Is Cisco an open-source leech or an open-source champion?

The Free Software Foundation's copyright infringement lawsuit against Cisco filed yesterday follows just days after a debate in the blogosphere about whether Cisco is an open source leech, or whether it's poised to become an open source champion, like IBM.

Matt Asay writing in Cnet noted that Cisco uses a lot of open source in its products, such as its security appliances and Unity.  Dave Roberts of open source PBX vendor Avaya responded that many vendors use open source but that Cisco is "driving down its costs and pocketing the additional profit, without passing on any benefits to its customers."

IBM's Savio Rodrigues writing in Infoworld noted: "Sure, the use of open source has benefited Cisco's bottom line. But is it possible that Cisco's customers have also benefited from new features faster as a result of Cisco engineers not having to work on 'commodity' function?"

Asay responded, writing that it's fair gaime for companies to use legal and ethical means to boost profits and revenue, but he adds: "I do worry that some short-sighted 'profit taking' by proprietary (and open-source) vendors may leave us with a non-renewable open-source resource. But maybe the market is self-correcting. Meaning, maybe if Cisco is, in fact, taking without giving, it will eventually 'deforest' open source to the extent that it will hurt its profits, which will lead it to contribute back as a means of self-preservation."

Matthew Aslett of The 451 Group jumped in saying that Cisco is at stage two of what the Eclipse Foundation describes as a five-stage process of engagement in open source communities. Stage two is when "The vendor begins to make use of open source software internally as part of its ongoing research and development process, realizing that it can save money on non-differentiating code and improve interoperability.”

Aslett adds: "In my experience companies quite quickly see the benefit of moving from there to contribute to and then champion open source development, which would be likely to deliver the benefits Dave [Roberts] is looking for.

"However, it is also my experience that vendors have to see and understand the benefits of doing so for themselves - they cannot be cajoled by criticism into being more open. Cisco is at least heading in the right direction. Labeling it a leech is not going to help."

While Cisco doesn't bang on the open source drum as IBM does, it did announce that it would open up its venerable IOS routing software to customers and third-party developers. That announcement was made this time last year. What has happened to that project?

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