The ‘Cathedral’ tries an end run around Free Software

David Berlind has a good post up at ZDNet about the debate over whether device drivers belong in the ‘hypervisor‘ of the virtualization layer, or whether they belong in the operating system.

Alas, like many such debates among us geeks, we often debate the technical merits and tradeoffs of the various approaches, while missing the real motivations behind this. This debate has nothing to do with the technical merits of the various approaches – it’s just yet another thinly veiled attempt to make the Free Software movement irrelevant. It’s good to see folks like Linus and David publicizing this, and lack of ‘technical abilities’ is actually a benefit in seeing through the FUD.

There are some very smart people who spend a lot of time thinking about strategies to defeat open source. No surprise – it’s a significant threat to their proprietary business models. Attempts at monopolies have been defeated. They know manpower and money can’t defeat the power of community participation. The patent FUD really isn’t working. So, what can they try next?

Well, going back to basics might be a plan. The origins of the Free Software Foundation trace back to the simple desire to write a printer driver. So, why not target the basics – create a new layer that free software can run on. Bury the drivers in it, and, of course, make it proprietary. Force all that Free Software back into a controlled dead end. (This even has some side benefits of quashing all those rumblings about Open Source hardware as well….)

It’s not even an original idea – Sun tried this with Java, before they realized an Open Source approach was in everyones best interest.

While the Open Source community is distracted with license debates, business models, and Microsoft’s license submissions to the OSI, real threats to our software freedoms continue. The recent Massachusetts decision on OOXML is one example.

Sometimes, the best way to see through the FUD is to look at who benefits. In this case, Linus gets it right – the move to bury drivers is coming from vendors who have proprietary interests, and will do anything to stay relevant.

This is not to say virtualization is bad – it’s actually really useful technology. But like many technologies, we need to be aware of attempts to control it by those with proprietary interests.


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