The Strange Case of the Disappearing Open Source Vendors
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Open Source in Government

And then there's the biggest IT end user of them all: government. Governments around the world are increasingly showing an interest in the cost savings and increased control by end users that open source provides.



At the conference, Todd Ogasawara tells how shifting budget priorities pushed the state of Hawaii to move away from commercial software solutions to Linux, Apache, MySQL, Zope, Python, and PHP for its Intranet portal. Lisa Nyman and Rachael LaPorte Taylor explain how the FedStats.gov site was built with Perl, Apache, and MySQL. Kim Brand and Matthew Hartmann talk about open source opportunities in schools. (Their work is with a small group of Catholic schools in Indianapolis, but as Matthew Szulik, CEO of Red Hat, points out: "The average technology expenditure per student is $105 per year--money that should be stretched as far as possible." It's in the public interest for public schools to use publicly available software whenever possible.)

And of course, as with the commercial sector, conference attendees span a wide range of national, state, and local government agencies, from the Department of Defense, the Census Bureau, and the EPA all the way down to Medina County in Ohio.

Ever prescient about marketplace threats, Microsoft was the first to realize that government was perhaps the key battleground between open source and proprietary software. It began its public campaign against Linux and open source in early 2001 with much publicized remarks by Jim Allchin ("Open source is an intellectual-property destroyer") and Steve Ballmer ("Linux is a cancer"). These were not attacks on deep-pocketed Linux backers such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, but an attempt to undermine support for Linux by U.S. government agencies. The focus on Linux in government has continued and intensified in recent months, with salvos against the Pentagon and the government of Peru.

Not content with direct attacks, the Microsoft-funded Alexis de Tocqueville Institution released a "study" claiming that open source might undermine our national security:

In a paper to be released next week, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution outlines how open source might facilitate efforts to disrupt or sabotage electronic commerce, air-traffic control, or even sensitive surveillance systems.

Unlike proprietary software, open source software does not make the underlying code of a software confidential.

"Computer systems are the backbone of U.S. national security", says Fossedal, chairman of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution and its Committee for the Common Defense, which will release the study. "Before the Pentagon and other federal agencies make uninformed decisions to alter the very foundation of computer security, they should study the potential consequences carefully."

This is FUD of the highest order, because, of course, it is Microsoft's software, not open source software, that has been the focus of security breakdowns so common as to become routine. Most security experts believe that open source software is likely to be more secure than proprietary software, because it doesn't rely on obscurity for security, but on effective, secure systems design.

The de Tocqueville paper consists of little more than unsupported assertions about the danger of open source, and has been refuted at length elsewhere. What is germane to my argument here, of course, is that Microsoft has correctly identified government as one of the key axes of open source adoption, and the fierceness of their attacks indicate just how concerned they are about it.

The willingness to make scurrilous accusations ("open source might facilitate efforts to disrupt or sabotage electronic commerce, air-traffic control or even sensitive surveillance systems") is symptomatic of the disregard for the truth afflicting corporate America these days. The willingness to harness misinformation as a tool of corporate strategy springs from the same "me first at all costs" mentality that led us to the Enron debacle. Just as Enron thought it was appropriate business practice to manipulate the California energy markets to raise its profits, Microsoft seeks to influence public policy to raise the costs of software and prohibit government support for a low-cost alternative.

The national security threat promised by the de Tocqueville press release turned out to be nothing more than a few inflammatory paragraphs buried in a much larger document repeating and expanding on Microsoft's attacks on the "business-unfriendly" nature of the GPL.

The chief argument appears to be that code covered by the GPL can't be combined with proprietary code because doing so requires the resulting product also to be released under the GPL. Of course, this argument trades on ambiguity. It implies that, as Steve Ballmer said last year in his "Linux is a cancer" interview, GPL'd software "attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches", when in fact, the "viral" effect of the GPL applies only if the code from a GPL'd program is actually incorporated into another program. And of course, Microsoft code can't be incorporated into other products either, under any terms at all (or at least without paying substantial sums to Microsoft), while GPL'd code is useful for any public or private sector projects that care to play by its rules.

As I've long made clear, I prefer BSD- or Apache-style licenses, or dual-licensing schemes such as the SleepyCat license, because I believe they allow for a richer ecology of open source and proprietary commercial development. Of course, this preference is within the context of support for all licenses, from the most proprietary to the most free, since my primary belief is in the right of developers to set the terms for the reuse of their code in an way that best serves their objectives. And that includes Microsoft's right to set the terms under which they license their own software--but only so long as the user is free to accept or reject those terms in a fair marketplace.

While it may not seem so from this article, I'm actually a big fan of Microsoft. They had a vision early on of cheap, ubiquitous personal computing, and the fact that computers are so widespread today is in part a tribute to their singleminded pursuit of that vision. And now, with .NET, they have a new vision, of an Internet-scale operating system, which is driving the industry forward into uncharted territory. Despite the many knocks on them from the open source community, they are an innovative company. But they are also an arrogant company, and one that has fallen into the trap of assuming that they somehow have a right to profit levels that they've enjoyed in the past, and that any method to maintain that profitability (even when growth slows) is legitimate.

I part ways with Microsoft when they seek to restrict the choice of their users, whether by unfairly using their monopoly position to extinguish competitors, or by undermining industry standards with non-interoperable extensions, or by locking in users, or by seeking to influence public policy to shut out open source software.

The vehemence of Microsoft's attacks on the GPL have led me to believe that GPL advocates may be right that it is the public's best defense against companies that want to take from the commons without giving anything back, or worse, block the commons so that people will have to buy their products. As a result, I've invited Richard Stallman to keynote at this year's Open Source Convention. Richard's uncompromising vision that software should belong to its users so that they can repair and extend it as needed is a refreshing corrective to the excesses of an industry that pits itself against its customers in order to extract maximum profits from them.

The concept that the GPL is "business unfriendly" is based entirely on the concept that only software vendors make money with software. If in fact, the great majority of software is developed by users of the software, and not by vendors, then open source is very good for business, and a policy that encourages lower-cost alternatives to high-cost proprietary software is a good public policy. It is no accident that inside Microsoft, decisions that lead to software lock-in are referred to as "the strategy tax." This tax is imposed not just on Microsoft's own developers, but on corporations and government institutions.

Customer lock-in is the real enemy of business, not the GPL.

In a recent piece on the difficulty of extracting his mail and contacts from Outlook 2000, Dale Dougherty wrote a paragraph that ought to be studied hard by decisionmakers at Microsoft:

Nike is running a series of bold, new commercials featuring Tiger Woods, who says his contract with Nike doesn't require him to use its equipment unless he finds it to be the best in the market. He says with amusement that it puts the pressure on Nike to be the best or else. If Microsoft is the best at what it does, then it shouldn't have to resort to this kind of lock-in of its contract with users. Let us choose the best.

This is the very same point made by Peruvian Congressman Edgar Villanueva Nuñez, in his letter to Microsoft responding to their protest against his bill to have the Peruvian government mandate use of free software:

"To guarantee the free access of citizens to public information, it is indispensable that the encoding of data is not tied to a single provider. The use of standard and open formats gives a guarantee of this free access, if necessary through the creation of compatible free software.

To guarantee the permanence of public data, it is necessary that the usability and maintenance of the software does not depend on the goodwill of the suppliers, or on the monopoly conditions imposed by them. For this reason the State needs systems the development of which can be guaranteed due to the availability of the source code."

(Incidentally, I've invited Congressman Villanueva Nuñez to be my guest at OSCON. I'm hopeful that he can take part in the session we have planned on Open Source in Government. Microsoft is also invited to send a representative.)

My concern to air the issues around open source in government was triggered not just by the de Tocqueville piece, but because I've heard tales that intense Microsoft lobbying is making some open source advocates in government keep their heads down. This pressure has hit several of our planned speakers at the Open Source Convention. Below are excerpts from two recent mail messages I received from one of the conference planners. Names and other identifying information are deleted to protect the privacy of the individuals in question, who already appear to be in trouble:

I have been talking with name deleted. Long story short, other speaker name deleted called this morning and said he can't do the talk. I got the impression he was in deep doo doo with his bosses. He asked me to jerk him off the web site quickly, along with any reference in the description to name of government agency deleted. He said the talk can in no way appear to represent agency.

and

name deleted is the speaker for session title deleted I called him earlier in the week to ask how things were going. He said that he just ... walked into a beehive. Said he was thrown into [his boss's] office and told that he may not speak about anything having to do with name of agency deleted. So, he said he can speak on a different topic if you like, or cancel. He is planning to come to the conference regardless of the outcome and will pay if he must.

Now, I can't say that these two about-faces from speakers who were originally eager to proclaim their agency's use of open source have any relationship to the fact that Microsoft is pouring money into lobbying against open source as anti-competitive, anti-American, and a potential aid to terrorism. But the recent FUD sure can't help open source advocates in government. (It's also true that government officials are under strict regulations about what they can endorse, in order to keep a level playing field.) Nonetheless, it seems to me that there's a real need to understand what's going on. Government procurement and standards-setting systems are byzantine and impenetrable, so it's hard to follow the money or find out who makes decisions about software, and on what they base those decisions.

I'd like to see more serious debate about public policy regarding software. Like most members of the industry, I believe that less government intervention is better, but once the government does get involved, and companies with full time lobbyists (like Microsoft) are working the issues, it behooves us all to make sure that our voices are heard and the issues thoroughly explored.

If you have information (either positive or negative) about the use of open source in government, or about the pressures that are placed on its advocates, please post the information in the talkback at the end of this article, or if you need to keep some or all of the details private, send me mail (tim at oreilly.com).

And of course, government agencies that use open source software to reduce costs or serve their customers, as well as companies, universities, research labs, and individual users, should stick the course, choosing the software that best meets their needs, rejecting software that unfairly limits their choice or seeks to extract too high a price for the value it delivers, and continuing to share with others, in a cooperative marketplace, tools that can make the pie bigger for everyone.

Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc. Considered by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world, O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, Strata: The Business of Data, the Velocity Conference on Web Performance and Operations, and many others. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim is also a partner at O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, O'Reilly's early stage venture firm, and is on the board of Safari Books Online, PeerJ, Code for America, and Maker Media, which was recently spun out from O'Reilly Media. Maker Media's Maker Faire has been compared to the West Coast Computer Faire, which launched the personal computer revolution.


  • Tim O'Reilly photo Direct Microsoft Lobbying Probably Not a Factor
    2002-07-13 11:27:33  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

    After hearing privately by email from lots of people working with open source in government, I think I've come around to the view expressed by Paul Robichaux. Paul argues that the speakers who had trouble because of speaking at our conference were most likely affected by government bureaucrats who don't like their employees speaking out without permission from their superiors, rather than by direct Microsoft lobbying. As Paul put it, the mandate is "shut up and get back to work."


    Here are snippets from some of the comments I received:


    • "Thanks, but I probably shouldn't have anything posted without pre-pub review (one of the little silly rules we have)."


    • You can use my comments, but "I do need to see it first so I don't run afoul of our PAO." (On my query, "what the **** is a PAO?, I got the answer, "My public affairs officer. She makes sure I won't say something that embarrasses the Army."


    • "If you want any kind of statement or information from the Census, I am happy to work with my Public Information office to provide you with something that works for everyone."

    In short, as one person put it: "The Cluetrain notwithstanding, most organizations greatly disapprove of their employees making position statements that have not been given executive approval." If this is true in corporate America, it seems to be doubly true in government offices. (ClueTrain Manifesto here.)


    While I do think that the FUD in the de Tocqueville Institution report should have Microsoft hanging their heads in shame, and this type of lobbying may make bureaucrats more likely to want to keep a low profile, it does sound like there was likely no direct lobbying regarding the speakers whom I mentioned cancelling their talks at the Open Source Conference.

  • Tim O'Reilly photo Government Support and Enron
    2002-07-13 09:30:44  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

    Curt Howland sent me the following email, and gave permission to repost:

      In an otherwise remarkably astute and well present article, I have only one nit to pick:

      Enron did not bother to warp the power *market* in California, it actively utilized the California energy *regulators* to maximize profits.

      One reason that Enron folded so quickly, as opposed to WorldCom, is that Enron had almost no actual capital goods. Enron consisted almost entirely of government contracts and mercantilist regulations that benefited its position. It didn't actually produce anything.

      Once government support for its efforts evaporated, so did Enron. The "market" worked perfectly to eliminate an inefficient organization.
  • Tim O'Reilly photo Open Source at NIST
    2002-07-13 08:18:09  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

    Przemek Klosowski sent me the following information by email, and gave me permission to re-post:


    I live fairly low on the totem pole, and I don't have a high-level answer to your questions, but I have some observations that you may find interesting. I am a physicist working at National Institute of Standards and Technology, a government research institute; we have been using Linux since 1994, and Open Source (OS) since forever; we had a feature article in (and our mug shots on the cover of) the Linux Journal few years back, about our use of Open Source in our laboratory. We were also honored with an Outstanding Achievement in implementing mission critical projects using OS, given by a local technology council. I am also the organizer of the local Linux User Group.


    Overall, NIST computer environment is dominated by You-Know-Who, but there is a strong Linux presence, both due to a strong Unix tradition (NIST=POSIX), and to the effects of the PC/Linux revolution. A vocal group, of which I am a member, tries to get the IT management here to consider officially supporting OS , both because of existing deployment, and because we believe that it might be a good and cost-effective solution to managing the ever-increasing PC herd.


    We had some encouraging meetings with management, and haven't really seen any pushback. The dominant negative reaction was probably scepticism, mostly coming from our peers, based on the "let's just buy a solution". We were unsuccessful in making a principled argument a' la' Nunez (the Peruvian politician), who proposed that governments should use OS for fundamental reasons of transparency (if you haven't read his letter, I recommend it)---perhaps because we aren't good at that kind of thing, perhaps because the current climate is not conducive to deep ideological reasoning about the functioning of the government.


    We seemed to get most success by making narrow arguments about cost, security and administration. We are proposing a pilot project, using/supporting OS for internal functions, to start this fall.
  • Tim O'Reilly photo Open Source Business Models and Palm Development
    2002-07-13 08:06:54  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

    In his blog, Marc Hedlund points to falch.net, a good example of a commercial software developer layering its products on top of a GPL'd software base.
  • Tim O'Reilly photo What Does Sun Really Think of Open Source?
    2002-07-09 19:34:36  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

    A reader who preferred to remain anonymous sent me a message with this title, and gave me permission to post it here. (It reminds me of a comment made by Doc Searls in a recent conversation, to wit, that big companies "play IP like a chessboard", using open source and proprietary licenses as part of a strategic game that includes competitors as well as customers and developers.)

    Here's what the person wrote:

    Your mention of Microsoft's opposition to open source is apropos, but hardly astonishing. A deeper appraisal of the true context of
    open source in the larger IT community, would explore the ambivalent
    relationship it enjoys with its so-called supporters among the large technology companies.

    Everybody loves open source until its very success--producing a quality
    free product--threatens existing revenue streams.

    The key battle going on right now is the one for controlling the future
    standard of the web operating system. Sun and IBM both fight for the J2EE
    flavor of the web OS. IBM, which can rely on hardware and services revenue, can afford to integrate open source in their business model, as regards Linux or the Axis web services framework they put out through Apache. Microsoft fights J2EE with .NET. And they all fight JBoss, whose monthly downloads (now at 230k for June, per Sourceforge) make it the de facto web OS reference implementation.
  • Indian edu institution
    2002-07-09 05:04:54  balasub2 [View]

    Hi,
    That was a well written piece. I was the faculty in-charge of a public funded research institution in Bangalore, India, and I extensively used Open Source to cut down costs, to ensure transparency in the use of resources, and to have iron clad security.

    I will cite an example for the transparency part. We have a Xerox/Tektronix 860DP color printer, and a HP4100 monochrome one. We use a linux 486 PC (with 12MB RAM, no monitor, no keyboard, no mouse) as the print server. The print spooling software is LPRNG (lprng.com). Users can print files from Windows or other Unix workstations. The authentication and accounting is done at the print server, and every print is logged. We wrote a small script to HTML-ize the accounting logs, and display it on our website automatically. So, every user can see how much he/she has printed for this month.

    This way anyone can see how the resources are being used. Open Source is an important component in the proper use of public funds.

    There are several other examples I can narrate. So, let me just say this:
    Open Source keeps our institution at the cutting edge!

    Best,
    Dr. Balasubramanian Sundaram, bala@jncasr.ac.in
  • Support - The Missing Issue
    2002-07-05 15:55:03  jpittges@yahoo.com [View]

    While this article covered many good arguments against open source, it did not address the issue of support. If a software vendor builds a product that includes open source components and one of those components has a major problem, what recourse does the vendor have? When the vendor's customers want an immediate solution, who does the vendor call to get support for the open source component?

    The article points out two major advantages of open source: (1) the vendor can fix the software themselves, and (2) the entire open source community can fix the problem. However, when the vendor sells their product they have the liability to fix major problems with their product and they cannot rely on their own staff to know their open source components well enough to fix bugs and they cannot rely on the open source community to fix problems in a timely manner. This is a major risk for a software vendor.

    Therefore, vendors like RedHat actually sell support contracts thereby making open source components viable for other vendors.
  • Jacek Artymiak photo Educate governments
    2002-07-05 13:31:15  Jacek Artymiak | [View]

    Dear Tim,

    I've read your article with great interest, and I agree with you on most issues. But I feel that there is one variable missing from the equation describing the current (sad) state of the industry. While monopolistic behavior that covers the lack of innovation is a very important factor, but another, no less important, is the lack of education on the part of the clients. And I don't mean the private companies, who usually know what they want pretty well, but the governments around the world who build systems, which affect the lives of millions of people.

    That lack of understanding of how important it is to use open standards, for example, is especially visible among governments and their agencies around the world. Lobbying and educating people
    responsible for developing specifications for systems used by governments and their agencies should be the top priority of all Open Source advocates.

    Let me give you an example of how the lack of education on the part of a government can kill competition.

    When Polish Zaklad Ubezpieczen Spolecznych (the Office of Social Security, which collects compulsory medical insurance and pension contributions) started work on the specification for a computerized system, which would improve and simplify the paperwork required to collect compulsory social security contributions for all citizens of Poland, its representatives forgot
    to ensure that the protocol used to transfer data from the client application to ZUS servers is open, well documented and available to every developer who needs to use it. What happened was quite predictable: the developers of the system, the largest IT company in Poland, followed the path of the least resistance and developed only one client application, one that runs only on the Microsoft Windows platform. Although the client application is distributed for free, the details of the protocol are kept secret and the source code of the client application is not available.
    As a result, it is not possible to develop client applications for Linux, FreeBSD, or Mac OS X. The current social secutory law requires that every Polish business employing more than 20 people has to buy a PC running Microsoft Windows (or use services of an accountant who has one). Because ZUS agreed to keep the protocol specification secret (I suspect that they'd say this was done for the security reasons, if we asked them) the developer of the system was able to lock any potential competitors out and, as a side effect, imposed a sort of "Microsoft tax" on Polish businesses. I stress the words "potential competitors," because companies interested in
    developing client software compatible with the ZUS system for platforms other than Windows would not compete with the developer of the system. But
    big players don't think that way.

    While many people are eager to accuse the management of shady lobbying, I blame the lack of education and foresight on the part of the client,
    who did not foresee that opening the transmission protocol would create a level playing field for many companies who are not in direct competition with the main developer. This would in turn benefit many businesses who could use older hardware and free operating systems
    instead of having to buy new hardware and Microsoft Windows.

    The case of ZUS shown an acute need for educating governments about open standards, open source, and how that openness leads to more efficient and less expensive government. It also creates a more diverse environment for the industry. In the end, everyone wins. When these things are forgotten, everyone but one company wins, which is not very good for the rest of the industry.

