Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

The GPL: A Technology Of Trust 232

Chip Salzenberg writes "Microsoft's attacks on the GNU General Public License (GPL) prompted me to analyze its technical merits, using insights from the book 'Nonzero' by Richard Wright. Since I'm a fan of Open Source for its pragmatic benefits, my own conclusions surprised the heck out of me." This is an interesting article promoting the GPL, the quintessential Free Software license, coming from a member of the Open Source Initiative.

The GPL: A Technology Of Trust

Society is built on exchange. One particular form of exchange that we're genetically wired for is reciprocal altruism: speculative generosity with expectation of future payoff.

Open Source is a textbook example of reciprocal altruism. But this leaves the Open Source community vulnerable to parasitism. (This term comes from game theory; I'm not trying to insult anyone.) In a small group, trust comes from repeated interactions, and personal experience is adequate to recognize parasites and avoid them. But in a large group, interactions between any two people are often indirect and/or infrequent. Something more than experience is needed to engender trust between people who don't know each other, and who may never even meet.

Therefore, any large group must evolve a technology of trust. If it doesn't do so, it will fall victim to rampant parasitism, which will cause inefficiency, which will eventually bring stagnation and failure to compete -- that is, death.

The GPL is a technology of trust. Contributors to GPL'd projects trust that the GPL -- which depends on law, itself a technology of trust -- will prevent parasitism. They trust that if they contribute to a project, they will have access to the valuable goods built on their own work. So, while GPL'd projects can have forks, they can't have proprietary forks. And that makes all the difference.

This analysis may seem simple or even obvious. But its implications are far-reaching.

1. The GPL will eventually dominate Open Source (if it doesn't already). Both analysis and observation point to the GPL, or something like it, as the destiny of Open Source. More than any other current license, the GPL discourages parasitism; thus it enhances efficiency; thus it helps a culture outcompete rivals whose technologies of trust are less advanced. By making its host culture successful, the GPL -- or some future license built on it -- will finally win out.

2. We must preserve the GPL, for the sake of the community. When Microsoft attacks the GPL, it would be tempting for those of us who don't identify with ``Free Software'' to use as our primary reply that ``Open Source is more than the GPL.'' That would be a mistake. The GPL's peculiar strengths are crucial in the Open Source community's competition with other cultures who would love to see Open Source, let alone Free Software, gone and forgotten.

3. The GPL is good for business. Companies that use the GPL are neither foolish nor stupid. They simply want to trust that other companies won't be able to take unfair advantage of them, and the GPL gives them that immediate security while simultaneously allowing open cooperation. And in the general case, the GPL is a friend of business because it makes new and better efficiencies possible, and economies thrive on new and better efficiencies.

(On the other hand, we can agree with Microsoft that the GPL is bad for their current business. We can then proceed to use Microsoft's favorite word as we reply: Innovation won't stop just because you're not ready for it. The printing press was a good thing, after all, even though it forced professional scribes to change their business model. Adapt or die.)

In summary: We in the Open Source community need to stand with the FSF and defend the GPL against all comers -- not merely as a tactical move, but because the GPL is a valuable technology of trust. To outcompete other cultures, we must adopt technologies that work. And the GPL works.

-- Chip Salzenberg <>, member of the board of the Open Source Initiative

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The GPL: A Technology Of Trust

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Someone once said, "Don't throw perls before swine". The BSD license doesn't provide for this. I therefore support the GPL. It attempts to keep the swine out of the loop.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 16, 2001 @07:47AM (#147236)
    a non-interactive text adventure in multiple parts

    PART ONE: the end of an icon

    You are walking along a old cobbled road, carefully stepping over mounds of decaying horse shit and avoiding what appears to be puddles of rat piss. To your left is a row of Tudor type houses, one being a shop. To the right is a sea wall, and beyond that is the frothing ocean.
    Rainwater gushes through guttering and spills out onto the street, running into streams and slowly diluting the budweiser pools.
    You can see a glinting object in a pool of piss.
    A scruffy man is shuffling away from you.

    >get object
    You shudder as you plunge your left hand (the one you rarely masturbate with) into the piss pool and retrieve the object. It is a gold sovreign.
    You are now rich.
    The scruffy man has moved further away.

    >enter shop
    Pausing only to shake the piss from your hand you stride purposefully into the shop.
    Peering through the murk you determine that this shop in an apocethary, many strange object line the shelves and pungent vapors permeate through the air.
    A snoring dwarf is leaning against a table that seems to be serving as a counter.

    >cough politely
    The dwarf awakes with a start, then eyes you suspiciously. Still looking drowsy, he demands to know what it is you want. After some discourse, you discover that this shop sells nothing but cakes of soap. Being hungry, you decide that any cake will do, and purchase as much as your coinage will allow.
    You are poor.
    You are encumbered.

    >sell soap
    You inform the dwarf that you wish to trade some soap back.
    The still bleary-eyed dwarf offers you a good price, which you readily accept.
    You are rich again.
    You are no longer encumbered.

    >leave shop
    You exit the shop.

    You are standing outside a soap shop, munching on a cake of lavender flavored soap. There is a scruffy man shuffling down the street, away from you.

    >pursue man
    You set off after the man, catching the filthy sod within microseconds. Wheezing and oozing pus from many abrasions and untreated cuts, the man turns to face you. You swallow in order to control your natural vomit reaction. Clearly this man needs soap rather more than you do.

    >give man soap
    You can't give that to that!

    >wash man
    I don't know how to do that!

    >vhsdjvjksd vshdjkvsdhjkfsd

    >stupid parser crap ftyjtfgy
    I don't understand stupid.

    >give soap man
    You give the man the largest block of soap. He looks at it as through he has never seen soap before. Carelessly, he allows it to drop to the ground where it begins to forms suds in the streams of rainwater and piss.

    You offer the scruffy man another cake of soap. He ignores you and turns to walk away. As he turns, he slips on the soap suds and falls face first into a particularly large piss puddle. Slowly some grime washes away from his visage, enough to allow you to recognise the man. It is Richard GNU/Stallman - patron saint of the unwashed and the geeky.
    Thinking quickly, you boot Stallman in the face as he attempts to rise. Next you dump all the soap you carry onto him and roll him over and over in the puddle.
    Years of filth falls away while Stallman panics at the water. Soon, his attempts of extricate himself provide enough motion for the cleaning action so you step back and allow the process to continue.

    Time passes. Stallman is getting cleaner, though slowly.

    >wait wait wait wait wait wait
    Hours pass. Finally you decide that Stallman must be clean by now and move to help him up.
    Alas, the powerful soap cocktail not only removed the grime, it also dissolved the Stallman. No doubt his untouched-by-soap skin was unable to withstand the cleaning process and he simply fizzed away.

    Congratulations! You have successfully assasinated Richard Stallman. Your score is currently ONE from a possible FOUR. To continue, press [SPACE].

    That's five miutes you'll never get back, fool.
  • Gift economies only works when the gifts are predominately given to people who are part of the gift economy.

    I agree that the BSDL is a wonderful and altrustic way to make a gift to everybody, however, as a sustainable economy, I have more faith in the GPL. Than again, even if the BSDL fails to create a sustainable gift economy of its own, it hasn't failed. It wasn't the goal of the license.
  • In fact, the name cyGNUs was chosen to emphasize the connection.

    It wasn't a public company, so I only have the word of the owners that they made money. And they did start adding som few non-free products. I doubt they made any significant money off these products, though.
  • > You can't argue my points, so you resort to ad
    > hominem.

    True, I can't argue your points, but that is because you don't have any points.

    That's why I'm making fun of you instead.
  • by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @07:08AM (#147244) Homepage
    RMS: Howdy neighbor, how about I letting you borrow my lawn mover, and you letting me borrow your hedge cutter? It is up to you.

    Jay: That is not true sharing! That is sharing at gunpoint! It is theft! It is a virus! You must let me use your lawn mover with no conditions attached, you radical leftist!


    Anyway, Hercules is under the QPL, another copyleft (i.e. "viral") license. Jay doesn't care about the issues, he is just carrying an old grudge towards RMS for targetting GNU towards 32 bit platforms with at least 1 MB of flat memmory, at a time where most people (including Jay) could only afford PC AT class machines (80286, segmented memory).
  • IBM, Sun, and HP care a lot about the GPL. After all, they could have released their software under some other free license, but they didn't. They wanted to make sure that they released the software under a license that would guarantee that their work could not be used against them. GPLed works are embrace and extend proof. It is impossible to add proprietary extensions to a piece of software when you have to release the source code along with the binaries. These big business know this, and so they use the GPL when they are giving out source. In fact, the GPL is the only free software license that these companies are likely to use. Don't look for BSD style licensed software from IBM or Sun anytime soon.

    Not only is the GPL embrace and extend proof, it is also possible for the copyright holder to license the code under another license for people who are willing to pay. This is how the folks at TrollTech make a living with QT. QT is free for free software products, but commercial products have to pay for a commercial license.

    The GPL will almost certainly harm software only shops that aren't interested in selling service and support as their primary business, but that's just the way things are. Only a small percentage of programmers actually work in this type of environment, and protecting these people's jobs is akin to protecting the jobs of buggy whip manufacturers after the automobile became popular. As free software becomes more and more competitive programmers that buck the trend will find themselves looking for new work.

    But it isn't only free software that makes it hard to compete. Nowadays it is impossible to make money selling a web browser, but is that Netscape's fault for GPLing their browser, or is it Microsoft's fault for bundling their web browser with Windows. The answer is obvious, and it illustrates perfectly the plight of the commercial software developer. Too many of your competitors are willing to give software away.

  • I agree with your take on Mozilla. AOL is never going to be able to sell copies of mozilla. However, since that is not how they make money, it works out well for them.

    Just imagine how badly their XP negotiations with Microsoft would be going right now if they didn't have the Mozilla trump card up their sleeve. They would be screwed. AOL needs an independent browser, and the GPL allows them to build one without fronting all of the costs themselves. If you look at the commits you would notice that their are plenty of hackers with email addresses from other companies. That is valuable work that AOL does not have to pay for. So the GPL is definitely working in AOL's favor.

    And just because a piece of software is GPLed doesn't necessarily mean that it can't be a source of income. Cygnus was able to make money for years supporting gcc. They got greedy during the tech fever on the stock market, but that doesn't necessarily mean that their business plan before that was invalid.

    In fact, there are lots of companies that wouldn't have even had a prayer of being successful without the GPL. No one was interested in yet another proprietary widget set. And yet thanks to the fact that they released under the GPL QT became popular with hackers and now TrollTech is able to sell proprietary licenses of their software to people who don't want to make free software (but still want to use QT).

