Forbes – Toppling Linux

Langer aber interessanter Artikel über Richard Stallman, die Version 3 der GPL, und wie das „Linux-Ökosystem“ dadurch einstürzen könnte:

Software radical Richard Stallman helped build the Linux revolution. Now he threatens to tear it apart.

The free Linux operating system set off one of the biggest revolutions in the history of computing when it leapt from the fingertips of a Finnish college kid named Linus Torvalds 15 years ago. Linux now drives $15 billion in annual sales of hardware, software and services, and this wondrous bit of code has been tweaked by thousands of independent programmers to run the world's most powerful supercomputers, the latest cell phones and TiVo (nasdaq: TIVO - news - people ) video recorders and other gadgets.

But while Torvalds has been enshrined as the Linux movement's creator, a lesser-known programmer--infamously more obstinate and far more eccentric than Torvalds--wields a startling amount of control as this revolution's resident enforcer. Richard M. Stallman is a 53-year-old anticorporate crusader who has argued for 20 years that most software should be free of charge. He and a band of anarchist acolytes long have waged war on the commercial software industry, dubbing tech giants "evil" and "enemies of freedom" because they rake in sales and enforce patents and copyrights--when he argues they should be giving it all away.

Now Stallman is waging a new crusade that could end up toppling the revolution he helped create. He aims to impose new restrictions on IBM and any other tech firm that distributes software using even a single line of Linux code. They would be forbidden from using Linux software to block users from infringing on copyright and intellectual-property rights ("digital rights management"); and they would be barred from suing over alleged patent infringements related to Linux.

Stallman hopes to use that licensing power to slap the new restraints on the big tech vendors he so reviles. At worst it could split the Linux movement in two--one set of suppliers and customers deploying an older Linux version under the easier rules and a second world using a newer version governed by the new restrictions. That would threaten billions of dollars in Linux investment by customers and vendors alike.

Simon Lok, chief of Lok Technology in San Jose, Calif., a maker of cheap wireless-networking gear, dumped Linux a few years ago in fear of the Stallman bunch. "I said, 'One day these jackasses will do something extreme, and it's going to kill us.' Now it's coming to fruition," Lok says. "Some of this stuff is just madness. These guys are fanatics." He adds: "Who do these people think they are?"

Even the Linux program's progenitor and namesake, Linus Torvalds, rejects Stallman's new push to force tech companies to design their software his way and to abandon patent rights. Torvalds vows to stick with the old license terms, thereby threatening the split that tech vendors so fear. The new license terms Stallman proposes "are trying to move back into a more 'radical' and 'activist' direction," Torvalds says via e-mail. "I think it's great when people have ideals--but ideals (like religion) are a hell of a lot better when they are private. I'm more pragmatic."

One big potential victim of the Stallman stunt is Red Hat, the leading Linux distributor, with 61% market share. Red Hat bundles together hundreds of programs contributed by thousands of outside coders. If Linus Torvalds sticks with his old kernel under the older and less restrictive version-2 license, and Stallmanites ship version-3 code, what is Red Hat to do? The two licenses appear to be incompatible. There's also the problem of forfeiting patent enforcement rights if Red Hat ships v3 code. Red Hat could stay with an entirely "v2" Linux system, taking on the burden of developing its own versions of whatever programs move to v3. But it's not clear that Red Hat has the staffing to do that.

"Red Hat gets a lot of code from people who don't work for Red Hat. They would have to replace all that and do the work in-house," says Larry W. McVoy, chief executive of software developer Bitmover and a longtime Torvalds collaborator. Even then, however, Stallman and his loyalists may carry on developing their own v3 versions. This "forking" of multiple incompatible versions could lead to "Balkanization" and derail Linux, the Torvalds camp warns.

Red Hat and other Linux promoters also may find themselves in an awkward spot with customers. "IT managers want to buy stuff that puts them at as little risk as possible. If there was a risk that Stallman could become such a loose cannon, that's something most IT managers would have wanted to know before they bet their companies on Linux," McVoy says.

Some customers are wary. ActiveGrid, an open-source software maker in San Francisco, originally planned to distribute its program under a gpl license but changed plans after a big European bank declared it wouldn't use products covered by the gpl, says Peter Yared, chief executive of ActiveGrid.

The biggest beneficiaries of Stallman's suicide-bomber move could be other companies Stallman detests: the proprietary old guard--Microsoft, which pitches its Windows operating system as "safer" than Linux, and Sun, which lost customers to Linux but now hopes to lure them back to an open-source version of its Solaris system, which doesn't use the GPL.

And a big loser, eventually, could be Stallman himself. If he relents now, he likely would be branded a sellout by his hard-core followers, who might abandon him. If he stands his ground, customers and tech firms may suffer for a few years but ultimately could find a way to work around him. Either way, Stallman risks becoming irrelevant, a strange footnote in the history of computing: a radical hacker who went on a kamikaze mission against his own program and went down in flames, albeit after causing great turmoil for the people around him.


By Daniel Lyons, October 30, 2006



Comments (1)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Die Monatszusammenfassung von Oktober: Im Oktober war so einiges los. Mehr eigentlich, als ich in meinem üblichen Rhytmus von zwei bis drei Blogs pro Woche unterbringen konnte. Hier einfach nochmals die Übrschriften mit den Links auf die Oktober Postings

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