Open Source

Open source community up in arms over proprietary software for Ubuntu

Portions of the Linux community are up in arms that proprietary software has started appearing in the Ubuntu Software Center. Jack Wallen sees this as a sign of great things to come.

It was only a matter of time before the proprietary software started populating in the Ubuntu Software Center. This was something Mark Shuttleworth had been promising for quite some time. Not only proprietary software, but plenty of other purchasable items would arrive:

  • Movies
  • Music
  • Magazines

And more! The music and magazines have already appeared (music in UbuntOne Music and magazines in the Software Center), and the proprietary software has started to appear. Enterprise-grade software, home-use software, GAMES! Some of these software titles have a price attached and some have a price of $0.00. All of them are closed source — and this has started to get under the skin of many a Linux user.

To that, I have but one thing to say:

Get over it.

I get it. I really do. I've been a big advocate of open source software for over a decade. But there's a time and a place for everything and the time for the addition of proprietary software for Linux is now. Oh sure, if you want Linux to continue to stagnate on the desktop and business levels, go ahead and fight for your distribution's right to ONLY use proprietary software. But if you have any hope or pretension that Linux will ever survive beyond a paltry 9% of the business desktop space, you're going to have to accept the fact that proprietary software will have to be part of that. In order for Linux to be really and truly taken seriously in the small to medium-sized business space (enterprise business already "gets" Linux), it will have to see some familiar titles start appearing. In order for that to happen, the Linux landscape is going to have to open its arms and repositories to closed source.

Ask yourself two questions:

Do you want QuickBooks on Linux?

Do you think Intuit will ever open its source?

If the answers to the above questions are anything but "Yes" and "No", you might want to re-evaluate your stance. I realize that not everyone uses QuickBooks. But even if that software title isn't for you, it is for the vast majority of businesses. Should Intuit make that great leap, it will only do so once it sees the Linux community welcoming closed source software.

Think about this — you don't ever see the Windows community complaining about open source software being available for their closed source platform. In fact, the Windows platform is much improved because of the availability of open source software. The opposite applies. With the addition of closed source software, Linux is made all the more powerful, flexible, and (for many users) usable.

What about this little interesting twist. Linux users (including myself) have been complaining about the inability to watch Netflix streaming video on Linux. That is now possible on the Ubuntu desktop. With two simple commands:

  • sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ehoover/compholio
  • sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install netflix-desktop

Check out this page for more information on the Netflix installation.

Figure A

Netflix can be viewed seamlessly (Figure A at left). But you're adding DRM tools and proprietary software onto the system. I've installed it and will continue to install closed source software — so long as it fills a need not met by open source software. And that is really the crux of the issue. If there is a need on the Linux desktop that cannot (for whatever reason) be met by open source, why continue on without, when closed source can satisfy that need?

Linux is at a very crucial moment in its history — one that could see mass acceptance. In order for Linux to overcome one of the biggest hurdles in the way of wide-scale deployment, the whole of the community is going to have to accept that the inclusion of proprietary software is a necessity.

Always remember, everything has its place. Now, it turns out, closed source software has its place on Linux. And, of course, there will always be those that refuse to allow closed source software on their desktop. There is nothing wrong with that — so long as they are getting their needs filled. But for those that long for a broader acceptance of Linux and understand that small to mid-sized business is the one market that must be conquered, know this: Proprietary software appearing in the Ubuntu Software Center is just one step closer to that dream of mass deployment coming true!


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

Editor's Picks