Open-Source Initiatives

The Economist writes about RealNetworks’ strategy of releasing its software as open-source in an effort to thwart Microsoft:

This may sound like a desperate echo of 1998, when Netscape, struggling in Microsoft’s chokehold, published the source-code of its web browser (an initiative that yielded few real results until this June, when the first serious new version of the open-source browser, Mozilla, was released). Yet RealNetworks is not playing defence. It is trying to encourage the creation of a common multimedia software infrastructure for every kind of file format and device, thus thwarting Microsoft’s ambitions in this promising market.

The firm hopes that others in the industry (volunteer programmers, media firms and hardware makers) will take the code, called Helix DNA, improve it and make it run on new devices, such as mobile phones and home stereos, turning RealNetworks’ software into an industry standard. Clever licensing terms are supposed to ensure that this standard does not splinter and that the firm still makes money.

Concludes the article: “RealNetworks’ move is another sign that the software industry is going hybrid. Mixing elements of proprietary software, where the source-code is tightly controlled, with open-source programs enables firms to expand a market, harvest the ideas of others and, they hope, still make money.”

Adds Dan Gillmor:

I continue to marvel at the power of open source. Its logic is inescapable, because its legions of supporters are collectively so committed.

A respected engineering firm with strong government ties (Mitre) told the Pentagon it should be expanding the use of open-source software, also known as free software. The benefits, the firm said, would be high quality, lower costs and product diversity.

Free and open-source software is already vital to the defense mission, the report says, and it needs to be encouraged — albeit carefully, to ensure security and reliability in the future. This is sensible policy.

Dan Gillmor points to a new report by defense contractor Mitre for the Pentagon. [PDF file ]

Also check two articles on the use of open-source in government from InfoWorld [1 2].

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.