Freedom Can Be Slavery

You know, if one person, just one person does it, they may think he's
really sick and they won't take him.

And if two people do it...
   in harmony..

they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either
of them.

And if three people do it!  Can you imagine three people
walkin'in, sigin' a bar of "Alice's Resturant" and walkin' out?

They may think its an organization!

And can you imagine fifty people a day?  I said FIFTY people a
day ... walkin' in singin' a bar of "Alice's Resturant" and walkin'
out?  Friends, they may think it's a MOVEMENT,

  and that's what it is

THE ALICE'S RESTURANT ANTI-MASSACREE MOVEMENT! ... and all you gotta
do is to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the
guitar.

  With feelin'.
Alice's Resturant, Arlo Guthrie, Grove Press, 1968

The quote above may appear a bit strange since its taken out of context, from a long time ago. The quote is about the Viet Nam anti-war movement and the draft. This essay is about the free software movement. In both cases big things happened because lots of people got together.

But movements change over time. The utopian ideal of communism metastasized into muderous regimes in Russia, China and Cambodia. Bill Clinton, an anti-war protester in his university days, gave us the war in Kosovo. The issues with free software are not even fractionally as important as these, but the free software movement has changed too. What started out as GNU and the Free Software Foundation has changed into Red Hat, Caldera and others packaging and marketing free software.

Free Software is Good

I have been developing software for over twenty years. For the past eleven years, since I gave up Vi for Emacs (there is one true editor and Stallman is its prophet), I've been using Free Software, mainly the software from the Free Software Foundation. I now consider Emacs an indispensable tool. I use Xemacs at work, on a Sun Solaris system. I am writing this essay on a emacs running on a FreeBSD system (yet another example of free software). My Windows NT system, which I used to develop the software posted on my Web pages, has an NT version of Emacs installed on it.

Although my roots are in the Live Free or Die tradition of UNIX, I also use Windows NT. There are a few major short comings of Windows NT. One of them is that there is no real shell (in the sense of csh, ksh, or tcsh) - the DOS shell does not count. Further, the utility programs that run under the NT shell are old DOS utilities. The only thing that makes the Windows NT command line environment usable are the free software UNIX utilities (the bash shell, ls, rm, cp, etc...) that I have downloaded from Cygnus.

I don't agree with everything in The GNU Manifesto, but there are parts of it that resonate for me. I believe that software can be a creative medium, just as marble or canvas and oil paint are mediums of artistic expression. I want to share my software in source form for two reasons: I want to show off my art in the construction of my software and I want to share something that might be beautiful or useful. This is why I have published thousands of lines of source code on these web pages.

I think that most people who have worked hard to perfect their craft want to pass their knowledge on. Publishing software source is one way a software engineer can pass on their hard won knowledge. There are a number of excellent books discuss software architecture and structure. But these books are limited. The book format does not easily lend itself to describing the structure of large computer programs consisting of thousands of lines of code. The GNU Manifesto also makes an excellent point: all software engineers can learn by studying examples of well constructed software.

Another reason to publish software in source form is self interest. In Silicon Valley companies are notoriously unstable. A company that is doing well one year may be firing (a.k.a. laying off) engineering staff the next. Publishing software shows off the author's software engineering skills and knowledge. Even when a company is stable, they may not be doing much development. So, if you are looking for help developing a large piece of networking or compiler software, send me a note.

Volumes have been written recently about the wonders of free software. For example, Andrew Leonard has written a number of articles for Salon Magazine. Leonard has also written an article on open source for WIRED . Free Software is being hailed as the new business model, the wave of the future.

Slick Marketeers and the Packaging of Free Software

Although I agree that open source software is better, and I enjoy using and working on it, are we all just enabling large corporations to make loads of dough off our work while we starve in relitive obscurity? Are we acting in our own self interest when we basically work for free and allow anyone to use the fruits of our labor?

I wonder if this is the end of programming as a career that you can live off of. Garbage men don't go pick up garbage for fun in their spare time, the problem is programmers enjoy what they do and don't think of the economic consequences of doing so.

