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Open Platforms

So, what is an open platform?

An open platform exists when you have an operating system where the core functionality is based on open standards.

While in principle this can be done in a completely proprietary operating system, in practise the manufacturers tend to go in for some unsavoury practises, including "embrace, extend, extinguish", "lock in" and "lock out".

A good example of this is seen with Microsoft, where the document formats encourage lock in and lock out, and then SMB file sharing protocol was originally an open standard, which they extended in an incompatible way and then kept it quiet.

Much less vulnerable to these sorts of problems are so-called "Open Core" operating systems, like Apple's Mac OS X. Here the core functionality is built from the open source Darwin BSD kernel, and they have added proprietary extensions on top of the base system.

While in principle it is still vulnerable to the naughty behaviours mentioned above, in practise they have to be seen to play nice with the open source community who are building the underlying code that they rely on.

This has the effect of having people at board level in the company saying "if we do this, how will these people see it?", so not only do they have to keep their customers happy, but the open source community as well.

Another example is Xandros Linux, where they take an open source operating system, and add support for all sorts of proprietary codecs and file formats so that the whole thing "just works" straight out of the box.

Of course the best example is a fully open source infrastructure. The obvious example here is the internet, which uses open standards and open source software to provide a system where you don't care whose operating system you use to access it.

Another good example is Debian Linux, which has a set of rules which only allows open stuff into it's Linux distribution. This does mean that all sorts of file formats and codecs are not available, but that just makes explicit the question at the heart of open standards. Who owns Your data, you or the people who sold you the programs used to encode it?

Groklaw has a page about Switching to Linux.