Open Source and Businesses

Maaf saya menulis dalam bahasa Inggris, karena tulisan ini untuk menjawab pertanyaan teman saya di Twitter:

This question bugs me up: Does open source kill other people’s business? Is it fair in terms of business mnopoly?

TL;DR

If there wasn’t Free/Open Source Software, there would be no Google, Facebook, Twitter and WordPress. No Khan Project, no OLPC, no Wikipedia. No Instagram, no free petition, no liberation. The most part of it, there would be no Internet. And since the Internet is the heart of many business nowadays, there would be no rapid business practice. PERIOD!

Non-Software Company

Since the late 80′s, software houses have practicing a bad behavior towards the software they created. To have their capital flow, their turn their software into proprietary. Making their clients unaware of becoming dependent to them. The cost of maintaining their software making the client have to pay extra bills just to fund software maintenance.

Oh, boy, if you aren’t DARPA nor any Fortune 500 corporates, you’d be long gone. Softwares are so expensive that it was belong to the corporate power house. None could ever done anything if the software company they trust is going bankrupt.

In fact, at the time software is so expensive that creating EDC is impossible for new businesses. EDC was so expensive that doing B2B at the time was only for multi-billion dollars business.

And then, Sir Tim Berners-Lee of CERN proposed a free implementation of a network protocol called HTTP. In other world, born Perl, a free and open language from Larry Wall. At the time, few administrators created the very first HTTP server using Perl programming. Then, comes Mozaic, Netscape Navigator, and Internet Explorer. Suddenly, the HTTP is no longer for text. It was also the thing for distributing multimedia.

When Stallman was obsessed to create a free operating system, he was introduced by a young college student, Linus, to a free implementation of a Unix-like kernel named Linux. He then abandon HURD (a GNU microkernel that the very idea was later copied into NT kernel) for Linux to be incorporated into his product (the GNU operating system).

This GNU system (which now commonly known as Linux) then runs many software stacks. The most beautiful part was Linux/Apache HTTPd/MySQL/PostgreSQL stack that enable the recent web. New user arise and new businesses leveraging. Then, a new body W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) was created to ensure the openness of web stack.

Somewhere in 1995, there was two entity, Microsoft and some guy I don’t remember his name, giving birth to a new protocol for two system connected which later named as “Web Service”. This protocol was using the basic principle as the CORBA and so on. But, it has one benefit: it was using an open standard, the HTTP and XML.

Strangely enough, a new non-profit organization named Apache also created many tools for the enabling this new technology. Their tools was written in Java and licensed with their own style of license. Speaking of license, the GNU Public License v3 offers patent protection for people, which I would gladly talk later.

With this open standard technology, companies resolve their new ways of doing B2B, that is using web service. Now, with this kind advancement, don’t the Free/Open Source Software creates new possibilities of doing business and leveraging many businesses into multi-national corporations?

Software Company

A false notion indicates that software houses are beginning to rot after the advent of free implementation competitors. The software that was created with thousands line of codes and many man hours is being forced to face free software head to head. How would they compete with that?

I remember in 9GAG people said that this generation kids has lost its enjoyment in a way being inferior from 90′s kids. And I thought, what? It was the 90′s kid that brought today’s behavior. It’s 90′s kid that provide crap music, sinetron, and other things. It was us that take those enjoyments from today’s kid.

Apple, Microsoft, and any early 80′s software companies won’t survive if it was nowadays they were started. The attack of software patents would hurts many new inventions. It is a common secret that many startups in Sillicon Valley suffers one or two attack(s) from software patent holder. It’s no secret that many big software houses using their patent portfolio to attack any emerging businesses.

Luckily, the new emerging technology which using open standards making new startups lesser burden. The long FUD war and the winning againts old software houses making Free/Open Source Software a compelling thing to use. This also thanks to the understanding of old software houses such as IBM, Novell and former SUN Microsystem for protecting, or at least let, them. The dawn of Red Hat made its scene for enterprise solution and introducing Red Hat Linux for enterprises.

Using Free/Open Source Software suddenly becomes a new trend. The TCO becomes flexible. With the many open standards which implemented by Free/Open Source Software, suddenly new IT ideas starting to born. The new No-SQL, Grid Computing (which commercialized by the name Cloud Computing), Virtualizations, and so on break the scene of computer innovations.