Someone please explain how programmers will make a wage they can live off of in the future. I've heard a lot of pie in the sky types of explanations (as I did about the Internet). Sure I believe that companies can make money off of open source, by selling supported and packaged "solutions" but that doesn't mean they need to pay the people who created the software they sell.

I think its time for us to start working in each other's interest. It seems that programmers are the new exploited class, and perhaps it is time to organize for better labor conditions and stop screwing ourselves over.

An "Anonymous Coward" posting in a slashdot discussion

In the past there was not much of a commercial edge to free software. Although many companies used Emacs and the GNU C/C++ compiler to develop their software, these were simply tools that were used to develop products. No one was selling these tools directly. Even Cygnus (which used to be named Cygnus Support) did not sell free software. They were primarily involved with providing Free Software customization and maintenance services. Free Software was truly a Cathedral creation, since the features and bug fixes that companies paid Cygnus for were fed back into the free software base. Although the companies that used free software for commercial purposes got something for free, they also gave something back. The ideal of "giving back" to the free software community is a strong one. For example, recently I have been using a free software tool named ANTLR. While I have not contributed software directly to ANTLR I have published ANTLR examples and notes to help other ANTLR users. I have spent many hours writing these Web pages, but I view it as my way contributing to the ANTLR community.

The marketeer and the slick sales person have evolved as the media have gotten more sophisticated. Coca-Cola is nothing but caramel colored, carbonated sugar water, with a few dashes of esoteric flavorings. Almost half of the money paid for a can of Coke goes to pay for the marketing and sales to sell you the next can of Coke. The massive marketing machine of Coca-Cola has made them a an huge multi-national. The modern marketplace is full of products whose main advantage is an aggressive and able marketing and sales force.

Marketing has been applied to software as well. After all, what was Netscape but a marketing phenomena, which was eventually killed off by an even more agressive marketing machine spawned by Microsoft. Sometimes much of what we think of as the Internet seems nothing more than marketing and spin. What, after all, is the true value of Amazon or Lycos? The marketeers, spin doctors and "big picture" executives have now discovered free software. What could be more wonderful - software that is free and only has to be packaged, marketed and sold? Even better, in the case of Linux, there is a fanatical following that will do anything to make a dent in the dominion of the evil empire (that would be Microsoft, of course).

Free software should exist to make software engineers more free. It should give software engineers free access to tools, new ideas, and new ways to engineer software. Free software should not exist so that slick marketeers can suck it up, package it and resell it. Marketing and packaging have no benefit to the software engineers who spent many person years developing and debugging the free software.

The marketeers, slick packaging artists and spin doctors are simply exploiting the efforts of others without giving anything back. Companies like Red Hat have packaged Linux, sucked down serious venture capital and have build their public companies and inflated stock market valuations on the back of free software. In the Red Hat/VA Linux IPO it is the venture capitalists, marketeers and managers made hundreds of millions in paper profits (which we can imagine they are turning into read profits as the holding periods expire). Perhaps they may throw Linus Torvalds a bone or two. But most of the engineers that put in all of the hard work to develop, test and debug Linux got little or nothing. The Linux community seems so bent on hurting the Evil Empire (Microsoft) that they happily accept this kind of exploitation.

Even Cygnus has changed. Cygnus got $6.8 million in venture capital funding and have been, subsequently, purchased by Red Hat. Cygnus is starting to develop proprietary products and to charge more for their services. As time goes on and the focus on profits gets more intense, Cygnus may become just another Silicon Valley company where the managers make the real money and the engineers work for salary and a few stock options.

Free Software: The Marketeers Support Model

You seem to imply that public development means quality. This is an old Free Software myth. Emails exchanged in their spare time by people who think they know what they're talking about (and I certainly was one of them) doesn't guarantee anything. But a small team of skilled people who work every day on the problem, receive user feedback, and who can discuss around a table stands a fairly good chance to achieve something good.

Let's face it : good programmers aren't dime a dozen, even in the Free Software world. Although the difference is that many less realize what their actual skill level is. So involving many people in decisions on tough problems doesn't help, it makes things worse.

Guillaume Laurent, On gtkmm and Qt (again)

If I fix a bug in a piece of free software or I implement a device driver for a free operating system I am happy to share the bug fix with my fellow software engineers. Many people who use free software feel this way, so there can be rapid identification and correction of software defects in the free software base.