    The folks developing MySQL are another good example of how to make money off of a GPLed product. Who would be interested in yet another proprietary database (especially one as limited as MySQL). However, if you give it away for free, and sell service and support then your product has a good chance of becoming quite popular. And the fact that independent developers will help you improve the product doesn't hurt either.

    Sure, there are a lot of developers working on Free Software that aren't ever going to get paid for it, but there are lots of hackers that are getting paid to hack on Free Software, and their are some fairly successful businesses that are using this model.

  • by Jason Earl ( 1894 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @02:49PM (#147249) Homepage Journal

    Part of the reason that GPLed software is becoming more and more popular is that software developers the world over are starting to realize that none of us are going to be the next Bill Gates. The days when you can do a project that is significant enough to become a commercial product as a solo project (or even with a small group of hackers) is long past. And even if you do come out with a piece of software that has commercial promise their is no guarantee that one of the gigantic software houses (ie Microsoft) isn't going to simply clone your product, undercut your prices, and out market you. Heck, even large commercial software houses like Corel and Borland are having a hard time keeping their heads above water, and they have large software applications that people are willing to pay money for. Microsoft's "integration" is making it increasingly hard for their products to compete (because they don't integrate as well with the rest of the Microsoft stable of products).

    And Microsoft gets bigger every year. They are continually on the look out for new market niches to dominate. With their purchase of Great Plains Microsoft is getting set to dominate the small business accounting world, .Net aims at Microsoft controlling a major portion of the web, etc. etc.

    This is why companies like IBM, Sun, and HP are now pitching software into the GPL world. For example, Sun knows that the only chance that an Office suite has against Microsoft Office is if it is free, and guaranteed to remain that way forever. So OpenOffice has been released under the GPL for three reasons 1) so they can get some help from like minded hackers, and 2) they want to create a market for an office suite that works well with their Unix based hardware, 3) they hope to make office suites a commodity and cut off one of Microsoft's important revenue streams while growing demand for their Unix servers.

    IBM is working on doing the same thing with web services. They are helping with Apache and SOAP because they want to be able to sell IBM servers running OS400 or AIX (or whatever) that are capable of working with .Net clients. Like Sun, they would like the help of like minded hackers, and they want to make sure that their hardware has a capable set of tools.

    HP, on the other hand, has already created a neat set of tools (e-Speak or something) but no one has heard of it, or is interested in using it. They hope that releasing the source code will help it become a standard.

    Even more importantly, with GPLed software you don't have to be a big company to make a difference. Independent coders all over the world can collaborate on software that they all can sell as a service. And hackers working for large non-software oriented corporations can work together on truly interoperable infrastructure.

    You can try to be the next Bill Gates if you want, but the outlook for making that kind of money from commercial software (at this point in the race) is pretty slim. The competition simply has too much of a head start.

  • So why on earth is it that your photograph on your home page shows that you use so much GPL'ed software, then? If you feel moral compunctions about free software sharing, then step up to the plate and stop using it.

    - jon
  • It's the idea that I can only work on it on their terms that I have a problem with.

    So? That sounds like the capitalist ideal of private property, to me. Would you rather that the state forced people to allow you to use their work in anything you like?

    If your attitude is, "I'll make use of what people are stupid enough to give away, but I am not giving away *my* hard work", then Congratulations! No one will force you to! Just don't expect us to facilitate you doing what you want to do with our software.

    - jon
  • Yeah, I'll agree that the GPL does make it difficult to get equitable development funding costs shared around. Obviously, no GPL'ed software is developed for free. It would be nice to be able to have some reasonable way of spreading costs for it while still preserving the guarantee of openness and non-monopolization, but it's very unclear how that could work.

    ESR is correct that a lot of open source software is developed by programmers working for other sorts of industries who need a piece of software to get their job done. For software that needs development beyond that point, it might be interesting to have a 'commercial for a couple of years' clause, which would allow commercial development and sale in traditional non-sharing style for a limited time, wherupon the code would revert back to the public commons.

    This wouldn't be any sort of GPL, of course.

    - jon
  • Nonsense. The GPL doesn't deny anyone the ability to profit from the fruits of their labor, unless they choose to labor on GPL'ed software that they do not hold the copyright for. Believe me, no commercial software company will allow you to incorporate their code to create a derived work and then sell it, either. Not unless you pay them for the privilege, right?.

    The presence of the GPL and code written under the GPL does not in any way prevent you from finding such a commercial vendor and offering them hundreds of thousands of dollars to allow you to base derived works on their products, if you like. The presence of the GPL and code written under the GPL does not prevent you from writing your own code from scratch, and profiting thereby.

    I'm mystified at this kind of confusion that people have over the GPL. The people who complain about the GPL tend not to complain about the BSD license, when in fact they are complaining that they are not being allowed to profit adequately from someone else's work. Is that model more in keeping with your notion of capitalism? Take my work for free, and make money on it? If you are so concerned about the integrity of the capitalist system, pay cash on the barrel head for your software libraries, and be done with it.

    Complaining that you're having to pay more than people who are willing to abide by the GPL is laughable for someone so concerned about Communism.

    - jon

  • Is your post GPLed ?

    Actually, he can't, since it's not his original work -- an interesting twist in this case is that it's precisely the fact that he ripped it out of the Monstrous Compendium that makes it so funny. We can just hope that the copyright owners (I've lost track of who owns all that stuff by now. WotC?) would agree that this qualifies as fair use.

    David Gould
  • Great stuff? Ehh -- what's with the public and sociobiology anyway? The original "Sociobiology" was written in desperation by Wilson, as an attempt to rekindle interest in his sort of behaviorial research at the time when molecular biology was making traditional observational biology rather passe. Twenty-five years later, mainstream biology *is* molecular biology.

    There are interesting questions to be sure in the genetics of behavior, but experiment, combined with molecular evolutionary studies, are the way they are being addressed today (for example, this paper []), rather than by just-so stories. Look at all the recent sociobiology proponents -- Pinker, Wright, Dennet -- and you'll notice that they aren't biologists.
  • ...real problem is that non-GPL developers...

    Sorry folks, "non-GPL developers" should've been "GPL developers" in that sentence. And I even previewed. :-P

  • by John Whitley ( 6067 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @07:15AM (#147260) Homepage
    The problem with the GPV is that it is not a true form of sharing, but a coercive one.
    Let's examine this 'coercion' you speak of. You clearly mean it in a personally invasive (and trollish, IMO) manner:
    Sharing at gunpoint isn't sharing, it's theft.
    Precisely how is the GPL 'coercive' in this manner? Did RMS beat you up in grade school or something? I fail to see how a developer would ever be forced to use the GPL if not utilizing GPL'ed code for a project. Oh wait! I get it: you're a greedy fscker who wants to be able to take from developers who have authored GPL'ed code without honoring their request as is their right as authors under copyright law that you reciprocate if you use their work.

    So next question: Seriously, how do you feel about commercial software? Some authors require that you pay for their work, and don't even get source. Are you also angry about this choice of distribution terms?

    As near as I can tell (and this is your fault, for ranting without explaining), your real problem is that non-GPL developers aren't producing source code that you (or others) can use for non-reciprocal gains (e.g. proprietary extension, etc.). You are whining because the 'cost' by your philosophy, is too high. I'm sorry, but if it's that important to you, you'll just have to write it all non-GPL. Then we can put Chip's hypothesis to the test!

  • Darwin's Dangerous Idea, by Daniel C. Dennett, is another excellent book about the moral implications of evolution.

    Mein Kampf [] not only explores the implications more honestly, it also includes a great deal of information about implementing a practical program to achieve some of the ends mentioned. Of course, you do have to play down a lot of the genocide and cruelty which inevitably ensues, but then one does not make an omelette without breaking eggs, does one?

    For the humour-impaired, that was sarcasm.

    I sometimes wonder whether Adolf's notes from his time in the German boy-scouts-analog could be assembled and printed as ``Mein Kampfuer''? (-:

  • "I don't know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots." - George Bush

    I guess then that Dubyah will only support-church-sanctioned licences. And since he'll be going to those in a position of social authority to ask about said licences, and people in power seldom give away that power, the implication is that we're headed for another Dark Ages, albeit with digital watches.

    The essence of the Dark Ages was centralised and absolute political power, steered by ecclesiastical authorities for whom no sacrifice (by other people, of course) was too great.

    I do wish someone with both a brain and political power understood the difference between freedom and mere multiple choice. I do wish those willing to order fire put to the fagots actually read and believed what their example had to say on the topic []. Then we wouldn't be facing the apocalypse for which Dubyah is a trigger. Sigh.

  • Copying software, for free or for money, doesn't means a thing.

    People, and I mean every techie, IT manager or dweeb who can handle a mouse and type "make install", figures that they can do it better and then they proceed to try (and usually fail because they didn't understand the magnitude of the problem.)

    I've given away designs that I could/should have charged for and the fact remains that GPL and Gnu/Linux is the first (and perhaps only) place since 1978 where the community and the concept of a community has actually had a chance.

    You can give people a map of where to go and directions on how to get there and they will stumble around engendering bankruptcy after failure before admitting that they don't know it all.

    I hope that the Potchlatch society continues...

    It gives me hope.
  • by Laxitive ( 10360 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @06:43AM (#147265) Journal

    Wow, the opponents of the GPL are becoming extremely vocal.

    This is my view of what the GPL does, and why it does it, and why that is good:

    The GPL is constructed on one basic principle: all software should be Free (note capital F). Now, I dont necessarily agree with that principle, but that is RMS's view of software - the view from which he designed the GPL. This is, in some ways, the 'natural state' of software. If there were no software copyright laws, then when a person bought a piece of software, they would be able to freely modify and redistribute it. However, in the current capitalist state, that is not possible - because software copyright laws restrict people from doing what they would be able to do quite naturally.

    The GPL, then, is designed to create an island of software that obeys the rule of the 'natural state' inside the current system by using copyright laws. And the GPL is designed such that this island of software will always remain free, and never grow smaller.

    Regardless of wether you disagree with RMS's ideal of a natural state of software or not, you can still agree with the GPL - if you beleive that free software should remain free. This is what the GPL ensures. If someone has taken their time and produced a useful software work and released it under the GPL, then they can be assured that their work, and modifications to their work, will remain free, and that it will continue to benefit the free software community.

    Other licenses (such as BSD) allow software that was free, to be used and extended in ways that in no way benefits (and perhaps even harms) the free software community. Others can use the BSD works, without giving anything to free software in return. In essence, it allows greedy individuals to stand on the shoulders of free software, pick the high-hanging fruit, and walk away with it, whistling blithely. I dont like that.

  • by FallLine ( 12211 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @10:58AM (#147270)
    While I too dislike the GPL and think it is bound to fail (in the sense that it will never reach its inspirations), I must say that your point of view is simply ridiculous.