    Sorry for my ramblings, but your article was one of those that I cannot leave uncommented. :-)
  • Contact from Argentina
    2002-07-05 08:39:16  boyero [View]

    The Government of Peru is not the only one in LA using Open Source .
    At our workplace (see below ) Open Source is up & running.Funny enough ,we dont have strong arguments with Microsoft,because we use both worlds .Interoperation and cost/benefit ratio are the key agreement points(In irish terms its the Good Friday basic stop-the-fire truce)

    As Ill be at OSC by the end of July I want to "pitch a ball" .Can we make something at OSC to join Government people from the undervelopped world (rich OECD people welcome) to share ideas,etc ?
    My name is jorge pintos jpintos@gafisud.org
    and we are using Open Source according to this:

    Country :Argentina
    Govnmt :Federal
    Area :dept of Justice www.jus.gov.ar

    Main Topics:

    1.Public Officers Corruption Control:

    www.ddjjonline.gov.ar
    25.000 employees control
    120.000 transactions /year

    see also soporte.jus.gov.ar/ControlIngreso.cgi
    Tools:
    Linux
    Perl
    Apache
    PostgresQL
    Komodo
    GNuPg
    The client portion uses VB 6.0 on (roughly) 30000 PCs with all the jungle of Win9x,NT,2000,Me ..

    2.Public Registrar
    As ditto plus an interface to Oracle interface .


    3.A good portion of the email uses Courier with Linux and NetBSD.( 1000 users )



    4.We are moving to Java,Tomcat and so on.


    Best Regards
    Jorge Pintos
  • Open Source in the Government? How about Europe?
    2002-07-03 01:59:11  kehva [View]

    Hello,

    Interesting article for a change. I might be somewhat biased or my opinions at least (for being an European and Linuses classmate) but you seem to forget European governments...

    The plural form here is the clue & some reasons why:

    1) The former "second world" also known as central & eastern Europe has a dozen or two countries and governments that can't afford legimate MS-licences... I've seen some stats saying that the slow migration towards licence legimity is not showing up in MS-lincense sales but in the Open Source deployment. It's genarally regarded as a "de facto" fact that the localized versions of Star Office or some other "MS-Office killer" is going to blow the lid...

    2) Same applies pretty much for the northern and western Europe (with another two dozens of governments) - for different reasons though... of which "the controll" you mentioned is not among the least.
    It is also "common knowledge" in the business that every time George W. Bush makes a comment on U.S. foreign policy the MS is hard hit... Europeans (hopefully) don't go into blowing or crashing things/people but have started to "vote" with their consumption - especially now when "Americans" have brought up this MS's Americanism... So there is price for not ratifying Kioto - MS is just one of the payers...

    Need facts? Do queries like:
    +Scandinavia +government +communal +linux
    or
    +Germany +government +parliament +linux
    or
    +European Union +linux
    etc.

    I'd be very surprised if the government and communal systems (including PC's, wether connected or not, from elementary schools to military) were NOT running more than 68% linux by/during 2006 in northern Europe, more than 78% of legimate licenses in eastern & middle Europe and 56% (average but with bigger variations by country as in N,M or E) in western europe excluding U.K. & Ireland which are somewhat difficult to estimate...

    I could chat for hours about this but I guess basically I'm saying that the lessons learned in the 80's in "electronizing" banking and in the 90's mobilizing communication are practically leaving the European public sector no choice but Open Source and Europe has a pretty "hefty" public sector wouldn't you say ;-)

    Best Regards,

    Markku Luoto




  • Tim O'Reilly photo Open Source at US Army STRICOM
    2002-07-02 14:25:21  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

    Mike Macedonia, chief scientist at the Army STRICOM, sent in the following message by email, and gave me permission to reproduce it here.

      At the US Army Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation Command (STRICOM), we are doing a lot of work in with Linux. Moreover we have made it a general policy to have our software open to government users and contractors. Our OneSAF program won an award last year for pioneering the use of open source in the government.

      The rationale is that we build simulators and simulations that have a wide customer base which wants to be able to modify/customize the capabilities (hence, the source) of the systems. In fact, Rand did just that with OneSAF to support their studies for the military.

      We also want our contractors and users to innovate with the code. OneSAF has spawned several other products because several hundred organizations have the code. It is in our interest to have the most advanced capabilities in our systems and this comes through the sharing of our codebase.

      The Army generally keeps these systems around for up to 20 years -- open source gives us some hope that we will be able to evolve these platforms. It is amazing the amount of software in the Department of Defense that is still running on funky versions of dead operating systems because of concern that the drivers won't work if they upgrade. We got a taste of the problem with Y2K.

      Another factor is cost when you are talking about deploying something to thousands of users.

      Finally, we work with lots of universities doing cutting edge stuff. Most of what they are developing on is Java and Linux. We can take their work and immediately apply it to our advanced systems like OneSAF.

      thanks,

      -- Mike Macedonia,
      Chief Scientist
      STRICOM
  • So why are vendors disappearing?
    2002-07-02 09:23:08  trots [View]

    It's not clear in this article what the answer is. Is it lack of profits? Industry malaise? Or are all the open source people being hired by the big corporations?

    Tom
    • Tim O'Reilly photo So why are vendors disappearing?
      2002-07-02 15:18:12  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

      I believe that the profits available to open source software vendors were not sufficient to sustain the level of expectations generated by the hype. In general, small software firms struggle. It seems to be a winner-takes-all business (or at least one with increasing returns), with a few big firms garnering huge profits, and small firms struggling to get by. But open source commoditizes some of the revenue streams that were previously reaped by the big, successful vendors. This is good for users, and for vendors who don't have a strict sale model.

      As I've written on numerous occasions, the idea that the only way to profit from software is to put it in a box and sell it, or to sell support services if you can't put it in a box and sell it, misses the point. Software enables other businesses, just as the free software of the internet enabled everyone from internet service providers to web design firms to DNS registration services. Verisign has a very profitable business, which they achieved by monopolizing a class of services built on free software (BIND).

      My point is not that you can't make money with free software, but that it shifts the way that you make it. You make it not by selling the software but by using it. This may mean that users reap the benefits directly, or that a "vendor" sells services based on the software.

      My argument to companies like Yahoo! that sells services based on free software is that they need to make it more of an imperative to support the free software ecology. But that's another whole article...
      • Jacek Artymiak photo So why are vendors disappearing?
        2002-07-06 04:53:52  Jacek Artymiak | [View]

        [...]

        "You make it not by selling the software but by using it. "

        [...]

        That's exactly how I'm making money with free software. But I also try to contribute to the free software environment by releasing my own software (FreeMovie, tdmagic, pyxhtml, etc.).
  • Doesn't Longhorn/Palladium threaten to make the cause mute?
    2002-07-02 07:55:22  coreolyn [View]

    As for government usage I have but one simple example, would you trust an election run on .NET or one that could be run on software that could be reviewed down to it's source?

    For myself I feel I am a poster boy for open source though I have no released Code. I started as a VAR writing via MS tools before they were close to working and losing my shirt in OS and Tool liscenses. Linux/Apache/Perl gave me a way out of the deficit programming loop MS had put me in, and provided me an opportunity to learn UNIX application development which would have otherwise been an unavailable option. This gave me an ever increasing value in the IT employment world.

    If the Palladium & Longhorn initiatives go through how is the next talented kid that can't afford College and the yearly licensing abuses supposed to have a chance? What value will GPL(or variants) have anymore?

    If I understand the architecture for this latest initiative if I compile my own apache or linux kernel it's not going to work as it won't be registered.

    What I don't see in any metrics is the loss of opportunity closed software creates.


  • Government to workers: shut up and get back to work
    2002-07-02 03:57:46  Paul Robichaux | O'Reilly Author [View]

    I don't think that the nefarious hand of Microsoft has anything to do with this; most agencies come down like a load of bricks on contractors or employees who dare to speak publically. I base this experience on my own tenure as a contractor to NASA and the US Navy, as well as living in Huntsville, which could legitimately be called 'The Military-Industrial Complex City."

    Brief example #1: as a freshly hired programmer working on support software for space shuttle payloads, I posted to comp.lang.ada. My post, all 5 lines of it, pointed out that NASA was considering using Ada for some space station software. 30 minutes later, I got a phone call from an associate administrator at NASA HQ telling me, in essence, to keep my yap shut.

    Brief example #2: I forwarded a post from sci.space.shuttle to comp.risks. That earned me a heated conference call with the information security managers at the Marshall and Kennedy Space Flight Centers. I can only imagine what it got Ken Hollis, the NASA employee who posted to sci.space.shuttle in the first place :)

    I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point. Many government managers do not suffer their employees to make public comments or presentations-- however innocuous-- about their agencies' business. I suspect that is the cause of the effect Tim reports.
  • Open Source the Engine for the Linux Movement
    2002-07-01 20:13:14  glennj [View]

    As one who has worked in the computer services industry for many years, our firm "happened" on
    Linux in trying to solve several problems. We tried
    Linux and it worked great, even in 1995. It immediately solved some of our problems with building firewalls all the way to using it on the
    desktop to solve some madding problems in Windows 95 and Office 95.

    We at first sold Linux solutions to our clients by giving them an alternative ..... MS solutions or Linux solutions. The cost difference was always
    so great that we never had a client select the MS
    solution. After that we started to look very
    carefully at the "engine" that drives the Linux
    movement and concluded that without Open Source
    or Free Software Linux would still be languishing
    with Minux.

    The fact is that Free Software, yes the movement
    that Richard Stallman built is the reason most
    of us now know about Linux and Open Source if
    not Free software.

    I'm very happy to see that Tim O'Reilly is finally
    recognizing the GPL for what it is ... the start
    of a software revolution that not only provides
    freedom of use of software to all users, but
    also a breekthrough that will lead to better
    software development and thus improved productivity.

    Those who want to look at the glass as half full
    will find many reasons to be concerned, as Free
    software will decentralize control and development
    of software, as well as lead to entirely
    different channels of distribution. However in
    the interium GPL and proprietary software can
    work together as long as GPL code is not
    expropriated and actually incorporated into
    proprietary code. However you have to realize
    that many in the proprietary world view this
    as a hinderance to complete control. They are
    correct if that is what they are after.

    Businesses on a worldwide basis will eventually
    have to embrace Free Software or face severe
    competitive pressures. Just like our clients
    who seven years ago were given a choice, it is
    very difficult to "market" a 10+ to 1 price
    difference, especially when deep pocketed
    hardware vendors are supporting Open Source.

