I worry about the future of free software. For years, the free software movement has been untouchable. As Microsoft swept every competitor off the scene by dumping and bundling, or just buying them out and shutting them down, free software has been immune against this. There is no price tag on an army of hackers spending their free time on writing free software that breaks the chains of dependency on the major software companies. Sure, they've tried to label free software as costly (the whole bogus TCO argument), unamerican and even cancerous. It just blew up in their faces, and free software adoption continues to grow in companies and homes.
And don't think only Microsoft wants to stop this. There are a number of companies that are unable or unwilling to adapt to freer times, and have huge stakes in technologies that are rapidly becoming irrelevant. SUN is one of these. It really must be tough to try to sell Solaris in a field where the advantages of free software are so obvious. SUN has no culture for free software either, as is shown by the continuing refusals to "set Java free", and their half-hearted attempts to earn a buck on their "Java Desktop System" which is really a Linux distribution but not sold as such. Jonathan Schwartz, just-promoted President of the company, has publicly stated that SUN "has no Linux strategy". If customers ask for Linux they'll get it, but SUN will not recommend it. There's no question the higher-ups at SUN simply wish the free software movement would just go away and never come back again.
I'm starting to fear that our movement may not be as untouchable as I have used to think. SUN and Microsoft, once bitter enemies, are best friends now. Their new covenant ensures the creation of a "patent regime" (term used by Microsoft's Ballmer), sharing software patents freely with each other and each agreeing never to sue the other. Among them, they probably own a majority of the software patents in the world, second only to IBM and Apple.
Microsoft's use of their SCO hand-puppet to destroy the free software movement has been largely a failure. Once SCO dies, the Microsoft and SUN coalition will probably start enforcing their vast collection of patents against free software. Their goal will be to make it too risky or costly for any company to contribute to free software, or even use it. They will not stop until Linux is but a geeky hobbyist toy again.
Microsoft and SUN will then share this new market of previous-free-software users among themselves, Microsoft pushing Windows and SUN pushing Unix, not stepping on each other's toes at all.
We will need our friends at IBM, Novell and others more than ever, in an all-out patent war. The weapons will be the usual senseless and obvious software patents. It will be the golden age for IP lawyers.
Changing the American patent system into something sane is perhaps intractable in the short term. We can make the biggest difference by continuing to fight software patents in Europe.
SCO is making its own death bed now, but once it dies, let's not calm and forget. SCO is nothing compared to what's in store. And as always, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.