The state of open source: Eric S. Raymond, open source advocate

Open source leader sees a gaping hole on the desktop big enough for open source to earn the widespread user base it deserves

Notorious open source advocate and author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Eric S. Raymond brings colorful acumen to any open source discussion. Here's how Raymond views the continually evolving open source landscape.

What do you see as the more pressing challenges and opportunities for open source given the current tech climate?

Opportunity? The utter failure of Vista to gain traction even among Microsoft's most loyal users, and Apple's decision to morph into a cellphone and consumer-electronics company that has taken "Computers" out of its name. These two developments have left a huge Linux-shaped hole in the center of the OS market.

UMPCs [ultramobile PCs] like the Asus Eee PC, running Linux, are flooding into that hole from below -- consumers are actually buying them, by the truckload. We've already seen one VP at Sony publicly worrying about what he calls a "race to the bottom" because these sub-$200 machines could knock the crap out of their bread-and-butter market for expensive home PCs in the very near term. And, of course, at the high end, Linux continues to clobber Windows in comparative numbers of Internet-facing servers.

Our challenge, basically, is to gain enough market share to break Microsoft's monopoly before it can recover -- if it can. If UMPC sales keep showing geometric growth, we'll take the consumer market by storm, and Linux might very well go over 50 percent share this Christmas. Don't laugh -- that Sony VP wouldn't be fretting in public if this weren't a real possibility.

I predicted seven years ago that what would eventually break Microsoft's monopoly is PC OEMs trying to claw back margin as hardware costs drop so low that a Windows license is the biggest single item in their cost to produce. UMPCs have reached that level, and I think the rest of the PC market is going to follow them down.

Where do you see open source heading in the next five years, especially with regard to development, community, and market opportunities?

That's really too general a question to answer. It's too much like asking "Where do you see electricity going in the next five years?"

Does widespread adoption and commercialization of open source software create new challenges or pressures for open source projects?

I don't think it creates any new problems; it just changes the scale a bit on issues we've been coping with (fairly successfully) for at least the last decade. Frankly, all the "will commercialization spoil open source?" worrying that the trade press is so fond of already struck me as old and boring five years ago. Next question?

What are the next steps needed for open source as a software production methodology to reach the next level?

I think the need for languages and toolchains with provable security and assurance properties is growing acute. Though that need is not exclusively an open-source issue, the work to address it is going to have to be done in open source -- because who in their right mind is going to trust a closed binary blob?

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