7 Reasons Why Free Software Is Losing Influence

Bruce Byfield | Datamation | November 22, 2011

Five years ago, when most of the Java code was released under the GNU General Public License (GPL), Sun Microsystems took care to enlist the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in the announcement, collecting approving statements from Richard Stallman, the president of the FSF, and Eben Moglen, its legal counsel.

Today, you can hardly imagine any corporation making the same effort. Bit by bit, so slowly that you can only see what happened in retrospect, free software is no longer the influence it used to be the community it created. In fact, you can no longer refer to FOSS (free and open software software) and expect to be understood. For most purposes, the term "free software" has been replaced by "open source," and is hardly heard at all.

What happened? I have no hard figures, but I can think of at least seven possible reasons. Some were beyond the FSF's control. Others are the results of FSF decisions that might have seemed reasonable at the time, or in isolation, but had unfortunate long-term effects. A few were simply rash decisions...