Mon, 20 Mar 2006

As Long As Thou Canst

I think that open source will inevitably whittle all closed source companies down in size. It's just a question of time before they will have to seek accommodation with us or go under. When will be the defining event which allows us to say "We forgive all your bad history; welcome!"?

Even if Microsoft never, ever becomes an open source company at their core, they operate in a context where open source software is their best choice. They could simultaneously be advocates of open source software, and critics of it at the same time. If we're waiting for them to become ethically pure (as the FSF would have everyone do), then I think it will never happen. If we wait forever, then we will pass up an opportunity to encourage them to produce as much open source as they can.

There is a story (no doubt apocryphal) told of William Penn. As an aristocrat, he was expected to wear a sword as the symbol of his station in life. When he converted to Quakerism, he felt an expectation that as a newly-convinced pacifist, he should not be wearing a sword. He approached George Fox (founder of the religion) for advice about how long he should continue wearing his sword. Fox replied "Wear thy sword as long as thou canst."

If someone from Microsoft was to ask me how long they could continue to produce proprietary software while still being members of the open source community, I would tell them "As long as you can."

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