Subject: Re: the walls have ears
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Mon, 31 May 1999 18:26:08 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "craig" == craig  <craig@jcb-sc.com> writes:

    craig> If anyone could point us to contradictory experiences, as
    craig> in:

    craig>   I thought having the source code to programs was
    craig> important, but it turned out to be a bad thing because [bad
    craig> experience] so now we have a rule in our organization to
    craig> not use any product for which we actually have the source
    craig> code, although we are permitted to use products that are
    craig> derived, by others, from BSD'd and PD'd code, as long as we
    craig> get only the proprietary binaries.

    craig> Since I have *never* heard an experience like that related
    craig> in any serious way (if at all), it's hard for me to
    craig> understand why you have such a problem with my statement
    craig> regarding the importance of *customers* valuing source-code
    craig> availability vis-a-vis the success, freedom, or whatever in
    craig> the BSD/GPL argument.

If you can't see that that's a straw man....  Sigh.

You will never hear the relevant anecdote you're asking for.  The
reason is that having source code is _always_ good (with the exception 
of having the source code to Adventure; getting caught with that would 
be like having Playboy on your coffee table when you invite a new lady 
over for dinner for the first time).

However, you will never hear my mother, or 99% of the other hundreds
of millions of users of Microsoft Word, tell "if-only-I-had-source"
anecdotes.  And _that_ is my point.  You argue that users always have
a value for source, and I say, of course.  But if it costs too much to 
use it, they won't act on that value.

    >> One problem with programmers' discussion of management
    >> decisions is that programmers rarely consider all the costs
    >> that management does; they don't have the experience to do so.
    >> (Of course, the big problem with programmers not discussing
    >> management decisions at all is the converse ;-) Keep talking
    >> guys!

    craig> Interesting assumption there, that, because I'm a
    craig> well-known programmer, I'm therefore not a manager.

You're not well-known to me; I made no such assumption.  On _this_
list, that would be rather foolhardy, given the number of consultants,
proprietors, and the like participating.  And in fact, given your open 
advocacy of FORTRAN, I assumed that you are old enough that you've
almost certainly been sentenced to a term or two as a manager.  Do you 
wish it was a life sentence?  ;-)

But I should be more careful with my terms, although the word "all"
should have given you pause.  Let's put it this way.  How much
corporate finance and marketing management experience do you have?  Of
course your experience, both as a programmer and a programming
manager, matter and are very valuable.  But do you maintain that you
have, not just a clue, but full comprehension of _all_ the costs of
programming projects and distribution of the product that management,
in the global sense, has?  (This is not just to get back at you; my
point is that many of the relevant transaction costs may in fact be in
areas you wouldn't know about unless you have quite broad experience.)

If so, I concede your expertise.  Are you going to maintain that's
typical?  If so, I retract the whole line of argument; I can't say
it's not from my own experience (although in principle I think it's
implausible).

    craig>   "But a good businessman does everything he can to reduce
    craig> the amount of information he has on, and control he has
    craig> over, his business, so your free-software notion will never
    craig> catch on."

<sneeze>  (Damn that hay fever.)

    craig> the assumption that source code is of little value will
    craig> have nearly vanished.

    >> Who assumes this?  I would say almost nobody.

    craig> The answer is "almost everybody" when it comes to people
    craig> arguing that the BSD is "more free" *or* "more successful"
    craig> vs. the GPL, in the context I wrote, specifically, the
    craig> importance of source code to *end users*.

Say bloody f**king what?  Anybody arguing for MIT/X-style licenses
(aka BSD, thanks to RMS for the URL on why not to use BSD as the
generic term), obviously knows that source code is of great value.  As
for end users, (1) end users like my mother really do have zero use
for source, even if you account for the fact that she could try to get
me or my sister to fix her bugs (neither of us would touch Word with a
10-foot pole), and (2) Brian Behlendorf makes a coherent argument
(which you summarily dismissed) that there are reasons why most of the
benefits to end users of source code (namely, embedded in it during
development) will be captured by say Apache's business model, and for
the rest, ones for whom source really is important for fixing bugs,
say, they can use Apache instead of WebSphere.  One can even imagine,
although as I read Brian I can't tell if it's implemented in
WebSphere, that you could use generic Apache modules with WebSphere.
Certainly there's nothing to prevent that in theory, although
WebSphere itself might be implemented specifically to prevent it in
practice.  That would be an important benefit that doesn't require
WebSphere source (and a carefully-written public license might be able
to enforce module interface compatibility, although at a cost of
attractiveness to proprietary implementors).

