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Critiquing ESR (Re: It's Time to Talk About Free Software Again)

On Sat, 20 Feb 1999 13:28:57 -0800, Chris Waters <xtifr@dsp.net> said:
> ESR's supposed insight -- that the business community doesn't want
> to hear about freedom -- is simply wrong.  Yes, it is VERY MUCH time
> to talk about free software again!

Well, the FSB list is a good place to discuss this stuff.  Last
December, I launched into a critique of ESR's "reasons to use open
source".  This was spurned by Tim O'Reilly's article in Esther Dyson's
"Release 1.0" back then (not sure if it's still available).  My
critique drew some interesting discussion, and even agreement from Tim

I'm going to summarize this discussion a bit so that people can take
issue with some of ESR's standpoints in a more intelligable way.

To summarize, ESR's reasons to "exploit" Open Source resources
<URL:http://www.opensource.org/for-suits.html> are basically
descriptive of a pyrimid scheme.  Quoting from my original message:

  As more and more companies like Netscape free their software, I
  believe it's inevitable that there will be diminishing returns from
  Net Hackers (using a broad term, could also include companies who
  are repurposing and redistributing software).  It's difficult to see
  corporations who use this model as doing more than rather brazenly
  exploiting Net Hackers in order to get mindshare.  Ok, well,
  Netscape is an early case and we *do* need a free browser.  But what
  is Opera, MSIE, etc etc all went open source.  Do you think they
  would all receive the same benefit?

The fundamental flaw of ESR's preaching to business on how to use open
source to their advantage is that it is predicated on some infinitly
exploitable "Net Hacker", and this simply isn't the case.  I think
CEOs and investors are clever enough to see through ESR's arguments.
Still, they see Open Sourcing their software was a good way to build
mind-share, which it is.

At my company, onShore, Inc., we are GPL'ing some internal software
and giving it away (expect an announcement in a few weeks) for the
following reasons, which I believe are sound, and not detrimental to
the free software community:

  . wider distribution and use of the software

  . more consulting/integration opportunities based on this wide
  distribution (our revenue is in hardware and consulting, not
  software sales; we're not an ISV)

  . build branding and mind-share

  . possibly get better software, allowing other people to hack on the
  code (but we're not relying on this)

Its very hard to come into a company that makes its primary money on
selling software and tell them to give it away.  In some cases, for
some components, this might make sense.  OTOH, I think there is a
place for commercial software; in this way I'm not as extreme as RMS.
I feel that a lot of software would never have been written if not for
an expectation of profitable sales of the software; this is simply an
economic fact.

So, instead of stressing unsustainable pyrimid schemes, what needs to
be stressed is the fact that software is a social activity.  Certain
infrastructural software really needs to be open and free in order to
be successful, and I think the Internet itself is a testament to that.
The core values of free software are maximal benefit to the socius,
the community; and the facilitation of sharing and the communal fabric
of shared software.  As Bob Young of RedHat says, a free operating
system is not about competing in the multi-billion dollar operating
system market, but it's about shrinking that market.  Profit
potentials move elsewhere.

If you try to look at the Free Software community as a "resource" to
be "tapped" or "exploited", you probably will be disappointed.
Business people should instead try to understand why that community
exists, what motivates it, and why it has been so critical to the 90s
information revolution.

.....Adam Di Carlo....adam@onShore.com.....<URL:http://www.onShore.com/>

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