Subject: Re: Successful FSBs
From: "Tim O'Reilly" <>
Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002 08:15:51 -0700

On 9/30/02 12:20 AM, "Stephen J. Turnbull" <> wrote:

> I have a problem with that argument.  It basically amounts to "for
> lack of a name, these companies are totally missing the fundamental
> dynamics of their businesses."  I find that unlikely.

Not for lack of a name, for lack of sustained argument that they should give
back because their businesses depend on the continued success of free
software.  Consider google.  I know for a fact that they are now on
Microsoft's "competitor list".  If they were using Microsoft software, don't
you think that the squeeze would already be on?  Recognizing that your
survival is tied up with the survival of the ecosystem around the software
you use should make these types of companies very concerned about the
further success of free software.  Yet I tend to find myself the only free
software/open source advocate regularly making that point.  These guys just
aren't on the radar of most FS people -- because they aren't doing the
software distribution thing.  Getting folks to recognize that distribution
is no longer an adequate trigger for the license is only step one -- there
needs to be a change of mindset among most free software advocates, so that
they cast a wider net, and think more about who their friends and allies
ought to be, rather than deciding who isn't pure enough to be at the party.

It's the exclusionary, boundary-driven definitions that bother me.  We need
a definition driven by a gravitational core, recognizing that the field gets
attenuated the farther someone is from that core, but owning its influence
all the way out to the stars.

> As far as I can tell, your argument is equivalent to saying that all
> businesses involved in software to date have completely missed the
> boat, and fail to recognize the benefits of supporting free software.

Not at all.  Many companies don't depend on free software, and instead gain
advantage from proprietary software.  My point is that those whose
businesses *depend* on using and "performing" free software should be seen
as free software businesses, and engaged with as such.
> What about the MIT/X Consortium, and the very deliberate decision that
> OTOH Motif would be proprietary?

Yes, and look what happened.  That was the beginning of the end for X as a
dynamic platform.  That was the old Unix mistake.  "Hey!  Here's a great
party.  We need to own this."  But the party was going because the software
was free.  It's hard to convert a software community from free to
proprietary and keep the community dynamics lively.  Not impossible, but

> How about sharing with more limited
> participation, such as IP pools and the MCC?  MPEG, etc?  I think
> these companies are very much alive to the possibities for sharing,
> and simply have judged that more sharing than they already do is not
> good for them.

That's absolutely right.  Companies make different decisions about the value
of IP.  Sometimes they are right, and sometimes they are wrong.  The success
of any one strategy doesn't mean that the others are non-starters, just that
you have to understand what elements go together.

Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472