Subject: Re: Opportunity lost? Challenge declined!?
From: Glen Starchman <>
Date: Wed, 9 May 2001 13:11:58 -0700

On Wed, 09 May 2001, wrote:
> The thread begun by Adam Theo represented both an opportunity and a challenge
> to this group.  One that so far has been squandered, yet may still be redeemed.

I tend to agree, although I, also, remained quiet on the thread... partially
because of the beating I took a few months ago on a fairly similar topic. ;-)

> Specifically, a developer has come to us with a product and a question on
> semi-proprietary licensing.  Rather than use this as an opportunity to brain-storm
> and develop a viable means for this person(and the community at large) to
> see a return on their investment(development time) we have squandered it
> shouting what amounts to opinions, rather than arguments, that closed source
> is bad.

I was recently the CTO of a VC firm and had proposed a project that used
several open source and free software tools. After much negotiation with the
CEO and COO, I had finally persuaded them that OSS/FS was the way to go on the
project... until the CEO joined a *list that shall not be named* to "see what
this free software stuff is all about". Within a few days the project was
cancelled due to what the CEO called "those freaks that want everything to be

Sadly, because of some misdirected posturing on that list (and, to be honest,
some fairly radical ideas), a project that *could* have been a posterchild for
OSS and FS was killed and I ended up looking like a fiscal idiot. 

> Here are the challenges:
> 1.  To brainstorm for solutions to allow developers to be compensated for
> their development work.

> 2.  To convince Mr. Theo that the among those solutions exists a business
> plan which provides an expected return on investment at least equal to his
> proprietary license model.

This can be very difficult. Many, many organizations see the opening up of
their codebase to be tantamount to sleeping with the enemy... making source
code freely available means that eventually that code will fall into the hands
of one's competitors and give them an edge. Hence the real problem: the fiscal
reality of OSS/FS in the software arena. 

Recently I advised one of my clients (who is *heavily* MS-dependent) to release
the specifications for a portion of their product to the software community at
large so that that portion could be ported to other platforms, etc... Is that
Free Software? Nope. Is it OSS? To a point, but not enough that ESR would
approve (probably), and RMS's head would probably spin about 180 degrees.
However, in my opinion, it is a start and rather than telling my client, "Okay,
now, you know all of that code that you have spent millions developing? I want
you to release it to the public."  and promptly being fired, I began what I
hope to be a cycle of more openess within that organization.

> Along those lines, I shall begin with a discussion of the Red Hat model.
> Red Hat is essentially a support provider.  You pay Red Hat a fee and they
> help you set-up your Linux system.
> Unfortunately, there are several problems with the Red Hat solution:
> 1.  The software it is supporting already had strong grass-roots momentum,
> and a non-trivial userbase when Red Hat began.

Agreed... but only in terms of the so-called geeks. Sure, Linux distros were
becoming easier to install, but who but a certified geek knew that in order to
have a PPP internet connection you had to rebuild the kernel with PPP support?

I have what I call the Mother test for ease of use. If I am going to release a
product far and wide I think like my computer illiterate mother and see if I
can figure it out. No distro has met that test yet, but companies like RedHat
and SuSE are certainly getting close.

> 2.  I am unsure of the return Linus Torvalds has seen from open-sourcing
> Linux, but it does not seem to be on the scale of Bill Gates, Larry Ellison,
> or Scott McNealy.  Granted, pure monetary success is not neccessarily the
> only metric, however, most developers(and people in general) want to see
> a return beyond the feel good of altruism for their efforts.

That is also a case in point. Sure, there are people who write software for the
love of it. But there are also people who write software to make a living. If I
run a bakery, I am not going to give out my bread recipe. 

> 3.  As a developer, what I am good at is developing software, not providing
> support.

Once again, agreed. See response to point 1.
> Which brings me to a more focused question than my earlier challenges:
> How does a developer that wants to invest his time developing, get compensated
> in the open source arena?
That's a tough question, and one that most OSS shops haven't been able to