Has open-source lost its halo?

Observers argue that open source has become a cloak used by IT vendors to disguise ruthless and self-serving behaviour

Malicious, really?

HP did not return requests for comment. Ari Fishkind, an IBM spokesman, says such accusations are "richly ironic, since open source was deemed socialist, or worse, in some circles."

"Will making open source contributions of value sometimes make other vendors work harder to improve their commercial products, or encourage them to contribute innovative code, too? Probably," said Fishkind.

But true "predatory behaviour is locking customers into a particular platform, or acquiring companies then discontinuing support for a product in favor of an expensive alternative, or menacing customers with patent lawsuits."

Some say that the sequence of events that critics such as Haff portray is hardly cut-and-dried.

"Just because a big company open-sources a product doesn't mean it will get used," says Neelan Choksi, vice-president for Interface21 Ltd., which makes the popular open-source Spring framework for Java and J2EE applications. "Open-source is a democracy -- people vote with their feet."

Others like Dave Rosenberg, a columnist with IDG publication Infoworld and CEO of open-source enterprise service bus (ESB) provider, MuleSource, argue that in the case of IBM, it's all over-interpreted hindsight.

"Almost nothing can happen in the world without IBM somehow benefiting. So I find it hard to believe that IBM was purposely malicious," he said. "My impression is that a lot of open-source software comes from big vendors simply because they don't know what to do with the stuff, so in that respect a community donation is typically a positive."

Open-source and Windows-based?

Rosenberg is more disturbed by the bandwagon jumpers: the companies, mostly startups, belatedly going open-source in order to "ride a trend," while paying only lip service to the community and its values.

Take Aras Corp., a provider of Windows-based product lifecycle management (PLM) software that in January decided to go open-source. Rosenberg depicted the firm in his blog as an opportunistic Johnny-Come-Lately.

"I'm not impressed when a company whose software is totally built on Microsoft technologies goes open-source," said Rosenberg, who even suspects that the company is being promoted by Microsoft "as a shill" to burnish Redmond's image in open-source circles.

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