Sun's Phipps makes a scarecrow argument

It's Bill Gates' vision of "embrace and extend," only the beneficiaries are both the shareholders in companies doing the sharing and those at the bottom doing the using.

Those who recall my recent piece on Richard Stallman will nod when they read this. UPDATE: Phipps says he was misunderstood by the reporter who wrote this.

Simon Phipps, a Sun executive, told a conference in London that people need to stop thinking of open source as "free" and start thinking of it as "connected capitalism."

His theme was that altruism is not the motivation for open source, greed is.

But why can't it be both?

Phipps is making a straw man argument, but of a particular type. That's why I have the picture of Ray Bolger at right, in his role from The Wizard of Oz. It's a scarecrow argument.

In the movie (and the book), the Scarecrow insists he hasn't got a brain, but in fact he's the brains of Dorothy's outfit. In the end he's given mere proof of what he had already, a diploma.

In fact, both Phipps and Stallman are right. You can look upon Free and Open Source Software as mainly free. It drives costs down to the floor, along with Moore's Law, and allows the World to get onto the right side of the digital divide. This increases the number of potential customers for whatever comes next. It also increases the number of creators to make whatever comes next.

But as a common store, Free and Open Source Software enables everyone to build better, more valuable programs. With the basics taken care of, and shared in common, everyone can build something better on top of it, and compete there. Compete, that is, until this function too becomes basic, and you move even further up the stack.

It's Bill Gates' vision of "embrace and extend," only the beneficiaries are both the shareholders in companies doing the sharing and those at the bottom doing the using. There's no either-or about it. Only those who fight strawmen believe that. Phipps needs some cold water thrown on him.

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