Subject: Re: the walls have ears
From: craig@jcb-sc.com
Date: 29 May 1999 17:36:11 -0000

>At least so far, the BSD style license wins hands down for the
>first case.  There have already been scads of companies who've
>made billions as a result of work put out under BSD style
>licenses.  Sun Microsystems, for instance.  And arguably, Uunet
>and the whole ISP market, Yahoo, Amazon, and others.  The entire
>internet phenomenon, and all the companies that depend on it, is
>an outgrowth of code and infrastructure developed under BSD-style
>licenses.
>
>The business value created by BSD-style code, which companies can
>incorporate freely into their (potentially proprietary) products
>and business processes, has already been incalculable.  GPL
>advocates dismiss this value because it's removed from the "free
>software" economy.  

Maybe some do.  I don't.

What I can't figure out is just where all those billions of dollars
came from, that can be credited to the BSD-style licenses,
when the BSD'd code was available *to the public* for *free*, as BSD
advocates constantly point out.  (Well, I admit, I *can* figure it
out quite easily, but not reasoning from the standpoint we keep
hearing as "but the original source is *free*, so BSD is not less
free than GPL even to end users!!"  But maybe someone will enlighten
me, someday.)

Further, I agree, a few people made tons of money by shipping
proprietary software that they derived from free software.  That
doesn't mean the *value* of that free software is higher than the
value of otherwise-equivalent GPL'ed software, viewed from a
more "holistic" (global) perspective.

Putting the most positive spin on the case for the BSD-licensed
software, let's say Sun couldn't possibly have gotten a release
out in time to make some marketing window for its products
without using the BSD'ed code.  And, of course, it couldn't have
earned anywhere near the revenue if it had shipped the sources
to its products GPL-style, as would have been required if those
BSD sources had been GPL'ed instead.  (So if Sun had shipped all
the sources anyway, the GPL could just as well have been used,
but I assume that's not the case.)

So, just at the right moment, the existence of the BSD code made
all the difference in making those billions of dollars.

The way I look at it is, great, but what about the differences
made for Sun's *users*, who, at many of *their* "right moments",
had chosen the *wrong* software -- because it was proprietary,
so they didn't have the source?  And many of them probably didn't
understand that had they *had* the source, things could have worked
out much better for them -- having the extra control, the added
flexibility, the increased knowledge base, the ability to attract
better programmer/administrator types, who knows?

Those customers may well have *missed* golden opportunities to solve
their everyday business problems because they didn't have the source
to the *particular* Sun software they were *already* running.

And, just as the cost to those customers of finding the original
BSD code, cloning their Sun software (their *own* source) from it,
and working from *that*, was too high in comparison (in their estimation,
anyway) to just muddling along with the Sun stuff...

...so, too, would the cost to Sun of *not* having had the BSD code
base in the first place been high.

Thus, the very quality that made the BSD license valuable to Sun,
in *its* place in time, made it *less* valuable to many (or most or
all) of Sun's customers in *their* place in time.

In the meantime, who knows what the results of not having the source
have been?  Not just lost business opportunities, but lost lives?
Maybe that machine that killed patients with excessive irradiation
due to a user-interface bug years ago might not have done, if its
customers had insisted on GPL-style source availability, and had
their own choice of outside people validate it?

(For that matter, I think everyone in NYC can be grateful that a
pure stroke of luck resulted in an architectural student finding
the "bug" in the CityCorp building back in the '80s.  The result
was that the building was fixed, rather than falling down in a 70mph
wind and killing thousands.  The equivalent of our computer systems
infrastructure is kept much more secret than the plans for
city skyscrapers, I imagine, except where deployed GPL'ed code is
concerned...and we are becoming as increasingly dependent on
computers to not fail in a way that takes lives now, just as we
did 100 years ago vis-a-vis skyscrapers.)

But, yes, in the end, as I've said for many years now, if the
customers don't *value* having the source code available to them,
BSD license will beat GPL "hands down" for business.  Not because it
*is* more valuable, but because, due to what I feel is a
failure to properly value source code on the customer end, the market
effectively *makes* it more valuable.

However, the customers seem to be (slowly?) waking up to the values
source code offers them.  (Which doesn't always make them choose GPL;
it might help them negotiate better deals with vendors of proprietary
software, however, which, if true, highlights the value of GPL'ed
code merely *existing*, without even considering whether it offers at
least *some* semblance of solutions for some businesses at the time
that they need it.)

And I think, when we revisit this issue a few years from now, after
much of the Y2K litigation and other aftermath (follow-up studies showing
how various problems happened, how others were averted, etc.) has
died down, the assumption that source code is of little value will
have nearly vanished.  (If Y2K doesn't do it, some software-spawned
disaster will, probably by 2010, unless something Big happens --
something that takes society way off the current proprietary-software-
must-be-great-because-Bill-Gates-makes-billions-off-of-it track.)

Always remember: the only reason people make money off of proprietary
software is that people are willing to buy software without having
free access to the source code.  The moment that's no longer the
case, the whole foundation of the GPL-bad-for-business argument (not
quite what Tim wrote, I realize) will collapse.  Whether we ever
*get* to that moment is still, IMO, debatable, despite people like
Bob Young claiming "the revolutionaries have won" (though he might be
right).

        tq vm, (burley)