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A swan song from this departing open source blogger

As I sign off from my duties at ZDNet, and more than 20 years following open source, I am struck with the realization that open source has, in many respects, really taken over the world.

By Paula Rooney @ZDNET

As I sign off from my duties at ZDNet, and more than 20 years following open source, I am struck with the realization that open source has, in many respects, really taken over the world.

By the world, I mean the IT infrastructure that powers the global information network.

The revolutions inspired by free and open software, and enabled by the Internet and WWW,  we all know, extend well beyond the technology industry: the Arab Spring and budding human rights movement in China owe much to these social networks, and in kind, to open source software and the communal spirit behind it.

At its core: the general public license and others like it, a principled and disciplined leader who refused to sell his Linux kernel to the highest bidder and legions of talented developers who believe in the notion that software is the pre-eminent utility of the future, far too important to be owned by the commercial few.

As we look at today’s powers that be on the web, Google and Facebook, it is Linux, interwined with a mish mash of open source and proprietary applications, that are powering their infrastructures as well as  the cloud and the expanding data centers of the world.

As illustrated in the Cathedral and the Bazaar, by Eric Raymond, the more open the code, the better the software will be.

The rise of Google’s Android OS –the only serious commercial challenger to Apple’s iOS today — demonstrates the significant commercial power of Linux.  Red Hat has reached $1 billion in revenues and that number will only continue to climb. The prevalence of open source databases and tools building out the new enterprise and the cloud — such as MySQL and OpenStack — testifies to rapid advances enabled by the open source model.

And to think just a few years ago Linux was snubbed as a “cancer” by Microsoft’s CEO. (It is a cancer to Microsoft’s long term revenues, but that’s all.)

No, Windows has not disappeared, and IBM mainframes are still in use.  Microsoft still has plenty of skin in the game, Oracle remains a behemoth and VMware covets its pedigree and blue ribbon reputation in the virtualization game.

Still, we see open source driving much of the fundamental change in the technology industry and we see open source rivals digging deeply into their respective market shares and posing a real threat of extinction to these proprietary giants in a generation’s time, probably much less.

It has been an honor following the movers and shakers — Linus Torvalds and the Linux Foundation, Red Hat, SUSE and Ubuntu, MySQL, Mozilla, JBoss, The Apache Foundation, Samba, Xen and KVM — as well as the innumerable smaller projects that helped spawn a movement but failed to materialize.

I have also enjoyed covering the colorful cast of characters in the community — from Linus Torvalds to Jeremy Allison, Marc Fleury, Mark Shuttleworth (what are the chances that a guy with that name ends up in space?), Ian Pratt, Miguel de Icaza — and that’s just naming a few.  A Linus Torvalds quote : priceless.

Two parting thoughts:

Open source software and proprietary software mix well in the IT infrastructure but not at the corporate level. The cultures clash too much. Time and time again, we’ve seen promising open source projects and companies acquired by proprietary software giants end up either crushed or diminished. Of course, huge injections of cash help talented open source developers fund open source forks, and new companies, but on the whole, the fewer of these marriages, the better, in my humble estimation.

Cybertheft and cyberterrorism are global threats and the implications for destruction going forward are too scary to imagine. I’d implore all programmers — open source and not — to get some skin in the game. It will take more than a village — a massive, coordinated community of eyeballs and programmers– to counter the plans of thieves and terrorists.  But it can be done.

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