  • You forgot one obvious success story Tim.
    2002-07-01 18:49:56  mintslice [View]

    There's this little company called O'Rielly that seems to be making quite a pretty penny from Open Source. They've managed to cash in on the service side of open source, which is really what open source vendors do.

    Vendors don't sell the software so much as a service. Redhat doesn't sell Linux, it sells a service where they put together the bits and pieces that make up Linux so I don't have to. If I want support (another service) I can get that too.

    In the same way, O'Rielly sells a service, good documentation. O'Rielly has made money from open source by selling what the developers needs, books that document how to use the various tools and applications.

    Congratulations O'Rielly, keep supporting open source.
    • Tim O'Reilly photo You forgot one obvious success story Tim.
      2002-07-02 15:20:47  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

      Yes, of course, O'Reilly is one of the companies that has learned how to make money with open source. But there are many others who dwarf us. I point to Amazon and Yahoo! as exemplars of some of the many companies who made their fortune because of the free software of the Internet; Uunet and other ISPs, not to mention Verisign and other domain registrars, can also give credit to the free software and open source movement for the software that they actually use to deliver their services.
  • Open Source Will Create Jobs
    2002-07-01 11:30:13  grepsedawk [View]

    Listen up, I'm going to say something significant.

    Primary and Secondary schools are going to adopt Open Source software. Students, learning to code, are going to work on Open Source projects. No longer will the professor/teacher assign the same basic spreadsheet program/lab to the students. Who needs 10k basic spreadsheet programs being made each year? Instead, the instructor will give ideas as to which Open Source projects need help, or give guidance on a new project to tackle.

    Working individually in some cases, collaboratively in others, the students will add to, modify, reuse, and improve existing Open Source code, and create new code. Instructors will point out flaws in existing, security holes, and discuss how they got corrected. Students will learn to work together, code better, and feel like they are making meaningful contributions.

    This leads to useful coding going on in classrooms, coupled with real experience being gained by the students. Later, when they seek jobs, they will be able to have had no prior work experience, but point at Perl::Module X, or Control Panel Y, or Apache Worm.z and say they wrote that module, they added to that Control Panel, or they wrote the patch for that worm.

    As Tim points out, the majority of software is for internal consumption at companies. They will be overjoyed to be getting such experienced programmers. They will care little if those programmers have been "tainted with the cancer of the GPL", because they aren't proprietary software sellers.

    Furthermore, the overall market for programmers will grow, not shrink because of open source. There might be fewer proprietary companies out there, but over all job creation will be greater. This is because, with more Open Source Software available to be used, you will need more programmers to manipulate it. Yes, the money will be flowing to different places, than say, Microsoft, but they money will not disappear, and the economy will not go into turmoil.

    Tim has the right answer to the question of whose business Open Source is bad for. ""Whose business? Theirs, or yours [ours]?"
  • Use of open source, GPL
    2002-07-01 11:26:29  dlapine [View]

    GRASS software is used at the Army Corps of Engineers. This is a Geographical
    Information System that allows the users to interact with maps and databases. It's open source software. It competes directly with Esri's Arc-Info. The website for GRASS is at:
    http://www3.baylor.edu/grass/index2.html Forgive me if I make you look up Esri's website. :)

    It's funny that the largest misconception about GPL'd software is that you can't sell it. The reason that this is funny is that so many vendors of propreitary software try to make money not by selling the consumer a copy of their software, but by trying to sell the consumer MANY copies of their software, usually disguised as "bug-fixes", and "updates." The supporters of this pratice of questionable ethical value then scream loudly when someone else offers the consumer a fair value, and control over the software on their computer.

    It really isn't hard to make the analogy that the purchase of a software package is like the purchase of car- and if I wanted a lease, I'd have asked for one. Too many vendors attempt to cloak the sale of a software package in a "lease-like" license, when all the user wants is software that he owns. If I buy a car, I don't want the manufacturer telling me how to drive or where to go. If I want the car dealers service fine; if not, I'm free to have the car serviced elsewhere. GPL makes this possible for software- closed software does not.

    The GPL isn't a threat to traditional vendors who sell closed source software, if the products they sell have value. It's only when they make their money by selling valueless updates and fixes that the market will force them out of business.
    • You can't license GPLed software for money.
      2002-07-06 13:49:02  brettglass [View]

      As the GPL itself says:

      b) You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License.

      This is the poison pill that kills businesses.
      • You can't license GPLed software for money.
        2002-07-17 21:22:38  john_betelgeuse [View]

        "Licensed" is not the same as "sold".

        You can sell your derived work for what ever
        somebody will pay for it, but you may not
        require a license fee.

        As for killing business . . . it does not
        kill business.

        The business MODEL must change, but businesses
        can still make money.

        The problem is that most business people do not
        have the imagination to create new business
        models.
  • Use of open source, GPL
    2002-07-01 11:26:20  dlapine [View]

    GRASS software is used at the Army Corps of Engineers. This is a Geographical
    Information System that allows the users to interact with maps and databases. It's open source software. It competes directly with Esri's Arc-Info. The website for GRASS is at:
    http://www3.baylor.edu/grass/index2.html Forgive me if I make you look up Esri's website. :)

    It's funny that the largest misconception about GPL'd software is that you can't sell it. The reason that this is funny is that so many vendors of propreitary software try to make money not by selling the consumer a copy of their software, but by trying to sell the consumer MANY copies of their software, usually disguised as "bug-fixes", and "updates." The supporters of this pratice of questionable ethical value then scream loudly when someone else offers the consumer a fair value, and control over the software on their computer.

    It really isn't hard to make the analogy that the purchase of a software package is like the purchase of car- and if I wanted a lease, I'd have asked for one. Too many vendors attempt to cloak the sale of a software package in a "lease-like" license, when all the user wants is software that he owns. If I buy a car, I don't want the manufacturer telling me how to drive or where to go. If I want the car dealers service fine; if not, I'm free to have the car serviced elsewhere. GPL makes this possible for software- closed software does not.

    The GPL isn't a threat to traditional vendors who sell closed source software, if the products they sell have value. It's only when they make their money by selling valueless updates and fixes that the market will force them out of business.
    • Use of open source, GPL
      2002-07-01 11:27:56  dlapine [View]

      Excuse me, I didn't mean to post this twice. The web server gave me a proxy error when I tried to post, and I assumed that it didn't go through
  • Tim O'Reilly photo The Clothesline Paradox
    2002-06-30 22:32:55  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

    Victor Yodaikan of Finite State Machine Labs: The RTLinux Company (www.fsmlabs.com, www.rtlinux.com) sent me an email message, which he said it was OK to post here, along with my reply.

    Victor wrote:

      "I can't believe that people still take the Eric Raymond article seriously. Scanning the employment section of a newspaper will show you that there are many more people working in construction and maintainence than designing and selling building materials, so what? Software is both a construction material and a final product. All those people who build software for "use" depend on software products, from Java and Perl to Visual C++. In fact, much of the software "use" industry is like the huge machining industry that used to dwarf the manufacturing industry in the early days of automobiles. It is large in proportion to how much extra work is needed to make the products actually usable. You can look at the vast army of programmers needed to maintain and customize Oracle and believe that this proves that Oracle has little actual value as a product, but it seems pretty far fetched."

    I replied:

    No one said that software has "little actual value as a product", just that
    if you only measure the software that is sold, you miss a great deal of the
    market. This is a variation of what solar activist Steve Baer called "the
    clothesline paradox" in his 1975 book Sunspots:

      "If you take down your clothesline and buy an electric clothes dryer, the electric consumption of the nation rises slightly. If you go in the other direction and remove the electric clothes dryer and install a clothesline, the consumption of electricity drops slightly, but there is no credit given anywhere on the charts and graphs to solar energy, which is now drying the clothes...."

    We need to move away from absolutist thinking. I'm not saying we should
    have only user-contributed software, and no software vendors. But I'm
    trying to counter the idea that only software vendors are in the software
    business. Microsoft has been working this idea pretty hard, arguing that
    the GPL is bad for business because software vendors can't take the
    resulting code and re-use it. My point: why should we care? Other vendors
    can't take Microsoft's code and reuse it either! If the users of that
    software can take it and work with it, more power to them. And if the users
    want commercial vendors behind their software, more power to them. I'm for
    choice and the marketplace. But I want a marketplace that recognizes all
    the players, not just those that fit into the familiar models.

    Victor then replied in turn:

      I'm ok with that. Microsoft's argument is nonsense for many reasons: including that fact that a very large percentage of computer/software/telcom technology was both developed and proved out at taxpayer expense and the lack of innovation in the proprietary market is striking. What I think is the main story of Linux, however, is that the core Linux developers showed far greater tenacity, ambition, and sense of the market than did a generation of pathetic corporate "competitors" who queued up to be pummeled by Redmond.

      On the other hand, the theory that software developers should live by support and customization alone has been shown to not work well in most sectors. In many cases, the "support/customization model" turns into "your software that makes my product more valuable should be free". And I think that this subsidizes a profoundly broken model of how technology business should work.

    I'm in agreement with Victor that it's a non-starter to think that open source businesses can subsist only on revenue from support and customization. (See for example my article Lessons from the Layoffs at LinuxCare, written at the height of the open source VC frenzy.) But that isn't my point here. My point is that vendors are only a small part of the total software ecosystem. And claims such as those that Microsoft has been making, either directly or through shills like the de Tocqueville Institution, that what's bad for Microsoft is bad for the entire software industry, need to be contradicted.
  • An umbrella response to the older comments to this article
    2002-06-30 16:39:07  xitnalta [View]

    BrettGlass, most of the time you seem to know what you're talking
    about and I'm writing this with some respect for most of your
    statements. I hope you see that I'm not an ignorant fanatist. But
    nonetheless, there are some mistakes and completely misleading
    statements in your postings that I have to regard as FUD. I want you
    to get at least the facts right.