    First, the economic gains that we have made have not (for the most par) been in the form of increased employment of programmers and related staff. It is based on increased productivity. If GPL were to ever replace propreitary software in the work place, it would surely do it on the basis of increased efficiency. In other words, GPLs success would not hurt the economy, if anything it would help it, because it would have to be better to succeed. The number of lost shrink-wrapped programming positions would be relatively nominal and those programmers would almost certainly find other programming jobs developing software for corporations (which is where most programmers work).

    Second, this point of view is simply ridiculous, assuming you do indeed believe in the free market. The free market is about letting the best product, service, or person win, free from arbitrary regulations, tarrifs, and the like. If it has enough staying power to really hurt programming positions, it is better, let it succeed. In the long run, we would all benefit.

    That said, my reasons for disliking the GPL is as follows: First, I think advocates and defenders of its license are rather disingenuous in their defense. They claim GPL is a gift. Well fine, it is a gift, no one is making any one use it. But it is a limited gift, in the sense that it puts all sorts of stipulations on its use that do not exist naturally, in any shape, way, or form. What's more, their authority to enforce those limitations (which is really the only way they differentiate GPL from any other number of open licenses) is based on the same laws that proprietary software is based on. Second, its current sofware is of limited use to the vast majority of the public, not to mention myself. [The proof is in the pudding, how many people actually use it? Baring daemons like sendmail, apache, and the like, which are being replaced]. Third, it does its damnest to prevent investment in software, since the backers have very little chance of making a satisfactory return. [Yes, we've all heard the support argument, but how does _actually_ funding software development entitle you to "support" any better than anyone else? Sure, RedHat, IBM, and the like have made some, but it's chump change, not nearly as much as propreitary software gets per user hour.]. Fourth, it's organization is severely hampered by its openness. As contradictory as that sounds, there is real value in having CENTRALIZED control. While de-centralization itself can be a virtue, I judge this to be far less valuable than loss of centralization.

    In other words, I don't see GPL as a credible threat to programmers. I also don't see it as a credible threat or benefit to consumers. Some companies may try it, a handful of people may lose their jobs, some GPL (or free) software may be thrown into the laps of consumers, but, by and large, it will not reach large enough proprortions to be terribly relevant to anyone.
  • How are they twisting the word free? And as others pointed out, who is forcing anyone to work on a GPL'd project? Forced at gun point would mean that I put a gun to your head and made you contribute code. If you do so on your own will, then it's hardly forced anything.

    Furthermore, why is it that people need to go out of their way and troll a conversation because they don't like the GPL? I think the QPL is an awful license. Should I now make all sorts of rude comments about your emulator?
  • Noone is forced to pay the money unless they actually want to. If noone can be arsed to make the improvements and release it under the BSD (there is nothing to stop them doing it) then maybe the motivation of money will get it done.

    Maintaining compatibility with the "improvements" can be quite tricky when the source is closed. Even worse, it could in some cases be illegal due to patents.

  • An easy source for an older popularization of the concepts behind this article is "The Selfish Gene" by R. Dawkins. I think that it's still in print, but I haven't checked for a few years.

    Also, most modern books on either game theory or ethology would give you the background that you feel to be missing. But I like the Dawkins presentation. It's easy, accessible, and gives a fine basis for generalizations without the need to go into the math.

    (If you like the math, try some Game Theory books. But they are generally heavier going.)

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • I don't think that you understand game theory. It's true, that the author of this piece was only looking at a small piece of the model. This is, however, necessary. The model is huge. And it can (in principle) does include the kind of social interactions that you describe.

    The thing is, if we want to understand it, we need to take a small piece, and model a toy system. If we were to implement it fully, I doubt that the Blue Genes computer would be powerful enough to do the analysis.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • Kereberos wasn't under the GPL. And the field was not put there to enable proprietary extensions.

    If Kereberos had been under the GPL, then MS couldn't have pulled that embrace and extend trick unless, somehow, they were able to patent their extension.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • 1) Some of the proponents of the GPL believe that all software should be Free. This is not a cornerstone of the GPL.

    2) The GPL insists that all code based on code which has been licensed under the GPL should, itself, be licensed under the GPL. And to that extent it asserts that descendant code should be "Free" (i.e., GPLed).

    3) Other licenses, designed to optimize other things, are Free in slightly different senses. (And, of course, with some of the licenses, the word free is a total misnomer. MSWord, e.g., is not free, except in the warez sense.)

    4) Deciding what is the "natural state" is a peculiar exercise. I don't find the concept useful. If you do, perhaps you could explain what that means, and how you decided on how to determine it. (Software only exists in the context of a culture that is sophisticated enough to contain computers, so "natural state" would seem to need to include that society.)

    5) The term reciprocal altruism from (in my experience) Dawkins "The Selfish Gene" seems to be a better mapping for the concept that the GPL is attempting (so far rather successfully) to create.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • Actually, I think that they can even sell GPLed code (that they didn't write). (I'd need to reread the license to be sure.) What they can't do is forbid their customers from redistributing. And they must provide their customers with the source. And license their work under the GPL.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • Ok sure, maybe it is good for internal applications, businees applications and the like they don't make money on but really.

    I don't beleive the theory that the money would be made off support. If that is so, no one will be developping the software.

    Here's why people will develop the software. If you are supporting the software you have knowledge about where the bugs are which makes it much easier for you to fix them. Furthermore, the more solid the product you are offering, the more likely you can sell it and related support contracts. So it is definitely in your vested interest to contribute to the code.

    Furthermore, if you contribute to the code, you'll have a far more intimate knowledge about it, making it much easier for you to diagnose and solve problems in the future. This means reduced time that you have to spend on support calls which means greater efficiency and revenue. It's also much easier to sell your services when you can say, "we've got 10 guys on staff who wrote most of the code so we know how to support it."


  • by sterno ( 16320 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @06:45AM (#147282) Homepage
    The GPL is a form of sharing that assumes some people out there might not want to share in return. So perhaps its assumptions about human nature are not as optimistic as other licenses, but you have to admit that the evidence overwhelmingly supports their assumptions.

    Personally I feel most comfortable contributing to the GPL because I know that nobody is going to come along and lock away my work in their own proporietary software. Wouldn't it piss you off slightly if you put years of hard work into a projet and the Microsoft came along and hacked your code to be subtly incompatible and then released it without source code? You can try to argue that if your product is better it will win, but then your product may not be bundled with every computer sold to the public


  • by dillon_rinker ( 17944 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @11:51AM (#147288) Homepage
    When I give you a copy of free software that I've written, I lost nothing
    To be precise, the marginal cost of giving someone else a copy is negligible. I'd suggest that the cost of giving someone a copy of your software = (Value of your time)*(Hours spent coding and copying) / (number of copies made). I'd suggest that if you spend five years of your life coding THE software solution, and give all the copies away for free, then all of them together cost you five years of your life - hardly nothing.

  • Yup! There are perfectly valid reasons to use the GPL, but "protecting the software" is not one of them. The software is already protected. No company can steal it. No company can damage it. They can do all sorts of nasty things to derivations of the software, but the original software is inviolate. Nothing Microsoft could possibly do with a "M$Linux" would affect any Redhat or Debian user in the slightest. Their copies are still on their hard drives untouched.

    If you want to make your software freely available, distributable and modifiable by all, the the BSD license is more than sufficient.

    Reciprocal altruism is just another name for enlightened self interest. It's a fancy name for "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine".
  • One of the reasons that I like to use these packages is that the code is freely available to all, and that will always be true. That gives me some extra assurance that any investment of time I make in these programs will always be open, to me and everyone else.

    But the BSD license has these very same assurances! Your software will always be freely available to all people. There's nothing a company can possible do to your code to change this. Your code will still be there. All of your users' copies of your code will still be there. If you have a thriving community of developers, they will still be there. Derivation does not make the orignal suddenly disappear. You cannot steal what is free. The GPL is sufficient if you want to prevent companies from using your code without reciprocal compensation, but it is not necessary to assure your code's freedom.
  • If you post source code on a website, it will remain their as long as the website does. It keeps on giving. If other people also post your code, it keeps on giving faster. Regardless of license. It is most definitely NOT a one-time gift.
  • You mean I dont' have the moral right to give away my property? My God, into what irrational pit has objectivism descended! Altruism *IS* self interest! I get a hell of a lot of benefit by releasing my software under the BSDL.

    But at least I am not so crass as to publicly proclaim that software should not be owned, while at the same time demanding a controlling interest in all derivative works.
  • A M$Office that only runs on M$Linux does not *damage* Redhat or Debian. None of their code base is affected at all. Their code is still protected. Microsoft hasn't changed it at all.

    Like I said, it is not necessary to use the GPL to protect code. However, there may be OTHER reasons to use it. Preventing damage to Redhat's corporate mindshare/marketshare in Linux is one. I'm sure you can think of others. But the protection of the code is already assured.
  • A company can hijack your user community ... you will lose your users.

    This isn't feudalism and you aren't a feudal lord. Users are not serfs. They are not tied to your code. YOU DO NOT OWN YOUR USERS!
  • If software should not be owned (as says the author of the GPL) then why should I assert ownership over sofware that includes bits that I haven't even created?
  • Altruism != self-interest. By definition.

    By definition, you are correct. But by actual practice, there is no difference between altruism and self interest. Dictionary-altruism does not exist. People feed the hungry and cloth the poor because it benefits themselves. People license their software under the GPL, BSDL or MPL because it benefits themselves. If there was no personal benefit then they would not do so.

    What value do you realize, exactly, from releasing your own software under the BSDL?

    The benefits that I realize are different from what other BSDL authors realize, so take this with a grain of salt...

    I get an ego boost every time someone writes saying that they use my software. I get an ego boost whenever someone uses my code in their own software. I get an ego boost when I see it become an official part of a distribution.

    I become a better coder every time someone posts a bug. I become a better designer every time someone says my stuff sucks (if they offer a reason why).

    I get monetary rewards as well. My code is a living resume, and I get job offers from it from time to time. My current position is a direct result of my releasing code publically.

    And I get the moral well-being in knowing that everyone can use my code freely and without restriction. It pleases me that no one need worry about using my code, including using my code in their own code.

    And what else are you not clear about?

    I'm not clear on a lot of things, but they're all off topic...
  • I think the BSD guys are still smarting over Bruce not getting their signature on the letter to M$. Most of the people really doing work don't seem to mind (and understand the time pressures) but those sitting on the sideline seem to feel a need to pipe up.

    FWIW, I may disagree with your (collective) choice of license. But it is your software. Not mine. If I don't like it, I'll either use it anyway, or move on.