It was Xen the first one introduced hardware hypervisor to the Intel VT-x and AMD V that enables guest operating systems. The nature of Xen which is a free software (GPL 2) made it possible for Amazon to bring their Elastic Computing infrastructure to the market. Furthermore, Fourth Paradigm was born with its component mainly from Free/Open Source Software. Yeah, even the author also acknowledge that it was possible using Apache’s, one of open source leader, implementation of No SQL: Apache Hadoop.

Open source also open a new artillery to the information retrievel in their Apache Lucene, which in the hearts of many open and proprietary knowledge tree systems. And in conjuction of your research, my friend, isn’t all of your softwares are using Free/Open Source Software?

Tell me, which today’s software startups that not using (or at least incorporated into some of their business) Free/Open Source Software?

The Threat

There is always a bastard that take all for granted and wants to benefit from it. There is always a person whose heart died inside long ago and starts to monopolize everything. Take an instance of a business taking over a business and relicensed its open source products as Community version and Subscribed version. Or, there would be a time when a company that supported the Free/Open Source Software went off.

The interesting part of Free/Open Source Software is those software will not die and decapitated. Instead, given enough supporters, the software being forked and maintained as free software. Take a look at LibreOffice and Qt as examples. Take a note there that I emphasize on interested parties that agreed to a project and lend that project a hand. That’s the thing that is the only thing that would be a real threat for software continuity in Free/Open Source Software: the lending hand.

The most threat nowadays is software patents. It was confusing that how can a mathematical algorithm patented leaving no way around to be implemented seperately. The most evidently annoying about this is that the patent holder could just submitted a fuzzy wording with few details. Oddly enough, this creates a new business called Patent Troll.

It is a sad thing that a standard body would let a patented algorithm into an international standard. Well, sometimes it would be best if it was the de facto standard. But, not all of them are the de facto. Some of them are existed to push against the open standard format.

In relevance for your research, I would guess that truly open web will never achieved on some media. Take a look at today’s condition. Nowadays people are expecting H.264 to be implemented in every HTML5 video tag. This even force Mozilla to openly admit that it needs to open its web implementation for H.264.

Why H.264 is dangerous?

MPEG LA stated that it would let the end user use H.264 for free. Well, it was 2010 and it would still relevant until 2016. It means in 2016, MPEG LA would charge people for using H.264. They won’t chase people, because it inefficient, but they would chase business owners. This would add another cost to any H.264 implementation. Added cost means you have to think twice before giving your content for free. Meaning, sharing could be considered as a heavy thing to do.

Another thing that concerns me. One way or another DRM technology would also have its place on the Internet. As if the digital gap of today’s Internet isn’t enough, there would be a bigger discrepancy among business owners. It would be a tough business for startups. And again, this would be a great threat to Free Software as their implementation would forever never be compatible.

I wish Google fulfill their promise to promote WebM aggresively.

Lastly

I wasn’t expecting this to be a paper, so I won’t include any of the source materials. If you google you would find the reference of what I said. Some of them are in the IEEE Proceeding.

I know that many people uses Free/Open Source Software a lot and taking it for granted. So much freedom that they even doesn’t understand what is the important of it. Their spoiled attitude makes them attacking free software and demanding pragmatical implementations. I won’t say that I am not pragmatic person. I too use proprietary softwares. But, that’s too much. Some without any shame pointing their fingers and calling free software idealists as “freetards”.

In the past, it is the free software versus the company. And who would likely to win was based on whose side was the most longest standing still. Businesses were and are always standing in the side where money payoff. They don’t care about morals. Heck, if it wasn’t exposed, Nike would still use child labor to build their shoes. But, these freetards provide tools benefitted the academics. Those graduated from the academics brought the many interesting concept of sharing into the new environments.

It was the freetards that standing in moral value that making this world changing its direction from capitalism into humanitarian. The corporations have dozen of money and that’s what keeping them. The free software activists could only stand on their feet with their idealism. What would they be if their idealism is gone?

Help them. At least don’t shoot them with critics.

Jan Peter Alexander Rajagukguk

One of system administrator at Universitas Indonesia. His current interests are in smart card technology, pervasive computing, and free/open source software. He is an evangelist of free/open source movement and using FOSS actively.