    First of all and most obviously, you say that the GNU GPL prohibits
    anyone from selling software that is licensed with it. This is a
    blatant lie. I've read the GNU GPL carefully from top to bottom (so
    I'm a non-existent developer from your point of view - you seem to
    think that no developer would read more than the preamble - I would
    rather say that most developers of GNU GPL-licensed software HAVE read
    the GNU GPL) and it doesn't say that GNU GPL-licensed software has to
    be given away gratis (see http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html). It
    only mentions a fee for physical transfers or warranty protections,
    but it also doesn't restrict profit to these two areas.

    Several companies and organizations both big and small are selling GNU
    GPL software: the Free Software Foundation (which isn't just Richard
    Stallman), various GNU/Linux distributors (such as Caldera, RedHat,
    SuSE, Connectiva, Mandrake, etc.), Static Free Software (see
    http://www.staticfreesoft.com/ and read
    http://www.free-soft.org/FSM/english/issue03/paybills.html),
    Linuxcare, IBM, and many more.

    Read http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/ for more information on the ways
    to earn money with Free Software.

    Secondly, I want to give you my definition of "commercial" and
    "proprietary", which should be quite similar to that one of the FSF:

    Commerce has to do with earning money, so if you have to pay for a
    software package, it is commercial. Because the GNU GPL doesn't say
    you have to give such licensed software away gratis, GNU GPL software
    may be commercial.

    Proprietary software is software that has an owner and that has no
    publicly available source code. (I can proove the second part of my
    definition by translating 'proprietary' into German using
    http://dict.leo.org/.) Because the GNU GPL is about giving every user
    (including every future user) the chance to
    read/study/interpret/use/modify/copy/redistribute/sell the source
    code, and everybody has almost the same rights (apart from the
    copyright holder, who can distribute his own contributions under a
    different license), GNU GPL software is definitively not proprietary.

    On to the next topic: you seem to merge Stallman's historical
    furiousness against Symbolics with the birth of the GNU GPL, but, in
    fact, these two events are years apart from each other, and just
    because Stallman was angry because Symbolics destroyed the hacker
    culture of MIT's AI lab doesn't mean he became angry with each and
    every startup company. He rather compares the situation back then in
    the lab with World War I, when Germany invaded Belgium. It wasn't
    just the launch of Symbolics that made him angry, but a decision in
    1982 to cease collaboration with the AI lab. He then went over to LMI
    (Lisp Machines, Inc.) to "help France". He didn't have anything
    against LMI, because he was neutral and LMI never did him any harm,
    but he didn't stand Symbolics, because it ceased collaboration. You
    can find the story from the view of Stallman (and you can't tell me
    that this guy would lie to everybody consciously about historical
    facts) in "Free as in Freedom",
    http://www.oreilly.com/openbook/freedom/.

    I started reading your comments quite curiously and liked the valid
    points you made, but became somehow disappointed of you not even being
    aware of the crucial facts.
    • Dead wrong.
      2002-07-06 13:46:46  brettglass [View]

      You write:

      > I would rather say that most developers of GNU GPL-licensed software HAVE read the GNU GPL) and it doesn't say that GNU GPL-licensed software has to
      be given away gratis (see http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html)

      It is clear, from the above, that either YOU have not read the GPL or are intentionally trying to deceive the public about its content. It says:

      b) You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License.

      The rest of your message is FUD as well.
  • You forgot someone... Ximian!
    2002-06-29 11:58:22  graveleya [View]

    Why no mention of Ximian? They're still very much alive, growing, and doing very interesting things.
    • Tim O'Reilly photo You forgot someone... Ximian!
      2002-06-29 12:59:59  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

      The main reason is that I don't have any inside information on how ximian is doing from a financial point of view. They continue to be one of the most interesting companies in open source from a technical point of view, and Miguel is speaking at OSCON. But it would be embarrassing to cite them as a success if in fact they are just burning venture capital. I know that the companies I mentioned as successes have real revenues; because Ximian is still private and I'm not on the inside, I don't have that same knowledge about them.


      They are, however, a very interesting company.

  • Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
    2002-06-29 11:07:43  brettglass [View]

    Tim, it appears that your very libertarian view of licensing -- namely, that someone can choose any license he wishes for his or her code -- may have prevented you from reaching an obvious conclusion that follows from the absence of the "barking dog" -- that the GPL and other viral, anti-business licenses really do destroy companies and programmers' livelihoods. It's now been proven.

    The danger in such a "laissez-fair" view of licensing is that if many people adopt it, it will inevitably and inexorably lead to a very undesirable situation in the future, as I'll explain below.

    But first, let's talk about the issue of which licenses are ethical and conscionable. A license is a contract. And some contracts -- for example, leases that try to take advantage of tenants -- are unconsionable. The GPL, by intentionally setting up a situation in which programmers' markets are destroyed *and* preventing them from profiting from the reuse of code which end users can have for free, is likewise unconscionable.

    Do we want have vendors around to support open source software, and/or to develop it beyond the point of adequacy? If so, we must not only favor BSD-style licenses (and not anti-programmer, anti-business licenses such as the GPL and the Sleepycat license) but engage in a formal fight to have the courts declare such licenses to be unenforceable.

    The situation vis-a-vis Microsoft and the GPL is particularly interesting and ironic. The GPL helps Microsoft, because it does far more harm to Microsoft's competitors then to Microsoft itself. So, why is Microsoft -- which never does anything that it does not believe is in its best interests -- making negative comments about the GPL? Because it hopes to persuade people to shun it? Not at all. Microsoft is not that foolhardy. It's quite clear that if this were Microsoft's goal, this would not be an effective way to achieve it.

    My belief is that Microsoft, seeing that it is helped by the GPL, is seeking to inflame those who embrace the GPL into spreading it further. In a simple application of reverse psychology, Microsoft is promoting the emergence of a duopoly: a world in which one has a choice *only* between Microsoft and GPLed software. Since many businesses will always be uncomfortable with GPLed software (due to the GPL's anti-business purpose and also because they want someone to be accountable when software breaks), this is a good outcome for Microsoft. Microsoft can maintain a large market share, and won't have to compete with the real threat to its monopoly: young upstart companies that might produce better commercial products. These companies will be killed in the cradle by the GPL. Microsoft will enjoy a secure and stable situation, and consumers will lose. They'll have but two choices: GPLed software or Microsoft. Gates and Stallman, who both have dreams of world domination, will split the turf, leaving none for anyone else. This is the situation that's coming, unless we do something.
    • Oops! Typo in the above
      2002-06-29 13:46:25  brettglass [View]

      In the above, "laissez-fair" should be "laissez-faire." (Yes, I really do know my French; it's my typing that needs improvement. ;-)
    • Tim O'Reilly photo Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
      2002-06-29 13:09:07  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

      Brett, I do share your preference for BSD-style licenses, and if GPL-oriented developers are trying to take advantage of their users with a contract that they don't fully understand, I would share your concern. (I have seen this in some cases, and in fact cited one in a past article on this subject, where the developer was exulting that his bosses didn't understand what he was doing by GPLing the code.) But I believe that most GPL software developers are in fact quite ethical, even idealistic, and most users understand the consequences fairly well. The GPL is a reasonable choice for many situations.


      I'll also point that all those millions of PCs you cite as dwarfing software built for use rely quite heavily on that very software. As I've been pointing out ad nauseam since 1998, any one of them that uses the internet relies at least on Bind, and likely on Sendmail, Apache, and Perl as well, for much of its work. The Microsoft TCP/IP stack was adapted from the Berkeley stack, and much of this software, developed in and shared by the commons, has made its way into proprietary commercial software.


      As to your claim that many software startups have failed as a result of the GPL, you must balance that with the numbers of proprietary software startups that have also failed. It's a case of Sturgeon's law, not of some unique failing of the GPL. The history of the high tech industry is littered with failures; they are the soil from which new startups grow.

      • Comments sidesteps the point of this article???
        2002-06-30 19:43:59  mintslice [View]

        Maybe I missed something when reading this article, but the point of this article seemed to be that while the GPL might not be good for the businesses that sell software (and particularly their bottom lines), that it's great for businesses that want solutions to their problems.

        I'm sure that there are many programmers that will bemoan the effect of open source and the GPL on their profit lines, but the reality is that the end users - businesses, home users, small companies, etc - don't want software that does something, they want software that let's them do what they need to do.

        The reality is that proprietary approaches limit the end users ability to get on with the job, and open source enable's the end user.

        The GPL has two things in it's favor:

        1. Companies can create solutions without having to code everything, while keeping costs to a minimum. As Tim said, most software developed is used in-house to address the needs of the company. It's not sold, there for the GPL allows companies to share from a rich pool of software. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how software is developed, as long as it meets the needs of the company.

        2. Coders feel comfortable with the GPL, because the GPL doesn't leave them feeling used and abused. Imagine spending you spare time developing software that anyone can use only to find that someone has used your code, failed to acknowlege it, and returned nothing.

        For example, while Microsoft has quietly used the TCP/IP stack code from BSD to solve a problem they couldn't address themselves, they have not only snuck the code in without so much as a thankyou to the developers, but they've publicly ridiculed the source of the code, saying open source is bad. If I'd developed that code, I think I might have a sour taste in my mouth.

        The GPL is about getting things done. It's about solving problems. It's also up front. There's not hidden agenda. You can read the license and choose for yourself.

        I appreciate that some coders may be scared by the implications of the GPL, and it's affect on their ability to make money - Microsoft is certainly trembling in it's pants over consequences of free software that could replace it's cash cows - but with 95% of programmers producing software that meets a specific need with no intent to sell that code, I think concern over it's consequences is a little over stated.
        • Not at all.
          2002-07-06 13:42:51  brettglass [View]

          You write:

          > The GPL is about getting things done. It's about solving problems. It's also up front. There's not hidden agenda. You can read the license and choose for yourself.

          This is absolutely incorrect. The GPL is anything BUT "upfront." In fact, its preamble is intentionally deceptive. It states that the purpose of the license is to promote "freedom," when in fact its purpose is to deny freedom -- and, by doing so, destroy programmers of commercial software and their businesses.
          • Not at all.
            2002-07-17 21:31:56  john_betelgeuse [View]

            > This is absolutely incorrect. The GPL is
            > anything BUT "upfront."