  • Microsofts lawyers seem to agree that the GPL is enforceable, since we havent seen any MS-Linux
    (just a silly example, I dont expect MS to want to return to Unix-type software)

    I don't think lack of an MS-Linux proves much, but it is implicit in their objections to the GPL that they think it works.
  • by rking ( 32070 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @08:35AM (#147302)
    The FSF disagree with you.
    They say, and I qoute: "at least one application program is free software today specifically because that was necessary for using Readline."

    Which is completely irrelevant to the discussion. The question was whether or not people were being forced to do anything. Your quote relates to someone wanting to use Readline. There's simply no connection.

    You might as well say "people are forced at gunpoint to pay Lotus money, it's simply theft" and then support it by quoting Lotus as saying that people who wanted to use their software had to pay. There is no force, there is no gun, it is not theft, not even by analogy.
  • Put something under the GPL and you cast it to the four winds. Forget about using it as a source of income, unless of course you're Redhat who sells the convenience of a linux distribution ready to go on CD. That kind of model won't work for other things that are neither that large nor that complex. Take mozilla for example, is anyone ever going to make money from selling it? Am I supposed to go out and pay money to get it on CD when the download is only a few minutes on my DSL connection? I don't think so. AOL is never going to make any money of Mozilla, it exists soley as a trump card in their dealings with Microsoft.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that open source/free software is bad, I'm simply pointing out that the idea anyone is going to get paid for their work is absurd. At most it will be something they can put on a resume so someone else will pay them more to develop software that isn't open source. The handful of exceptions such as developers at RedHat or IBM are just that, exceptions. If an IBM developer is paid to develop GPL'd software it is because IBM is making the money to pay him with non-GPL products. Some guy working in his garage on a pet project isn't going to see one red dime. This is something that we need to accept. Pretending and proclaiming otherwise is simply going to put off those bright enough to see the truth. If there is anything that almost everyone dislikes its being bullshitted. We've grown used to it from people and organizations we don't trust. Getting it from the open source crowd is simply going to make people distrust it as well.

    Tell it like it is, not how you think people want it to be.

    Lee Reynolds
  • by PapaZit ( 33585 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @06:15AM (#147304)
    This article ignores one of the findamental differences between software and other types of products: it can be copied at no cost. When I give you a copy of free software that I've written, I lost nothing. Nobody takes anything from me, and parasites do not damage or weaken the host in any way. These arguments are often repeated by software pirates, but that doesn't make them any less true.

    When I write and release software, trust doesn't enter into it. It's my gift to the world. Eric Raymond's comparison of free software to other gift economies is very accurate for me. Take what I've made and use it. Make the world a better place. If it has to be proprietary, so be it.

    This sort of unconditional gift isn't possible with the GPL, so I use the BSD license. As long as there are a few others doing the same, we can keep it up forever. This isn't a competition. We can all win.


  • Kereberos wasn't under the GPL.

    His point was the GPLing would have helped.

    If Kereberos had been under the GPL, then MS couldn't have pulled that embrace and extend trick...

    Of course they could. The Kerberos spec itself can't be GPLed; only specific implementations of it are subject to any licensing at all (barring any patents, of course).

  • by coyote-san ( 38515 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @07:38AM (#147306)
    While I don't want to dismiss this line of reasoning too casually, I think it overlooks a far more important form of trust.

    The reason I trust that my neighbor will not murder me in my sleep is that I trust society at large to enact retribution (prison time) on my behalf. The state has absolutely no obligation to protect me (despite what the "we must think of the children!" crowd thinks), but it does have an obligation to enforce its laws. One of those laws requires a reasonable effort to find my killer, and that is what keeps me safe.

    But this trust is semi-optional - if I am fearful for my safety, I can take actions on my own. I can obtain a guard dog, or study a martial art. In many parts of the US I can even keep a gun in the nightstand.

    What does this have to do with software?

    UCITA. To a lesser extent, the DMCA. The apparent inability or unwillingless of the government to deal with a proven predatory monopolist.

    In social terms, software (and other media) rights are arguably closer to a feudal model than a democratic one. We are asked to trust that Lord Bill, who can literally do no wrong, will not harm us. If he does, we have no rights.

    This trust is mandatory - we must trust our software providers, and are legally unable to act to reduce our perceived risk.

    For instance, we have to trust that UCITA, the DMCA, and a mandatory subscription model won't result in a situation where our critical data is held in a proprietary format that we can no longer access because the product was discontinued (and technical self-help caused the software to self-destruct), and no tools are available to extract the data in other forms because of the DMCA and anti-reverse-engineering provisions.

    In contrast, the open licenses make this trust optional again. I can trust that 'gcc' will always be available... or I can keep backup copies of the source, and the source for everything needed to compile it, on hand.

    I think most people will be concerned with this form of trust, not the "gift culture" that motivates developers.
  • I hope this isn't true.

    Copyright protects expressions of ideas, not ideas themselves. Through a process known as "clean rooming," Microsoft, or anyone else for that matter, can effectively produce their own code based upon the algorithms embodied in any GPL code.

    This isn't reciprocally true, by the way. To the extent that Microsoft relies upon patents and retains trade secrets and ownership to the title of copies of their program, Microsoft may well be able to stop effective reverse engineering or clean rooming. (And this has nothing to do with UCITA, BTW -- these protections existed under applicable IP laws, the common law and the UCC.)
  • by Tuck ( 41529 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @08:07AM (#147308) Homepage
    One of the examples (quoted in one of the FSF philosophy [] essays) is that Xerox wouldn't give them the source code to fix some problems they were having with their printer.

    I always found it funny that, in a backhanded way, the GNU project is just one more thing Xerox [] invented.


  • I don't think the law hinders that many people to kill one another. If they really want to, they'll do it anyway.
    Ok. If it's not working let's scratch it off the books then.
  • by interiot ( 50685 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @06:37AM (#147311) Homepage
    For users, GPL'd code is a gift.

    For authors, GPL'd code is an exchange.

  • I would say the GPL is an example of enlightened selfishness, and the BSDL is an example of altruism. GPL is based on trade; an author gives his code to anyone who wants it, in exchange for any enhancements or other work that uses his code. It's payment in kind. the BSDL is altruism; the author did all that work, and expects nothing in return.

    I prefer the GPL. Altruism is a moral dead end, and doesn't promote, protect or respect freedom or people's effort and lives at all. The GPL inherently respects people's effort and right to be compensated for their labor. The compensation is more likely to come inthe form of more software rather then money, but it's still compensation.

    - - - - -
  • You absolutely have a moral right to give away your property in any way you choose.

    Altruism != self-interest. By definition. And if you derive value from releasing your software under the BSDL, then it's not altruism. Altruism would be where it's a total loss for you and a gain for someone else. What value do you realize, exactly, from releasing your own software under the BSDL?

    And what else are you not clear about?

    - - - - -
  • Fair enough. And I agree to some extent, although "karma" is superstitious (are you really expecting to reincarnate in a higher state because you use the BSDL?)

    For instance, codecs are good things to release under the BSDL, LGPL, or to the Public Domain, purely as a pragmatic excercise in dominating a market with an acceptable (from the point of view of quality, price, non-encumberance, whtever) format.

    In response to your specific example, though, I would say that faster web surfing would be the reward for using Free code as opposed to proprietary code. If the crucial differentiators the Free code has are included in the proprietary code as well, and the authors of the proprietary code don't share their crucial differentiators with you, then it's not exactly a fair trade.

    Although the proprietary code writers may reincarnate as toads or something.

    - - - - -
  • ... GPL explicitly denies the software itself as a source of revenue ...

    No, it doesn't. You can sell GPLed software. You just can't do so EXCLUSIVELY - somebody else could start selling it, or giving it away, once they have a copy.

    That doesn't mean they WILL. And it doesn't mean that, if they do, your market will dry up entirely. Think: Did you buy the distribution of Linux you last loaded, or did you download it from the net?

    Yes the financial model pays you for the service you provide rather than the software itself. But even with proprietary software a very large component of the price is for the service rather than the underlying code. People buy software for what it will do, not what it is, and when they pay they expect support.
  • Microsoft wants to (or already does) use GPL'ed code but does not want to release what they did with it.

    If so, I'd bet it was incorporated by low-level workers, in violation of the company's policies and the wishes of the upper management. Too much of Microsoft's business model is built on keeping the source to themselves for an exec to risk having to give it all away for a few extra features - or even a lot of very powerful features.

    Especially since the GPL doesn't stop you from reverse-engineering the code and writing your own equivalent to create the feature! It even allows a single person to do this - though a large company would want to "clean-room" it, with one team doing the analysis and another the coding, to avoid risk of conatmination with enough code snippets to cross the boundary between a genre member with fair-use quotes and a derived work.

    GPL and the other open-source licenses are built on copyright - which protects an expression - not on patent - which protects an idea. (Despite the way some companies are trying to stretch copyright into a super-patent.)

    And the open-source social contract (not to be confused with the Social Contract license B-) ) is this:
    - Here's what I did. Some nice ideas, and a lot of drudgework to make it run.
    - You like it? Use it.
    - You tweak it and keep it to yourself? That's fine.
    - You tweak it and sell it, or give it away?
    - Don't keep the tweaks to yourself,
    - don't keep ME from using your tweaks, and
    - make sure everybody else who gets it does the same.
    - (You want to take the ideas and do your OWN drudgework to make another version run? And sell that? And NOT share the guts? I can't stop you. Just don't use the fruit of MY drudgework in YOUR version.)
  • The GPL based on trust? Don't make me laugh. The GPL is based on the assumption that people cannot be trusted. That's why it contains such explicit provisions saying that if you use GPL'ed code, you must behave in a certain way.

    If we really trusted people, we would simply give them the code free of license and trust that they would do the right thing. Many licenses (the BSD license, the Artistic license, etc.) go much further in this direction than the GPL. But even those licenses exhibit a lack of trust, because the reality is that there are some untrustworthy folks out there.

  • People on this thread are obsessing about details and evading the issues. That's sad, because this is an important topic. Altruism is a slippery subject. That's why when the The Selfish Gene came along it was such a big event. The selfishness was still there, you just had to look in a different place.

    Chip is discussing cultural altruism, the idea that communities can adopt altruistic social conventions. The GPL itself has two faces. Stallman had a selfish motivation for creating the GPL community: his own convenience. The GPL community is an altruistic culture, but only mildly so compared to the normal context of debate.

    Think about bats exchanging blood meals. One night you feed well and return to the nest to find your buddy on the verge of starvation. So you cough up a blood meal. There's goes desert. Then you hit a dry spell and now you are verging on starvation. You see your buddy return to the nest with a fat belly. He turns away. You die. The term for this behaviour is "defection". It's stupid to look for altruism in a context where defection doesn't inflict real harm.

