Monday, December 31, 2007

Linux Put Open-Source in the Spotlight

The creator of Linux sees his operating system project as an exemplar of the merits of the open-source development model.

In an interview with APC Magazine, Linux kernel developer Linus Torvalds says, "Linux was instrumental in making the whole issue of Open Source move into the mainstream software development consciousness."

He also points out the key divisions within the open-source movement -- between those who want to ensure software's freedom and those who just want to make software that's "technically better" -- and questions the value the more vocal, ideological approach brings to the table:

I dislike the frothing-at-the-mouth ideology (to me, ideology should be something personal, not something you push on other people) and I think it's much more interesting to see how Open Source actually generates a better process for doing complex technology, than push the "freedom" angle and push an ideology.

And I think that pragmatic approach was what made Linux and Open Source also much more palatable to many more people, and helped make it mainstream.

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Torvalds has a point here. Not to say that proponents of free software have any less belief that an open-source development model produces a better end product, but the "frothing-at-the-mouth", dogmatic statements made by some on behalf of the open-source software community probably slowed the software's adoption by larger corporations and business-minded IT folks shopping around for a better server installation.

There's always been a debate about the merits of "free" in the open-source crowd, but when a big name like Linus throws a statement like that out there, it's bound to elicit a strong reaction.

But Linus does say some things that everyone can agree on -- the overall advantages of allowing programmers to futz with the code however they see fit, for example.

"If some experimental kernel shows that it was actually the right direction, we don't end up having psychological road-blocks to switching over or to merging the code," he says. "May the best code win."

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