Friday, April 08, 2005

Open Source Incivility Redux

For the most part, I try to keep mostly out of the politics and inside-the-beltway debate around Open Source and concentrate on the technology and what it means for users. But every now and then it all bursts forth. Thus my Open Source Incivility note of a while back which garnered the expected volume of comments--some thoughtful, many illiterate and foaming at the mouth.

However, a blog by a fellow analyst and former colleague of mine, Steve O'Grady, prompts me to comment. Apparently Yankee Group's Laura DiDio has been getting late-night calls at home from the less civil members of the "community." I have no reason to doubt the veracity of these claims; one sees plenty of people online trying to track down cell phone and other numbers from other Open Source critics such as those involved with the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute.

I don't know Laura personally. I do know she's done a number of TCO studies concerning Linux and Windows that have the usual problems of TCO studies; the numbers depend a lot on the situation and therefore are hard to generalize. Thus I'm pretty skeptical of most studies that purport to show X cheaper than Y in the general case.

However, the "community's" critique of Laura started much more specifically. It started, as much of Open Source fervor currently is focused, around the SCO case. As one of the analysts who looked (under NDA) at snippets of SCO Unix code side-by-side with Linux code, she concluded that they were, in fact, identical. The community reaction was vicious. After all, Laura wasn't a programmer. Who was she to compare code?

Without recapitulating the whole matter, suffice it to say that there was identical code. It's unlikely that the matches have any significance from a copyright law perspective. But there are matches. I wouldn't sign SCO's NDA but they did show me the Linux code that was purportedly the recipient of the copying. It wasn't hard to track down the ancestral Unix code. And I have been a programmer. Not that one needed to be to see that various blocks of code matched quite clearly. Rob Enderle--who I realize many in the Open Source community also like to pillory--details the history quite accurately; initial claims of "there was no code copied" transmorgified to "the copied code doesn't matter."

I'm inclined to agree that it doesn't matter and that the quantity we've seen is small. But that's certainly little justification to pile on someone who merely confirmed the facts--there was some identical code--and even less to intrude on their personal life.

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