Subject: Re: Do We Need a New Evangelist
From: Ben Laurie <>
Date: Thu, 01 Apr 1999 19:36:57 +0100

Tim O'Reilly wrote:
> Ben Laurie wrote (to Brian Behlendorf):
> > I'm trying to say that when you make a list of people who profit from
> > the "Open Source" concept, you shouldn't forget to include the people
> > who write your paycheck. It doesn't look good.
> >
> This thread seems to have missed the point of Brian's original
> post.  He listed some non-obvious people who've profited from
> Open Source as part of an argument that we need to persuade these
> people to acknowledge this fact, and so to support Open Source.
> O'Reilly is already quite public on record that we make a good
> deal of money from Open Source, and that that's one reason we are
> trumpeting the value of open source.
> But like Brian, I like to remind people that the obvious players,
> from Red Hat to Cygnus to O'Reilly, are NOT the biggest money
> makers from Open Source.  At least in stock market valuation,
> players like Amazon and Yahoo have reaped ENORMOUS fortunes from
> their use of open source software.  These businesses would not
> exist without the low barriers to entry made possible by open
> source.  Even today, much of the software at both Amazon and
> Yahoo is open source.

a) this is not news. Everyone has known for ages that these guys are
prominent users of free software.

b) it seems to me that it is far from clear that the fact that they used
free software was the cause of their enormous fortunes. Yes, it may have
lowered the barrier, but we're moving into the area of theology to say
that they wouldn't exist without it. The most you can really safely say
is they saved maybe a few hundred K along the way.

> Similarly, UUNet and the host of ISPs who followed have made far
> more money from open source than the O'Reillys and Red Hats of
> the world.

Now we're really pushing it. UUNet and ISPs couldn't exist without
telcos - does this make telcos a wonderful phenomenon that we should
shout from the rooftops? Can telcos therefore take the credit for ISPs'

> For that matter, Microsoft has made more money from Open Source
> than any of us "explicit" open source players.  As I said in my
> "Open Letter to Microsoft" after the release of the Halloween
> document, what was it but the addition of Internet functionality
> (developed by the Open Source community) to Microsoft products
> that drove upgrade revenue in Office 97 and Windows 98?
> The point is twofold:
> 1) In thinking about Open Source business models, it's important
> to look beyond packaging up the software, or building add-on
> products, and instead look at the way that open source enables
> new kinds of services and businesses.
> 2) The players who profit from open source don't always realize
> it.  As Brian argued (correctly to my mind), focussing simply on
> suppliers misses the point.  We need to focus on consumers of
> Open Source (who may be downstream suppliers of hardware,
> software or services) and what value they've derived.
> Making sure that Brian acknowledges that he now works for
> O'Reilly, which also profits from Open Source, seems like a
> rather trivial footnote to what is a very important point of
> discussion.

Despite my continued cynicism above, I do agree that it is an important
point, but I must say that if you are going to get into making lists of
who profits and you get down as far as academic institutions without
mentioning ORA (who just happen to employ you), _especially_ given that
a goodly chunk of this free software was written at the expense of those
same academic institutions, then you are not making a trivial omission.

And the really important point, for me, is that this is the way of Open
Source discussions - never mind the details, feel the rhetoric.

The strong impression I am left with is that "Open Source" is a
marketing concept, an almost meaningless brand, whereas free software is
something real.

And I know people are going to say I'm missing the point. Of course Open
Source is a brand. That was the whole idea. Well, maybe, but it wasn't
the idea I signed up for.




"My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those
who work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the
first group; there was less competition there."
     - Indira Gandhi