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Waking from open source dream

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THE ponytails have been in short supply at the annual LinuxWorld bash in San Francisco this week. Chris DiBona of Google sported one of the few, as if to stress that one of the richest software companies in Silicon Valley remains studiously antiestablishment. Surrounded by trimmer figures in suits, he looked out of place — a throwback to the mythical days of late-night coding, libertarian politics and takeout pizza.

Something has happened to the open-source software movement. It is losing some of the intellectual purity that first drew in the ponytail crowd. It is being subverted to the interests of bigger technology companies — something that makes the idealists who created it angry and perturbs the romantics who like to see in it proof that individual human ingenuity can still outsmart faceless corporate power.

That is the wrong reaction: merging with the corporate mainstream is logical. It signals the success of open-source pioneers in reshaping the software landscape, not the end of a dream.

Open-source is a collection of methods for creating and distributing software that exposes inefficiency in parts of the commercial industry. The idealism that has surrounded this movement has always masked some hard-edged economic realities, which explains why it can be absorbed into the mainstream with relative ease.

Every software company worth its salt already has some open-source strategy.

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