            Wrong. The GPL is remarkably easy to read,
            and quite clear, for a legal document.

            > In fact, its preamble is intentionally
            > deceptive.

            No, it's not.

            You may believe what you want, but the preamble
            is not deceptive.

            Surprisingly large numbers of people, however,
            do not understand that the word "free" has
            more than one definition. You may be one
            of them.

            > It states that the purpose of the license
            > is to promote "freedom,"

            And, it does so admirably. Due to the GPL,
            my freedoms are very well protected.

            > when in fact its purpose is to deny
            > freedom --

            A bald, inaccurate and totally unsupported
            assertion.

            The purpose of the GPL is indeed to protect
            freedom, your belief otherwise not with standing.

            > and, by doing so, destroy programmers
            > of commercial software and their businesses.

            Wrong again. The GPL is not designed to
            destroy commercial software and the software
            business.

            It MAY eventually change the software business
            model . . . but it will not destroy it.

            A mechanic gets paid per hour of work. There
            is absolutely no reason why software producers
            cannot be paid the same way. And as such, there
            is absolutely no reason why that software cannot
            be licensed under the GPL, since after you get
            paid, you're done with it.

            The new business model would be, however, rather
            different from the existing model, where a
            software producer can work for a fixed amount
            of time, then coast for years afterwards.

            While not changing the cost and functionality
            of software much at all, a model where software
            producers get paid for their WORK, not because
            they own a piece of software, would make the
            competitive playing field much fairer, and
            much less fragmented by proprietary file
            formats and networking protocols.

            Or would you prefer a software-like model
            in your automotive braking systems, where
            everytime you hit the pedal, you gotta pay
            your mechanic again?
      • Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
        2002-06-29 14:12:03  brettglass [View]

        Tim writes:

        > Brett, I do share your preference for BSD-style
        > licenses, and if GPL-oriented developers are
        > trying to take advantage of their users with
        > a contract that they don't fully understand,
        > I would share your concern.

        Most often, alas, the developers who stamp the GPL on their code do so for one of two reasons:

        (a) They do not understand the GPL's true intent and history, and rely instead on the false and deceptive assertions in its "preamble. They therefore hurt themselves, their profession, and the world at large while mistakenly believing that they have done something good. And of course, once the cat's out of the bag, it's out; they can't reconsider if they later learn the truth.

        (b)They started with GPLed code to begin with, and so do not have a choice of licenses. This runs counter to your idea, stated in your essay, that they should be able to license the code as they choose. The GPL takes away what you call "Freedom Zero" by coercing developers who make changes to the code to use this coercive and destructive license, and the cycle repeats. Hence the term "viral."

        > (I have seen this in some cases, and in fact
        > cited one in a past article on this subject,
        > where the developer was exulting that his
        > bosses didn't understand what he was doing by
        > GPLing the code.)

        Did you know that Richard Stallman has actively advocated this sort of deception? In his essay, "Why Software Should Not Have Owners," Stallman encouraged programmers to pull this trick on their employers. After I pointed this out, he edited the essay (in Orwellian fashion) so that it no longer contained a direct exhortation, but the implication is still clear: Stallman wanted programmers to use the GPL as a "monkey wrench" within the workings of their organizations.

        > But I believe that most GPL software
        > developers are in fact quite ethical,
        > even idealistic,

        Like some who are driven by idealism (e.g.
        religious fanaticism) to do horrible things,
        they believe themselves to be doing
        something ethical but are not. They have
        been deceived.

        > and most users understand the consequences
        > fairly well.

        I disagree. How many of them realize that they
        are, in fact, perpetuating Microsoft's
        monopoly and harming their colleagues? Would
        they still support the GPL if they understood
        that? I believe not.

        > The GPL is a reasonable choice for many
        > situations.

        I respectfully, but firmly, disagree. A license which is discriminatory, which is intended to destroy people's livelihoods, and which snuffs out competition is not a reasonable choice.

        > I'll also point that all those millions of
        > PCs you cite as dwarfing software built for
        > use

        I assume you mean "in-house use" here...

        > rely quite heavily on that very software.

        Actually, they do not. They rely not on GPLed software but on BSD-licensed software. There's BSD-licensed code on every one of those
        machines, but in most cases no GPLed code. Which underscores the point that open source code licensed under truly free licenses is of great benefit to society, while GPLed code ultimately does more harm than good.

        > As I've been pointing out ad nauseam since
        > 1998, any one of them that uses the
        > internet relies at least on Bind,

        Which is BSD-licensed.

        > and likely on Sendmail,

        Which used to be BSD-licensed, although it recently (alas!) went to a vendor-specific "poison pill" license whose purpose is to prevent anyone but Sendmail, Inc. from making money by enhancing the code.

        > Apache,

        The Apache license is truly free. It is almost identical to the BSD license, with the exception of a few provisions to protect the Apache trademark.

        > and Perl as well,

        Licensed under the Artistic License, which is a truly free license. (It does not restrict what you can do with the code -- only what you may do to the author. In particular, it says that you can't steal the author's thunder.) Larry Wall later threw the GPL zealots a bone by dual-licensing under the GPL, which I believe to be a mistake. Guido Van Rossum has stuck to a BSD-like license for Python, which is a more appropriate course of action.

        > for much of its work. The Microsoft TCP/IP
        > stack was adapted from the Berkeley stack,

        Which is a good thing. Had the Berkeley stack
        not been BSD licensed, Microsoft would have
        tried to force a proprietary protocol upon the
        world.

        > and much of this software, developed in
        > and shared by the commons, has made its way
        > into proprietary commercial software.

        Only if it is not GPLed! Which is, again, my
        point. Open source which is licensed under
        a truly free license is highly beneficial to
        society. It promotes competition, sharing of
        knowledge, and code reuse. The GPL does not, because its intent and effect is to hurt businesses -- especially small start-ups. (As I pointed out above, Stallman wrote the GPL in a fit of rage against startups that were formed by people with whom he once worked.... He attacked them in anger because he blamed them for destroying the "Nirvana" of the MIT AI Lab. See Steve Levy's book "Hackers" for a very well-written account.)

        > As to your claim that many software startups
        > have failed as a result of the GPL, you
        > must balance that with the numbers of
        > proprietary

        The correct word is "commercial." The word
        "proprietary" has a different meaning. It
        implies incompatibility and secrecy, not
        whether or not the code is sold for money.

        > software startups that have also failed.

        Many of the commercial software companies that have failed have done so, at least in part, due to the GPL. Be, Inc. is a good example. Wedged between Microsoft on the one hand and Linux on another, it could not gain market share.

        • Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
          2002-06-30 13:17:28  yodaiken [View]



          > and likely on Sendmail,

          =Which used to be BSD-licensed, although it =recently (alas!) went to a vendor-specific ="poison pill" license whose purpose is to =prevent anyone but Sendmail, Inc. from making =money by enhancing the code.


          So what's your problem with this? Sendmail makes its code available for use and modification, but not for someone else to relabel and resell. Is this wrong either ethically or as a business proposition?

          Why should Sendmail develop software so that the copier with the best marketing can win?


          >Many of the commercial software companies that >have failed have done so, at least in part, due >to the GPL. Be, Inc. is a good example. Wedged >between Microsoft on the one hand and Linux on >another, it could not gain market share.

          Be failed because their technology was weak and their business model was to try to get Apple to buy them - and Apple saw a better opportunity.
        • Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
          2002-06-29 21:40:25  demoryw [View]

          You have made a number of unsubstantiated assertions, in particular your statements regarding Stallman - but I shall not bother retorting those. At best they are foolish propaganda... (Note that I do think you made *some* interesting points).

          Regarding the following, I have a few questions:

          > Open source which is licensed under
          a truly free license is highly beneficial to
          society. It promotes competition, sharing of
          knowledge, and code reuse. The GPL does not, because its intent and effect is to hurt businesses -- especially small start-ups.

          Is is beneficial to society when Microsoft receives a 900% markup on it's products (it is well known that the incremental cost of selling software is negligible, whereas the profits are not)?

          What is to stop companies from destroying the public domain by not releasing any code, ever? Would you be happier, as I might, if the law required that all source code be released, under a BSD style license, after 5 years?
          • Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
            2002-06-29 22:16:51  brettglass [View]

            You write:

            >Is [it] beneficial to society when Microsoft receives a 900% markup on it's products (it is well known that the incremental cost of selling software is negligible, whereas the profits are not)?

            If you were King, exactly what markup would you mandate?

            Clearly, it's not appropriate to dictate a number. The market should reward developers according to what it thinks products are work. If the market is open, free, and fair, and there is fair competition, then developers will get what they deserve.

            The GPL, however, is an attempt to drive the amount that the public is willing to pay to zero, destroying the market and preventing reasonable compensation of developers. Stallman says as much in "The GNU Manifesto," where he decrees that good pay for programmers should be "banned."

            > What is to stop companies from destroying the public domain by not releasing any code, ever?

            Here's an analogous question: What's to keep me from destroying public parks by not donating the land on which my house sits to be used as one?

            I hope that this shows the absurdity of your question. If a company does not release code, it is not "destroying" the public domain. It's merely not contributing to it. And that's OK. Not everyone can afford to give his or her property away.

            > Would you be happier, as I might, if the law required that all source code be released, under a BSD style license, after 5 years?

            Not at all. That would be an unconstitutional "taking." All releases of source code by an author should be voluntary, not compulsory. Many can and will do so, as I do.
            • So called: corrosive effects are not demonstratable.
              2002-07-17 21:39:47  john_betelgeuse [View]

              > If you were King, exactly what markup
              > would you mandate?

              If I were King, I wouldn't mandate markups . . .
              I would mandate that all interfaces, file formats
              and network protocols would be required to be
              released as free and royalty free standards to
              the public.

              A rather nice compromise, I think, in that it
              wouldn't force a company to give away it's
              IP, but it would eliminate the problem of
              "vendor tie-in" by giving customers the ability
              to mix and match components aquired from
              different companies and sources.

              > The market should reward developers
              > according to what it thinks products
              > are work.