    It's not easy to decide what behaviour in the GLP community counts as defection. Stallman created the GPL in an era of scarcity. Good quality code in those days was difficult to obtain. Now we are in an era where the code we have is as much of a problem as the code we don't have. It's quite possible that trolls are doing the most harm to the GPL community.

    I try to figure out why Stallman felt so injured by his inability to access other people's changes. I think his ambitions weren't compatible with duplication of effort. He needed to cajole people into cooperation in order to get where he wanted to go. That was a different time. These days software has become an enormous ecology. In a large ecology, there are always niches. Niches promote diversity, and diversity is usually good.

    One of the key functions of a healthy ecology is colonizing new resources. When new hardware comes out, the gcc toolchain is often the first spoor. gcc is like the worms in the soil that make it possible for plants to set down roots. Regardless what vegetation comes and goes, the worms need to be there. I think the GPL makes a lot of sense in that niche. However, it's definitely a mistake to think that the GPL is the only approach to homeostatic altruism or that the ecosystem doesn't benefit from a diversity of approach.

    Would the security of OpenBSD be improved by adopting the GPL? It makes me laugh to even think about it. A secure OS hardly wants to apply every patch that's floating around. In this context abundance is a bigger threat than scarcity. Here, take the code, go away! Leave us alone! Our classical GPL notion of defection (playing with your marbles in a tree fort) makes no sense at all. Does any thread of defection remain? If defection doesn't apply, none of Chip's arguments about altruism have any bearing.

    If OpenBSD does not survive on the basis of policing altruism, how does it survive? (Isn't that a more interesting question than predicting its doom?) I find the theory of absorbing boundaries more applicable in this context. Altruism is a social theory. Nothing stirs debate like a social theory. In that sense, altruism is a selfish meme entirely in its own right. Absorbing boundaries are abstract and dull.

    Let's peel away altruism's self promotion, and look at some other possibilities here. To begin with, OpenBSD is not terribly dependent on growth. In fact, OpenBSD actively resists growth wherever possible. Security and growth are not often on speaking terms. What OpenBSD does appreciate are contributions which fix or simplify the existing system. The scarcity the OpenBSD team confronts is their own ability to review the code base. Nothing makes their life easier in that department than having less code, or less cluttered code.

    But let's suppose Theo gets a brain tumour and decides he needs an aggressively protectionist license. The dirty bastards must give something back! How would he write an OpenBSD GPL? No one can use OpenBSD until after they've submitted an approved patch to the OpenBSD team? Just what would make their lives easier: a pro-troll license.

    We'd have to add an anti-troll provision. If you submit three patches which contain bugs, shoot yourself. Ask a question from the FAQ three times, climb into the OpenBSD powered baby mulcher. A Darwinian license would be a nice thing, but I don't think it would accelerate progress on OpenBSD.

    An interesting example of OpenBSD thriving is the KAME IPv6 extensions which have been donated to the BSD lineage by a consortium of seven Japanese companies. None of this work is under the GPL that I've ever seen. This is the heartland of the inter-op niche. I don't think it hurts anyone that the KAME implementation can be used in any context. The valuable commodity here is conceptual experience. Would it make sense to impose an agglutinating license like the GPL? I don't think so.

    On reflection, it makes more sense to think of your code being incorporated into OpenBSD being a privilege rather than an obligation. Even supposing you write a perfect piece of code, the world changes. If your perfect routine is hidden away in a proprietary system whose going to notice when the world changes in a way which violates your requirements for correct operation? Not only do the modules need to remain correct, but the interactions need to remain correct. How about contributing your component back to OpenBSD? Now you have a group of clever and decidated people paying a lot of attention to potential problems and you aren't paying them for the service they are offering you. Amazing!

    There are lots of reasons why people will continue to contribute back to BSD even if the license doesn't compel it. What's strange about the GPL is the currency of return even makes sense. This can only be the case when quantity matters as much as quality. The GPL community has a very aggressive process of assimilating crap. It eats crap and shits food. (Sometimes after more than one iteration.) That alone should make it clear that the GPL is an odd corner of the ecology.

    If the selfish altruism argument carried any real weight, we wouldn't be using the GPL. We'd be using an anti-DMCA license. This software is free to everyone, except those people who profit from making it illegal for us to determine how things work so that we can add support to our platform.

    Finally a definition of "defection" red in tooth and claw. If anything is going to bring down the GPL or BSD communities, it's a legal context where you can't write the code in the first place.

    Another area where the GPL falls flat is in code re-use. The GPL is very effective at encouraging code re-use at the component level (i.e. via linkage). But that's not the whole story. Object oriented designs encourage run-time re-use; generic designs encourage compile time re-use. The LGPL covers components, but it isn't much use for generic code.

    Generic code exists to make the implementation space easier to navigate. It doesn't have much to do with the finished product. Code re-use at this level makes the most sense if everyone re-uses it. The scarcity here is in compatible skill sets. This an area where you really don't want niches. We all know about languages whose name includes a number.

    Wouldn't it be better when the day comes that a proprietary chunk of code gets donated back to the community that the proprietary code is already based on the same generic libraries? The GPL does not encourage that. A generic source code library hardly needs the GPL to enforce community. Re-use is a community almost by definition.

    The GPL doesn't appeal to me much. I've never been that interested in peering over my shoulder to see how other people are getting on.

    All the things I'm interested in working on I find are already under the BSD licenese. Often the ideas are more valuable than the source code anyway.

    I see the GPL as being an inherently materialistic license based on the view that source code is an intrinsically valuable commodity. 90% of the code I've seen I'd only maintain at gunpoint. Stallman must get more pleasure than I do at realizing everyone else's version of the same code is worse still.

    To make the GPL non-materialistic, it would have to control ideas. I'll really laugh the first time I see a GPL patent granted. "This patent is free for all to use, but patents which cites this patent must also be GPL'd"

    Is that the view of the world the GPL community wishes to take?

    I can't help but paraphrase an American senate review panel on the subject of selfishness: Q: Does the staggering sum of money we are spending on this supercolider in any way help to defend the American people? A: The staggering sum of money we are spending on this supercolider makes America worth defending.

    I'm disappointed to see Chip take such a narrow position on the role of political altruism. I think creativity is its own reward, and that creativity flourishes best where politics is practiced least.

  • I can only see that the author makes certain claimes.

    Numbered from 1. to 3.

    But where are the proofs?


    3. The GPL is good for business. Companies that use the GPL are neither foolish nor stupid.
    They simply want to trust that other companies won't be able to take unfair advantage of them,
    and the GPL gives them that immediate security while simultaneously allowing open cooperation. And in the general case, the GPL is a friend of business because it makes new and better efficiencies possible, and economies thrive on new and better efficiencies.

    If I where a core programmer working on the linux kernel in my spare time, I would consider companies which make linux distributions as parasits, taking an unfair advantage from my work (not giving me any refundings).

    Unfortunatly there are only few companies comming up to my mind releasing GPLed code *NOT* working on linux distributions.

    So where are the companies the author is talking about? Giving away GPLed code?
    What code is that (kind of applications)?
    How do they make their money? (What is the service they offer?)

    Frankly: the only way I like to live is making code and sell it.
    I have no clue how to make a living with GPLed code (I make mey living as consultant, and make nearly no code, all companies which I programmed for filed bancruptcy. Now I founded my own one, but I still rely on SELLING the code!)

    Unfortunalty, the standard litarature from RMS and ESR do not cover how a smal team, of lets say 10 programemrs can lvie from GPLed code, not to talk about living from not gPLed code.

    Everybody only makes claims and abstract conclusins from the claims, but no proofs.

    BTW: a decent linux installation costs 3 times from a decent Win2k installation .... At that front it is clear how to make money: claim a GPL code mine, make distributions for the stuff you mine and sell them .... that heavyly sounds like a standard proprietary business.

  • by Crimplene Prakman ( 82370 ) <> on Saturday June 16, 2001 @09:41AM (#147331) Journal
    When I give you a copy of free software that I've written, I lost nothing. Nobody takes anything from me, and parasites do not damage or weaken the host in any way.

    I disagree.

    In the world of Art, you are right. If all software was art, you would still be right.
    However, in a world of high technology, where being the first to market is enough to give you an edge (or enough attention to be bought out by Microsoft :-), the single most important reason software houses maintain a religious vigil over their code is to avoid competitive coups.

    The first thing that comes to my mind Transmeta's Crusoe launch was the utter secrecy and hyped cloistering that went on, almost overclouding the product, but highlighting their "first to market" status.

    Also relevant (although even more hardware related) is the fact that Intel released their 8086 six months before Motorola's slicker more pleasant 68000. If they had been released at the same time, my money would have been on the Motorola.

    Time has proven that first-to-market works... and in the hotter faster climate of software, with a much smaller design-to-product rollout time, first-to-market is a force to be reckoned with.

    I qualify this by saying I come from a telecoms background, where competition is tight at the front-end of emerging technologies, and Free software (despite some huge efforts []) has a way to go before touching the feature-set of current technology. I know the leading edge of other niches is just as competition-ridden.
    The important thing to realise about this article is that the author rightly says:
    "The GPL will eventually dominate Open Source"

    NOT that the GPL will dominate software production in general. Until proprietary software is overwhelmed entirely by Open Source - which I am sure will happen - it will still have the decided advantage of being "first to market" with many technologies, and thus stay very much in the sights (and budgets!) of early adopters and news reports everywhere.

    Now all we need to do is convince the biggies to tear up all of their NDAs and encourage cross-fertilisation with Open Source ;-)

    We may be human, but we're still animals.

  • However, it costs money to produce software, if only to feed the authors, and GPL explicitly denies the software itself as a source of revenue. Has any pure software company ever made money by releasing all its software under GPL? (and selling support?)

    Dunno, and don't care. I think companies should make profit on providing goods or services, not because they are granted a monopoly on an "idea". Greedy people don't like this, though, 'cause then they have to keep working for their dough instead of doing some upfront work, then sitting back & raking it in.

  • Interesting point.

    But while it doesn't deny anyone the ability to profit from their labor, it also doesn't provide a mechanism for them to profit.

    The GPL is essentially silent on how you exchange code for money, and I think it is right to be skeptical of that missing element, since without it there isn't a source of money to invest in the next generation of the system.

    Of course there are lots of possibilities... Eric Raymond has spent several years looking at the various possibilities. I find myself unconvinced of their effectiveness however.

    Redhat for example is really supported in a way that is more similar to NPR than it is to Eric's idea of loss-leader plus support. VA on the other hand doesn't seem very effective at earning money at all. And neither of these companies is able to collect enough income to really support the development that is going in to their products.

    Repayment in kind (as the original article suggests) by keeping the software free certainly attracts a few people, but by its nature these people must be supported somehow.