During the useful "life" of a large piece of software, maintenance (bug fixes) and enhancement is more expensive than the cost of actually developing the software. Managers and marketeers, always on the lookout for a fad that will reduce their costs (past and current fads include structured programming and object oriented programming), have jumped on the free software bandwagon. They have noticed how fast bugs have been fixed and improvements have been added to Linux. As a result, free software has not only been heralded as the new model for software development, but also the new model for software support. As happens so often with people who see only the "high concept" view of reality, this model leaves out a few important points:

Where will new open source software come from?

So far I have only discussed maintenance and enhancement of existing open source software. It is worth thinking about how this software came into existence and asking who will develop new open source/free software, since this is supposed to be the "new paradigm".

Software engineers will probably always publish new open source software tools for other software engineers. On fairly recent example of this is the ANTLR parser generator mentioned above.

At the the core of the GNU software is a set of tools and support software that fit into Richard Stallman's ideal of a free software UNIX like operating system and development environment. These tools and utilities form a related whole that allowed Linux to be constructed. In contrast, most free software consists of unrelated software published by different people. Many people publish software in open source form because they don't see a large market for a proprietary version of the software or because the software was developed at a University.

In some ways the development of the GNU software and Linux was a historical accident. Richard Stallman is driven by ideology. Stallman's work was picked up by University students who live cheaply. The same thing is true of Linux, which was developed by a University student, Linus Torvalds, and originally picked up by other people in the academic world.

Once a body of software (GNU and Linux for example) is developed, people can make money by charging for consulting to maintain and extend the software. This is where Cygnus has its roots. But the software has to be developed before this "free software" income model kicks in.

The free software model seems to assume that the cost of developing free software is zero. This works as long as you have Richard Stallman and a bunch of University students doing the development work. But this is hardly a general model.

Developing software is expensive. Eric Raymond skips around this issue by pointing out that the development cost is only a fraction of the lifetime maintenance and enhancement cost. While this point is true, it does not change the fact that someone must develop the software.

In a commercial setting the cost of developing software is amortized over the profit expected from selling it. Maintenance and enhancements are usually paid for via fees for new versions or from a maintenance contract (usually ten to fifteen percent of the price of the original software).

In the free software world new software is given away, so that the community can maintain and enhance it. But how is the cost of developing the software going to be recovered? If the cost of developing the software is recovered through fees for maintenance and enhancement consulting, it may be a long road to recovering the development cost. Especially since your competitors can quickly learn the software and provide the same services. In fact, since they don't have any pressure to recover development costs, they can undercut the developer of the software.

All this sounds pretty academic perhaps. But the real outcome of this is that companies like Cygnus and Red Hat don't do much new open source software development. And when they do, they are increasingly using contorted "licenses" to control the use of the software in an attempt to maximize their fees.

Rather than being "a new paradigm" for software development, the "free software movement" may be an anomaly. The beginning of the end of this anomaly may Red Hat's IPO.

Locked into ideology and anti-Microsoft fervor (which sadly is making more and more sense as time goes on), the open source "movement" has historically ignored the substantial cost of initial software development, documentation and quality control. This may be starting to change. Chris Rasch, in his paper The Wall Street Performer Protocol, published in First Monday, June 2001, provides an excellent description of the costs of developing product quality software. Acknowledging that software development entails substantial costs, he proposes a bond scheme to pay for open source projects. For a variety of reasons, I find this proposal improbable. However, the fact that software development costs are actually acknowledged in an open source discussion is a step toward reality.

Live Free, or, Why Should Spin Doctors Profit From My Efforts?

My many contributions to the computing community has reaped very little personal benefit for myself. As I now struggle to pay the bills I can not help but feel quite pissed off at the state of affairs, for myself and the other authors who contributed massive amounts of time and quality work [to the Linux Router Project], only to have it whored by companies not willing to give back dime one to the people that actually created what it is they sell. Acknowledgement and referral would have at least been acceptable. Few companies do even that.

