What can Brown do for you?

Summary:The remarks of new Free Software Foundation executive director Peter Brown on free vs. open source software last week certainly struck a nerve in TalkBack.

The remarks of new Free Software Foundation executive director Peter Brown on free vs. open source software last week certainly struck a nerve in TalkBack.

I interviewed him late Friday, and hope some of his other remarks can stimulate more high-quality dialogue.

I opened by asking about my recent piece on Martin Fink, hoping for a pat on the back for my attack on the HP Linux chief.

I didn't get it.

"He can't control the patent system," Brown said. "I think it's really unfortunate that companies like HP feel forced to spend time, effort and money to patent software." It's a land grab, but those who don't practice what the law allows are engaging in unilateral corporate disarmament.

I then asked about the European Union's decision to back away from endorsing software patents. I was expecting a smile. Instead I got a warning.

"There are forces at work there which won't give up from this," he said darkly. "There are dark forces pushing against European politicians, as a community, and this is why issues of freedom are important.

"When we get attacked the community needs to rally around. IT best rallies around its philosophy, its reason for existing. If the only reason for free software is practical and something comes along that's more practical, people will switch."

Brown emphasized again that it's the free in free software that has more meaning than the open in open source, and explained why. "In the future software is basic infrastructure. It's the tarmac on the road, the tunnels, the rails. And if you have to pay constantly for that infrastructure, if you're constantly paying tolls, then the economy is really inefficient."

Finally, I asked Brown about when we might see a Version 3.0 of the GPL itself. That might be before the end of the year, he said.

"There will be a lot of news toward the end of this year," he said. "Richard (Stallman) and Eben (Moglen) will be hiring lawyers, some new young talent. We'll expand our work because of that, working on compliance, keeping everyone on the straight and narrow on the GPL. That will free Eben to focus on GPL 3 and work with Richard on developing a process for that. Eben believes it's about involving the community, making sure GPL 3 is global. There's a lot to be done there."

What do you think of the new boss now? Or, as many pointed out in TalkBack last week, is it that he's not the boss of you?

Topics: Open Source


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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