Sun's Phipps makes a scarecrow argument

Sun's Phipps makes a scarecrow argument

Summary: 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.

TOPICS: Open Source

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.

Topic: Open Source

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  • Phipps needs some cold water thrown on him.

    Perhaps you mean [url=]soapy water with a little lemon juice[/url]?
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Everybody is wrong, I know everything and I am right - thats your attitude

    Simple question - if you know so much, what are you doing sitting and writing a blog. Shouldnt you be starting a company with open source software and making things happen. Instead you seem to be sitting behind the fence and telling people who are actually doing the stuff (like Phipps) that they are wrong.
    • What rock have you been hiding under?

      Or are you just allergic to journalists?

      "Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for over 25 years and has covered the online world professionally since 1985. He founded the "Interactive Age Daily" for CMP Media, and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and dozens of other publications over the years.

      "He's a Rice graduate (1977) and holds an MS in Journalism from Northwestern. Since 1981, he's been a resident of Atlanta, Georgia."

      I got that off a-clue dot com, of course, which is his e-commerce blog.

      He's definitely a hard worker, given the amount of writing he does (let's leave aside my sister is a Rice Graduate (1968, if I remember but I'm terrible about her facts) and you still don't get through there by being a drone). His field of expertise is business journalism, which he has been doing for most of the time I've been following computers.

      The debate over how worthwhile journalism is has been going on for many years. I regret I enjoy living in the land of William Loeb, whose blatant use of conservative ideology in the Manchester, N.H. Union Leader prefigured much of what News Corp is doing and actually inspired the left wing underground press, according to the East Coast jounalists I was talking to at the time (when I was about twelve). I will personally say I don't believe in objectivity. I find, however, people who denigrate journalism most severely will do so even as a conditional source of facts (I remember a quote about the firing of Alexander Cockburn from the Village Voice: "A prosecutor's brief is truthful. It is not objective." You can still present facts if you have an agenda). They are also, (and I realize how dangerous generalizations are) swallow any absurd line with enough money behind it.

      Jefferson discussed the importance of an "informed citizenry". This assumes some willingness to engage in critical thinking, which means listen to different viewpoints and compare. Dana Blankenthorn has been listening to and presenting the viewpoints of important figures in the industry for more than twenty years. His statement that Phipps needs some cold water thrown on him is based on that hard work. If you think he would be better off moving from journalism to industry, get a-clue. This is an educated viewpoint.
      • Love-Rock of course!

        Roger Ramjet
      • It's actually a fair question

        I have been working for a year as editor at, a Drupal site that is looking to create a new business model in offering mobile campaigns.
        • Sorry, I forgot about that (n/t)

        • Big time Editor,....really? Coulda fooled me...

          Or maybe you just need to stop depending on lousy proofreaders.

          (Hint: check your link)
    • However, a point that I've pondered...

      Mr. Blankenhorn is a journalist.

      Please re-read that statment.

      Mr. Blankenhorn is NOT a developer.

      Now please re-read that statement.

      While Mr. Blankenhorn purports to provide news - as a journalist - it does more often than not come accross as opinion - as in Open Source is The Way To Go.

      Fine. Except Mr. Blankenhorn DOES NOT CODE - so at the end of the day his 'rice bowl' ain't geting touched no matter what happens.

      I usually keep that in mind when I read Mr. Blankenhorn's columns.
  • Every other day

    Every other day, you seem to be writing an article about Open Source is good, Open Source is ...

    Seems like what you say, nobody believes in it, hence the constant need to keep repeating it so that it the message might stay alive if not it might be forgotten the very next day.

    If what y
    • Nobody believes in it?

      Are you accusing those who profess to believe in FOSS of being liars?
      John L. Ries
    • Have you read the Blogs page?

      As you read down the list of people who give their opinions on topics, you will find Dana Blankenhorn's under "Open Source". Obviously he likes open source. And they are paying him for his opinion. On open source.

      There's nothing wrong with that.
    • Well, it's my beat

      My beat is open source, so I write about open source, and I talk to managers of successful open source companies.

      I also try, as often as I can, to look at the larger implications of open source in order to stimulate discussion.

      Discussion is what it is all about. You're a part of this as much as I am.
  • Phipps is exactly wrong

    FOSS is more true Marxist communist than capitalism. "FROM EACH ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY, TO EACH ACCORDING TO HIS NEED" - Karl Marx.

