Friday, 18 December 2015 11:47

SUSE and Canonical have forgotten their roots

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The Software Freedom Conservancy is something of an oddity among the myriad technology outfits that exist in the US of A. It fights to keep software free and to prevent people or companies taking advantage of what are perceived to be liberal licensing terms.

All the billions of dollars that are floating around these days due to the business being done in free and open source software would not be there were it not for licences that were promulgated by the Free Software Foundation. If software had not been released under the terms specified by the GNU General Public Licence, then there would have been either lock-in or lock-out.

There are other licences which allow people or companies to use code and lock it away so that any changes stay private. And there are, of course, proprietary licences which threaten to kidnap your children and relatives if you so much as copy a line of code.

The GPL is the sole licence that takes the factor of human greed into consideration: it ensures that if one builds on the work of someone else and distributes it, then one has to also make one's changes available. In other words, share and share alike.

The SFC acts to ensure that people are playing fair and supports those who back this ideal. That's why it has lent financial support to German developer Christopher Hellwig who has filed a case against virtualisation software company VMWare for violating the GPLv2. Hellwig maintains that this company has been infringing the licence since 2007.

The SFC has some people of very high integrity running the show, prominent among them being Bradley Kuhn and Karen Sandler. But corporate are shying away from funding it.

Thus, given its objectives, it is surprising that two companies which gain all their income from free and open source software do not financially support the endeavours of the SFC. I'm talking of the Nuremberg-based SUSE Linux and the London-based Canonical.

A handful of other companies, both FOSS and non-FOSS entities, support the SFC. Practically all technology companies have something to gain from free and open source software these days, so it makes commercial sense to give at least a small amount to a body like the SFC which acts for the greater good of all.

It is not as though SUSE is lacking funds; from the time it went back to Nuremberg as an independent business unit of Attachmate (it is now owned by the UK-based Micro Focus), the company, which was selling Linux as far back as 1992, has been making money.

Canonical, which is known for its popular Ubuntu distribution, is yet to publicly say whether it has turned a profit after starting out in 2004. Its founder, Mark Shuttleworth, had a considerable personal fortune which he used to found and run the company. But even if he is not turning a dime, it would not be beyond Canonical's means to help out the SFC.

Both Canonical and SUSE would not be in operation were it not for free and open source software. To me, it looks like both companies have forgotten their roots.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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