Straws in the Wind

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Alongside all the high-profile wins for free software, there are what might be called guerilla gains happening in the background – small conceptual victories that point to greater things. Here are two.

The Sound Blaster X-Fi sound card driver for Linux from Creative Labs was awful. That's simply the nicest way to put it. The driver was home to many bugs, initially only supported 64-bit Linux, and it was arriving extremely late. The open-source drivers supporting the Creative X-Fi drivers have also been at a stand still. However, Creative Labs today has finally turned this situation around and they have open-sourced the code to this notorious driver. The source-code for the Creative X-Fi driver is now licensed under the GNU GPLv2.

It just does not make sense *not* to open source drivers like this. It frees companies from the burden of supporting GNU/Linux, and it allows the free software community to make the drivers as good as they want – not as bad as the company happens to release them.

Here's something whose direct effects are minimal for the moment, but it's telling nonetheless:

"There will still be a lot of proprietary innovation in the browser itself so we may need to have a rendering service," Ballmer said, adding, "Open source is interesting. Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that, but we will continue to build extensions for IE 8."

Again, when there are good open source implementations out that, duplicating that work is simply a waste of money – even for a company like Microsoft that has plenty of it. It is only pig-headedness that stops Ballmer from taking this move, but it will happen, along with many others like them.

Both of these a good examples of how the underlying dynamics of open source, and the fact that the results are freely available, make it inevitable that they will force out home-grown efforts. That will take place in areas like drivers and commoditised parts of the software stack first, but will eventually spread elsewhere too.

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