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To Share Or Not To Share?

If you have a 2-year-old child, as I do, you know that teaching the concept of sharing can be difficult. One day, he'll happily share his toys; the next day he's yanking them out of a playmate's hands. The software playground is going through this kind of tug-of-war when it comes to sharing code. Many Linux developers have been reared on sharing and collaborating, while large vendors, such as IBM and Sun Microsystems, are only comfortable sharing when it won't hurt their bottom line. Even miserly Microsoft has started sharing some code lately.

At IT shops, using open-source software is becoming a way of life for one big reason: it's cheap. Network Computing's recent special issue on "Affordable IT" started with the assertion that IT folks are "scrimpers, scavengers, and skinflints," and 85 percent of readers surveyed say they have to do some projects on a shoestring budget. While an InformationWeek survey found that 98 percent of IT people were extremely or somewhat satisfied with their Linux projects, they reported widespread problems with incompatibility, lack of technical knowledge, and poor documentation. A third survey by Venture Development found that retailers had only 2 percent of their point-of-sale systems on Linux.

In one of the more innovative code-sharing initiatives, a group of Minneapolis-based companies, including Jostens and Best Buy, started the Avalanche Corporate Technology Cooperative, whereby they will be sharing code in an online database to save development time and money. The group is using CollabNet software, and is coping with some thorny licensing and legal issues"a hallmark of sharing code these days"by using a special Avalanche license for donated code.

Meanwhile, IBM and Intel announced that they were sharing the code and specs for BladeCenter, creating an "open" server system to help software developers create compatible apps. And Sun recently elevated open-source advocate Bill Vass to CIO, while hiring open-source blog-software developer Dave Johnson. But Sun also has its limits with sharing, and told the Javalobby community to take down any Sun-copyrighted API documents from its new JDocs online repository.

Share, and share alike"as long as you don't share too much, apparently. My 2-year-old would feel right at home.

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