    That does a great job of explaining why FOSS exists. People donate their talent, and everyone can take whatever they need. Greedy capitalistic companies (like IBM) can take, as well as Joe Consumer hobbiest.

    Maybe that's the biggest problem that people have with FOSS - the same problem that people had with communism. People are concerned that evildoers can take advantage and exploit the system. In Marx's day, that meant that the worker was screwed, since he gave according to his ability but WASN'T allowed to satisfy his needs. In the Soviet Union's day, people were exploited to create WMDs and kept near starving (long lines for toilet paper and foodstuffs).

    But FOSS is TRUE communism! Someone that gives time and effort to contribute to a FOSS project, can obtain other FOSS projects - satisfying his needs.
    Roger Ramjet
    • SHHHH, for God's sake,

      you'll get all of us using linux arrested as subversives.
      • Does that include the Federal Government?

        They use it too, after all. Google Secure Linux
        • Marixist Communism wasn't really a government

          It was more like organized anarchy. There was no heirarchy defined for certain individuals to "rule" over others. Are you telling me there are no commies in the US government? ;)
          Roger Ramjet
          • Commies and the U. S. Government

            Well, just about everyone I know in the U. S. Government -- and I'm not referring to Commies -- has either left or is being downsized. I'm kind of upset about my Cousin Jonathan, who's a Unix Geek with a fondness for Windoze I don't try to understand. He was told that the Forest Service could get it better done in India, using DirectX and all thos other bells and window which make it impossible for us Linux users to get access to what the government is doing. Sigh. That India is nominally a socialist country, with communist state governments means that we're probably outsourcing communists in the government too. I could go on and on about politics and how I don't think the "Republicans" want anybody working for them because then they would have to admit they have to pay them -- and this way is more expensive and offers less control but allows them to pretend they are saving money.

            I've actually always considered myself somewhat progressive. And I've known a lot of Socialists and Communists. I've also known a lot of people from communist countries. Most of this last group sometimes agreed with progressive positions. A few of them considered themselves Socialists. I don't remember even anyone who was sent by their own government, except a few Chinese (there was one funny guy in my painting classes who LOVED Socialist Realism so much he couldn't understand why we thought it was a waste of his talent. He's probably trying to put "ideas" into his pictures now because that's what they want and he never got that he doesn't have any) who considered themselves Communist.

            Marx was a great philosopher. He was a student of Hegel after all, and one of the appalling things about life since the end of the Soviet Union has been the way so much of what we were taught growing up in the fifties, sixties and seventies about making Capitalism -- and even academic or intellectual discourse --work has been declared off-limits because only liberals think it. And yes Marx did influence a lot of it, however, because this revisionist removal of him has been going on does not mean his influence is gone--the discourse has gotten more dishonest is all.

            At the same time, not only was Marx not perfect, but we for the most part mean Marxist-Leninism when we talk about Marxism or Communism. That Benjamin, Panosfsky, Marcuse and Abbie Hoffman were Marxists but arguably not Leninists doesn't mean we want to understand them any more.

            Marx himself left many vicious attacks on Prudhomme, a French Socialist whose commitment to democracy influenced George Bernard Shaw heavily. And when we add to that Lenin's "Dictatorship of the Proletariat", we get a piece of work. There have been real Marxist-Leninist Governments in the World's. Vietnam's is changing, but China's and Cuba's are not really. I offend many people from Cuba because I am frankly equally appalled by what is happening there and what is happening in Miami among their expatriates. Marxist-Leninist governments certainly have had a real existance, but I would call them more like organized crime than organized anarchy.
    • Contributing is not a precondition to getting...

      ... in open source. Would you describe Google as a contributor? I've seen complaints about Apple for the same reason. And how many people use Linux without paying or contributing?

      There's no exchange required.

      You wrote (incorrectly, I believe):

      "But FOSS is TRUE communism! Someone that gives time and effort to contribute to a FOSS project, can obtain other FOSS projects - satisfying his needs."
      Anton Philidor
      • Altruism

        Communism mixed with altruism = FOSS.
        Roger Ramjet
        • There is nothing communist about open source

          I think this is Phipps' main point, that we're letting ourselves be pigeonholed as "communist" when in fact cooperation can be a very valid business model.

          And any capitalist who refuses to embrace new business models is going to be out of business sure enough.