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Top 10 Open Source Stories Of 2008

The advent of Linux-powered netbooks, the launch of Google's Android and Chrome, and Nokia's move to snap up Symbian pushed open source further into the mainstream, despite ongoing legal wrangling.
7. Courts Rule That Copyrights On Open Source Software Are Enforceable

Those worried that open source licensing conventions might not stick in a court of law breathed a little easier when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit handed down a ruling earlier this year. The decision for Jacobsen vs. Katzer made it clear that not upholding the provisions of an open source license is an infringement of the original code creator's copyrights. Open source advocates, including Creative Commons license creator Lawrence Lessig (whose work was cited by the circuit court's decision), were thrilled.

The financial stakes in this particular case weren't momentous -- they involved model railroad software for hobbyists, not exactly a big-ticket software market -- but the implications were wide-ranging. Since most previous legal tangles over open source have ended short of actually going to court, this much of a precedent is a huge boon.

8. Linux Developer Hans Reiser Convicted Of First-Degree Murder

It sounded too bizarre and lurid to be true, but horribly enough, it was. Hans Reiser, the creator of the Linux filesystem ReiserFS, was convicted of murdering his estranged wife and hiding her body. His defense attempted to explain away the preponderance of evidence against him as the quirky behavior of an eccentric if gifted man. It didn't work, and not long after that Reiser led police to where he'd buried the body in the hopes of obtaining a reduced sentence.

What's striking about the case is the fate of ReiserFS itself. Thanks to the project being open source, it'll continue. Even if future editions of ReiserFS lose out to competing filesystems like ext4 and the upcoming btrfs, it'll be due to technical merit and not the stigma from Reiser's murder conviction. Such is the way open source grants a new lease on life to its projects.

9. Debian's OpenSSL Blunder

The maintainers of the Debian distribution of Linux got an unpleasant surprise when they found that their implementation of the openssl encryption package, used to protect data transmitted to and from secured web sites, had a major bug. Bad enough that not only were existing encryption keys at risk of being compromised, but that keys generated by Debian's openssl since 2006 were equally weak.

The problem was quickly fixed, along with instructions for how to generate new encryption keys to replace the weakened ones, but the whole incident served as a strong cautionary reminder. One of open source's biggest pluses is transparency: anyone can look through the code and spot a problem ... but only if they're competent to do so, and if they know what they're hunting for. Many eyes may make bugs shallow, but they also need to be open and looking in the right direction first.

10. SCO Loses To Novell

Put a subtitle on this one: "And this time, we mean it." After an endless stream of back-and-forth in the courts that would've tested the patience of the Dalai Lama, SCO's scrap with Novell over the rights to UNIX has taken what seems to be its last punch to the chin.

Not only does SCO owe Novell a ton of money, but three of SCO's most important claims were dismissed with prejudice, never to be seen again. An appeal is said to be in the works, but given that IBM and Red Hat still have pending litigation (and IBM will most likely devour the husk that's left over from this one), SCO would be hard-pressed to find anyone who recognizes their initials to give them any kind of a new lease on life.