Originally Published: Wednesday, 12 January 2000 Author: Matt Michie
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Media Merger Megalomania

Abbot J. Liebling once said, "Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one." With the merger of media conglomerate Time Warner and Internet provider America Online, these sage words should be re-examined....

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Abbot J. Liebling once said, "Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one." With the merger of media conglomerate Time Warner and Internet provider America Online, these sage words should be re-examined.

What does all this mean for Linux? Linux could not have happened without the cheap communication and distribution possibilities provided by the Internet. Even with a prodigal programmer such as Linus Torvalds, Linux would be a play-toy without the hundreds of other kernel programmers pushing development onward.

Alone, the AOL/Time Warner merger probably wouldn't mean much to the Linux world. Most of us try to stay away from anything AOL-related anyway. However, this merger is only one of several media mergers that have occurred recently. Think about Microsoft and NBC, AT&T and TCI cable, ABC and Disney; and there are surely more coming.

Gradually, the underlying infrastructure is being bought up by big media. The freewheeling, independent side of the Internet is being partitioned to "protect" the public at large. Instead of embracing the Internet as is, these mega-corps are reshaping it into the image of "old media outlets," aka TV.

One way to short circuit the open source process is software patents; another is to control the information pipes of the Internet. Owning the infrastructure is like controlling the high ground of a battle field. Holding it doesn't guarantee victory, but it sure goes a long way. AOL is also the current "owner" of Netscape and by default Mozilla. Thanks to the deities that Mozilla is Open Source. I dare not imagine how much worse I'd be viewing all of these developments if we didn't have Mozilla.

For the foreseeable future, there should be enough competition among these giants to keep them from dominating the bandwidth. I'm more concerned about their vision of transforming the Internet from an active medium to a passive one. I'm sure much of the content they are going to be spewing down the pipes is going to be encoded using proprietary, closed source applications, with no Linux port. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem likely that these applications will be Open Source in the near future either. There is a grave danger of information going from an open standard text based format (HTML) to more closed proprietary formats. This type of product has been AOL's bread and butter for most of the life of the company, and more so for Time Warner.

So far, the major shifts have been toward standards and open platforms. To continue this trend, Linux and open source software must move from the back room to the desktop more than ever. Additionally, to expand the Linux user and developer base requires a pool of computer users who aren't afraid to interact and take control of their computer. How are kids who grow up with a set-top cable box going to react and interact with the Linux community?

What's your reaction to this?

Matt Michie is a student of Computer Science in New Mexico, USA. He maintains a small web-site at http://web.nmsu.edu/~mmichie.





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