Interview – Glyn Moody

Glyn ( @glynmoody ) has been a technology journalist and consultant for a quarter of a century, covering the Internet since March 1994, and the free software world since 1995. One of his early features he wrote was for Wired in 1997: The Greatest OS that (N)ever Was. His most recent books are Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution, and Digital Code of Life.


What is your preferred Open Source platform and why?
One of the great things about open source is that there is no “official” platform, but literally hundreds of alternatives. Since they are all freely available, you can download as many as you like to try them out. Moreover, it is constantly evolving in all sorts of unexpected ways, which means that you can jump around as new ideas pop up.

So I started out with the classic distros – things like Red Hat, and Caldera – but later moved to Knoppix. The novelty here was that a complete operating system sat on the CD, so you could run GNU/Linux on any PC that would let you boot from the CD-ROM drive. This meant you could check out compatibility before installing, for example. It was also handing for fixing Windows machines where you couldn’t boot up for some reason.
Nowadays I tend to use Ubuntu on my machines, since it’s generally been the one with the most user-friendly approach. However, like many people, I’m not overjoyed with the Unity design it now uses, and so I’m tempted to try out something new.

What other/upcoming Open Source technologies are you excited about?
Android smartphones have now reached maturity, and I found myself doing a fair proportion of my work on this platform, rather than on a PC. But so far, Android tablets have been pretty unexciting. I expect plenty of good, low-cost systems to come through in the next year, and for the Android tab market to take off accordingly.

But beyond that, there are some interesting trends worth watching out for. For example, Linux has always been very strong in the embedded sector thanks to its zero cost, small footprint, high reliability and customisability. We are now starting to see some interesting moves to put Linux into cars and other mainstream consumer items (but no Linux toasters yet.) I expect that trend to accelerate over the next few years.
Beyond that, we have the Internet of Things coming, and once again Linux is bound to be very strong here for all the reasons that it is popular in embedded. Moreover, when there are literally millions of different kinds of devices hooked together you need an open system to allow manufacturers to write and tweak code: Linux fits the bill perfectly.

What Open Source platforms do you see as having the most importance potential in the coming 12-18 months?
It’s important to remember that open source is not just a technical platform, but also a philosophical platform, based on sharing. So I think that some of most important things will be happening on those other open platforms. By that, I mean things like open access, which seeks to provide free access to academic knowledge that has been paid for by the public; things like open data, unlocking the huge stores within government; and open government itself, providing transparency at all levels.
These are revolutionary moves that will impact everyone in different ways, and they are all outgrowths of the basic ideas underlying open source.

How do you think Open Source is affecting SMBs?
For SMBs, open source brings number of benefits. It’s possible to install applications for free, long-term trials, allowing exactly the right software to be installed; there are cheaper options of support if you want it – from an active open source community; it’s easy to switch between different programs; done properly, it’s possible to save on licensing costs (although that depends on the circumstances and what in-house expertise there is.)

How do you think Open Source is affecting enterprise level companies?
For larger enterprises, open source offers benefits of flexibility and freedom. Companies can choose a mix and match approach to the many programs out there, and are also in control of their destiny when it comes to support and upgrades. And for the more ambitious enterprieses, they can actively modify code and even join in the collaborative development process.

What do you make of Microsoft’s recent efforts in interoperability and to embrace the Open Source community?
Naturally, I welcome Microsoft’s efforts to become more interoperable with open source. However, it is important to remember that true interoperability requires true open standards, and these must be based on Royalty-Free (RF) licences, not just Fair, Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) ones which are essentially incompatible with the most important free software licence, the GNU GPL.
Similarly, software patents and open source in general cannot coexist, since software patents are about limiting the spread of ideas, and open source is its diametric opposite. If Microsoft truly wishes to embrace the open source community it needs to return to Bill Gates’s position of 1991: “If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today“.
We are rapidly approaching that standstill today, especially in the world of mobile, and it’s software patents that are responsible. Microsoft needs to work together with the open source community to abolish software patents completely.

How did you first get involved in Open Source development?
Well, even though I am not a programmer – the last time I coded was in Fortran – the great thing about the open source world is that people can contribute in all sorts of ways, for example by submitting bug reports. I like to think that my many years of rants about free software have contributed something (others may disagree…)
I came to write about open source while covering the Internet as a journalist in 1995. Free software pervaded the Internet then (as it does now), and so I soon bumped up against this fascinating world and started to explore it. In 1997, I wrote the first major feature on Linux, for Wired magazine and then in 2001 the first – and still only – history of Linux and free software, Rebel Code.

What makes you passionate about Open Source technology?
The fact that it is based on the idea that if we work together by building on the ideas of others, rather than re-inventing the wheel every time, we will all benefit. It’s obvious really, and yet so many aspects of life negate that simple wisdom. It goes back to what your mother told you: “it’s good to share.” If we can spread that idea and get people working together in constructive collaboration rather than destructive competition, maybe we can solve more of the world’s pressing problems faster.