Opinion: What if Linux became closed source?

Bryan Lunduke wrote a piece for Networkworld... or something like that. I'm NOT going to link to it because I don't want to encourage more page hits for such lunacy. I heard the article when I listened to the latest Everyday Linux podcast. I strongly recommend that so check it out if you haven't already. One of Montana guys is one of the hosts. They don't always get it right, but they do make me think.

Anyway, I found myself hitting the "contact us" link and writing the following:

Just got around to listening to the latest episode of Everyday Linux. The article by Bryan Lunduke is moronic. That isn't to say that Bryan Lunduke is a moron... but I disagree with a lot of the stuff he says and this is another example. Posing the scenario and asking if you would still use Linux if it went closed source... is like asking Christians, would you still love Jesus if he was really Satan. Yeah, that's a lame comparison on my part but the point is that being free software (and open source) is the core of Linux. It is THE development model that lead to Linux. It is something Linux has been for more than 21 years now. Linux would not exist if it weren't for the fact that it was free / open software. It is what allows thousands of companies to sponsor the work that interests them and also what has allowed tens of thousands of volunteers to scratch their itches for the features they wanted improved or added. Simply put, if Linux were to become closed source, its development model would change and the number of outside contributions that it receives would stop. In essense, Linux would stop being Linux. Given the fact that the only way Linux could become closed source would be if tens of thousands of copyright holders all agreed to do it, that's never going to happen.

While Bryan was trying to enlighten us to the fact that many of us do compromise our free software values in those software categories where free software either doesn't exist or is significantly under-featured when compared to the closed alternatives... that really isn't a useful exercise other than to indicate the areas where free software needs more help.

Sure most of us "end user" types don't look at, read, modify and share source code changes... because most of us don't program at all... but switching something from free / open source to closed would basically be putting one of its feet into the grave. Does that sound dramatic? Well, let us consider... just how many software companies have existed during the 4 or so decades that personal computers have been around? How many of those companies are still around? How many of the top selling pieces of software from 21 years ago are still around and popular? How many companies have gone under with their closed source products dying with the company? How many companies / products have changed hands over and over... with competitor A buying out competitor B just so they can kill or co-opt their products? Now contrast that to how many pieces of FOSS from 21 years ago we still use. Yeah, the vast majority of drinking age free software has grown and evolved because of changes in the industry and user needs... so it definitely hasn't stayed frozen in time... but the fact is that the bulk of it still exists (assuming it was useful software to begin with) and is still being used. Because it is free and open... people have been able to modify it and keep it relevant... and as a result... even us end users who don't program at all can enjoy the benefits.

So, to answer the question... if Linux became closed source would we still use it? Ok, let's pretend that fire extinguishers somehow became flame throwers... I'm sure one or more people / groups would fork the last free release and give it a new name... and it would overtake the closed source Linux which would quickly fade into irrelevance. Don't believe me? There have been a number of major marketshare leaders that have made seeming tiny little changes in their license agreements... that caused them to be forked and replaced. Think Xfree86 or OpenOffice. There are certainly many more less well known examples I could mention, but I'm sure you get my point. So the answer is yeah... Linux would get dropped like a digital hot potato and we would just all move on.

Any other questions?

So to recap, Free and Open Source software's major strength is in the freedom it gives to developers... who then pass it on to users... who may or may not even notice. And of course, just being FOSS does not guarentee success. There are plenty of failed FOSS projects and Linux is really the biggest exception rather than proof of the rule.