Subject: Re: open source definition
From: Craig Burley <>
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 21:07:14 -0400 (EDT)

>Convincing a bunch of fairly naive college and high school students
>that there is some great moral good in giving away the fruits of their
>efforts -- deliberately undermining their attempts to make a competent
>assessment of value in the process -- is, in my opinion, deceitful.

IMO, that's an *extremely* obnoxious statement.

Teaching people to do good things, e.g. what most religions,
ethics courses, and so on, do, is *not* "deliberately undermining
their attempts to make a competent assessment of value in the

In my experience, it often has the opposite effect -- the person
who's encouraged to give away stuff is implicitly or explicitly
encouraged to *value* that "stuff", whatever it is, greatly,
especially as it benefits others.  (That's certainly the case for
my church.)

The people who do what you claim, that is, encourage the naive
to give their stuff away because it *isn't* valuable, are fairly
easily defended against, with the question "if it isn't valuable,
why should I give it away to anyone, and thus add to their burden
of worthless junk?"

>I'm reminded of the Hare Krishna scene in the movie Airplane.  I've
>always been sympathetic to O.J. in that scene.

Why is it that anti-free-software zealots seem to inevitably end
up claiming those of us who support the free-software model
necessarily are akin to cults hypnotizing hordes of naive masses?

For my part, nobody told *me* that the result of my taking employment
with various proprietary-software-creating organizations would be
that all the clever software (usually tools, sometimes OS work and
later compiler work) would end up unavailable to me to share with
friends, neighbors; show to new potential employers; improve as I
felt necessary; and so on, especially, but not *necessarily*, once
I was employed by that some company.

Why is it that the recruiters, who hire naive college students
to come work for them but don't educate *their* targets about
the real value their work will have to the organization and
their inability to access and leverage that value beyond doing
*exactly* what the corporation asks, aren't labeled cult leaders
as well?

Of course, one of the reasons must be that they *aren't*
hypnotizing anybody a la cults, any more than rms or other
free-software luminaries do anyway.  (Not that cult-like
thinking doesn't permeate some elements of the proprietary
world; I have a relative working for Microsoft, heck, I remember
how *I* used to think about software decades ago.)

What *is* certain is that, when rms asked me to write g77,
he didn't say "your work won't be valuable, so you might as
well spend several years doing it and give it away".  I asked
him how I could help on the project, he suggested g77 (in so
many words; the name came later, but, trust me, he *was*
capable of pronouncing the word "Fortran" without gagging ;-),
so off I went.  No cult leadership here, and as far as my
perception of the value of what I do and what I've done, it's
gone only further and further upward, which is why I turn more
and more work down offered at greater and greater dollar amounts,
getting paid, now, a fairly decent amount for pretty tiny amounts
of part-time work.

>The argument that there is economic benefit to free software is fairly
>new, and may have merit.  It has the significant advantage that it can
>be quantitatively evaluated.

It's not a new argument.  And it certainly has merit.  The big
question has been, and always will be, centered on what the
market demands.  That's *demand*-side, not supply-side.  As long
as users don't care about having source, it's hard to show
much economic benefit to providing it, because its advantages
aren't evident, and competing against non-source systems requires
high costs just to overcome the fund-raising advantages of keeping
stuff secret.

But, if/when the user base begins requiring source code for lots
of software (and that might have started already), the situation
*will* change in terms of assessing the merit of source software.

For myself, given my knowledge of how proprietary and free-software
organizations actually work, how pretty much all the tools work,
how things like license managers and copy-protection schemes work,
how much time and effort must be spent to keep things secret vs.
simply publishing them, and the directions most of these areas
are headed as things like the Internet and an increasingly
inter-dependent global economic and social community progress,
it's *quite* clear to me that there are *substantial* economic
benefits to free software.

But as long as people are willing to shell out $$$ for individual
copies of software without source, there will be enough $$$ to
fund the overcoming of the disadvantages of proprietary software
and still beat out free software in the relevant areas.

If people become unwilling to do that, however, all the arguments
about how free software can't succeed will end, because it's
not the VCers, the programmers, the suits, the marketers, that
count -- it's the end users who *pay* for the stuff.  They might
someday decide they want local, contract, yellow-pages-lookup-
style maintenance for their software, just like they already
have for their cars, their kitchens, their pets, their children,
their teeth, and so on.

All those other things count only as long as there's a balance
in this one big area of userdom.  Before, the balance was tipped
too far against free software for them to matter.  Now, it's
probably in the grey area where those other things count.  Someday
it might tip too far in the other area, at which point proprietary
software will be, basically, dead.

In the meantime, I don't mind writing proprietary software if
someone pays me enough to do it.  That takes a *lot* of money,
because I greatly value my contribution to a product when the
end result is going to be that I can't maintain or improve it,
show the source to my friends or future potential employers,
and so on.  Occasionally someone pays me enough money for that
for a short period, then they want me to do much greater works
for them and I bow out, knowing they can't afford my asking
price.  And that's pretty much all because I wrote g77; there's
been extremely little, if any, cross-pollination among my
proprietary-software-authoring contracts, but the last two or
three big ones have stemmed directly from my visibility doing g77.

I guess this missive makes me another cult leader, eh?  :)

        tq vm, (burley)