Subject: Re: Opportunity lost? Challenge declined!?
From: Seth David Schoen <>
Date: Sun, 13 May 2001 10:52:09 -0700

Seth Gordon writes:

> If your software has more complex functions that I need, then I
> wouldn't want to buy the program without some assurance that they
> work.  Your offer to let me view the source doesn't really give me
> such assurance, since (a) I may not have the time to audit a product's
> source code before deciding whether or not to buy it; (b) if I have
> the faintest interest in ever writing a program that does something
> similar to yours, I want to make sure *not* to see your source code,
> because if I ever do implement my idea, I don't want to accidentally
> infringe your copyright.  So if you have a competitor who doesn't
> reveal any source code but has customers willing to vouch for the
> product's quality, while you have no customers but are willing to show
> me your "source under glass", I'd go with the competitor.
> Ethical questions aside, for the above reasons, I think "source under
> glass" only works if you're the 800-pound gorilla in your market
> niche, like Sun or Microsoft, and therefore you have customers who are
> so eager to have your product that they're even willing to donate
> bug-fixes.

I agree.  Before I discovered the free software world, I would have
_loved_ to see DOS and Windows source -- it would have been extremely
exciting, because I had never seen any operating system source, and
the idea of finally getting to see how an operting system is
implemented was thrilling.

Now I have a mild curiosity about how DOS and Windows did some things
and I have a lot of concerns about the fact that people who do use
those systems and have to interoperate with them -- which is almost
everyone -- can't see the source code or even try to derive it.

But I would no longer jump at a chance to see the source code.
Instead, I'd run away: I'd say "don't show me that, I may want to work
on a competing free software project some day!".  I also said that when
somebody offered to show me some proprietary code legally under an

When someone got an unauthorized copy of Windows source code, Don
Marti took pains to tell free software developers not to look at it.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with reverse
engineering or that people who derive source code should get in
trouble, just that in today's legal environment, you often can't afford
to indulge casual curiosity!

Seth David Schoen <>  | And do not say, I will study when I
Temp.  | have leisure; for perhaps you will
down:   (CAF)  | not have leisure.  -- Pirke Avot 2:5