Ever wonder why Ubuntu or other distros don’t play MP3s out of the box when your XP machine does it happily? Or perhaps you question why XP printer and digital camera support is fairly sparse out of the box (pre-SP2) while Ubuntu can detect pretty much any printer (3-in-1s are another story) you throw at it without needing to run one of the fabulous HP driver discs? You know, the ones that take roughly an hour to install tons of crap that you will never need. Simple: licensing.
Windows is licensed with proprietary offerings. Because of the immense amount of time and money spent on making many of these key OS features a reality, the code to the OS is restricted and closed to the public eye.
The obvious advantage here is that Windows is “it” in the USA. With Macs coming in with a close second, Windows is the standard when developers are creating software and hard vendors are looking at releasing drivers.
Another advantage is that Windows allows for key additions such as MP3 playback and other proprietary goodies to be pre-installed without any concerns over its own licensing conflicts. Their software license allows it the freedom to do as it wishes, including restricting its distribution with methods such as product keys and DRM.
Then we have Linux. Now to be entirely accurate, Linux is not really an operating system. At its core, it is merely an operating system kernel. This kernel is licensed under an Open Source license known as the GPL. This GPL license, while allowing for redistribution and even sales made by anyone, does not allow for this kernel to be to linked to or use any non-GPL’d software. Where things get fuzzy is with components such as drivers and codecs.
This is why you do not see most Linux distros offering things like Flash, Java, or even non-GPL video drivers out of the box. It’s not because people are being mean or naive, it is because the engine that runs your distro is not licensed to allow it. Some distros such as Linux Mint do not interpret the GPL this way, and this is where people bashing distros that choose to take an alternate path end up with so much grief from GPL purists.
So what about the Mac and OS X? Ah, the one platform that gets to enjoy the best of both worlds. OS X is an operating system licensed as closed source, but uses Open Source for its underbelly. How, you ask? Through the use of a BSD-styled licensed core known as Darwin, Apple has been able to use the tweaked BSD operating system and the Open Source development that made it possible to create proprietary overlays and give you the end result, OS X. What’s interesting about Darwin is its history with Jobs and his other OS outside of Apple known as NEXTSTEP. It should be noted that Apple’s Darwin is licensed as Open Source and the license itself is called the “Apple Public Source License.”
Keeping in mind that my OS X description is likely to be grossly over-simplified, the most important facts are made available to you here. As you can see, the BSD license (and its variants) is very open and in many ways, more progressive than Microsoft’s own closed source styled license or even Linux’s use of the GPL. Had the Linux kernel been licensed under a BSD-styled license, we would be looking at very different types of Linux distributions today. Perhaps a closer competitor to OS X than Windows? “You mean Open Source is not a license?” It’s true, just as the term closed source is not a license, either.
So is any of this beginning to make sense? Because of licensing restrictions regarding proprietary software and interaction with the GPL, some operating systems have advantages over others in some areas. But to say that the GPL is a bad thing is not true. I can take a Linux distro, tweak it, then re-release it with my own additions and make money by selling services around it.
[tags]BSD,linux,windows,mac,os x,gpl,closed source,open source[/tags]