              Agreed. However, that is not how the market
              currently works. The market is forced to
              continue buying and using products due to the
              fact that the vendor has "locked them in" to
              its product by encrypting their data in
              secret, proprietary file formats, by locking
              them into secret, proprietary protocols, and
              by unfairly hobbling competition by providing
              information about only an inferior sub-set
              of the interfaces available on thier components.

              > Here's an analogous question: What's to
              > keep me from destroying public parks
              > by not donating the land on which my
              > house sits to be used as one?

              Nothing. So the government may be required
              to exercise eminent domain, pay you, and
              kick you out.

              What was your point? And how does this relate
              to the topic at hand.
            • Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
              2002-06-29 22:47:55  demoryw [View]

              > If you were King, exactly what markup would you mandate?

              Clearly that is not the question. The fact that MS (and others) can charge an exorbitant markup proves that competition is not occurring.

              > Clearly, it's not appropriate to dictate a number.

              Agreed.

              > What's to keep me from destroying public parks by not donating the land on which my house sits to be used as one?

              Please read Adam Smith's "On the Wealth of Nations". He has a whole chapter on the inequity of land ownership.

              > I hope that this shows the absurdity of your question.

              Sorry. It doesn't. :)

              > If a company does not release code, it is not "destroying" the public domain. It's merely not contributing to it

              > And that's OK. Not everyone can afford to give his or her property away.

              Can MS? Sure they can. Why don't they? Because they profit not by working, but by owning, by hording standards (e.g. .doc), by being a monopoly, and by generally hurting the industry and consumers.

              > Not at all. That would be an unconstitutional "taking."

              See the first amendment. "Talking" is not unconstitutional.

              > All releases of source code by an author should be voluntary, not compulsory. Many can and will do so, as I do.

              If the author has any rights at all it because society gives them to him. For example, why are patents and software licenses enforceable (ignoring for the moment the corruption of the federal government by cooperations)? Because we say so.

              But perhaps you're right and we should not make such requirements. Tell me then how do we do it? BSD style licenses will not protect the consumer. Period.
    • Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
      2002-06-29 11:26:52  popefelix [View]

      BrettGlass: "the GPL and other viral, anti-business licenses really do destroy companies and programmers' livelihoods. It's now been proven. "

      Tell me, please, by whom? Please cite your source for this information, that I and anyone else who is curious might see it for ourselves.

      I don't see why the GPL is damaging. If, as Mr. O'Reilly says, most software is written for use, and not for sale, then the GPL does not affect the business of those companies who use GPL software for that purpose. They're not selling it, after all. They don't even have to GPL the applications that they develop, unless they care to redistribute said applications. Where's the problem? All I see is programmers saving time (and that time can then be spent on other useful tasks) by building an application on the foundations of another.

      Let's speak on a broader scale, though. The GPL builds knowledge. Directly, a programmer can look at a piece of GPL code and gain insight into how to solve a particular task. Indirectly, it allows programmers around the world, and over time, to contribute to the sum total of human knowledge, with regard to programming. Programming is a cumulative discipline, like any science. It builds on the work of those who have gone before. When a programmer has access to the work that has gone before, that programmer can build something better than he or she would have been able to do alone.

      The GPL is good for business and good for humanity as a whole.
      • Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
        2002-06-29 12:59:23  brettglass [View]

        You write:

        > Tell me, please, by whom? Please cite your source
        > for this information, that I and anyone else
        > who is curious might see it for ourselves.

        There are none so blind as those who are blinded
        by irrational zealotry.

        Tim points out, in his essay, many examples of
        companies which embraced the GPL and were destroyed
        by it. And there are more which he did not cite.

        > I don't see why the GPL is damaging.

        Again, there are none so blind....

        > If, as Mr. O'Reilly says, most software is
        > written for use, and not for sale,

        An unproven and incorrect assertion. A PC
        bought by a consumer contains virtually
        no software that's "written for use and not
        for sale." The billions of computers in the
        hands of consumers, and the number of copies
        of software on those computers, dwarf the
        number of copies of products written for
        the internal use of companies.

        > All I see is programmers saving time

        For the third time, "there are none so blind."

        A programmer seeking to produce a product for
        sale CANNOT use GPLed code his work unless
        he is willing to give up all rewards for that
        work. The programmer's time is wasted as he
        needlessly reimplements. Microsoft certainly
        likes this.... It hobbles a would-be competitor.
        To properly encourage developers to write new
        and better code, a license which is not anti-
        business must be used. The BSD license and other
        truly free licenses are appropriate. The GPL,
        whose stated purpose is to destroy businesses
        (remember, it arose when Richard Stallman sought
        to kill startups which spun off from academia),
        is not.

        > Let's speak on a broader scale, though. The
        > GPL builds knowledge. Directly, a programmer
        > can look at a piece of GPL code and gain
        > insight into how to solve a particular task.

        Not true. A programmer who writes commercial
        software cannot look at GPLed code that performs
        the same function, or s/he risks charges that
        the resulting work is derivative and therefore
        must be forfeited. The GPL hinders the spread
        of knowledge in this way.

        > Programming is a cumulative discipline, like
        > any science. It builds on the work of those
        > who have gone before. When a programmer
        > has access to the work that has gone before,
        > that programmer can build something better
        > than he or she would have been able to do alone.

        This is true. However, the GPL does not permit
        it. Commercial programmers cannot build upon,
        or even look at, GPLed code. If they do, they
        risk forfeiting the fruits of their labor. (This
        is the insidious, nasty intent of the GPL.) If
        you want such sharing to occur, you MUST advocate
        truly free licenses, such as the MIT X and BSD
        licenses.

        --Brett Glass
        • Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
          2002-07-17 21:56:51  john_betelgeuse [View]

          > Tim points out, in his essay, many examples
          > of companies which embraced the GPL and
          > were destroyed by it.

          And 90% of all start ups embrace free enterprise
          and are destroyed by it . . . NOT!

          The GPL does not destroy companies, it is the
          failure of a business to create a viable business
          plan that destroys companies.

          > An unproven and incorrect assertion.
          > A PC bought by a consumer contains
          > virtually no software that's "written
          > for use and not for sale."

          The PC's I've bought, as a consumer, have
          never contained any software except the BIOS,
          which was certainly written for use AND
          written for sale.

          All of the software on my HDD, however, was
          written for use, not sale.

          > A programmer seeking to produce a product
          > for sale CANNOT use GPLed code his work
          > unless he is willing to give up all
          > rewards for that work.

          Not true. There is nothing in the GPL that
          prevents you from charging for your work.

          Mind you, it would be idiotic to charge
          on the basis of ownership. When using the
          GPL, a programmer should charge for his/her
          WORK, not charge the customer licensing
          fees.

          > The programmer's time is wasted as
          > he needlessly reimplements.

          This is not a restriction solely of the GPL.

          Many components are reimplemented due to
          licensing restrictions.

          > To properly encourage developers to
          > write new and better code, a license
          > which is not anti-business must be used.

          Such as the GPL . . . which is not anti-business.

          > Not true. A programmer who writes
          > commercial software cannot look at
          > GPLed code that performs the same
          > function, or s/he risks charges that
          > the resulting work is derivative and
          > therefore must be forfeited. The GPL
          > hinders the spread of knowledge in this way.

          Pure FUD. This is exactly analogous to stating
          that if you've ever programmed for MS Windows,
          you may not ever create your own GUI system,
          for fear of being charged with violation of
          copyright by MS, and therefore being forced
          to forfeit your work.

          Sorry, but the only way that could happen is
          if you actually HAD violated the copy right,
          by simply performing a mechanical edit of
          some GPL'ed source code in a rather obvious
          fashion (renaming variables and changing the
          pretty printing, but doing nothing else, for
          instance).

          And the simple fact is that most people who
          GPL their code wouldn't bring suit, even if
          they somehow could (which they realistically
          couldn't), if you just used the ideas of their
          code.

          > Commercial programmers cannot build
          > upon, or even look at, GPLed code.

          Commercial programmers can not only look at
          GPL'ed code, they can even build on it.

          Building on (deriving a work) from GPL'ed code
          requires that the derived work be consistent
          with the GPL, but simply looking at and
          learning from GPL'ed code will in no way
          affect your product even if you want to use
          a different license . . . remember, copy right
          does not confer a patent.

          The GPL is superior to MIT X and BSD in this
          regard, because the GPL creates a fair and
          level playing field for independent programmers
          to interact on, in a safe manner, while the
          MIT X and BSD licenses allow the independent
          programmers to be used by business with
          absolutely no renumeration for their work.
        • Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
          2002-06-29 15:12:04  jdepner [View]

          OK. I didn't really want to get drawn into this but I just can't help myself. Brett, thanks for pointing out the problems inherent in the GPL. This type of license is usually embraced by young idealists (or old lifelong socialists). You hit the nail on the head when you said that a programmer cannot even look at GPL'ed code without risking a lawsuit. This tactic has been employed many times by companies that produce proprietary code. Microsoft is in the process of trying to do so again by opening some of their code (SAMBA programmers close your eyes).

          There are two points that I want to make here. First, even though I agree with most of what you've said, I must point out that no company has a "right" to survive. I have seen, in one instance, a college kid writing code that he released for free put a small company out of business. Why? His product was far superior to the commercial offering. His code wasn't GPL'ed but it easily could have been. My point here is that some people have the attitude that ALL free software is bad because "hey, I'm trying to make money here, you can't just give away that code". No company has an inalienable right to make money. If you can't compete, tough.

          Second, Richard Stallman is one of the brightest, most perceptive visionaries on the face of the earth. But, in my humble opinion, he's about three sigma west of strange. I really like the fact that Linux is open source because it is a reliable OS, as opposed to Microsoft Windoze. It's great that some people want to write code that they give away. I'll use whatever they want to give me. But thinking that everyone should give away their code isn't very realistic. I keep hoping that there will be some sort of middle ground. Heck, I've even bought Microsoft Office so I could run it on Crossover Office (work's great by the way).

