For the last ten years Free Software has been gaining a tremendous momentum, spreading in many areas, especially the Internet infrastructure. This trend has been, in part, the result of many big companies backing the development of such software. But in the end, there's a huge question that most people won't even think about, let alone ask - can we trust them?
During last week I've come upon the new on FSDaily titled <a href="http://www.fsdaily.com/Legal/Google_throws_the_open_out_of_open_source_by_shutting_down_Android_mod">Google throws the 'open' out of 'open-source' by shutting down Android mod</a>. To put it short, Google has sent a <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cease_and_desist">cease and desist</a> letter to <a href="http://www.cyanogenmod.com/>CyanogenMod</a>, a modification based on the source code and firmware of the famed Android platform.
Now, I must agree at one thing - <em>Google</em> really did have a valid point, legally speaking. But the real problem lies in the fact that it seems that Google, although basing its services and infrastructure around the Free Software, doesn't really seem to get the whole spirit of it. And I don't think this case has been the first move made by Google to show that. There have been other examples too, such as refusing to allow developers to use AGPL license on <em>Google Code</em>. But enough of the aforementioned company, I'm not trying to launch an attack against them (there are many other companies that have done much worse things, after all). This was just something that got me to write this article.
The much wider problem is that big companies, who haven't based their business around the Free Software from start, but come from a proprietary background, see Free Software just as means to increase their venues. Within the world of Free Software they only see means of increasing the profit, reducing costs, and battling the competitors. And, on the other hand, we have lots of Free Software developers and users who seem to ignore this fact, and happily march along supporting whatever such companies do, without a moment of thought. If we, the Free Software community, blindingly place our trust in companies who don't care about the four liberties provided by the Free Software licenses, at some point we will get cheated. This is not a mere possibility, a statistical insignificance, but a truly creepy and very probable future.
Big companies have a big impact on the legislative bodies of many countries (using black funds to push laws that benefit them), and I haven't seen any of them openly talking against software patents or similar monstrosities of the modern law. By introducing lots of code coming from them, we are risking of also introducing many software patent infringements as well. As long as Free Software benefits their agenda, these companies will allow everyone to use such software, without attacking it. But what if at some point they come to conclusion it doesn't really benefit them any more? Can we really trust that they won't attack the very same Free Software projects that benefited them before? I don't think so.
I think that the example shown at the beginning of this blog entry clearly states that very clearly. I really don't think that Google will lose money just because someone distributed one of their applications - keep in mind that user of CyanogenMod possesses the applications in the stock firmware already, and if not, he/she can download them for free.
How about <em>you</em>? Do <em>you</em> you trust them?