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Raymond on open source

If you talk to Eric Raymond or Richard Stallman, they make very specific that "open source" (which is Eric Raymond's bailiwick) is not "free software" (Stallman's domain). "Open source" is more pragmatic, concentrating on the benefits of the "open" development model over proprietary models.

If you talk to Eric Raymond or Richard Stallman, they make very specific that "open source" (which is Eric Raymond's bailiwick) is not "free software" (Stallman's domain). "Open source" is more pragmatic, concentrating on the benefits of the "open" development model over proprietary models. "Free software" types think there is a 10th level of hell awaiting those who enslave others by denying access to source code. The former speaks the language of business, and the latter speaks the language of religion.

Though I may criticize aspects of Raymond's philosophy, that doesn't mean he doesn't say a lot that I agree with. That point was brought home to me after reading a blog post that included statements Raymond made at an open source conference in Brazil.

A point I made in past criticisms was that proprietary software pays people to orient themselves towards the needs of others, whereas open source relies (more) on donated time, which by its nature will be more oriented around the interests of the people doing the donating. Raymond's response (not to me) is: "We should identify their goals and needs. Not our goals and needs. Then, they will come, because our model is much better".

So, clearly, he recognizes the need to move beyond the "scratching an itch" model towards something which will conquer the world by making a product that will so interest people that they flock to it. The only way to do that, of course, is to orient towards the interests of other people. Proprietary software has that by nature, given that proprietary software vendors keep code private in order to generate revenue from real world customers, whereas open source has to work at the orientation.

Regarding open source being a "better" development model, clearly, it does have advantages, something I've mentioned before. Where I disagree is the amount of code which needs to be open source in order to garner those advantages, as well as the amount of time a piece of code should be kept closed source.

Regarding the rift between the "open source" world and the "free software" world, Raymond had this to say (do note: the first language of the blogger from whom I am lifting these quotes is Portueguese).

"Open source has the benefit for not fighting against the anti-capitalist concept that comes with free software. But where is the money but in the great companies? Our arguments cannot be guided by moral aspects. They should be guided by practical arguments, such as profit and advantages related to our competitors".

He's completely right. It's not "free software" of the Stallman sort that inspires the allegiance of IBM, Novell and others, but open source with its less ideogical approach and an understanding that companies need to make profit. It's worth noting that Raymond even allows code that is "truly innovative" to be kept proprietary (something Stallman's more ideological approach would never allow). Our difference on that score is the amount of time that code should be kept proprietary.

I found these comments regarding the GPL to be particularly interesting:

"Freedom and choice are pretty cool. But we should talk about many other things. GPL is based on the belief that open source software is weak and needs to be protected. With it, we continue injuring ourselves, cutting ourselves from the economic benefits of BSD license".

I used a variant of the BSD license on the open source database add-in I released three years ago. It's a great license, and enables maximal flexibility in that anyone can use the code in their products without releasing the source for any additions they make. Raymond allows this because there is value in letting truly innovative companies get a return on their investment.

Of course, it's worth noting that the largest and most successful open source product in existence, Linux, is licensed under a GPL license. So, though I agree with Raymond that a BSD license has more advantages from an efficiency and "spur to innovation" standpoint, the GPL might be better at building a community development effort.

...Or, perhaps Linux's success is just an accident of history. Would Mr. Torvalds have started the Linux project if BSD wasn't "sat upon" by the AT&T copyright elephant?