Who will be the next Open Source Public Enemy #1?

During the end-of-the-year break, a traditional time for bad news since fewer people than usual are paying attention, The SCO Group was delisted by NASDAQ. It was the latest bump down for SCO, best-known in recent years for claiming it owned Linux, which lost a major court decision in August and filed for bankruptcy in September. As SCO slides closer to nonexistence — its website hasn’t been updated since we noted this back in November — it’s worth remembering that the company, under CEO Darl McBride, was once not merely relevant but feared. You may remember this cover story from FORTUNE back in May 2004:


The story itself was more sober than the cover shot, but there was a time, not so long ago, when reasonable people were worried about the viability of open source software in business. SCO’s many lawsuits, both real and threatened, forced the open source community to reconsider, at the most basic level, how we license open source. SCO didn’t gain much from the suit, at least not in the long term (its OTC stock trades between a nickel and a dime per share this week), but its actions did force the open source industry to get more serious (some might argue more professional) about delineating who has the rights to what.

With SCO apparently on the way out and even Microsoft warming up to open source, who will be the new bogeyman to unite the open source movement?

We’ll look for your nominations in the comments.

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  • Well, the Patent Troll Wars are heating up, so I think that we might start seeing another round of suits against users of open source, particularly small businesses (thereby avoiding direct attacks on the projects themselves), along the lines of the PanIP suits a few years ago, but set up with an RIAA-style ‘compliance clearinghouse’ operation.

  • Still microsoft, sorry. Ballmer’s been waving his big patent troll stick too much lately. Don’t forget who funded SCOx.

    Until Ballmer’s gone, M$ is not to be trusted.

  • A peace movement, instead.

    Orwell is just a novel. We do not actually “need” enemies to define our selves.


  • bex

    Thomas – psychology has demonstrated time and time again its easier to define what you ARENT, as opposed to what you ARE.

    There doesn’t need to be anomisity, but anti-examples sure do help… Such as those who benefit from Open Source, but never contribute.

    In which case, that means Microsoft or Apple.

  • The moral problem for that advocacy, bex, is that microsoft and apple contain multitudes, and they sing (perhaps a bit off key) the body electric.


  • Frank Daley

    The biggest problem is patent trolls, many of which have been started by ex-Microsoft employees.

    One day the story will be told of how Microsoft has been actively encouraging these trolls as a way to attack Linux and Open Source. Microsoft has grown up as a bully and cannot change its ways. However now it mostly tries to hide its bullying through the use of proxies.

    Thankfully in this era of open journalism, actions that it could formerly get away with are now quickly exposed through investigative journalism. Even after SCO dies in 2008, much of the evidence of Microsoft’s anti-competitive actions that were uncovered during the case remains to be told.

    Undoubtedly 2008 will bring many of Microsoft’s attempts to use SCO as its proxy into the public forum.

  • What if patent trolls are full of ex-Microsoft execs not because MSFT is spawning a patent conspiracy, but because the company just doesn’t want to get into the troll business, and frustrated wannabe trolls go work elsewhere?

  • Jerry

    Microsoft will still go after them with patents and threats. Apple on the other hand, will just take advantage of opensource and will never give back (just like what they did with MacOS X).

  • I’ll probably get labeled an Apple fanboy for this, but Jerry’s comment seems a bit superficial. There are plenty of open source projects that Apple has contributed back to; even in instances where the relationship went through some stress (i.e., KHTML). My money’s on Microsoft.

  • Notas Pink

    Who will be the next open source public enemy number 1?

    That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? The public enemy number one of open source is SFLC (Software Freedom Law Center).

    Now before everyone starts screaming like their hair is on fire, consider that RIIA is now public enemy number one of music. (I didn’t create the original question, so don’t blame me for repeating the use of personification).

    If you follow both the SFLC and the RIIA, you would know well that both are in the process of agressively suing their user base.

    So now you have your answer. It is no more complicated than that to parse. Certainly people are going to say this analogy is flawed.

