The false contradiction within open source

The false contradiction within open source

Summary: Embracing what seems contradictory is hard, I know, but following the code instead of the money actually leads to more money in the long run than just following the money.

TOPICS: Open Source

While showing admirable concern for his own interests, Matt Asay misses an essential point about open source this morning.

He spots what he considers a contradiction within open source, a conflict between open source purity and the requirements of the market. It's a theme he discussed openly at OSBC.

Here is my problem with that. There is, in fact, no contradiction.

The reason the GPL is our dominant open source license, despite what seem to be onorous terms, is that it works best for most businesses.

Requiring that improvements be given back, what Richard Stallman might call the "fourth freedom" in open source, what distinguishes open source from his own FOSS concept, is in fact a freedom and not a burden.

Matt references his concerns that "open source is its own worst enemy" to a taxonomy of openness at Open Gardens, but I've been talking about it since before my 2006 post about the Open Source Incline.

Various license offshoots of the BSD family tree, whether Eclipse (beloved of IBM) or Apache (hearted by Google) or Microsoft's various licenses, are one-sided because those companies put so much work into the projects they sponsor.

The relative contributions of the communities and the sponsors are unequal, and will likely remain so.

If you want the codebase you built to grow, go with the GPL.

That is the real problem with projects by small companies that don't seem to grow. However you spin it or tweak it, you get the most help from others when you give the most gracefully in your turn.

The love you take is equal to the love you make. It's not just for hippies anymore. It's good business.

Embracing what seems contradictory is hard, I know, but following the code instead of the money actually leads to more money in the long run than just following the money.

Topic: Open Source

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I totally agree

    Dear Dana, I totally agree with you. It is not only a matter of
    ethics, but of economics - in general, the more reuse a
    community can generate, the more valuable the software itself
    become, even when monetization happens elsewere (like in
    the Eclipse ecosystem; as a concrete example: ). The strong tit-for-tat
    asked by the GPL creates a more positive balance between
    companies that want to proprietarize software for exclusive use
    and the "community" that can participate in extending it.
    While there are some good examples of non-copyleft projects
    out there (like my favourite BSD project, PostgreSQL) the
    majority of non-GPL projects tend to fall in the "infrastructure"
    or library cathegory or have a smaller growth rate than GPL
    Carlo Daffara
  • Use it where it makes sense

    If it makes sense to ENCOURAGE the SPREADING of advances to the codebase then use GPL. I emphasize those two words because for one the greater concern should be choice and second you should only have to spread advances on code that you actually SPREAD...not allow someone to use.

    But for some projects the returns on the code are not as important. Maybe its more important that big names feel comfortable using their code thereby validating it. This can bring more developers along that want to use it in their projects and intend to share their code back. If this is what the originators of the product wanted then let them handle it the way they want.

    I think the biggest contradiction here is as it always is in the USA is freedom. We want to spout off at the mouth about freedom until someone is free to do something we don't like. The proprietary fan boys love freedom until someone is free to give a product away code and all. The FOSS fanboys love freedom until someone decides to their code can be distributed without source form or conversely someone decides that distribution of the product requires a release of source code.
  • It is good business [i]only[/i] up to the point

    where it comes back to sink your company.

    There is no denying that if you have a great idea, and code it up to (we will say) 80 percent, that code you created may give you a great competative advange against a better funded competitor.

    Release it for all to contribute to may take it up to perfection: 100 percent piece of software!.

    But then your competitor now has that fully functioning, 100 percent perfect advantage you created.

    And all for free.

    There is no contradiction in that. Sometime 80 percent will have to do, instead of having others contribute to take it to the top.
  • Best Buy and Microsoft accused of running a scam
    Timothy Block, a lawyer for Best Buy, has admitted to falsifying documents for Best Buy in a lawsuit filed against the company. Block admitted to altering emails along with a memo before handing the items over to plaintiffs.
    The lawsuit was originally filed against Best Buy by Samuel Kim in 2003. It accuses Best Buy and Microsoft of running a scam in which Best Buy signed up customers for MSN Internet access without their consent between 1999 and 2003. Ultimately, the credit cards of Best Buy customers were charged for services they never signed up for. Kim accuses Best Buy and Microsoft of working together on this scam, and says that Best Buy received a cut for each person it registered with the service. The scam is said to have affected 100,000 people.
    Microsoft makes themselves look stupid to web developers again.
    Bill Gates 2003 Email faked by Steve Jobs!
    The email was in fact written by Steve Jobs as a favour to Bill. One of the informal clauses of the contract between Apple and MS when MS bought 5% of Apple to help them out of a tight patch, was that Steve was to assist Bill with improving Windows usability. Of course, the shareholders weren?t to know, nor the boards of either company because of the ruckus, as you would expect. According to Steve, it was that or a solid tea-bagging from Bill.

    No worries, about FALSE contradictions, when the web is full of POSITIVE contradictions.
    Ole Man
  • It makes no sense

    The GPL "protects" software from being "stolen" by a commercial entity and made proprietary. That sounds fine, but it is unlikely to ever happen. The SFLC has sued a number of Linux users who included the BusyBox functions over not providing the source, and the defendants have generally agreed to add the source to their web site support pages or equivalent. This is hailed as a victory, but these downstream users have not "contributed back" anything and simply source what is already available elsewhere.

    It is hard to imagine anyone proprietizing a GPL work and actually making any money at it. A great deal of the GPL code, for example Netscape's once proprietary browser code, has been placed on the open source sites due to its inability to make any money commercially. At the rate that new ideas are cloned by the open source community anyway, all that an attempted proprietization of a GPL work would do is give the developers a clue as to what to do next.