Daily Archives: November 10, 2006

Open-Source: Music to my ears

Today’s New York Times Business section has two stories about digitally-encoded music, “Trying out the Zune: IPod It’s Not” and “Microsoft Strikes Deal for Music.”

The first is a review of Microsoft’s new IPod cometitor, Zune. It’s not particularly favorable, and points out this is Microsoft’s second head-on attack on Apple’s IPod. The first was something called PlaysForSure. It has been so un-successful that Microsoft is now bringing out Zune. The article says in part;

“Yahoo might change the address of its D.R.M. server, and we can’t control that,” said Scott Erickson, a Zune product manager. (Never mind what a D.R.M. server is: the point is that Microsoft blames its partners for the technical glitches.)

Is Microsoft admitting, then, that PlaysForSure was a dud? All Mr. Erickson will say is, “PlaysForSure works for some people, but it’s not as easy as the Zune.”

So now Microsoft is starting over. Never mind all the poor slobs who bought big PlaysForSure music collections. Never mind the PlaysForSure companies who now find themselves competing with their former leader. Their reward for buying into Microsoft’s original vision? A great big “So long, suckas.”

Neither article makes direct mention of open-source, it’s just about two companies competing in an important area.

But two other recent competitive announcements are all about open-source: Oracle and Red Hat, Microsoft and Novell.

These two remind us that open-source is all grown-up. It has become so valuable that it can play a key role in major corporate initiatives, in which one corporation attempts to gain an advantage over another by skillful use of open-source.

And there is all the recent buzz about Sun licensing Java under GPL. For example, lwn.net posted a story earlier today Sun Set To Move On GPL License For Open-Source Java (Dr. Dobb’s Portal). It has provoked some reaction in the form of over 20 user comments.

I posted some of those comments to the lwn.net piece, trying to make the case that we would all be better off, and as developers would have more freedom of action, if Sun were to use the Apache 2 license. [1] This provoked several comments, the gist of which was that GPL was better because it promoted a better sense of community.

It’s worth noting that while Sun seems to be favoring the GPL, another manufacturer, Motorola, favors the Apache license. See Motorola speeds open source momentum with Apache, which reports that

Motorola will build a Java ME (Micro Edition) software stack using the Apache License Version 2.0, claiming this will help unify the market. It also aims to align its future Java ME-based development with Apache’s model of licensing and open governance.

Which makes one wonder. If true, is Sun’s choice of GPL about community, or just a way to compete with Motorola?

But thinking about the Microsoft maneuver targeted against Apple’s IPod made me realize that open-source is in play, because while I don’t know of any open-source in the IPod, I know there is lots of open-source in Apples’s “Mac OS X” operating system.

OS X is a variant of Unix licensed — dare I say it — under the BSD license, which has thus allowed Apple to take all the open-source code, adapt it for their hardware, and make the result available in binary-form only, with no right to redistribution. Apple has made a lot of money by that, they have a community of lots of happy customers who are willing to pay for OS X.

Which suggests that if those who believe in GPL and its sense of community and that it is “evil” to not make source available are as ardent in their beliefs as they declare, then they face a dilemma: Do they keep their IPod or do they throw in on the floor, leap up in the air, and then destroy their IPod as their feet land on it?

Some will keep their IPods, others won’t. But I suggest that before some leap up into the air they should download a copy of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence and listen to it, to fully appreciate what they will be giving up as they enter a world of musical silence.

As for me, I’ll just continue listening to Mozart using the open-source program Amarok to play the music that I have digitally-encoded using flac, a freely-available digital music format. [2]

Open-source brings music to my ears.


1. You may not be able to view the comments. lwn.net makes some content available only to subscribers for the first week after publication. As a subscriber I can see it; you may have to wait a few days.

2. Apple’s music format is not open-source. The standard format, mp3, comes encumbered with patents, which is why some extra steps are needed to play mp3-encoded music. I prefer flac because it is freely available and is also “lossless.” There is loss in fidelity when encoding using either Apple’s format or mp3.

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