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Edward Moltzen
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When Linux Distros Rumble

The jabs at each other continue for some members in the Open Source community.

Novell signed a business agreement with Microsoft last year, and many in the open source community started taking shots at Novell.

Others in the community are now jabbing at each other, with the rhetoric level rising.

The latest rumble began with words from Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the Ubuntu Linux project, lobbing some criticism at some of his for-profit competitors in the Linux distribution arena:

As free software becomes more successful and more pervasive there will be an increasing desire on the part of companies to make it more proprietary. We've already seen that with Red Hat and Novell, which essentially offer free software on proprietary terms -- their "really free" editions are not certified, carry no support and receive no systematic security patching. In other words -- they're beta or test versions. If you want the best that free software can deliver, a rock solid, widely certified, secure platform, from either of those companies then you have to pay, and you pay the same price whether you are Goldman Sachs or a startup in Rio de Janeiro.

That's not the vision we all share of what free software can achieve.

Greg DeKoenigsberg, Red Hat's Community Development manager, fired back on his blog and accused Shuttleworth of spreading FUD:

You can call Red Hat "proprietary" all you want. That doesn't make it true.

The difference between Red Hat Enterprise Linux bits and CentOS bits is virtually nil; we make all of our source RPMs available to anyone who wants them. (Ask Novell if they do the same. I'll save you the time: they don't.) What is "proprietary" is the brand, and the quality of service you are entitled to receive by being a paying customer. Oh, and the notion that "the price is the same whether you're Goldman Sachs or a startup in Rio de Janeiro" is ludicrous.

Shuttleworth answered that applications don't run on RPMs, they run on operating systems. DeKoenigsberg countered that the difference isn't between free software and pay software, but between different levels of service and branding.

Seven or eight years ago, speaking for IBM, strategist Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who came to the U.S. from Cuba, said it boiled down to defining the term "free." He explained that free can either mean to acquire without paying, or it can be defined by the Latin term "libre" -- meaning liberated and unbound by another's unilateral rules. (That's a paraphrase.) IBM has advocated free software under the "libre" definition. Going by the numbers, IBM's strategy seems to be working out well for it. For the Novells and Red Hats, "free" means "libre," too.

However they define it, the Linux community is about to be competing with Microsoft's Vista operating system which is free under nobody's definition.

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