Software Libre and Commercial Viability

Mr. Rubini gives us his opinion of the Open Source movement.
Limits of the Free Software Model

Naturally, I'm aware that not every software package can easily be turned into free software. I'm not talking about office products—I'm confident some good projects will supply this need, sooner or later. Rather, I'm talking about all environments where a strong competition exists for a product only loosely based on its software component. For example, industrial equipment might include a computer and some commodity hardware (a robot, custom I/O peripherals, PLCs, etc.); the software application hosted in the computer is a minor part of the whole, but its features greatly affect the overall value of the equipment. Producing and debugging such applications usually require huge investments (preventing free redistribution of the source code), as a form of protection against competitors.

Another meaningful example is cell telephones. They include a lot of software and such software is the component that defines the overall capabilities of the device. However, this software is almost invisible to the end user, who perceives the device as a telephone and not a computer. Such software is strictly proprietary because of its major functional role in the device.

Unfortunately, I see no easy way to liberalize this type of code. Although I don't care too much about cell phones (I don't use them), I would prefer to see free industrial applications because their technological content is usually worth reusing and adapting to new problems.

Alessandro lives in one of the least Linux-aware towns in the least Linux-aware country in the world. He writes free software for a living and advocates free software for a mission. He hopes his upcoming child will keep off computers, recalling the good old times when such beasts where confined to their technical zoos. He reads e-mail as rubini@prosa.it, deleting spam and replying to everyone else.

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