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Tue Apr 3 06:46:16 UTC 2007

impression that, despite the technology of the challengers, it is the
old landlords who are winning.

We all know the fate of Napster, and I read just yesterday that a 12
year old girl was forced to settle with a record label, after she had
unlawfully, so it was implied, appropriated music that did not belong to

And this is only one of hundreds of lawsuits being thrown at those
people the digital landlords consider "trespassers".  Others include
children copying games and businesses using proprietary software outside
the licensing conditions.

So, what does this have to do with open source software?  Although far
from a new phenomenon, open source software represents a new way of
managing intellectual property.

It defies the traditional method of distributing software through a
system of proprietary licenses, and instead says "I know I can't stop
you from redistributing me, so I'm not going to insult you by demanding
that you don't."

It is a system that renders these conflicts over IP nonsensical.

Up until recently, the landlords did not really notice open source
software.  It was a haven of the techies, computing professionals,
academics and internet devotees.

I remember reading an article in 2001 which said that open source
software would never secure a significant chunk of the software market.

It might hold its own as a server technology, the article said, but it
was simply too user unfriendly to threaten and dislodge Microsoft from
the PC software environment.

That's not the case any more.  The open source movement has poked its
head above the radar, and is now posing a serious challenge to the old
empires of the proprietary software firms, as businesses and Governments
around the world start taking notice.

Open source has entered the mainstream, to such an extent that the
Butler Group predicts that Linux will be the dominant operating system
by 2009.

The headline on last week's Australian IT pages: "Telstra's open-source
push hurts Microsoft" pressed home the reality of this claim. The
article beneath it stated that Telstra would be switching to open source
right across the company - desktops, web servers and applications
servers and believe me, you cannot get more mainstream than Telstra.

So, why has this occurred?  To put it simply, open source software
products have become more user friendly to the wider market and now
appeals to people beyond computing professionals and academics.

The arrival of for-profit open source businesses, which started with
enterprises like Red Hat and now include IBM and Sun Microsystems, has
meant that the products have become more commercially orientated.

This includes aesthetics.  From what I have seen, the days when Linux
desktops were ugly, although undoubtedly very functional, grey screened
monstrosities, are gone.

If anything, Linux desktops look slicker than Windows, and are replete
with a whole raft of applications which, importantly, look and feel like
the proprietary products that most of us were raised on.

A hard-core techie may scoff at such cosmetic features but they make a
difference to regular users, who think that if something looks cheap,
and it's free, it must be inferior.

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