5 Things Open Source Needs In 2008 - InformationWeek

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5 Things Open Source Needs In 2008

More hardware support and better communication from Microsoft are just two of the things the open-source community must get in 2008 to continue its momentum.

Open-Source-Friendly Wireless

We need a nationwide wireless carrier that is as friendly as possible to open source and open standards. To some degree, this has started happening. But how it plays out -- the details, the gotchas, the backtracking -- will be far more important than any number of promises or paper alliances.

Let's start with the obvious signs of life: Google's Android and Verizon's open-networks pledge. Android could provide a handy end-run around the generally woeful state of handset software, and Verizon's promise to allow a high degree of open-ended interoperability with certified devices sounds appealing to people who would rather use a handset that's not quite so closed-ended.

That said, there's still plenty of ways these can still fall short. On the network side, the big problem is actually not freedom of devices (although that's unquestionably a major issue). It's freedom of data. The most open, flexible, and community-supported devices in the world will not be of much use on networks where the costs for moving data around are still prohibitively high. That puts the real utility of such networks out of the hands of many, and makes open devices little more than more attractive doors to the same tiny little room.

However, once open devices start being allowed on those networks, the possibilities they create may persuade the wireless carriers to rethink their business models, lest they lose out to pre-emptive competition. If mobile phones are fast becoming one of the primary ways people get online, existing plans, handsets, and applications won't be enough. The pressure will be on to allow those devices to do many more things in ways that require less stringency.

Granted, infrastructure, not development policy, is a major factor slowing the pace of change. One often-repeated bit of punditry is how far ahead Korea and Japan's telecom and wireless networks are compared to the United States'. There's a whole aggregate of reasons for this, not the least of which is the relative size of the countries: it's far easier and less costly to wire up a country the size of Korea for next-generation broadband than it is to do the same for even a single U.S. state.

Still, there's little to no reason why the gates themselves should remain wholly proprietary. It's high time mobile telecom stopped being a closed shop. And once that door is opened even a lttle, it'll be virtually impossible to close it again.

Truth From Microsoft

We need Microsoft to put up or shut up, once and for all, about its Linux patent claims. Enough beating around the bush. Enough throwing around vague numbered lists with no details. If Microsoft wants to work with Linux (and Unix) instead of against it, then it needs to play completely above-board. The company needs to provide full and unambiguous documentation about which of its patented technologies exist in Linux and Unix.

Microsoft has started suggesting that it wants to be a better open source citizen, via things like the Open Source Lab. Laudable as these efforts are, they become hard to take seriously when Microsoft's main presence in the open source space seems to be approaching people behind closed doors for the sake of licensing its intellectual property to various Linux vendors.

There are a few solid reasons -- solid for Microsoft, that is -- why they have not owned up. For one, it provides them with a reservoir of leverage. They have said that they are not interested in suing anyone if they can help it -- but the terms of any of their licensing deals with Linux vendors are so secretive, we don't even know what's being licensed or to what end. We can only guess, until someone steps forward and risks legal hot water for doing so.

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