The free software movement has been in decline for years now.
Some software companies are taking it for granted, while others are moving to compete by releasing commercial versions of their software.
But as the technology market matures and the need for affordable, open source software continues to grow, it may be that the free software community will eventually die.
In fact, Free Software Foundation CEO Scott McNealy recently declared that the software market is at “critical mass” and that “free software is a dead concept.”
“The Internet has given people free access to the world’s information, and the software industry has given them a way to access information for free,” McNealys remarks.
“If there is no free software, then it’s very difficult to compete.”
McNealyn, who is a co-founder of the Free Software group and who is also a software engineer, also believes that open source projects will eventually cease to exist, and he thinks that software will be replaced by proprietary software in the future.
“The end game of open source is always to take a piece of software and sell it to someone else,” he says.
“I think that’s the future.”
McNailys worries about the potential for this trend.
“What happens when we get to a point where we no longer need a free software license or a proprietary license to access the world?” he asks.
“You’re going to have a situation where software becomes very much a commodity, rather than something that you are free to distribute and share.”
This could be a problem for software companies that do not have a strong brand.
“There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the software companies to get their software open,” McNayys adds.
He is optimistic that this will eventually lead to the end of the free-software movement, but he does not see this as a good outcome.
“It’s going have to happen, but I don’t think it’s going happen anytime soon,” McNaily predicts.
“Free software is dead.
It will not survive for much longer.”
Software developers often point to the example of Microsoft, which released a suite of software called Windows 95, and said that Microsoft would offer a free version of Windows 95 to customers.
But McNeal, who founded the Free and Open Software Foundation, believes that this was only a way for Microsoft to make a buck.
“Microsoft had a commercial license to Windows 95 that was exclusive to Microsoft,” McNeeys says.
When the Windows 95 software ended, the Free software group began working to bring a free, open version of Microsoft’s Windows.
But this did not happen quickly enough, McNealies points out.
“Once Windows 95 was released, it was clear that people would not be able to use the free version because of the restrictions,” McNionys says, referring to the restrictions Microsoft put on its Windows 95 release.
McNeal’s belief is that this is one of the reasons that Free Software groups like the Linux Foundation are fighting for free versions of Linux.
The Linux Foundation is one example of a free and open software project that has made significant strides in recent years.
The project is trying to promote open source Linux software in order to increase its user base and build support for its proprietary versions.
Free software has long been a powerful tool for the community, but its use is waning as more and more organizations, like Microsoft, begin to push for their proprietary software to be free.
Free Software advocates are also concerned that the Free version of Linux is becoming increasingly difficult to get.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of Free Software distributions over the past five years,” McNays says.
But the Linux community is also concerned about the impact of Microsoft and other software companies on the community.
“Companies are trying to make it harder to get free software on their systems by requiring licenses that restrict their use of the software,” McNeely says.
It is clear that free software is in a transition phase.
And McNeal says that the next decade will be a time when the Free community will be gone.