Subject: Re: the walls have ears
From: "Tim O'Reilly" <>
Date: Sat, 29 May 1999 09:20:45 -0700

"R. Brock Lynn" wrote:

> As to the question of which Free License is ultimately best for businesses, it's
> the GPL hands down.

Hmmmm.  There are two issues here:

* what's best for businesses who just want to make money
* what's best for businesses who want to make money while
supporting the ideals of free software and keep returning their
work to the ecosystem

At least so far, the BSD style license wins hands down for the
first case.  There have already been scads of companies who've
made billions as a result of work put out under BSD style
licenses.  Sun Microsystems, for instance.  And arguably, Uunet
and the whole ISP market, Yahoo, Amazon, and others.  The entire
internet phenomenon, and all the companies that depend on it, is
an outgrowth of code and infrastructure developed under BSD-style

The business value created by BSD-style code, which companies can
incorporate freely into their (potentially proprietary) products
and business processes, has already been incalculable.  GPL
advocates dismiss this value because it's removed from the "free
software" economy.  

So far, the impact of the GPL on business has been relatively
small.  Linux is the first really big win for the GPL on the
business front.  Finally, we may be reaching a point in time
where the benefits of an open process are clear enough that the
GPL will fly in a business context.  

This is great, if it happens. But I have a hard time agreeing
that it's already self evident that this is the case.  When Dell
generates more revenue on Linux boxes than Sun generates on its
BSD-derived proprietary UNIX, we'll know that we're on the way to
the gpl-business future.  But even there, a company like Dell (or
VA, who might be the next Dell) is really just exploiting a
loophole in the GPL.  Commodity hardware, commodity software:
make your money building a distribution, sales and marketing
company. But the GPL doesn't necessarily point the way to
scalable businesses in specific software areas, because it always
levels the playing field.  

And level-playing field businesses (commodity businesses) are
generally not known for innovation.  They are utilities.  

The interplay between open, university-style development and
proprietary capitalization on the products of that open
development is the story of Western civilization since the
Renaissance.  Maybe the gpl is the start of a post-modern
renaissance, but if so, it's still in the early stages, and it's
too early to say for certain that it's "best for business, hands

Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.  
101 Morris Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472   
707-829-0515 ext 266, Fax 707-829-0104,