Open Source Songbird Drops Linux: A Sign Of Things To Come?

Almost everyone either knows about Linux or runs Linux. And most people have heard of iTunes and/or other music managers. So when an open source Mozilla based media manager/player is developed, it seems like a natural fit to be on Linux. In fact, in a lot of people’s views, the words “Open Source” and “Linux” naturally flow together.

However, Songbird is now abandoning its Linux product, and instead is focusing on the Windows and Mac versions only. Let me repeat that for you – the open source popular project Songbird is dropping Linux in favor of  stronger Windows and Mac development.

The Reasoning Behind The Move

According to Songbird developers Pioneers of The Inevitable (POTI Inc.), they have limited resources and need to put focus where it makes the most sense. In their words, as posted on the POTI blog:

After careful consideration, we’ve come to the painful conclusion that we should discontinue support for the Linux version of Songbird. Some of you may wonder how a company with deep roots in Open Source could drop Linux and we want you to know it isn’t without heartache. We have a small engineering team here at Songbird, and, more than ever, must stay very focused on a narrow set of priorities.

Even they’re surprised a company with “deep roots in Open Source could drop Linux”. But as a development effort they have to put the focus on what makes sense for them, and if they are going to be serious about the business at hand, hard decisions are sometimes required.

Sony Drops Linux Support on PS3

In another surprising move, Sony announced on March 28th that they would be pulling Linux support from its flagship gaming product, the Play Station 3 (PS3). One of the reasons cited was that the move would cut down on the pirating of movies. Another reason given was that it would save them the expense of maintaining the HyperVisor drivers through each firmware update. In a post Kutaragi Sony world, they no longer find it worthwhile.

Microsoft Drops Linux from Enterprise Search

To add to the Linux woes, Microsoft announced in February that it was dropping Linux from its Enterprise Search product. The releases for the first half of this year will continue to support Linux, but after that it will be removed from future products. Now, this doesn’t mean that it will stop working after that, but further development in future releases will be out. According to Bjorn Olstad, Fast CTO and Microsoft Distinguished Engineer,

Although I understand that focusing on Windows will be a hard change for some of our customers, I’m convinced that it’s the right thing to do because it will accelerate our rate of innovation

While this could be read that continuing to support Linux would act as a lead weight, holding them back from further innovation, instead it no doubt meant that it would allow them to use the manpower in better ways to advance development. But anyway you look at it, there is no worthwhile value add for them at this time to support Linux.

Making Sense of it All

While a team of analysts could look at the data and circumstances regarding the Linux drops and no doubt come to varying conclusions, I can spare that expense and instead offer my own insight. To put it in a nutshell, in tough times people are not so willing to work for free.

Support for desktop Linux from major releases has almost been an afterthought. Usually a product has a customer base (and turning a profit) before it is ported to the other OS. In today’s times, companies are looking hard at the bottom line, and they are apparently not seeing the returns in either financial or intellectual properties from the Linux world.

Volatile Market for Products?

Let’s look at the Linux market. Not only do we have a large contingency of users that are used to paying very little for their software, but by ratio to users it also has a very large population of tech savvy hackers that seem to believe that turning a profit for work delivered, is almost a sin. A few seem go out of their way to crack everything from movie downloads to software packages for merely bragging rights and to stick it to “the man”.

Well, maybe “the man” is striking back, as Sony has done with the PS3. And being a very capitalistic centered person, I can’t fault Sony or Microsoft for a decision that makes the best business sense for them. But for an open source effort like Songbird to drop Linux support and remain open source should be an item of concern to the Linux community.

While no doubt the biggest response from the Linux community will include a dismissal of Songbird as a capable product (Philips apparently has a different opinion), the time might be better spent looking at the circumstances for the move. Failure to do so may end up hurting the Linux movement long term, just when we will need alternatives the most.

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