    What is actually flawed, however, is the Animal Farm called SFLC and the bizzaro-SFLC also known as the Open Source Initiative (OSI).

  • Notas,

    That’s *exaggerated*.

    I hope.

    In the vague loose way we are talking here I would strongly agree with you that they both could tighten up a bit. And I demure from trying to publicly rehearse opinion on demand about how. Thing is: I suspect they’ll both get on just fine.


  • Wacopen

    I don’t think it’s a matter of open or closed source anymore. The new guy in town is called a patent. The war is only getting started. And before it’s all over, things are gona get nasty!

  • Notas Pink


    I seriously doubt that it is going to get nasty. While the trolls are a-trollin, the US Supreme Court put a giant hurt on patents, particularly with respect to software. What might have not been obvious before is a lot more obvious now when it comes to patents, and the patent office is paying attention.

    If I was working for a patent law firm, it would be a good time to consider a career change. The days of them stoking the patent wars are over.

  • James

    Not As Pink, is your first name Theo by any chance? Only a nutty BSD zealot would make the ridiculous claim that holding companies to account for violating the GPL is somehow suing their “customers”. Well here’s a hint for you: the customers of the GPL code in question are the developers themselves and the people who bought routers. The GPL protects the rights of developers and users to have access to the code they write or use, and only a nutty BSD zealot would portray efforts to protect those rights as something negative.

  • Sid Boyce

    Notas Pink,
    The SFLC is not there to sue its users, it’s there to sue the people who believe give and take is when one person’s palm is always pointing down and the other person’s is always pointing up. Their attitude towards open source is, we’ll use your code as we damn well like and to hell with your GPL License, you’ve no right to tell us what to do with your code. They don’t believe the authors have any rights, nor do they care.
    If they don’t like the License, they are supposed to be smart people, let them write their own code. No one forces them to use GPL code. So when the author/authors discover such abuse and usually they don’t have the funds to fight these pirates, they seek the help of the SFLC to defend their rights.

  • Notas Pink

    James: I could give a rip about BSD. But no doubt you’re a GPL Shylock. I’m not responsible for the 99% of developers who pick the GPL just because… they’re lemmings.

    Sid: I always love it when people say, you can always take your ball and go play somewhere else if you want to. Gee. That’s hard to figure out. Maybe you should ask yourself instead what the hell SFLC has to prove by recruiting all these dummies.

    Sometimes I think the only guy left with any brains is Torvalds.

  • Shubie Rockefeller

    From Wikipedia:

    What was claimed to be the first US lawsuit over a GPL violation concerned use of BusyBox in an embedded device. The lawsuit[2], case 07-CV-8205 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New Yorkm was filed on 20 September 2007 by the Software Freedom Law Center on behalf of Andersen and Landley against Monsoon Multimedia Inc., after BusyBox code was discovered in a firmware upgrade and attempts to contact the company had apparently failed. The case was settled with release of the Monsoon version of the source and PAYMENT OF AN UNDISCLOSED AMOUNT OF MONEY to Andersen and Landley.[3]
    On 21 November 2007, the SFLC brought two other lawsuits on behalf of Andersen and Landley against two more companies, Xterasys (case 07-CV-10456) and High-Gain Antennas (case 07-CV-10455), for similar alleged GPL violations concerning BusyBox code.[4][5] The Xterasys case has been settled for release of source code used and an UNDISCLOSED PAYMENTt.[6]

  • Forever Open Source. Open source softwares always better than others.

  • I fear that open source’s next enemy may well be itself — as part of an organization that has moved nearly 60% of our fleet to Ubuntu and will move the remaining 40 this year, I see and hear the grumblings — the success and promises have resulted in high expectations — every glich or “failure” even when it is human or hardware related, is “blamed” on open source — “see it really doesn’t work.” To succeed with open source solutions, we are gonna have to grow tough skin, stay on task, and keep moving forward. oh, and test even more!

  • Orinda Lee


    The facts don’t support your argument. Patent litigation is declining.