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I for one welcome no overlords

The argument between FOSS and open source has never been about economic systems. It has been about the meaning of freedom. It revolves around Stallman's fourth freedom, the idea that when you are given something and you improve it you have an obligation to share the improvement so that the realm of freedom can advance.

Inside our own Matt Asay's latest hymm to open source (as opposed to FOSS) is this simple message.

He accepts Microsoft as overlord. (Kent Brockman, right, from Wikipedia, famously welcomed "our insect overlords" in the episode "Deep Space Homer," co-starring Buzz Aldrin as himself.)

Open source embraces interoperability, whereas free software takes a hard line that even Microsoft, despite its preference that customers use its complete software portfolio exclusively, won't take.

This has always been true. FOSS is idealism, 80-proof distilled idealism, and the open source movement was born in 1998 as a reaction against that.

It's not news. So why is Matt acting like it is? Here's why:

Sometimes that openness will mean embracing Microsoft in order to meet a customer's needs. After all, fierce partisanship and an unwillingness to compromise in software accomplishes is just as pointless, distasteful, and useless as it is in government.

Note our difference in emphasis. Matt put italics on "in order to meet a customer's needs." I think the more important message here is embracing Microsoft.

I do not think Microsoft is an evil empire, by the way. I accept the premise of the book "Burning the Ships," that its IP policy is aimed mainly at letting Microsoft compete in growing markets than at demanding monopoly rents on Linux.

But Matt's growing distaste for Eben Moglen and Bruce Perens and (especially, even personally) Richard Stallman is both unseemly and silly. Free software advocates have always been transparent and upfront on what they were trying to do. Microsoft, by contrast, has often been opaque, sometimes deliberately so.

The argument between FOSS and open source has never been about economic systems. It has been about the meaning of freedom.

It revolves around Stallman's fourth freedom, the idea that when you are given something and you improve it you have an obligation to share the improvement so that the realm of freedom can advance.

Stallman calls this patriotism. Matt now seems to think it's communism.

BSD licenses like Eclipse, Apache and Mozilla let people take more than they give and profit from it. Microsoft's MS-PL license lets it do this on a massive scale. The fact that Matt now embraces this idea, and embraces Microsoft's overlordship over everything it has copyrighted, doesn't mean he's a hero of capitalism and the rest of us are dirty rotten commies.

It means he's a businessman. Business is not about ideals of any sort. Businessmen exist in every country, under every form of government. They even existed under Soviet Communism, even if they didn't call themselves businessmen. Business is about seeking advantage, taking it, and building on it.

You can mix business with idealism, but you don't have to. This is the revised bargain of open source. To the extent that Microsoft accepts this bargain businessmen involved with open source are free to accept Microsoft. Always have been.

Just don't expect FOSS advocates to kiss your ring for it, or give up their ideals because you've made a deal. They have their values, you have yours.

Let's leave it at that.