LRP == R.I.P. (1997-2002), Dave Cinege, June 22, 2003, Linux Router Project

See this note at the end of the web page

I have spent twenty years developing my skills as a software engineer. Even after all this time, I still read books on software engineering, software project management and algorithms. Developing software is hard. Debugging and testing software is hard. It takes years to build the skills needed to develop large pieces of software. Many software engineers never develop the skills needed to engineer large programs. Their work consists of modifying and maintaining existing programs.

I believe in freedom. If people want to develop free software that is sucked up by marketeers and packagers and resold, without giving the developers anything in return, they should certainly be free to do so. But the software engineers should consider why they are working so hard while the marketeers collect the money. The marketeers and managers are happy to spout the free software line. They are getting something very valuable without paying for it. The motto of the software packagers seems to be "Death to Redmond and pass the stock options".

My choice is to not be exploited. I don't hate Microsoft and I certainly don't dislike them enough to allow my work to be given away free so that the marketeers can take a few pennies out of Bill Gates' pocket. With the publication of the source for the Bear Transfer Program (my version of FTP), I will limit all of the software I publish to non-commercial use. The authors of the lcc C compiler seem to have similar views. I have used a modified version of their copyright for my software. The basic copyright is shown below.

If you agree with the points I have made above, you might want to consider using a copyright like mine. It will not make much difference if I do it, but if lots of software engineers do it, we really will have a free software movement. And if there is a movement, the marketeers and packagers will be forced to respect the copyright and will not be able to use our work without giving anything back. Now all we need is a song...

A Copyright to Avoid Exploitation

The author of this software is Ian Kaplan
www.bearcave.com
iank@bearcave.com

Copyright (c) Ian Kaplan, 1999

THIS SOFTWARE IS BEING PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTY. IN PARTICULAR, THE AUTHOR MAKES NO REPRESENTATION OR WARRANTY OF ANY KIND CONCERNING THE MERCHANTABILITY OF THIS SOFTWARE OR ITS FITNESS FOR ANY PARTICULAR PURPOSE.

This is not public-domain software or shareware, and it is not protected by a 'copyleft' agreement, like the code from the Free Software Foundation.

This software is available free for your personal research and instructional use under the 'fair use' provisions of the copyright law. You may, however, redistribute it in whole or in part provided you acknowledge its source and author, Ian Kaplan. You must also include this copyright notice (copyright file) in your distribution. You may, for example, include the distribution in a CDROM of free software, provided you charge only for the media, or mirror the distribution files at your Web site.

You may not sell this software or any product derived from it in which it is a significant part of the value of the product.

Any use where others stand to make a profit from what is primarily my work, requires a license agreement. This includes corporate structures like Red Hat that distribute software free on the Internet but charge a fee for a CD-ROM and/or for support. Per-copy and unlimited use licenses are available; for more information, contact Ian Kaplan, iank@bearcave.com.

The Future

The essay has been evolving over time. When I first wrote it, Red Hat had filed for an IPO, but had not gone public. This IPO has been completed and has been wildly successful. Red Hat's stock is selling at a large multiple of revinues. Soon it should be possible for insiders to start cashing out, becomming real multi-milllionairs, rather than just wildly rich on paper.

Red Hat seems to be very aware of the contradictions involved with a commercial company making millions on the dontated work of others. Given the ideological furvor of the Linux community, Red Hat also seems concerned that the ideological tide might turn against them and they will be abandoned by all those unpaid developers. To throw a bone to these developers, Red Hat made a rather ill planned attempt to offer stock at the Red Hat IPO price to selected developers. Although a thousand or so developers got 400 share blocks, the executive staff at Red Hat and the venture capitalists have blocks of stock that are currently worth, on paper, hundreds of millions of dollars. The Red Hat Wealth Monitor shows the current paper worth of the major Red Hat share holders. Interestingly enough Linus Torvalds, the original creator and for many years the prime force behind Linux, is not on the list.

I am not the first to discuss the issues I have raised in the above rant. But the eye popping paper wealth created by the Red Hat IPO is causing others to start asking why the CEO of Red Hat should be worth hundreds of millions while the developers who actually wrote Linux get scraps.

