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Article:
  ESR: "We Don't Need the GPL Anymore"
Subject:   Oh really?
Date:   2005-07-01 07:04:40
From:   paul@paul-robinson.us
The fact being that if the GPL were not really important to the goals of open-source software, then why does Microsoft find it such a horrible thing that its executives decry it as "a cancer" and other perjorative terms? I never hear this about the BSD license or other open source licenses, so there must be some reason Microsoft finds this license so distasteful.

The simple fact of the matter is the GPL prohibits a third party from making any product using that license into a proprietary one. None of the other licenses out there give the kind of protections against misuse of the ideals of open source, that if the author of the work chooses to share it with others, other people do not obtain any privelege to then take that same material and make it proprietary simply by adding something to it.

The GPL doesn't place any obligations upon a user of a product, or on a private modification, nor does it do anything to restrict others in the development of a competing product. It only imposes a restriction upon those who want to make modifications and release the product to the public. They cannot make those modifications proprietary and not allow everyone else to see them.

If we did not have the GPL or some equivalent license requiring that modifications of publicly released changes also be public, many of the advantages in functionality would have been "stolen" by proprietary software applications that no one else would have access to except the developers of the changes, and they could use those changes to lock people in. The inability to force proprietary lock-in is one of the strengths of the GPL and the reason that a company like Microsoft is deathly afraid of it.


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Showing messages 1 through 9 of 9.

  • Oh really?
    2005-07-01 07:37:59  rben13 [View]

    I think the point that ESR is trying to make is that it doesn't matter if some company steals open source software and uses it to create a proprietary product. ESR believes that the advantages that FOSS have over proprietary software are so great that companies that engage in that kind of activity still won't be able to compete against FOSS solutions.

    I'm not sure I'm ready to agree with ESR, but he's probably spent a lot more time thinking about it than I have.

    Microsoft hates the GPL because it prevents them from using their favorite tactic, Embrace and Extend, to try to crush FOSS. What MS doesn't realize is that it's too late for even those kinds of moves. As ESR points out, the standards bodies have caught on to the kinds of things that MS does and are not relying more on reference implementations of standards which will block MS from taking over critical protocols.

    More and more businesses and governments are realizing that FOSS just makes sense. It's not the GPL which is selling them, it's the total cost of ownership numbers. I think many of them also value the ability to customize the software as needed. Imagine what it is like if you are a small country that uses a language not supported by MS or other proprietary vendors. Your best chance for having office software that you can use in your native language is FOSS.

    The bottom line, if I understand ESR correctly, is that the lowered process friction of FOSS means that the open source community will always be able to out innovate any proprietary company through sheer force of numbers. While this idea works well for popular FOSS projects like Open Office, Linux, and Apache, I'm not so sure it's true for every FOSS project. I think I would agree that the GPL might not be required on those projects, but it might still be important for smaller projects that don't generate so much interest that their developer base dwarfs that of any proprietary company.
    • Oh really?
      2005-07-06 10:11:48  john_betelgeuse [View]

      One small problem with ESR's theory:

      Closed (proprietary) hardware.

      The NVidia graphics driver is the perfect example. The NVidia driver flat out sucks. NVidia has been totally unable to write, test and release a version of this driver that is even remotely as stable as the rest of the kernel.

      The built-in advantages of the FOSS cannot, however, fix this problem, because the hardware is proprietary.
    • Won't be able to compete?
      2005-07-01 08:20:29  paul@paul-robinson.us [View]

      I think the point that ESR is trying to make is that it doesn't matter if some company steals open source software and uses it to create a proprietary product. ESR believes that the advantages that FOSS have over proprietary software are so great that companies that engage in that kind of activity still won't be able to compete against FOSS solutions.
      And this is why Microsoft's proprietary Windows operating system has 85% of the desktop market and Linux has about 8%?
      • Won't be able to compete?
        2005-07-01 09:22:26  rben13 [View]

        Window's won't always have such a large market share. In fact, very few products have ever held such a large market share w/o government enforced monopolies. In a truely free market, such a monopoply is impossible.

        MS is beginning to lose ground to Linux in the area of network servers and to Apple in desktops. Note that Mac OS/X is built on a FOSS operating system.

        The vast majority of computers in the rapidly developing countries of China, India, Mexico and the entire continent of Africa, will wind up running FOSS simply because of the costs associated with proprietary software. China, India, Taiwan and Japan have already started talking about working on a Linux version specifically for their governmental needs.

        The next generation of programmers from those countries are going to be trained first on Linux and other FOSS software.

        So no, I don't think MS will be able to compete, not for the OS market.
        • luckily for MS there are no "truly free markets"
          2005-07-01 11:30:20  techHead [View]

          Window's won't always have such a large market share. In fact, very few products have ever held such a large market share w/o government enforced monopolies. In a truely free market, such a monopoply is impossible.



          Luckily for Microsoft such a "truly free market" doesn't obtain anywhere in the world and probably never will.



          Microsoft's proprietary model doesn't have to be better than open source as a way of making software. All they have to do is make it too painful to create software around an open source model. You can bet that they're spending a lot of time and money figuring out how to do that. ESR is declaring victory way too early.

          • Not so lucky for M$ there are no "truly free markets"
            2005-07-02 07:42:52  evanh [View]

            Without any regulations/enforcement, monopoly is the one sure outcome. M$ would stay completely uncontested in such an environment.


            Evan
            • Not so lucky for M$ there are no "truly free markets"
              2005-07-12 23:14:50  bill@immosys.com [View]

              Without any regulations/enforcement, monopoly is the one sure outcome

              Incorrect. The only sure outcome is that the outcome is a transitory effect. Market share is not a horserace which has a defined beginning and end. It is an ongoing state of flux.

              Microsoft is as big and dominant as it is becuase of certain regulations that free them of certain risks. The corporation is a fiction of government that eliminates what are otherwise limiting risks.

              You really should do some real research on the history of monopolies. You'll find that a) they nearly always get that way through government assistance and b) by the time the government gets around to "doing something" it is usually too late - the fall has begun. Thus, the government was party to the problem, and claims to be a party to the solution when in fact it was irrelevant and at the party next door.


      • Won't be able to compete?
        2005-07-01 08:29:23  notchewie [View]

        paul@paul-robinson.us writes, "And this is why Microsoft's proprietary Windows operating system has 85% of the desktop market and Linux has about 8%?"

        Nice troll; well not really. You're completely ignoring historical facts with this statement. You should be looking at the increasing numbers of non-MS desktop on the market that are based on FOSS technology.
        • Won't be able to compete?
          2005-09-24 17:46:12  paul@paul-robinson.us [View]

          paul@paul-robinson.us writes, "And this is why Microsoft's proprietary Windows operating system has 85% of the desktop market and Linux has about 8%?"


          Nice troll; well not really. You're completely ignoring historical facts with this statement. You should be looking at the increasing numbers of non-MS desktop on the market that are based on FOSS technology.

          Oh, so it's trolling to point out that the current, entire world-wide penetration of FOSS desktops is less than 15%. Looks like it's someone who, in the words of Jack Nickolson, "you can't handle the truth!" The stark reality is that FOSS has only been able to prevent vendor lock in because of licenses like GPL/LCPL, which prevent distributed software from being made closed. Apple's (current) OS is not an FOSS; it is a closed-source OS even though most of it comes from BSD, which isn't under a license which prevents closure.