Some of the biggest and most important FOSS projects are controlled by big business. Rarely does corporate ownership of free and open software work out completely in the interests of the user base, since corporate owners absolutely always have an agenda of their own. However, it works out better in some cases than in others.
Examples of the good, the bad and the ugly are easy to find.
Probably the best corporate ownership of free and open source products comes from Red Hat, for reasons that should be obvious. Red Hat makes their living developing and supporting FOSS products, so they tend to be excellent FOSS players, obeying both the spirit and letter of the GPL. In addition, they defend the license, because what’s good for free and open source software is good for Red Hat.
The other side of the coin, the bad players in the free software world, might be best represented by Oracle, who inherited a slew of important open source projects with their takeover of Sun Microsystems a few years back. As we’ve observed before, part of the problem with Oracle is that sharing and software freedom isn’t in the company’s genetic structure. Like many proprietary vendors, they believe in nurturing their clients by using the mushroom philosophy–that is by keeping them in the dark and feeding them plenty of malarkey.
Oracle also obviously has some conflict-of-interest issues when it comes to one of their most important FOSS offerings, the MySQL database, which probably steers at least half of the worlds websites. Oracle, of course, became one of the biggest companies in tech by selling their own proprietary database. Although in most instances Oracle’s database doesn’t directly compete with MySQL, we know it gripes Larry Ellison’s arse to be giving a database away when he thinks he could be making money selling it.
In spite of the bad players, big business’ involvement in free software has probably been beneficial over all. Certainly, the Linux landscape was permanently changed for the better with IBM’s billion dollar investment in the early days of the 21st century. Big Blue has also been something of a role model for other companies looking to get involved in the open source marketplace, demonstrating it’s possible to maintain influence on the direction an open source project while respecting the GPL and the project’s independence.
At the same time, however, IBM has made moves that’ve seemed suspect to some. For example, many of us are still trying to determine whether their involvement in Oracle’s decision to deed the OpenOffice.org project to Apache was in our interest.
Most of us probably have one or two companies we distrust more than others. Often our reasons are known and shared by most, if not all, of us. For instance, Microsoft’s decades long FUD and patent wars against free and open source software makes most of us suspicious of their current moves into open source space. As a community, we distrust Redmond so much that there’s no doubt that if Microsoft were to come into possession of a major FOSS property though an acquisition, that project would be immediately forked by some FOSS developer in an attempt to keep control out of Redmond’s hands.
Who don’t you trust?
We’d like to know what you think. Who do you not trust the most? Into whose hands would you least like to see your favorite FOSS project fall?
In our poll we’ve included all the usual suspects. It goes without saying that Microsoft, Oracle and Novell are offered as choices. But we’ve also included born, bred and built on open source Red Hat, because we’ve learned not everyone has trust in their motives either. We couldn’t include every tech company under the sun, no one would want to scroll that far, so there’s the catchall “other” category, where you can fill in the blank with your favorite to hate.
After taking our poll, we’d appreciate it if you dropped down to make a comment, to let us know why you voted the way you did or anything else you think to be pertinent.