Finally, I can't imagine that Brian would argue that WebSphere would
not be even better for its users if it came with source!  Surely you
can't either.  His argument is something besides "source has no value
to end users."  You are simply putting words in other people's mouths.
Bad practice.

    >> The issue is whether clients will have the resources to exploit
    >> it.  If not, the value is less than the cost.

    craig> Without the source code, you never get to find out.
    craig> Period.

My mother doesn't need to have source code to know that she can't use
it.  It's an extreme example, I admit.  Unfortunately for you, it's no
straw man: it applies to 99% of users by head count, and you can't
just blow it away like the Big Bad Wolf did.  The "corporate users do
need source for that" argument runs afoul of the advantage to a
corporate user in having exclusive rights to source, see below.  The
argument for free public licenses has to rest on benefits to large
numbers of users.

    craig> Again, once enough *end users* decide that the risks of
    craig> being "caught with their source down" (no source code for
    craig> their products) are just too great, the profit-making
    craig> potential of proprietary or BSD vs. the GPL will stop
    craig> appearing so great.

Exactly.  Again, nobody as far as I can tell would deny this.  Problem
is, in some areas (wordprocessors being an obvious example), enough is
just not in the cards.  Users will stop using MS Word on the day that
a free word processor offers the same functionality, _including the
promise of current and future external network benefits_.  I see no
reason not to use an BSD-licensed free WP as an advertisement for a
proprietary one, and suspect it may be the best way for free software
to challenge in that market.  (This is the opposite of the Aladdin
strategy; I'm arguing that the WebSphere model may be right for this
application.  Then you do want the "obnoxious advertising clause" in
there, so that people will know the proprietary version is based on
the free one.)

    craig> How many businesses that buy fleets of cars (looking at
    craig> only those that don't do it as part of their central
    craig> mission, or at all of them, e.g. whether you include
    craig> rent-a-car companies) deliberately choose to buy them with
    craig> the hood welded shut?

<sneeze>  Get the straw off that crash-test dummy and I'll see if
there's anything left I want to answer.

    craig> Yes, but please think through the wholesale implications of

My point is precisely that I'm not convinced that there are "wholesale"
implications.

    craig> what you and I appear to agree about, that *more* customers
    craig> (a higher percentage) *will* demand end-user source
    craig> availability, and more of those that do will demand
    craig> GPL-style freedoms to circulate improvements among other
    craig> customers who have similar interests in the code continuing
    craig> to work.

I have done so.  (I'll read the snipped arguments later; I'm pretty
well convinced their content is unexceptionable, from a brief skim.
I'm willing to stipulate them.)  I'm convinced that a rapidly
increasing share of businesses will demand source-availability over
time.  _That has nothing to do with free ****public**** (flags flying,
brass band, 4-part harmony) licenses._  In fact, I can see companies
deliberately trying to get _exclusive_ source licenses from
consultants on customized software to get competitive advantages in
their industries.

    craig> But there are more convincing arguments in favor of
    craig> choosing a slide rule than there are in favor of choosing
    craig> to not have the source code to programs you're using.

Numerically, yes.  But the really convincing argument is one that
you've chosen to basically avoid: if the price for closed source is
right, people will forego source.  RMS doesn't avoid it, you know;
he's well aware of this factor.  That's one reason (of many) why he
argues for Copyleft.

Look, I _hope_ you're right.  If you are, the revolution will happen,
and faster than most of us would expect, and it will sweep all before
it with its light-GPL-saber (that's poetry, you can make fun of me if
you like, I'm not making fun of you).  But what if you're wrong about
the value to users?  There are still reasons why free software is a
GoodThang[tm], and it behooves us to try to find ways to implement
those benefits---which may involve non-GPL licenses.

-- 
University of Tsukuba                Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences       Tel/fax: +81 (298) 53-5091
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What are those two straight lines for?  "Free software rules."