25 September 2007

SCO Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

One of the many pleasant knock-on effects of SCO's deliquescence has been some long-overdue crow-eating by high-profile critics of the open source position during that saga. Since I have rigorously vegetarian tendencies when it comes to partaking of that particular dish, I have to admire the, er, guts of Daniel Lyons, who has publicly swallowed his pride and admitted his errors (although, sadly, his potshots at "freetards" in his otherwise wonderful Fake Steve Jobs blog now stick in my craw, for some reason....)

Rob Enderle's case here is more complex. He has written a long and fascinating tale of how he came to do and say what he did and said, but ultimately refuses to apologise for either ("Dan Lyons, me and no apology ). For me, the key paragraph is the following:

Unlike Dan Lyons, who has recently said he was tricked by SCO, I was tricked both by SCO and some Linux supporters who, unintentionally through their nasty behavior and threats, made me see them as the criminals. Nothing I had done gave these people the right to attack my livelihood, threaten my life or the lives of my family, and I still view the folks who engaged in such behavior as criminals.

I too thoroughly repudiate those who, while claiming to be part of the open source community, made any such threats, which were unjustified and unforgivable. But I don't think the word "tricked" is appropriate here. These people did not "trick" Enderle into believing them to be sad sacks: they truly were. But that had nothing to do with the merits of SCO's case.

Aside from SCO's trickery, Enderle made an error of judgment in not believing people like Linus when he said there was no infringing code. The point is, if you examine Linus' track-record - to say nothing of his coding - it was simply inconceivable that large chunks of code had been filched. It was (just about) possible that small parts had been sneaked in by some less-than-scrupulous coders, but given the level of scrutiny the code undergoes, even that was highly unlikely.

Ultimately, it comes down to the fundamental difference between free software and black-box code: one is open - and can be examined by anyone, without signing NDAs - the other is not. The presumption should always be, then, that the former, unlike the latter, has nothing to hide, because it has nowhere to hide it.

Update: ESR says much the same, though with rather more force...

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