Before taking the cloud castles of paper wealth too seriously it is worth remembering that long term prospects for Red Hat are full of questions. As Red Hat noted in their prospectus, there is no assurance that the "open source community" will continue to support them. Nor is it clear that they will ever have a profit stream that justifies their current stock valuation. This web site, as you may have noticed, is bearcave.com. And as the chief Bear here, I am expecting "the fall" which will shatter the valuation of most or all of the Internet related companies and value them like real companies. When this happens E-trade (EGRP) will sell for about $18 per share. Red Hat may then be valued at $20 a share. If this happens the breathtaking paper wealth represented by the Red Hat stock could evaporate, unless Red Hat makes real inroads against Windows NT (or Windows 2K or what ever Microsoft calls it).

Things are Already Starting to Change: Cygnus Goes Commercial

The business model for Cygnus has been primarily that of a consulting company that leveraged the free software base for contracts to maintain and extend the GNU and Cygnus developed software. This was certianly a viable business model and Cygnus has modest success as a public company (now owned by Red Hat).

Of course as a public company there is constant pressure for profits and revinue growth. So free software is going through strange contortions. One of the strangest is the clause included below for the Cygwin package. Cygwin is Cygnus' port (and rewrite in some cases) of the bash shell and the UNIX command line utilities (e.g., ls, find, make, etc...) for Windows NT Win32. Those who follow the cash at Cygnus probably noticed that there was a significant cost to developing Cygwin. But how could fees be collected on this software, since it is open source? Well, how about this:

From http://www.netsales.net/pk.wcgi/cygnus/offer

Cygwin for Windows NT provides a UNIX/Linux shell and programming environment on the Windows platform. Cygwin includes the Linux standard GNU tools for application development as well as a collection of many useful Unix/Linux commands ported to Windows. The collection of commands form the familiar UNIX/Linux shell environment on the Windows platform. The standard UNIX/Linux libraries included with Cygwin are shipped with a GPL license, encouraging further Open Source development on the Windows platform. Note that only GPL'ed Open Source programs can be created with Cygwin unless an additional commercial license is obtained from Cygnus.

What this clause means is that if I put Cygwin on my system so that I can use bash, and the UNIX command line commands, like "ls", I can't use this environment to develop proprietary software, unless I pay Cygnus a fee. This is nothing less than bizzare. It basicly states that although the software is open source/free software, Cygnus is placing a limit on its use. There is an "out" to this limit, however, which is available for a fee from Cygnus.

This is bizarre because Cygnus is attempting to place a limit on the user, even when there is no free software content in the users product. For example, at one time the Bison parser generator could not be used to develop proprietary software. In the case of Bison, there is a kernel of free software source for the parser skeleton. Since this is included in an application that uses a Bison created parser, the application is covered by the "copyleft" and had to be open source as well. In contrast, the Cygwin tools might be used while creating the application, but would never be part of the application itself.

In making this claim, Cygnus has vastly extended any common definition of open source/free software. The free software foundation never placed such a limit on bash or any of the other UNIX utilities. This "requirement" on Cygnus' part is totally unenforcable and unreasonable. It is simply and attempt to make free software less open and to assure Cygnus' ability to collect fees for the software they developed. Perhaps we will see companies like Red Hat attempt to limit free Linux distributions to open source/free software development only. All others pay a fee.

It Used to be Free Software, Now It Belongs to Cygnus

In the past people donated their work on Free Software Foundation software to the FSF. All FSF software is explicitly open source. People were willing to donate their work without pay because it provided the community with open source software.

The Cygnus Java Compiler (GCJ) project invites people to "contribute". But I was rather surprised to read the Cygnus copyright assignment that they ask people who work on their Java compiler to sign. As I read this copyright, it assigns all rights to Cygnus without any guarantee that the work of the software developer will be open source. The contract states that the software belongs to Cygnus. There is no guarantee that Cygnus/Red Hat will not try to restrict the use of the software as they have tried to do with Cygwin. Never, ever, believe "trust us" vs. a written contract. The written contract always wins.

The one thing that Cygnus and Red Hat have not explained is why you should work on their software for free. Take a look at the net worth of Red Hat's executive staff and ask yourself why you should work for Cygnus without pay.

