April 25, 2007

Bob Metcalfe re-evaluates open source

Author: Linux.com Staff

Bob Metcalfe may not have invented the Internet, but few people's technical achievements have done more to make it popular and accessible than the father of Ethernet and founder of 3Com. Metcalfe and the open source community got a little bit sideways with each other last century, but that appears to be all in the past now.

Metcalfe remembers being accused of "likening the open source movement to Communism, which, as you know, failed after a 70-year experiment in the Soviet Union. Even after I wrote I was just kidding, the movement was relentless in its vicious anonymous-coward Slashdot-ish counterattacks, which I found revealing about the movement. Fortunately, I have thick skin.

"Anyway, Linux has not killed Windows, contrary to the then movement's claim. And of course, Windows has not killed Linux. Your movement's character assassins tend to forget I was as negative on Windows as on Linux -- both being back-to-the-'60s technology.

"The big organization-of-human-capital question remains -- whether good modern software, like a many-core and/or mobile operating system, is better developed by the rapacious software corporation a la Microsoft or by rag-tag volunteers a la open source. I am delighted to watch the competition and see how both models evolve under the pressure, which they most certainly have been and will. They look to be converging."

Metcalfe is not only talking the talk, he's also walking the walk. "Just to prove that my mind is open, my partners at Polaris are backers and I am a director of SiCortex, a provider of open source Linux/MPI scientific high-performance cluster supercomputers.

"Scientific HPC people own and routinely recompile their own codes, which makes it all work. But most software users do not recompile, and probably shouldn't if they do."

Metcalfe hasn't swallowed the full glass of open source Kool-Aid. "It's the sustainability long-term of the open source model that I worry about. Who will take care of the software after the novelty wears off and the volunteers lose interest and get real jobs?"

So while we can't say that the years have changed Metcalfe from anti-open source -- especially since it appears he was never as anti-open source as it was claimed -- to an open source evangelist, it does seem fair to say that he has become open enough to the benefits and possibilities of open source to become associated with it professionally.


  • Open Source