    I think the GPL would benefit from some sort of a right of taxation. Either as a duty to a non-profit which then redistributes the income to various developers, or as voluntary payment. But without some evidence that the development can continue to grow in the long term, skeptics who are not able or willing to maintain their own software will seek out an alternative social system that has a future that they can count on.

  • However, it costs money to produce software, if only to feed the authors, and GPL explicitly denies the software itself as a source of revenue. Has any pure software company ever made money by releasing all its software under GPL? (and selling support?)

    At least one has - Slackware []. Profitable from day one. Still profitable today. Not huge, no, but profitable. A small company with a small group of paid programmers that keep their target audience very happy.

    Anyway, it's not quite correct to say that the GPL denies software revenue, although it certainly makes it tricky.

    The future probably has room for quite a few successful ventures using GPL, but it may well be that only smaller ones like slack will be successful and releasing everything as Free Software, while larger companies will need to embrace the movement to some extent, but maintain some proprietary level, either in making hardware or keeping their top items pay-only. That's not really a problem. If you really need a large, complicated program with the most cutting edge features then you probably won't mind to pay for it. But eventually, when that cutting edge program ages a bit and is no longer cutting edge, it may well be cloned or freed regardless, and one will only need to pay if one really needs the newest features. In this fashion the best of both worlds can be achieved - companies that spend money programming the latest and greatest can make their money back and profit on top of that, but they can't turn the program into an indefinate license to print money either, and the stultifying effect on innovation and computer science excessive proprietarization causes will be almost completely avoided.

    "That old saw about the early bird just goes to show that the worm should have stayed in bed."
  • by BierGuzzl ( 92635 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @08:12AM (#147338)
    If I where a core programmer working on the linux kernel in my spare time, I would consider companies which make linux distributions as parasits, taking an unfair advantage from my work (not giving me any refundings).

    If you were a core programmer working on the linux kernel, you'd already have an appreciation for the fact that no one needs to prove their right to redistribute code that you wrote and they either did or did not modify. No one has to ask your permission, because you already gave it openly. If you feel that they are parasites, don't license it under the GPL.

    If you don't want to give stuff away, then don't. Just remember that the rest of the world gives to us far more than we can ever give back.

  • by Tom7 ( 102298 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @06:40AM (#147341) Homepage Journal

    There's are several big leaps here, but very little insight. How did you come to these conclusions?

    The most glaring omission in my eyes is the fact that you don't reconcile the difference between altruisim with traditional goods (ones that have physical identitity and which "go away" when you give them to somebody) and the kind of sharing we do in the "open source" community. Here, "parasites" making copies of our work doesn't reduce our ability to use our own copies. (This is one of the founding principles of the GPL, in fact.) Therefore, parasites aren't much like parasites at all.

    I think the GPL is great, personally, but I don't think I follow your argument.
  • Let's not forget the original statement that sparked my reply:
    " ... denying someone the ability to profit from the fruits of one's own labor."

    As I see it, if Alice (the original author of a piece of software) chooses to go the GPL way she makes the choice to make her source code freely available. She is presumably aware that it will be quite difficult to get people to pay for it, on the grounds of the parasitism effect mentioned in the article. She expresses her desire to keep all future versions of her software free by choosing the GPL, over say, the BSD license. That may be because she doesn't like the idea of others profiting from her hard work, by simply releasing her software in binary form under a new name with minor additions, under a different license, demanding payment. She may not mind that others simply use it (in the GPL sense) without payment and in exchange contribute improvements to her software. It is her right as the original author to make this choice.
    Noone has forced her at gunpoint to release her software under the GPL, but in a sense she forces others at gunpoint (the gun being the law) to adhere to the license under which her software was released. The point I was trying to make in my post was that she could just as well choose to release her software under a different license if her motive was to profit as much as possible from her work. That is not something the GPL can forbid her.

    G Neric [] got it right. I didn't mention the issues (s)he brings up because I was merely addressing the profit issue brought up by Maynard.

  • The problem with the GPV is that it is not a true form of sharing, but a coercive one. Sharing at gunpoint isn't sharing, it's theft.

    Right. There is no element of force in the GPL. If you don't want to share your work with the world, don't use GPL'd code in your work. That seems pretty simple to me.
    If you want MS or Apple to make monopoly profits from your efforts, then use something like the BSD license for your work. That seems pretty simple too.

    Use whatever license you please for your own work. Don't whine when others don't see it your way, and use some other license for their work.

    There's room in the Open Source movement for lots of different licenses.

    There is lots of room in the opensource movement for different licenses, but some of us want more than just opensource. The people who don't like liberty don't have to have it. The rest of us will continue to lean towards the GPL.

  • by nels_tomlinson ( 106413 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @07:37AM (#147347) Homepage
    When I give you a copy of free software that I've written, I lost nothing. SNIP When I write and release software, trust doesn't enter into it. It's my gift to the world. SNIP This sort of unconditional gift isn't possible with the GPL, so I use the BSD license.

    Very true: that's why I won't use BSD and will use GPL, if any of the little things I'm working on grow up to get released. I wouldn't want to make an unconditional gift to the world. I want any gift I make to carry the condition that it can only be used in programs which offer the same sort of liberty to the user that I have enjoyed with programs like R and Maxima.
    One of the reasons that I like to use these packages is that the code is freely available to all, and that will always be true. That gives me some extra assurance that any investment of time I make in these programs will always be open, to me and everyone else.

    Nobody takes anything from me, and parasites do not damage or weaken the host in any way.

    This is again true, as far as it goes. The reason that we have come to different conclusions about which license to use may lie around here. Yes, if someone uses my work in a closed program, I haven't been harmed directly. But what if that's part of an "embrace and extend and extinguish" strategy?

    Furthermore, there may be some serious problems with allowing someone to incorporate your work in a closed system. Could a company with deep pockets use your work in a closed program, then use some of the recent laws (think DCMA), or laws yet to be passed, to lock you out of using your own work in libre programs? Things like the DMCA are so new that none of this has been tested in court, so we can't say it's impossible. Remember, they don't have to win, they just have to sue and sue and sue... That scenario seems unlikely, but it seems that the risk must be smaller if we use the GPL.

    Finally, I have no objection to someone making a profit from my work. I would have a strong objection to seeing someone making monopoly profits from work that I did. Remember, the reason behind allowing copyright and patent holders a monopoly is to encourage them to work. Letting someone else have a monopoly on my work seems a real perversion of that.

    By all means use whatever license you like for your work. I'll use the GPL if I give such a gift to the world, because I think that will make the gift more valuable in the long run.

  • Has any pure software company ever made money by releasing all its software under GPL? (and selling support?)

    I don't know if my place of work qualifies, but it is getting close. We have a small handful of products. Some have always been free (mostly on BSD-style licences). We have just decided to drop commercial licences for our last product, and go with GPL. We sell support for the stuff, and also custom development. We may still sell licences of the big product for customers who rather pay us than accept GPL, although I expect that to be a rare thing.

    This company, Index Data, has survived with this business model for 5 years now, and grown from 2 people to 8. Not big enough to rival Microsoft, but a well established company in its own right.

  • by bfree ( 113420 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @08:19AM (#147349)

    So you lose nothing?

    You miss the point of the article yourself! As someone who is happy to use a BSD licence for their own code you state that you want nothing back from your code, not even the reciprocating benefits. GPL allows that when you release your code you are guaranteed never to face the scenario that the only way to extract the best from your own code is to buy someones product. I the Free Software/Open Source community gathered around the BSD licence, we would be dead the day we bacame a threat to MS, embrace, extend and eradicate, it is the security of the GPL that means that companies are willing to invest time into Gnu/Linux, without it many companies would see it as a way of funding software development houses around the planet, with it they see themselves as part of the largest software development house on the planet. The GPL is leech free in a way BSD deliberately is not, if you are ok with seeing your code leeched any which way stay as you are, but as the article suggests, the winners in this battle will be the side with an insurance policy.

  • To say that closed source programs have less duplication of effort s to ignore the mountains of duplication out there.

    A simple exmaple: How many Palm-OS units conversion software are there out there that charge money? I remember searching for this a while a ago and I turned up AT LEAST 10 of them.

    Open Source is not meant to solve that type of inefficiency. For reasons of ego and pride, such things will always exist.

  • We cannot in good conscience, deprive buggy-whip manufacturers of their revenue. To do so would be IMMORAL and UNECONOMIC.
  • Not giving him the printer source to solve his printing problems also caused RMS misery.
  • The GPL is both a gift and an exchange. It is up to you how to want to view it.

    Unlike the BSD, which can only be said to be a gift, never an exchange.

  • I think you have your priorities reversed. When we sell someone a printer, we are supposed to make his life easier. To do this, you provide printer drivers, and disclose all you about the printer, so that the customer does not have to keep coming to you for a fix. This is the rght thing to do, and for doing this, you deserve the job, and the money that goes with it.

    Economics should be put into service of people, not the other way around.

    If economics was all that important, all males should be pimps, and all women prostitues. You can make an economy work that way (there are some details that need to be worked out). Then everyone can have a job and be gainfully employed. That will work too.

  • That depends on what "not taking it lying down" means.

    If you decide to learn a new skill and get out of that market, more power to you.

    If you decide to change your business model and cater to a different type of client, good.

    If you decide to think hard and come out with a better license than the GPL that gives you what you want, and also caters to your customers needs, excellent!

    Getting a lawyer to sue RMS? Fuck you.

    Misquote and misunderstand RMS, and sttempting to drag his name through mud. Fuck you.

    Complaining and griping on slashdot? Ha. Let us laugh at you.

  • by (void*) ( 113680 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @06:47AM (#147356)
    If I where a core programmer working on the linux kernel in my spare time, I would consider companies which make linux distributions as parasits, taking an unfair advantage from my work (not giving me any refundings).

    Linus himself does not think of it this way. For example, while he likes to hack the kernel, he doesn't want care about other user utilities like gcc, ls, rm, mv, etc that he depends upon. To do this, he relies on the efforts the Debian maintainers to provide him with a coherent distribution.

    There was one time in which he revealed that he was using the achives as a backup, should he lose the sources. Thus everyone contributions, and everyone has something to gain, even if it is not code.

  • As much as I simpathize with the aims of the paper, every so often I gag on the revision of the meaning of words in the English language.

    Technology " technical means and skills available to a given society..." - Cassel Concise English Dictionary. More broadly it can connote the application of science to the industrial capabilities of a society. Technology depends at a minimum on the trial and error application of physical principles to physical problems. Thus the hammer is the earliest solution to a technical problem ". . . may be if I hit it hard enough. . ."

