Subject: A company's appeal to the community
From: <kmself@ix.netcom.com>
Date: Sat, 15 Jan 2000 13:07:44 -0800
Sat, 15 Jan 2000 13:07:44 -0800
I've been approached by someone at a large technology company whom I'll not
name for the moment, about assistance from the free software community
in moving toward open sourcing several products.  The situation
described could probably be applied to several companies, and this may
be something which we are called on to consider more frequently in the
future.

The problem at this company is a number of existing licensing arrangements
which are essentially being held to their head and which are preventing
any further movement.

The issue is not one of sub-licensing source, per se.  The company already
does this, but under terms which most decidedly fall short of the OSI
definition of open source, in individually negotiated sublicensing
arrangements.  It's more a matter of degree of release and control
over modification -- the company is committed to freely modifiable and
redistributable source, under terms matching the OSI definition, and
possibly even compatible with GPLd software.  Its licensors are choking
on this bit.

The licensors are not necessarily threatened by the free software 
movement -- some may be, some may be ambivalent, others may be making
free software plays of their own.  It's a mixed bag.

The company in question has been participating in free software in
several ways for some time, and is considered a likely candidate for
making a larger play, though this has not yet happened.

There are some details of what is planned, the terms for releasing the
software (in particular, licensing), and the formation of a branding/
community organization, which I'm somewhat unclear on.  I've asked for
further clarification of the role of this organization in the arrangement,
and would like to discuss it further as a condition of my own support.

The request is for the free software community to assist in persuading
the licensors to facilitate a free software release.  It's thought that
a number of forms of pressure and/or persuasion might be brought to
bear.  The thought of /. elicits a wicked grin, but realistically, a
more genteel tool should probably be used.

The window for action is relatively short-term, though I haven't been
given a specific schedule.  A decision in the next few months, and action
by May or June is likely.



My concerns are these:

I see this as an opportunity for some tit-for-tat.  There are things
which could be done to help support free software and specific projects. 
Without appearing either too naive or too aggressive, it seems we might
make some requests of our own, to the benefit of free software as a
whole, before contributing our voices and support.  If the company is in
fact fully sincere (and I have no particular reason to doubt that they
are), then these should actually be items of mutual benefit.

What sorts of commitments or return benefits might the free software
community expect or be likely to request or desire from a company which
could provide:

  - Yet more commercial validation of free software.

  - Hardware vendor support.

  - Increased proprietary ISV support for free software and
    free software platforms (Linux, xBSD, etc.).

  - Access to advanced technologies not currently available in free 
    software offerings.

  - Possible legal and political support for free software in fronts
    such as EAR/ITAR restrictions, patent protection, copyright and
    UCITA legislation.


I expect a number of potential responses from the free software and free
software business communities.  As a general issue, there's the point
that the company may have little choice but to come around sooner or
later anyway, and that the benefits of doing so sooner rather than later
are probably great.

There is also the question of ultimate motives and ends in all of this,
for which I'd need to have a better understanding myself of what it is
the company plans to do, the schedule for carrying this out, and the
terms under which the actions are performed.

I do feel that the recent crop of free-software related IPOs produces a
potential set of allies -- while free software and Linux have cleared
the credibility and sustain ability hurdles, companies based on them have
expectations to live up to.  The benefits for inter-corporate
cooperation -- even among potential competitors -- in accelerating the
growth of the free software and Linux marketplace may be considerable.


So -- my question to the recipients is:

 - Is there interest in supporting this company?

 - What if any preconditions would be attached to such support?

 - What if any concerns are there about rallying to the support of a
   company which has not yet made a broad and firm commitment to free
   software?


My suggestion is that it would be a good thing to work more closely with
the company to find out what its goals and objectives are and to voice
our own concerns.  I propose the decision to support or not support the
company in its negotiations with licensors is one each of us can make as
individuals.  I would like the chance to discuss this collectively first.

Thank you.

-- 
Karsten M. Self (kmself@ix.netcom.com)
    What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?

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