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No Takesie-backsies

Dana Blankenhorn:

The world of open source software is based on one truth above all.

No takesie-backsies.

Once code goes open source it doesn’t go back. You can create a new version, create a new license around it, and sell that. But the old code remains free to see, free to fix, and free to change.

Oracle hates open source with a passion. Nothing else represents such an existential threat. Oracle’s business model is based on charging high and rising prices for its database software. If someone could create an alternative that was free, Oracle couldn’t exist.

So, Oracle took direct action. It bought Sun Microsystems, at the time a primary supporter of open source, in 2010 and closed its projects’ source code. The Sun Solaris operating system didn’t survive. The Open Office code base was eventually forked but isn’t a big factor in the market. The big get was Java, originally created as a “write once, run anywhere” environment but, by 2010, a primary language for servers.

Oracle closed the code by declaring the Application Program Interfaces (APIs), the instructions showing how the code worked, could be copyrighted. To Oracle, this now meant that any code whose creation relied on those APIs belonged to Oracle.


Fortunately, today’s software industry doesn’t rely on companies like Sun, thanks to the suit and the possibility Oracle might have won. Software companies no longer write code, declare it open source, and run the group behind it. Today that’s done by foundations like Linux, Apache, and Eclipse, which promise to protect projects from such poaching.

In the end, software found a way around Oracle’s attempt to close open source. But it was a close-run thing.

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