          Bottom line - GPL always seemed to me to be a case of someone writing a piece of code that he is either too lazy to sell, doesn't know how to sell, or is too altruistic to sell, saying to the rest of the world "I wrote it and I didn't make money from it, so you can't either". Sort of reminds me of the kid who takes his ball and goes home. But remember, if you're running a company, and you can't make a better tool than something that is GPL'ed, and you can't write your own code without looking at the GPL'ed code then you probably don't need to be in business.
          • Essay sidesteps the demonstrable corrosive effects of some licenses
            2002-06-29 17:55:00  brettglass [View]

            We actually agree on a fair number of points here. You write:

            > OK. I didn't really want to get drawn into this but I just can't help myself.

            It's an important issue to discuss, especially since O'Reilly and Associates have lent Richard Stallman credibility by giving him a keynote slot in their upcoming conference.

            > Brett, thanks for pointing out the problems inherent in the GPL. This type of license is usually embraced by young idealists (or old lifelong socialists). You hit the nail on the head when you said that a programmer cannot even look at GPL'ed code without risking a lawsuit. This tactic has been employed many times by companies that produce proprietary code.

            Oops.... The word is "commercial." The FSF has been attempting to promote an incorrect definition of the word "proprietary." (A process, method, or protocol is proprietary if only one company can do it and it cannot be reproduced or emulated by competitors. It also denotes incompatibility.)

            > Microsoft is in the process of trying to do so again by opening some of their code (SAMBA programmers close your eyes).

            Yes, it is true that it is not safe to look at code owned by ANY unfriendly party -- be it a rapacious corporation like Microsoft or a rapacious corporation like the FSF -- and then write an equivalent. This is why Compaq and Phoenix, in the early days of the PC, engaged in a process called "clean room reverse engineering" to ensure that the authors of work-alike BIOS code could not be accused of having copied from the original ROM code (which IBM published in its reference manuals). This is why truly free licenses are so valuable. You explicitly ARE allowed to look at the code, and use it, or write anything you want based on what you've learned. The so-called "Free" Software Foundation's code is not free.

            In fact, some of the code that Microsoft publishes for developers imposes fewer barriers. Visual Basic, for example, comes with dozens of modules -- called OCXes -- that perform useful functions. You can use these in your own programs without fear of being forced to distribute your work for free or pay royalties. And Microsoft also provides sample source code you can use to build your own OCXes. You can derive your own OCXes from this code without paying royalties. So, ironically, Microsoft publishes *some* code that has fewer strings attached than the FSF's!

            > There are two points that I want to make here. First, even though I agree with most of what you've said, I must point out that no company has a "right" to survive.

            I never said that. However, to attempt to put it out of business via anti-competitive tactics -- the purpose of the GPL -- is simply wrong. And since the GPL hurts the little guy much more than the big guy, it hurts the software ecosystem by preserving the Microsoft monoculture.

            > I have seen, in one instance, a college kid writing code that he released for free put a small company out of business. Why? His product was far superior to the commercial offering. His code wasn't GPL'ed but it easily could have been. My point here is that some people have the attitude that ALL free software is bad because "hey, I'm trying to make money here, you can't just give away that code". No company has an inalienable right to make money. If you can't compete, tough.

            I'm not saying that companies shouldn't have to compete to succeed. But it's tough to compete with free! If a no-cost product is merely adequate, many people will use it instead of a commercial product *no matter how much better the commercial product is*. Someone who's competing with such a product must offer everything it has and a *lot* more. In many cases, the only way to make this practical (and keep the technology from stagnating at a mediocre level forever) is to let them start with the no-cost product and build on it. If it's truly free, they can.

            > Second, Richard Stallman is one of the brightest, most perceptive visionaries on the face of the earth.

            Very strongly disagree. Richard Stallman is a demagogue who has, for his entire life, single-mindedly pursued a vendetta upon which he embarked due to a childhood trauma. His goal was, and is, to wipe out the "evil" people who destroyed his Nirvana, and all of their kind. He has done this via deception and unethical practices, perpetrated largely upon the young and gullible. He deserves scorn, not respect.

            I wish there were an opportunity, at the convention, to rebut him and/or contest some of Stallman's statements. But O'Reilly has given Stallman the podium; it hasn't placed him on a panel (or in a debate format, as occurred with Craig Mundie last year) where his pronouncements could be so much as questioned. So, he'll have a chance to spread his demagoguery unchallenged. I don't think it's in O'Reilly's interest to deify Stallman, who has stated that he would love to see O'Reilly fail too. Yet, I'll bet they've given Richard, whose FSF has quite a lot of money to send him places, a free room -- while I, like many non-rich hackers, have to hike a mile each way from a shared room at the Travelodge to make the trip affordable.

            > But, in my humble opinion, he's about three sigma west of strange.

            Four. ;-)

            > I really like the fact that Linux is open source

            Linux is GPLed. It's not open source. (The GPL violates the Open Source Definition -- at least two points of it.)

            > because it is a reliable OS, as opposed to Microsoft Windoze.

            To say that something's more reliable than Windows is not saying much! ;-) It's more accurate to say that Linux is more reliable than Windows, but less so than the BSDs.

            > It's great that some people want to write code that they give away. I'll use whatever they want to give me. But thinking that everyone should give away their code isn't very realistic.

            Strongly agree.

            > I keep hoping that there will be some sort of middle ground. Heck, I've even bought Microsoft Office so I could run it on Crossover Office (work's great by the way).

            The middle ground is truly free software. It is ultimately the only thing that will save us from a duopoly: the FSF/GPL complex on the one hand and Microsoft on the other.

            > Bottom line - GPL always seemed to me to be a case of someone writing a piece of code that he is either too lazy to sell, doesn't know how to sell, or is too altruistic to sell, saying to the rest of the world "I wrote it and I didn't make money from it, so you can't either". Sort of reminds me of the kid who takes his ball and goes home.

            It's actually a lot like the cruel children's game that's sometimes called "Monkey in the Middle." The GPL developers can have the code; the users can use the code; but they'll keep it away from the programmer who seeks to make a living as a craftsman.

            > But remember, if you're running a company, and you can't make a better tool than something that is GPL'ed, and you can't write your own code without looking at the GPL'ed code then you probably don't need to be in business.

            Again, the issue is not being "better." Remember that a *mediocre* GPLed product can wipe out the market for a far superior commercial product. Witness GCC: it has destroyed companies which have made much better, much more highly optimizing compilers. You often can't buy a good compiler for a platform where GCC has taken root; you're stuck with the mediocre GCC.

            It's also important to realize that small companies often don't have the funds and time to "reimplement the wheel" before adding the enhancements that will distinguish their products. If they use all their resources just catching up, they'll have none left to spend on the enhancements that they need to try to compete with the GPLed product.

            This is what Microsoft hopes for. Remember what Jim Allchin said about giving away Internet Explorer (at the time a mediocre browser): "We'll put them on a treadmill. We'll cut off their air supply." That's what the GPL does to small companies. And when it does, consumers will be left with no choice but to go to Richard or Bill. And programmers won't be able to enter markets and innovate. A sad state of affairs indeed.
  • Open Source in government
    2002-06-29 00:26:28  jdepner [View]

    The use of open source software in government agencies is a lot more widespread than you would think. A lot of it is below the radar though. It generally starts as a small group of people trying to solve a particular problem and then, as the advantages are realized, it begins to spread outward (must be that GPL cancer thing that MS keeps talking about). For a good example check out

    http://linuxpr.com/releases/4686.html

    • Government should not be allowed to produce or promote GPLed software
      2002-06-29 18:17:46  brettglass [View]

      A government should not be allowed to (and should not want to!) destroy its constitents' livelihoods. Therefore, government should not produce GPLed software (its output should be in the public domain) and should not promote the use of GPLed software or the spread of the GPL as a license. It would truly be horrible if government guns were used to fight Stallman's war against programmers and small business.
      • Government should not be allowed to produce or promote GPLed software
        2002-07-17 22:00:22  john_betelgeuse [View]

        > A government should not be allowed to
        > (and should not want to!) destroy its
        > constitents' livelihoods. Therefore,
        > government should not produce GPLed
        > software

        Since the GPL will not and does not destroy
        the livelihood of US citizens, but it DOES
        protect their freedoms, the government should
        use and derive its internally created software
        from the GPL.

        > It would truly be horrible if government
        > guns were used to fight Stallman's war
        > against programmers and small business.

        RMS is not in a war against programmers, or
        business for that matter. He is in a war
        to fight for the freedoms and rights of
        software users.
      • Tim O'Reilly photo What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander
        2002-07-01 09:17:23  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]


        I agree that all software (and data) produced by the government should be in the public domain. Unfortunately, it seems that there are lots of ways around this, and an awful lot of what taxpayers pay for ends up locked up in one way or another.

        And I do really think we need to make a distinction between software actually produced by the government, and software produced by contractors to the government under some kind of procurement. If the government should not be allowed to have procurements that involve GPL'd software, it shouldn't be allowed to have procurements that call for proprietary software either. And of course, once you take this line of reasoning that far, you realize that the government makes deals with private parties all the time, some of which funds development that redounds to the benefit of those parties. And I don't see why people who want to develop software under the GPL should be treated any differently than those who are developing under proprietary licenses. After all, the GPL is in fact a "proprietary" license, in that it's a strong copyright model; it's just that the copyright holder has a non-standard idea of how they want to be compensated for their copyright.
        • What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander
          2002-07-01 19:17:34  jdepner [View]

          To my knowledge the government does not contract for software that it wants developed that will be proprietary. I am aware of at least one contract where software was produced and parts that were pre-existing that were allowed to be included were proprietary. But anything that is produced specifically for the government belongs to the government and, by default, to the public at some point. Classification may come into the picture here. As far as data is concerned - an emphatic NO. All data produced by the government should NOT be in the public domain (at least not immediately). If you have ever been on this side of the equation you should know that. If not, take my word for it. People's lives are at stake, not property rights.
      • Government should not be allowed to produce or promote GPLed software
        2002-06-30 09:49:41  jdepner [View]

        I don't know about "A" government but our government is not allowed to GPL code. I've been writing scientific applications software for DoD for 25 years (and doing system admin) and every piece of code I've written, with minor exceptions, is public domain. By law. Of course, getting your hands on it can be problematic at best. I agree completely with making all government software public domain with absolutely no caveats. After all, we paid for it. The comment about the GPL was merely a swat at Microsoft.