Subject: Re: Studies
From: "L. Peter Deutsch" <>
Date: Thu, 27 Nov 97 11:05 PST

I've been following the discussion of the Aladdin Free Public License with
great interest: I haven't seen such a thoughtful discussion of it before.

>        We and, I think, every other Linux distribution maker, recognize
> the non-GPL'ed versions of Aladdin Ghostscript as proprietary software
> with a promotional distribution policy, just like KDE, the AT&T UNIX(tm)
> academic licenses, and the Windows NT source licenses that Microsoft
> talks about making available to non-commercial institutions.

Do these other licenses include the following?

	- *Use* by *anyone*, whether commercial, profit-making, or not, with
no fee or permission needed.

	- *Redistribution* by *anyone* as long as no money changes hands and
the license is preserved, with no fee or permission needed.

	- *Required* redistribution of source code, empowering users and
third-party service providers.

I'm sure they don't.  So IMNSHO, Adam's lumping AFPL'ed software in with
commercial software simply because it doesn't allow Yggdrasil and others to
make money on a free ride off the authors' efforts is quite unfair.  (BTW,
this characterization is the flip side of Adam's "proprietary software"
slur.  I think both characterizations are unfair, and I'd be just as happy
if neither was used in public discussion.)

>        Now, I am not pretending that any of the Linux vendors are making
> huge amounts of money right now,

How can Linux vendors make money?

	1. The Internet distribution medium is driving the incremental cost
of distribution to something close to zero.  Therefore, Linux vendors cannot
expect to make money on the distribution function per se.

	2. Linux vendors can make money by selling non-libre products that
enhance libre products.  But they could do that whether or not they
distributed the underlying libre products.  And to the extent that their
products are non-libre, they forfeit the claim to be participating in a
particularly community-benefiting activity.

	3. Linux vendors can make money by providing services.  But they can
do this regardless of whether the topic of the services is gratis, libre, or
whatever (although their own costs will be lowest if the topic is at least

The Aladdin FPL limits vendors' ability to do #1, and to do #2 or #3 if they
bundle AFPL'ed material with their non-libre products or services.  How much
of Yggdrasil's income comes from these activities?

I have heard Yggdrasil argue in the past that they don't wish to distribute
AFPL'ed material because it limits *their* customers' rights.  But as Russ
Nelson pointed out, it doesn't limit the right to use, modify, distribute
completely gratis, or distribute entirely libre CD-ROMs: it only limits the
right to distribute not-entirely-libre products commercially.  I put the
"libre CD-ROM" clause in the AFPL specifically so that vendors like
Yggdrasil, Walnut Creek, etc. could offer the customers the choice of both
GPL'ed and AFPL'ed software without the vendors themselves having to pay for
the ability to do so: I think the vendors are doing their customers a
disservice by not giving them that choice, especially since it appears (from
reading comp.lang.postscript and my e-mail) that >90% of users are using the
Aladdin rather than the GNU release.

In my '96 paper, I argued that polished end-user applications cannot be
developed on the libre model, because the cost is so high (much higher than
the cost of developing system-like software) and the rewards to the
developers are negligible.  Indeed, it is my understanding that the one
great counter-example -- a Photoshop work-alike whose name momentarily
escapes me -- has now been abandoned precisely because the developers could
no longer afford to continue subsidizing its development with their time.

To my mind, the most interesting model of libre software development -- and
the only one that will be able to take the next step, to competing in the
producing of end-user applications -- is one in which no single developer
has to pay this subsidy: i.e., a model in which there are many developers
each doing a small amount of work.  I think the key issue in this kind of
dvelopment is how to maintain architectural and stylistic coherence of a
large program being worked on by many people, without which software rapidly
decays into unmaintainability.  Even with Ghostscript, to which other people
only contribute at the periphery, I have found it takes a substantial amount
of my time to maintain this coherence (to either edit or require others to
edit their contributions, to reject contributions that involve duplicating
large amounts of code rather than factoring out common functions, and to
explain to people what they need to do).  I think it would be very
interesting if someone involved in the Apache effort or who is close to the
center of Linux development could comment on this issue.  It is my
understanding from Linus that Linux is closer to the Ghostscript model: he
is personally responsible for maintaining coherence.

The truly cooperative model of software development is a subversive one for
the "free software business", because it rejects (correctly in my opinion)
the current libre software model, in which a few developers bear heavy costs
and non-libre vendors get the revenue: it is closer to the "everybody
contributes, everybody benefits" model that I think lies behind the libre
software movement, in which *nobody* gets revenue (other than for services)
and the idea of software as a "business" is left behind.  The AFPL is an
attempt to draw a better line between this model and the commercial one.  In
retrospect, I took that approach because I saw a problem with the GPL but
wasn't creative enough to look for an alternative that would spread out the
development work as with Apache.

If I had known about the Apache model when I started writing Ghostscript in
1986, I probably still would have done what I did, but I would have given a
lot more thought to architecting the program specifically to support
distributed development.


L. Peter Deutsch         |       Aladdin Enterprises ::::
203 Santa Margarita Ave. | tel. +1-650-322-0103 (AM only); fax +1-650-322-1734
Menlo Park, CA 94025     |
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