Open source versus free software debate rages

In an interview with ZDNet, Caldera chief Ransom Love hits back at free software founder Richard Stallman, denying that he is a 'greedy capitalist' or a 'parasite'
Written by Dietmar Muller, Contributor

"I am not a greedy capitalist. I am only a businessman. I just do my job. I'm not quite sure whether you can call this parasitic. I am not a parasite," Caldera chief executive Ransom Love told ZDNet in Munich, Germany over the weekend. Love was defending himself and the open source movement against reproaches by Richard Stallman, the chairman of the Free Software Foundation. Back in May, Stallman was quoted as saying of Love: "He's only a parasite."

But according to Love, Richard Stallman's point of view is "very... narrow" and it is wrong to call the business model of companies such as Caldera parasitic.

"You can't call our business model parasitic," said Love. "We add value to Linux, so it can become successful. We integrate Linux in the Back Office. And we do all the marketing that's necessary. Did Richard Stallman ever invest £50m in Linux? We did. I have been involved in the Linux community since my time at Novell in 1994. With 'Lizard' we developed the first installation service for Linux ever." Lizard Unattended Install was released in 1999.

"So I know these guys very well," Love added. "I know that the open source movement has no clue about marketing, they underestimate it. They say 'here, come and get it for free' and don't understand that you have to extol a product. But we've been in this since the very beginning and constantly working for the success of this movement." Love noted that Caldera has been doing this for some time now alongside other companies such as Red Hat.

"I remember well the cooperation with [Red Hat's chief executive] Bob Young. We developed RPM together, but they've got the credit. What I'm trying to say is: if we are parasitic then we are symbiotic parasites, although I wouldn't call us parasites at all. We gave the Linux community more than Stallman with his libraries. Our work helps Linux so much more than a few lines of code."

On the subject of Red Hat, the former ally seems to be often on the mind of Ransom Love: "Red Hat nowadays often is quoted as perfect example for a successful Linux company," he said. Last week, adjusting for various one-time costs, Red Hat reported revenue was about $25.6m for its fiscal 2002 first quarter, ended on 31 May, an 18 percent increase from the $21.7m reported for the same quarter a year earlier.

"But," said Love, "before they could become that successful, they had to develop proprietary software. So why are people so outraged? Because they want everything for free.

The truth is, according to Love, nothing is for free. "Someone must pay for it. All these small modifications in the code... all this does cost money. To bring it to the point: The only way to make Linux a successful business is to cash in. This is the other side of the medal. In the future, all Linux applications will have a price tag. That's the job of the movement's marketing department. You will have to pay for it, but of course less than you would pay for NT products because one thing is clear: our main competitor is Microsoft."

Now, Love said he is deadly serious in developing Linux to become the main business-platform. "From the technical view this is a major challenge. I hold a lot respect for all these Linux companies and their work. They are no parasites, either. They put millions into the development, just like us. Our job is now mainly marketing. It's sad, because the marketing guys are always seen as the bad guys. We never get the credit. But if we did not do that, none of the Linux companies on the market could survive. We pay 650 people to work for and on Linux, just as Suse or Red Hat do with their 600 employees each. I would call that a large contribution to the open source movement."

Besides, he said, "If you need GNU, download it for free. If you need certified software, you have to pay for it. We don't take away something, we benefit all."

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