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The future of Linux and the GPL

© August 2004 Tony Lawrence
Referencing: Businessweek to Linux: Dump the GPL So Business Can Embrace and Extend It

Groklaw has an editorial about Business Week's comments on Linux and the GPL.

First, Business Week errs in thinking that business is important to Linux and therefore must change to meet the needs of corporations. It's the other way around: Linux is important to business, and it is business that is having problems adjusting. If Linux can skate by the patent and copyright issues, its growth in the corporate world will continue no matter what business dislikes about the GPL.

Groklaw understands that much. But I think what Groklaw misses is the problem of mortality. Linus Torvalds and the other Linux movers and shakers aren't going to live forever. The reins that steer Linux are velvet, but the people presently holding those reins only do so from respect and custom. When succession comes, as it inevitably must, there will be disruption and confusion. That confusion is the opportunity for business to take control.

Does it have to happen that way? Of course not - a strong leader might emerge. Dynasties sometimes last a long time. But sooner or later weakness, corruption, or outside forces bring the old rule to an end. Somebody will "rewrite" Linux and issue it under a different license. A license business likes. Sure, there will be holdouts, people who say their code can't be used in this perversion, but their code can be rewritten and the patent/copyright issue is then on the other foot: the little guy has to try to prove that the big bad corporation stole his code and changed the license. All the difficulties SCO now has proving its Linux claims would then be burdening individuals least equipped to fight back.

The history of the world teaches us that succession is dangerous and that the strong take what they want. It's not likely to be any different with Linux.

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