in my generation, provide “customer support” to my parents for their home computing needs, so I (and my brother Mark) recommended (the easy to install, use, and support) Macintosh for my parents.

I am currently using the following operating systems at work:

  • FreeBSD 4.7
  • Macintosh System 7.1 (long story)
  • SnapOS (BSD-UNIX derivative)
  • Windows XP Professional

And the following operating systems at home:

  • Macintosh OS 9.2 (under OS X)
  • Macintosh OS X.3
  • Windows 98 SE
  • Windows 2000 Professional (dual-boot)
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS 3.0 (dual-boot)

It’s all about choice. Real choice. In my case, I choose whatever makes the most sense for each project.

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