Some Other Discussions on Open Source Software

The person who might be most regarded as the theoretician of Open Software is Eric Raymond. Eric Raymond's book The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary (Sebastopol, Calif.: O'Reilly & Associates, 1999) collects a number of his essays which are published on Eric Raymond's web site. Probably the most widely know essay is The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

An interesting response to The Cathedral and the Bazaar has been published in the on-line journal First Monday titled A Second Look at the Cathedral and the Bazaar by Nikolai Bezroukov.

Nikolai Bezroukov also has a web site, www.softpanorama.org, which includes a number of interesting, informative and educational articles on a variety of software and computer industry topics. The sub-pages An Annotated Webliography on Open Source Software Development Problems and Open Source Software Development as a Special Type of Academic Research are related to Nikolai Bezroukov's paper published in First Monday (referenced above).

Bram Moolenaar on Open Source

Bram Moolenaar is the autor of Vim, an advanced graphical version of the UNIX Vi text editor. Long ago I was a Vi user, but I've become an Emacs disciple (there is one true editor and Stallman, peace be unto him, is its prophet). Vim is open source and Bram has a great discussion on open source issues. I really like his license. Editors like Emacs and Vim seems like good candidates for open source because they are primarily used by software engineers and any market for this software is thin at best.

Running a corporation in an open source world by Shawn Gordon, Linux and Main, March 2002

This essay echos some of the points I've made here. Open source and the GPL is great for infrastructure software. As a model for end user software, it simply does not work in any commercial context.

The Great Linux Bust, Act III

Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux, come to the United States to work for a Silicon Valley microprocessor company named Transmeta, which I discuss here. Transmeta has been having a number of problems, not the least of which is that they are selling a product long on hype and short on customers. One wag on SlashDot satirically writes:

The cat is out of the bag. Linus Torvalds was recently seen living under a freeway overpass. When asked about his current living conditions, he remarked "well, Transmeta had to lay me off, and they kept it quiet because they didn't want to enrage their only customers -- Linux geeks." What will this mean for the God of Linux? All the Linux companies are showing cash shortfalls, and none appear to be hiring. A spokesman for Red Hat commented, "We're just tapped out of money. We wish Linus well, but what can we say? We got what we wanted out of him, and know he's going to have to get a real job like the rest of us will have to sooner than later."

Linus appears to be taking it in stride. "Well, I've always said that I wasn't interested in making money off Linux. And heck, this overpass is not so bad. It's still better than Finland."

Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda of Slashdot, often thought of a spiritual leader of Linux, commented that "Hey, he's welcome to crash at my house, except that my house is due to be repo'ed any day know due to the VA Linux stock price crash."

Somehow I doubt that the executive of Red Hat, who have long ago "diversified" their Red Hat holdings, will have to worry about making their mortgage payments.

Open-source approach fades in tough times, Stephen Shankland, news.com, November 20, 2001

On the surface the "tough times" referred to above is the recession of the early part of the twenty-first century. In fact what is really being discussed is the fact that the "open source model" promoted by Commissar Raymond does not work on a large scale. It was reasonably successful in supporting Cygnus Solutions as a consulting company, but when scaled up it does not work. Here are some quotes form this article:

"We felt we could generate more revenue off services and support," said David Sass, vice president of business development for Sistina. "As we went out, we found that wasn't a very sustainable business model for us."

Great Bridge had hoped to sell services for its version of the open-source PostgreSQL database program. The company shifted to a more product-oriented business but eventually expired. "We could not get customers to pay us big dollars for support contracts," founder Frank Batten Jr. said at the time.

One key motivation said to drive volunteers to open-source projects--the prospect of leaving a lasting mark on the software world--has shown its limits. "I'm tired of people who complain loudly when something doesn't work but fall silent when asked to help in fixing it," groused Christoph Phisterer in his resignation from leadership at the Fink project to bring open-source and Unix software to Mac OS X computers. "I once thought sharing my knowledge, experience and time with the community was a good thing, but now I know better."

