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Open Source Revisited
Eric Allman and Marshall Kirk McKusick Queue Advisory Board Members

Its influence just keeps on growing.

In our first open source theme issue last year (ACM Queue 1(5), July-August 2003), we focused on business issues such as using open source software as a basis for a commercial product. We knew that this was an important topic, but predicted that many of our readers might find it boring. We were wrong. That issue remains among the most responded-to issues of Queue to date. So with that response, we are revisiting the open source theme.

Much has changed in the last year. Although we don’t discuss SCO in detail in this issue (we did that in 1(5)), the effect of that FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt—a classic negative marketing technique) has increased substantially. SCO is suing any target that moves. Patents on what many of us would consider obvious algorithms continue to be issued. But we also see a softening. At the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco on March 16-17, 2004, we heard, for the first time, Microsoft including open source as a first-class citizen in its software ecology. Novell, a company with something serious to lose, has come out seriously in the pro–open source camp. IBM and HP are not backing down. The European Union is pushing back against proprietary software. Yahoo and Microsoft have both acknowledged that their anti-spam initiatives cannot succeed without support in the open source sector.

Clearly, the open source world is growing up. This may disturb some of the purists, since in the process of growing up it’s also becoming more corporate. Open source has a marketing department now (in fact, many of them), and engineers and marketers don’t always mix well. In this issue, we try to help the former find some common ground with the latter.

We lead with Jordan Hubbard’s article about using open source software. Hubbard has long been associated with FreeBSD and Apple, having considerable experience with both the open source and commercial worlds. In “Open Source to the Core,” he shares some insight with anyone who wants to use open source software as a pragmatic tool. With the huge body of open source software available today, just what do you need to consider, anyway?

In the fiction-is-more-real-than-reality department, David Ascher presents a “fictional” story of a company going through the slings and arrows of considering open source software. For those of you who want to learn more about office politics, read between the lines. Ascher is almost upsettingly on the mark.

After our previous open source issue, many people asked for a “red-line” discussion of various open source licenses. Jay Michaelson, a lawyer (in real life, as well as playing one on the ’Net) responds, comparing and contrasting everything from the GPL (GNU General Public License) to proprietary models. It might be subtitled “Behind the Green (License) Door” (but with better production values).

On a different tangent, Bart Decrem, survivor of Eazel and an early organizer of the GNOME Foundation, discusses the potential of Linux on the desktop. Common wisdom (for what it’s worth) has been that Linux “rulez” on the server, but “sux” on the desktop (one of us [Eric] has been heard to say that in public, albeit using somewhat more diplomatic language). But that was then and this is now. Whither Linux on the desktop?

James Russell of Lotus Software interviews Sam Leffler. Leffler is one of open source’s old guard whose contributions have never been properly acknowledged. The ubiquitous BSD socket implementation works well largely because of Leffler. One of the early online fax implementations (HylaFAX) is his. He is never without opinions, and this interview permits him to express them in abundance.

Our Curmudgeon-in-Training, Josh Coates, throws gasoline on the fire by insisting that Excel, Word, and PowerPoint still rule over any open source alternatives. The address for his funeral fund will be in our next issue.

In addition to this issue’s special report on open source software, we have a great article on TCP/IP offload engines (TOEs) by Andy Currid. Find out why TOEs have been getting so much attention—and what challenges lie ahead in terms of their deployment. We also have a valuable piece, “From IR to Search, and Beyond,” by Ramana Rao, which provides an in-depth look at how a librarian’s research tool from the 1960s became the Web search we know today-and where search will be headed in the year 2020.

So it’s time to kick back, pull on your asbestos underwear, and join the party already in progress.

ERIC ALLMAN is the cofounder and chief technology officer of Sendmail, one of the first open source-based companies. Allman was previously the lead programmer on the Mammoth Project at the University of California at Berkeley. This was his second incarnation at Berkeley, as he was the chief programmer on the INGRES database management project. In addition to his assigned tasks, he got involved with the early Unix effort at Berkeley. His first experiences with Unix were with 4th Edition. Over the years, he wrote a number of utilities that appeared with various releases of BSD, including the -me macros, tset, trek, syslog, vacation, and, of course, sendmail. Allman spent the years between the two Berkeley incarnations at Britton Lee (later Sharebase) doing database user and application interfaces, and at the International Computer Science Institute, contributing to the Ring Array Processor project for neural-net-based speech recognition. He also coauthored the “C Advisor” column for Unix Review for several years. He was a member of the board of directors of Usenix Association.

MARSHALL KIRK MCKUSICK, Ph.D, has a Berkeley-based consultancy, writes books and articles, and teaches classes on Unix- and BSD-related subjects. His work with Unix stretches more than 20 years. While at the University of California at Berkeley, he implemented the 4.2 BSD Fast File System and was the research computer scientist at the Berkeley Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG) overseeing the development and release of 4.3 BSD and 4.4 BSD. His areas of interest are the virtual-memory system and the file system. He earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University and did his graduate work at UC Berkeley, where he received master’s degrees in computer science and business administration and a doctorate in computer science. He is president of the Usenix Association and a member of ACM and IEEE.

© 2004 ACM 1542-7730/04/0500 $5.00


Originally published in Queue vol. 2, no. 3
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