    Law and contracts are NOT technology, never were and never will be. They are arbitrary social agreements or conventions. No science is involved. Anyone who disagrees is invited to watch C-SPAN in order to detect the functioning of science in the legislatorial environment. Since legislators have been known to back legally setting PI equal to three, the detection of science in the process is likely to be difficult. Furthermore law is backed by the threat of social or government sanction. It is not dependent on trust. Those guys carry guns in the black-and-white sedans are not exercising social trust. They represent pure, unadulterated threat. So, in short, the GPL is also dependent on law and the use of social sanction for inforcement. Just because GPL talks softly does not mean that object is not a big stick behind its back. Evidently MS does not like the idea of this.


    -- The only thing more hazardous to liberty than a politician is two politicians.

  • The GPL is similar to proprietary software licensing except that it demands a different future payoff. This and other systems in which the future payoff is rigid and fixed, IMHO, will have a disadvantage to PBL schemes that allow the customer to dynamically determine the payoff based on use. I wouldn't expect any of these systems to die off, but I would expect PBL systems to gain much more market share in the coming years.
    Welcome to the 80s!

    Academic software often used to have this sort of licensing scheme: free for non-commercial use. One problem is that it's much harder for software to get widely used with such a scheme, so you won't often make money anyway.

    Of course, such licenses are definitely non-free.

  • I didn't realize using legal threats was trust. To call the law a technology of trust is grossly stretching the meaning of the term.
  • by Srin Tuar ( 147269 ) <> on Saturday June 16, 2001 @08:37AM (#147368)

    The "always cooperate never defect" strategy is more like the BSD license. (If you share fine, if you dont fine)

    The GPL is more of a Tit-for-Tat strategy: if you defect (close our source) we'll defect too (sue your ass).

    If our world was an optimal maxima system (no copyright restrictions for software?), then the BSD and GPL licenses would be effectivly identical.

    But that isnt our world, so in a sense, the GPL is a concession to reality.

  • by Srin Tuar ( 147269 ) <> on Saturday June 16, 2001 @08:49AM (#147369)

    If you were to take code from 20 different programs under the "" license and combine them, you would have an enormous amount of difficulty trying to sell copies of that software. If anyone wanted to pay you, then you would have to charge enough to cover all those 20 other companies. If any of those 20 companies decides to set an unreasonable price, then your product is dead. (If a company was threatened by your product they could buy one of them and take you off the market)

    If you take code from 20 different GPL programs, and combine them, the resultant license would be just as simply as if you had written it all yourself.

    Having licenses which stack up makes it more difficult for people to derive from your work. This works against people who are hoping for someone to return the favor.

    This is why the "free for non commercial" type of license is effectivly a proprietary license.

  • This article ignores one of the findamental differences between software and other types of products: it can be copied at no cost. When I give you a copy of free software that I've written, I lost nothing.

    It depends. If you write software and expect to charge for it, your loss is equivalent to what you would have charged for it. In the case of free software, this is moot, but in a for profit endeavour, this is money that you need to pay your rent with.

    The "software pirates" are attempting to find a moral justification for their actions, instead of just admiting, that, like everybody else, they're sticking it to the man. Its a Robin Hood view of things.

    The GPL is an excellent license if one doesnt wish to charge for their code. Me, id rather not run a "support" company. Im not really interested in helping the world by releasing my code, and indeed it would be incredibly arrogant of me to suggest that a couple thousand lines of code will somehow benifit all but a tiny subset of humanity.

    Frankly, I want to be the next Bill Gates. I want to write a wildly succesful piece of software, and charge a lot for it. And the only way I can see to do that does not involve the GPL, or the BSD license. Course, i could be wrong.
  • The GPL is an excellent license if one doesnt wish to charge for their code.

    I want to write a wildly succesful piece of software, and charge a lot for it. And the only way I can see to do that does not involve the GPL...

    Umm... What do you mean by this? That the GPL doesn't allow you to charge money for your code? Or that some other clause of the license makes it impossible to do so?

    Man, perhaps you should read and understand the GPL before making such wild statements.

    The GPL DOES NOT limit you from charging money for your code. It doesn't even limit someone else from charging money for a derivative to your code (whether that derivative adds value or not is then up to the end user).

    What it does do (or is intended to do; as it hasn't been upheld in court yet) is assure that if you release software under it, the people you release it to are entitled to the source code, which they can modify anyway they wish, for their own purposes. They can then even release this modified code, but if they do, anyone who receives it is entitled to the exact same rights. The BSD license doesn't provide for this. That isn't to say that the BSDL is not a viable license. Instead, merely to point out where the major differences are.

    I hate the terms Free as in beer and Free as in speech, as I believe they only promote more confusion. I know they were not used in your article, but I have seen them used in the past by others who didn't fully understand something trying to explain their flawed view to others who also didn't understand.

    You must instead think about the GPL in the following way. If you buy a car for example, you are free to change the paint colour, add options and make other modifications, which don't contravene any laws surrounding road-worthiness etc. You are free to sell the car to someone else. Take a look at most commercial closed software license agreements and you'll see that when you buy the software it isn't yours. You aren't allowed to change the colour, or modify it in any other way. You are not allowed to sell the license on. This is the crux of the issue, not whether you were charged money or not.

    I am not really advocating one license over the other, but, rather that people understand them. Read it for yourself rather than listening to what other people tell you about it...

    I think a very important, but largely ignored point that came from the recent essay by Lawyer Dan Ravicher is that it is possible to release software under more than one license. Some may want to look more closely at this scenario too.
  • The FSF is clear on how Readline was handled. (I'd like to hear other views, so if you know any...)

    [Paraphrase] In the case of Readline, there was no force it was a choice by the user based on the quality of Readline and the work involved in someone attempting to duplicate what it does.

    Anyone can write thier own code for any task they wish. There can be compelling reasons to use code that happens to be licenced under the GPL (or some other licence).

    If anyone wants to use someone else's code as an integrated part of what they write, and that other code happens to be licenced under the GPL, they have to abide by the GPL. Any other licence would have it's own restrictions but usually not as many benifits as the GPL.

    In the cases of GPL violations, the resolution has consistantly been either;

    1. Remove the GPLed code
    2. Keep the GPLed code and licence the appropriate new parts under the GPL also

    The main alternatives -- BSD, commercial, and artistic -- have thier own benifits and drawbacks. You're free to choose any of them for your own work. Being critical of the GPL for something it doesn't do is a bit harsh.

  • Blockquoth the poster:
    This is hardly in the same class as being unemployed and unemployable in one's chosen field of work.
    No one has a "right" to earn a living at their "chosen field of work". If you can, hey, great... that way lies happiness. But don't tell me that I should make my economic decisions based on keeping you employed in a way maximizing your self-satisfaction. I have no such obligation.

  • Blockquoth the poster:
    This exactly illustrates my contention that the goal of the so-called "free software" movement is the destruction of the software industry as we know it today.
    I'm not a FSFer, but I suspect they would not quibble with this. They view current practices of the software industry as wrong, so of course they'd want to end it.

    I don't believe that the error -- or even negative economic impact -- of this belief is self-evident, as some would like to claim. Or to put it this way, backers of the status quo need to actively defend it, not just attack the alternatives.

  • by Blackheart2 ( 161473 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @09:48AM (#147378) Homepage
    This sort of unconditional gift isn't possible with the GPL

    Open source is a one-time gift.

    GPL source is the gift that keeps on giving.


  • by TheFrood ( 163934 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @12:03PM (#147379) Homepage Journal
    In this scenario, Caucho has decided that their future payoff, either money or free software/services, is determined by their customers. This, I'll call it payoff based licensing (PBL), seems much more pragmatic than the extremist options presented by either Microsoft or GPL. Users of Caucho's software can decide if they want to use it independent of the ideological dogma of the software developer.

    A similar effect can be had in many cases by simply issuing the software under multiple licenses. You can make your software available under the GPL, allowing anyone to inclue your code in other GPL'd software. Simultaneously, you can solicit royalties from those who want to use your code in their proprietary software. Many authors of GPL'd software do this.

    I like your point about licenses and payoffs, though. Proprietary licenses and the GPL are alike in that they have a desired payoff, either money or more free software. Perhaps it's fair to call GPL and proprietary licenses "payoff licenses" and BSD-style licenses "non-payoff licenses."


  • This sort of unconditional gift isn't possible with the GPL, so I use the BSD license.

    You're right, it is about gifts. The gift that the GPL gives is that users of GPL software and of deriviatives of the software always have the right to see the source. This gift is not possible with the BSD license. That's why users prefer the more magnanimous gift of GPL software.

  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @10:41AM (#147391) Journal
    Sharing at gunpoint isn't sharing, it's theft.

    This is different from the MS Marketing Virus how?

    An old spanish proverb goes (roughly) "A thief thinks everyone is a thief"

    In other words a thief will see all attempts to be trustworthy and develop trust, to develop a flourishing society, etc ; he/she/it will see all of these as a threat to their own (immoral) activities, and think that some one else is trying to steal from them.

    Only a thief would see a gun in every out-stretched, helping hand.

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • I'm a little surprised and a lot concerned that people seem to have forgotten the main reason Stallman holds the views he does. Check some of his earliest stuff and you will see it.

    Stallman wants to be able to fix the software he is using when it breaks, and add things the original author missed.

    Simple, isn't it?

    Next level: how much software have you had to abandon because the author(s) and publisher (a) went out of business and (b) the source wasn't made available? You then had to move on to something else, go through another learning curve, maybe even spend a lot of time converting old data to the new format. That takes time, brothers and sisters, and time is money. And that's where the word "trust" really comes in: are you willing to bet your livelihood that WhizPublisher and BowToProgrammer will be around in the future?

    Then there is the other aspect of "trust," that the publisher and the author(s) will continue to maintain the software, fix the bugs you find, and extend the functionality in ways that are useful to you. A couple of examples will serve to illustrate my point:

    EXAMPLE 1: Remember troff, the typesetting program developed for Unix? It was a great piece of work, and did things incredibly well. Unfortunately the author died, so much of the incredible work had to be scrapped because no one else could begin to understand the code (not even typesetter manufacturers -- I watched one guy at Varityper try). Now, if the source had been released widely (fat chance, being a bastard child of a utility regulated by the FCC) there might have been enough of a brain trust developed to fully understand the workings of the original program. Instead, some people wrote a work-alike that serves us today, but loses some really nifty code.

    EXAMPLE 2: Microsoft WORD has an interesting history, being the first massed-marketed pieces of software whose beta was bound into a mass-market magazine. (PC World, for those who care about such trivia.) Since that time it has become a definition of bloat, yet there are features professional writers have requested of Microsoft that have not been included. Because Microsoft does not make the source available, there is no way for the technically-minded professional writer to add any of those features that would REALLY make life easier. One of those features, a phrase dictionary, is one reason the legal profession sticks with WordPerfect.

