Open source legislation and its detractors


Linux Journal has an article this week on pending open source legislation and the groups lobbying against it.

Nobody will be surprised at the finger pointing against Microsoft, but it is good to know which organizations are funded by the company (such as the Initiative for Software Choice [if it's still slashdotted, look here], which wants people to be able to "choose software on its merits."

Although I think that the ISC is a front for Microsoft and the paid software industry, I don't disagree with the sentiment that these laws requiring that OpenSource be used on the basis of its being open are a bad idea.

I like Open Source, but I'm also fond of getting paid for writing software and making companies that do the same. When an open package exists that works well and is supportable, then organizations should be able to opt to use that. When there isn't an appropriate one available or getting it to work is prohibitively expensive, then commercial options should be used.

However, I do find the ISC hypocritical for Microsoft, which is currently on a trajectory to close as many data format and API standards as they can possibly manage in the quickest time available in order to lock up the market (and just about guarantee another shot across the bow by the government).

To my mind, the way to keeping competition going is to make sure that Microsoft's (or anyone else's) proprietary DRM is not allowed to lock up open file formats and to encourage the use of open file formats wherever possible.

We've already seen that Microsoft's move to using XML-based internal file formats for its office products has lead to better support from third-parties for reading and writing those formats. Similarly, in the past standards such as TCP/IP and OpenGL have greatly concentrated advances that would have been haphazard at best if they would have been developed by individual organizations.

If we keep the formats open, we are likely to continue to have competitive products on the hardware, software, and operating system level, giving us plenty of time to evolve both commercial and open-source alternatives for systems.