Open-Source Influence the Proprietary Market?

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Depending on whom you ask, the idea of an open-source product is an oxymoron — it implies something manufactured for the purpose of being sold. Purists say the software, like mathematics, is public knowledge and should be free to all. Large proprietary firms see open-source products as patents that need to be licensed and collected as royalties.



As for the end-user, it becomes a gray area of not wanting to get stiffed by a proprietary firm but also not wanting to be prosecuted for copyright infringement. Proprietary companies know this from the constant stream of complaints they get about the incompatibility of their products with others.



By examining the latest flirtations and baby steps of the open-source products with their proprietary counterparts, the influence of the former in today’s market can further be explored.



Pretty much everyone is familiar with open-source software, even if they don’t realize it, and its use is widespread, from the high school student using Wikipedia to the clever techie at the office who puts Firefox on everyone’s computer.



Proprietary giants such as Microsoft have taken noticed and made steps toward interoperability, mainly at the pressing of their users. In November 2006, Microsoft and Novell announced a technical and business collaboration to better serve end-users. Some open-source devotees balked at the agreement, saying Novell had given up its open-source credibility.



Both camps iterated (in the beginning, at least) that this was a mutually beneficial partnership that had each customer base in mind. Never far from the developments was the loud chorus of users, who more or less demanded some kind of alliance that would help solve their growing compatibility problems.



Some specific things mentioned in the initial announcement were a research facility, where experts from both companies would test collaborative software, as well as the companies’ joint promise to work toward making OpenOffice and Microsoft Office compatible, as well as other open-source versions of popular proprietary software. The partnership encountered stumbling blocks from the beginning, though.



A few weeks after the initial announcement, Microsoft made comments to the effect of, by agreeing to the partnership, Novell admitted it had infringed on Microsoft patents, a charge Novell denied. The agreement still continues, with joint payment to each other, so Microsoft can sell a version of Linux, and Novell won’t get sued for selling software Microsoft says it already patented.



The larger philosophic question is: When Novell entered into the agreement with Microsoft (which primarily solved involving intellectual-property issues), did it forfeit the traditional values of open source, which rebuke that whole idea?



End-users, open-source purists and proprietary companies all have a different answer. In many ways, this is why the influence of open-source products is largely up to the consumer.



If the market suggests consumers desire to “buy” open-source products, then that might play right in the hands of the proprietary giants. This is in a similar spirit of iTunes learning consumers would pay 99 cents for a song instead of illegally downloading it.



But there’s nothing illegal about downloading an open-source software program, and members of the open-source community feel more agreements like that between Microsoft and Novell are steps in that direction.

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