    We trust vendors to "do the right thing" but they are under no obligation to do so. Those who say "if you don't like it, go write your own" should be aware that the entry cost for writing a word-processor package is very, very high. Indeed, one reason for the Open Source Movement in general and the GNU Public License (not Virus) in particular is to lower the cost of entry by building a collaborative effort to accomplish a task. Divide and Succeed.

    And so we now get to the bottom of why Microsoft and Stallman are at odds. Microsoft wants to hold your productivity hostage, so that THEY can release stuff under THEIR terms and to THEIR schedule. Microsoft has no significant competition in a number of markets, so competition won't keep them in line. (Remember the anti-trust suit?) The ONLY significant competition currently in place is GPLed software, because Microsoft can't "embrace and innovate" something that requires they show their cards for all to see.

    The BSD and similar licenses are flawed in that Microsoft can "embrace and innovate" to the point that the original code is lost in the jungle of proprietary extensions that Microsoft would add.

    By the way, Microsoft isn't the only company that plays the grab-and-obfuscate game, only the most obvious one.

    What Microsoft fears most is that other corporations are beginning to "get it," that the large proprietary corporate model is not the only model for ensuring viable support for software products. The distributed development model, specifically OSS protected by the GPL, provides the same advantages as the corporate (or centralized) development model without the "bottleneck effect" of corporate management prejudice and the cost of "buying" 30,000 programmers.

    And what about all those programmers? Banished to the bread lines? Guess again. Some of the most lucrative programming is in applications for specific industries. Corporations are looking to combine off-the-shelf components in ways that improve corporate productivity, and are willing to spend the bucks to make that happen. Look at the insurance industry. Look at the food-supply industry. Banking. Finance. Even waste management.

    Want to work on something a little more generic? Try embedded-systems programming. There are still microwave oven controllers to be programmed, not to mention metal-forming presses and the like. Who do you think programs the firewall appliances we use on our cable and DSL feeds? Who do you think creates the new gambling machines now showing up in Vegas and Atlantic City? Even my furnace has a microprocessor in it.

    And not to worry, e-commerce isn't dead, it was just overblown. There are lots of jobs there.

    So stop crying about loss of jobs for programmers with the GPL. If anything, it will increase the number of programming jobs because the tools will be cheap enough to lower the barrier of cost of entry.

    THAT is the blessing of the GPL: it lowers the cost of entry into computing for a number of industries.

  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @06:35AM (#147394) Homepage

    PHB: This GPL is broken.

    Dilbert: What's wrong with it?

    PHB: People keep ripping off our code.

    Dilbert: Impressive. You know the word "code".

    PHB: I took a 1-day seminar on technology so that I could "interface" with you "techies" better.

    Dilbert: So what do you think we should do to prevent the competition from stealing our code?

    PHB: Well, I thought if we rewrote the GPL somewhat...

    Dilbert: I'll humor you. What did you have in mind?

    PHB: Well, the GPL is based on trust.

    Dilbert: I can see how that would be a problem.

    PHB: So I was thinking we need to emphasize this point on trust more. Can you try capitalizing it?

    Dilbert: Sure. It's a computer related thing, so do you want me to capitalize the sEcond letter, or the last letteR?

    PHB: Hmm, that might be getting too technical. Could you just, I don't know, italicize it?

    Dilbert: [click] [click] Done. You want fries with that?

    PHB: Ah, no. This should do it, I think.

    Two weeks go by

    PHB: Dilbert, I thought you fixed that GPL problem.

    Dilbert: I did what you thought would fix it. Strange that it didn't work.

    PHB: Yeah, I know... I was thinking... Maybe we need to do something more radical. Could you maybe boldface it? No, no, no wait I have a better idea. A bigger font! That should do it!

  • by abe ferlman ( 205607 ) <> on Saturday June 16, 2001 @06:42AM (#147398) Homepage Journal
    Frequency: Uncommon
    No. Appearing: 1-12
    Armor Class: 4
    Move: 12"
    Hit Dice: 6+6
    % in lair: 40%
    Treasure Type: D
    No. of Attacks: 3
    Damage/Attack: 5-8/5-8/2-12
    Special Attacks: See Below
    Special Defenses: Regeneration
    Magic Resistance: Standard
    Intelligence: Low
    Alignment: Chaotic Evil
    Size: L (9' + tall)
    Psionic Ability: Nil
    Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

    Trolls are horrid carnivores found in nearly every clime. They are feared by most creatures, as a troll knows no fear and attacks unceasingly. Their sense of smell is very acute, their infravision is superior, (90'), and their strength is very great.

    A troll attacks with its clawed forelimbs and its great teeth. A troll is able to fight 3 different opponents at once. 3 melee rounds after being damaged, a troll will begin to regenerate. Regeneration repairs damage at 3 hit points per round; this regenerationincludes the rebonding of severed members. The loathsome members of a troll have the ability to fight even if severed from the body; a hand can claw or strangle, the head bite, etc. Total dismemberment will not slay a troll, for its parts will slither and scuttle together, rejoin, and the troll will arise whole and ready to continue combat. To kill a troll, the monster must be burned or immersed in acid, any separate pieces being treated in the same fashion or they create a whole again in 3-18 melee rounds.

    Description: Troll hide is a nauseating moss green, mottled greed and gray, or putrid gray. The writhing hair-like growth upon a troll's head is greenish black or iron gray. The eyes of a troll are dull black.

  • by evocate ( 209951 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @08:49AM (#147402)
    ... is because Bill Gates fears that his nickname in this community would forever be "Free Willy".
  • The forced openness that the GPL (and other OSS licenses) establishes creates a culture and social order where as an open-source developer you are meatured by the quality of your work on a daily basis by a vast comunity of your peers. In many companies there are 'Code Reviews' where a developer goes into a conference room with a few of his coligues who then proceed to critique his code. In the end, only they know how good or bad it actually is. In the OSS comunity, that group of people critiquing the code is far move vast and generally quite knowlegable. Reputations are built on OSS projects and you're only as good as your most recent release. It's a competitive enviroment that retains a sense of comroderie,, unique to OSS development.

    Imagine for a moment of microsoft has the Windows Source Code peer-reviewed in this fashion... There would be riots in the street...

    Developers have the opportunity to build great creadibility, and to earn the respect of their coligues in a non-business enviroment, while working to develop truly valuable products for the business and non-business user alike.

    The same thing applies with regard to fixes, and patches. Only yesterday, the OpenBSD Project was Chastised [] for not producing a patch in less than 6 days. Show me one instance where, first the user comunity of closed-source software could creadibly do tat, or is even made aware in a reasonably timely fashion, by corporations, of bugs in their software. Open source is conducive both to discovery of bugs and (tue essentially to a type of peer pressure) the timely patching of those bugs. Again, in the OSS comunity you live and die by the quality of your code.

    The GPL goes far beyond game theory. It creates a social structure that facilitates it's successful use. I'd love to hear from some sociologists with regard to the operational characteristics of Open Source Development. I'm sure it would make a fascinating paper...


  • by OpenSourced ( 323149 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @06:46AM (#147434) Journal
    This analysis may seem simple or even obvious.

    It does. But more than that seems shallow. The author jumps from premises to conclusions without any groundwork. Please, some examples of cultures of trust demolished by parasites. Please, some cause-effect data. Even some detailled argumentation would be welcome.

    I give him credit for an interesting idea (i.e. the GPL has a "genetical" advantage on other free software licenses and will ultimately prevail), but I think that conclusion should be more grounded, not simply stated.


  • by s20451 ( 410424 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @06:16AM (#147438) Journal

    It's nice to think that business can be based solely on trust (as in point #3 above), and it's not hard to see that a company that has other interests (like hardware, internet assets, etc.) could release its software under GPL without expecting compensation.

    However, it costs money to produce software, if only to feed the authors, and GPL explicitly denies the software itself as a source of revenue. Has any pure software company ever made money by releasing all its software under GPL? (and selling support?)

  • by ctid ( 449118 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @06:36AM (#147443) Homepage
    I hate to encourage flamebait, but here goes:

    Nobody in the history of the world has ever been forced to use GPLed software. A person may choose to incorporate GPLed software into their own software. But nobody has ever been forced to use GPLed software. So anyone who shares their software under the GPL is doing because they want to. If they didn't want to share their software under the GPL, they would have chosen to re-write the GPLed portions that they included. You simply cannot justify your "sharing at gunpoint" remark. It's just hyperbole.

    Your "radical leftist politics" remark seems meaningless to me. If I say that "you can use my software so long as you let others use the software you derive from my software", how is that a left or a right wing position? Andrew Williams

  • by nicodaemos ( 454358 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @08:07AM (#147446) Homepage Journal
    Society is built on exchange. One particular form of exchange that we're genetically wired for is reciprocal altruism: speculative generosity with expectation of future payoff.

    Your comments have made clear to me a fundamental difference between GPL and proprietary software. The difference rests in what the developer of the software expects in terms of a future payoff. Microsoft (or any major software company) develops software will the expectation of monetary revenues. GPL developers write code in the expectation of future software they can use for free. Is it just me or are these two options the extremes of possibility? Isn't there some middle ground where the future payoff could feed the developers stomach, as well as his head?

    I much prefer the licensing [] that has put on Resin. In it, you're only required to pay for the product if you're going to make money off of it. On the other hand, if you're some university lifer who hacks together a great technical document repository, you don't have to pay.

    In this scenario, Caucho has decided that their future payoff, either money or free software/services, is determined by their customers. This, I'll call it payoff based licensing (PBL), seems much more pragmatic than the extremist options presented by either Microsoft or GPL. Users of Caucho's software can decide if they want to use it independent of the ideological dogma of the software developer.

    Microsoft and GPL are simply sharing opposite ends of the same bed. If you want true altruism, then look towards BSD style licenses that don't impose any restrictions on how you use the software. If you have no restrictions in the license, then you have nothing to enforce. Microsoft and GPL on the other hand, have to be concerned about parasitism (piracy and illegal use) since they are concerned about a future payoff.

    Therefore, any large group must evolve a technology of trust. If it doesn't do so, it will fall victim to rampant parasitism, which will cause inefficiency, which will eventually bring stagnation and failure to compete -- that is, death.

    The trust you speak of is between the software developer and his/her customer. The developer trusts that in giving the software to the customer, (s)he will receive a future payoff in return. Microsoft and GPL have the same issue in terms of depending on trust and hoping they will see the future payoff. Of course, they diverge some in how they might go enforcing their licenses should the need arise, but the concept is the same nonetheless.

    The GPL is similar to proprietary software licensing except that it demands a different future payoff. This and other systems in which the future payoff is rigid and fixed, IMHO, will have a disadvantage to PBL schemes that allow the customer to dynamically determine the payoff based on use. I wouldn't expect any of these systems to die off, but I would expect PBL systems to gain much more market share in the coming years.

The optimum committee has no members. -- Norman Augustine