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Embedded Systems September 2000 Vol13_10

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NIALL MURPHY Open Source Point/Counterpoint: Are Open Source and Innovation Compatible? According to the popular wisdom of the moment, open source software is the way of the future. But can the purveyors of free software t•eally innovate? embers of the open source movement con- tend that they have found a better way of writing and distributing software. Because the cost of software has increased as a frac- tion of total development cost, the move- ment is appealing to embedded developers. However, I question whether we are going to see much more from this movement than the limited benefits already seen. Over the years, the free software movement has shifted from a set of principles based on building software inde- pendent of a commercial community-the original GNU ("GNU's Not Unix") approach-to building software that could blend with commercially supported offerings. Most recently, the movement has shifted again- from an engi- neering philosophy to a business model (climaxing in sev- eral well-publicized stock market IPOs)-and tl1is has trans- 78 SEPTEMBER 2000 Embedded Systems Programming formed open source from a guiding principle into a mar- keting policy. While the open source movement, in its many guises, has undoubtedly made valuable contributions to the engineer- ing community, I contend that in its present form and direc- tion it has little more to offer either as a business model or as a software construction model. I further contend that open source offers little that has not appeared before. Nothing new The three basic tenets! of tl1e open source movement are that software be made available in source code form, legally modifiable for any purpose, and redistributable. Individually these tenets have been part of the commercial software landscape. For example, the RTOS market is sup- plied by several vendors who choose to supply the source

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