Subject: Re: Exploring the limits of free software: Cygnus, and GPL
From: hecker@netscape.com (Frank Hecker)
Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 07:37:14 -0400

craig@jcb-sc.com wrote:
> We've already *got* such groups -- they're called "standards committees",
> they strongly influence things such as the C, C++, and Java languages
> that, among others, form the basis of much of the new code being
> written.
> 
> One problem with *those* committees is that they're populated by
> people with strong interests in the proprietary-model of software
> development and distribution, so they can tend to direct the
> evolution of those products such that they don't capitalize on
> the open-source model they way they might.

Note that while this has been often true in the past I believe it will
be less true in the future if the libre software model is able to extend
itself into more areas.  I think the Mozilla experience is suggestive
here: Over the past year or so we (AOL, Netscape, mozilla.org) have been
heavily lobbied to adhere to standards as much as possible and not to
twist the standards process to proprietary ends, and this lobbying has
resulted in changes of behavior that might not have occurred otherwise
(and didn't in fact occur in the past when similar issues came up).  In
my opinion these changes came about both because a more open development
process provided more opportunities for people to do sustained and
effective lobbying of us, and also because we couldn't afford to
alienate people from whom we wanted support in the form of testing,
patches, design advice, and code contributions.

IMO our increased support for standards and the standards process then
positively influenced others as well: It arguably strengthened the
position of standards proponents who were independent of major vendor
ties and were trying to resist proprietary enchroachment, because those
people now had more support for their position that full standards
compliance was possible and desirable.  Also, as the Mozilla source is
used by other projects both commercial and noncommercial, there are more
people who have a stake in nonproprietary standards in this area.

> Still, we might someday see (if it's not already in some ad-hoc form
> today) some kind of "Star Chamber" of various OSS illuminati, who use
> a combination of their public reputations and private interrelationships
> to help direct the community towards what is worth working on and what
> isn't, especially as regards platforms.
> 
> One question is, if that's the case, would it be better for them to
> operate in the open as a group?

To the extent that a small group of this type claims to speak for an
entire community and industry and is making recommendations it claims
should be followed by that community, it should operate in the public
eye as much as possible and be accountable in public to explain the
reasoning behind any decisions and pronouncements they've made.  This is
just political common sense.

Frank
-- 
Frank Hecker            Work: http://people.netscape.com/hecker/
hecker@netscape.com     Home: http://www.hecker.org/