Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Corporations and You: Who's Who in Open Source - Part 1

We are living at crucial moments for Open Source: Oracle is suing Google for patent infringement, Apple is fighting the Android the way they can, while it boasts that it is an open source company (I'll adress it below), and Microsoft's  declaring in the press its love for open source (huh? WTF?).
With all the bombardment of news, factoids and half truths, how do we stand in the middle of this whole mess?

To try to understand this  mess, I'll do a brief analysis of firms working with Open Source, and comment on how is their relationship with it.
The following list is not definitive and does not cover all companies.

Pro Open Source


Red Hat: It is the company that best sums up the ideals of the Free, Libre Open Source in the world. It has its paid distribution, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and one free distribution: Fedora Linux, a distribution focused more on the common desktop user, and there's a derivative of RHEL, CentOS, made by a community, free of charge, a distribution that is focused on servers, but always out of date compared to RHEL.
It never did agreements that betray the Linux community and is not supportive of contamination, either the desktop or server, with alien stacks to Linux, being faithful to the four freedoms of the GPL. And even virtualization being one of the hottest topics in computing today, Red Hat released the KVM as open source, after acquiring the company Qumranet Israel. For all these, Red Hat wins the first place.

Mandriva Software: French company that was born from the merging of Mandrake Software with Brazilian Conectiva Informática, is in second position. It has the free version, one version (both free) and the Powerpack (paid under subscription).
The free version comes only with free open source software , while the One version comes with a mix of free software and some proprietary and Powerpack is the paid version, which features several exclusive software like Cedega (for playing windows games) and a collection of proprietary codecs  to have multimedia  out-of-the-box.
In the server business, Mandriva has an enterprise distro with versions for both corporate desktop and server.
It is a mature distro, has great tools (one of them, the famous drakconf) and have open and free versions of its software for the community.
Did not make any shady licensing agreement and remains true to the ideals of the four freedoms of the GPL.

Canonical: The company behind the beloved Ubuntu Linux comes in third position.
Canonical Ltd is a private company founded (and funded) by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth for the promotion of free software projects. Canonical is registered in the Isle of Man and employs staff around the world along with its main offices in London, the support office in Montreal and the OEM team in Lexington, Massachusetts, USA and Taipei, Taiwan.
The company has a product line around the Ubuntu distribution, which is its flagship. Its products include:
  • Ubuntu, a Debian-based Linux distribution with a GNOME desktop.
  • Kubuntu, the Ubuntu core system with the KDE desktop in place of Gnome.
  • Xubuntu, the Ubuntu core system with the lightweight Xfce desktop in place of Gnome.
  • Edubuntu, the Ubuntu core improved specifically for educational or thin-client environments.
  • Gobuntu (now discontinued), a stripped variant of Ubuntu consisting entirely of free software.
  • Lubuntu, the Ubuntu core system with the energy-saving LXDE desktop system in place of GNOME, which is designed for computers with low hardware specifications.
  • Ubuntu JeOS, an efficient variant of Ubuntu configured specifically for virtual appliances.
Besides the products based on Ubuntu, Canonical has a few Open Source products such as Bazaar, Storm and Upstart Quickly.
Now, a company that has a way for free distribution of Linux (the Shipit), has no paid version for desktop distro and is one of the most friendly distros, how come it's in third place?
Let me explain: The company's strategies, making alliances and agreements, may impair the freedom of its users. It made an agreement with MPEG LA to license the H.264 codec, which is a threat to free videos on the web, and in any place, because of the patents involved. Allows contamination of Ubuntu with Mono and its  libraries (about the dangers of Mono, I'll talk later) and, using a predatory strategy to gain market share, the actions of Canonical should be watched closely.


Google Inc: The number one company  in search appears here in a fourth position, and, surprisingly, even better than another software company (of which I'll address in the sequence).
Google Inc is a darling of the users in general, has good products, a very interesting motto (Do not Be Evil), and is a synonymous of competence with its services.
Its relationship with Open Source is very good, since the company is always working to provide its tools and softwares in open licenses, so they can be used by the entire community.
It has two Linux distributions, Android, for mobile phones and Google Chrome, the distribution focused on cloud computing.
Two recent examples of Googlian benevolence  with open source are: Wave communication standard(which, unfortunately, failed to attract public attention)  and the codec WebM, that Google intends to be the standard of the videos for HTML5.
But we must not forget that Google Inc is not a software company, it is a company that uses open source software as a means to achieve their goals. Thus, it is not an open source company. Some examples of the tyranny of Google are: the shutdown of CyanogenMod Android (a mod of the mobile operating system that had the Google Apps already installed), and recent conversations with Verizon, which threaten net neutrality. Sure Googlian benevolence has its reasons, and the greatest of these is data mining, essential for the business of search and advertising at Google. For all these reasons, we must be alert for Google Inc. to do not become Evil.



Novell: The historic firm based in Waltham, U.S., which was one of the pioneers of computer networking in the early days of enterprise computing, is now a company that provides solutions based on Linux and open source.
Linux was one of the key components for the re-invention of the company and its adaptation to a new era, after Novell Netware, which was one of its most successful products in the 90s.
But we must not forget that Novell Inc is not an open source company, but one which saw in Linux and open source an opportunity to remain relevant in the fierce market of client-server computing. In fact, Novell has tried to lure customers from Unix and even from its own Netware systems  in the early 2000s, since its clients were  migrating to other platforms.
Unfortunately, Novell has not had much luck in their strategies, always lagging behind Red Hat, sometimes in second place, sometimes in the third, and, thanks for the fateful agreement with Microsoft, began to attract antipathy within the open source community. Worse yet, it still neglects to develop open source projects to concentrate efforts in alien languages and frameworks to Linux, as Mono, which is based on Microsoft's .NET technology , discouraging the development of native applications for the Linux architecture.
Novell is still the manager of Suse Linux Enterprise and Open Suse, which is a major Linux distribution, and therefore must be carefully watched.
Recently, several rumors of acquisition of Novell appeared. Therefore, it is not a question of IF Novell will be acquired by another company, but when this will happen.

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