Building Trust Into Open Source by Robert Lemos, News.com, March 20, 2002

This article discusses several serious Linux application security flaws that can significantly compromise the system. Commissar Eric Reymond's contention that the many eyes of the open source community is questioned. Reviewing code, especially the uncommented code that is so common in software bases, is tedious and just does not get done. The article quotes Crispin Cowan, chief scientist at Linux maker WireX Communications:

Yet, the "many eyes" theory, as it is known in the open-source world, doesn't work so well in reality, said WireX's Cowan.

"It does not assure that many eyes are actually looking at the code," Cowan said. "In fact, it is likely that 'rock star' code that is hip to work on gets adequate attention, while the other 90 percent languishes, in many cases never even seen by anyone but the code's authors." And much of this unsexy code forms the foundation of Linux.

A letter to a young programmer, by Michael P. O'Connor, republished on slashdot.org, March 1, 2004

Michael O'Connor published this open letter to a young software engineer that he met at a conference. In this letter he urges the software engineer to stop giving away the fruits of their talents. The following paragraphs summarize Mr. O'Connor's argument that in the end we all have to pay our bills and software engineers are not the ones benefiting from open source software.

Yes, I know the argument. Software is supposed to be free and the money is made out of supporting it. Look around you. Read some industry magazines. Who exactly is making money out of "free"? IBM does, HP does and the large consulting companies do. They rake in the big bucks. But do they make the money on open-source software? No, they make that money on outsourcing deals, running data centers and selling hardware. That's not the side of the IT business that is at all concerned about creating software that you want to be in. That is the side of the IT business that runs software.

Where money is made from creating software, software isn't free. Either the software is paid for directly or it is cross-subsidized from budgets elsewhere in a company that also sells hardware or consulting services.

The whole thing about "free software" is a lie. It's a dream created and made popular by people who have a keen interest in having cheap software so that they can drive down their own cost and profit more or by people who can easily demand it, because they make their money out of speaking at conferences or write books about how nice it is to have free software. At the bottom of the food chain are people like you, who are easily fooled by the "let's make the world a better place" rhetoric and who are so enthusiastic about technology that writing open-source - or any source for that matter - is the absolutely best imaginable way to spend their time. It doesn't matter whether you love what you are doing and consider this the hobby you want to spend 110% of your time on: It's exploitation by companies who are not at all interested in creating stuff. They want to use your stuff for free. That's why they trick you into doing it.

I agree with the basic thrust of Mr. O'Connor's argument. But I do not think that it holds for all software. I do not believe that engineers creating software for other engineers results in exploitation. It is only when the open source software can be sold to people who do not, themselves, create software or other engineering products where exploitation results.

Free software may be a "lie", but big companies are the ones who make the argument for free software. Commissar Eric Raymond is certainly not employed by a large company. It is the Free Software/Open Source community that has made many of these arguments. Large corporations have simply taken advantage of the situation.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a project to publish non-software works (e.g., media like photographs, music or "file") using a less restrictive copyright structure (somewhat akin to GPL). As I've discussed elsewhere, media is being forced down this path in a way that does not seem to be the case with software.

The Open Code Market by Jordi Carrasco-Muñoz, First Monday, Vol. 8, No. 11 (November 3, 2003)

Abstract:

The Open Code Market (OCM) is both an open market for code, as well as a market for open code. However, it aims mainly to become a free market for software, as well as a market for Free Software. The OCM introduces into the Free/Open Source movement an economic incentive, to help align the priorities of Free/Open Source developers with those of the end users.

Notes

The Linux Router Project

I used the quote from David Cinege because I believe that it illustrates one the main problems with GPL (GNU public license) open source projects. However, it is only fair to note that things are a bit more complicated than this quote suggests, as noted in this discussion. To quote from one poster in this discussion:

He probably can't get a job because no sane employer would go near him. Before he started work on LRP [Linux Router Project], he was quite active on Usenet in the legal and taxes groups, talking about how the IRS is not really a government agency, and you don't have to pay income taxes, and all the usual bullshit, complete with the usual mishmash of quotes from court cases that turn out to be at best out of context, and at worst blatant fabrications, when you go to the library and read the actual court opinion.

If he actually follows through with his beliefs in real life, as opposed to just arguing them on Usenet, he would want his employer to pay