Subject: Re: Successful FSBs
From: "David Kaufman" <david@gigawatt.com>
Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2002 13:47:08 -0400

Simon Cozens <simon@netthink.co.uk> wrote:
> David Kaufman:
>> they may not be participating "profitably".  OTOH if you reasonably
>> consider even those proprietary tools "participation" because, though
>> some tools are not open source, they are *dependent* on the
>> open-source industry to the extent that they couldn't exist without
>> it.
>
> I'm afraid you've just tripped my bogometer: I read this after
> looking at Radiator, the major product of Open System Consultants.
> (http://www.open.com.au/)
>
> It's written in Perl; does that mean they're participating in the free
> software industry? Does that make them an FSB?

by this broad definition, yes, they are a business and they are
participating in the industry, but only as consumers, or users.  they're
using Free Software to produce non-free software.  since they're not
developing free software, they're relevant to the free software industry
only as consumers.  they're certainly not the only software company
building non-free software in perl!

i see your point, though.  if we define an FSB too broadly and everyone
is included, it's about as meaningless as defining it so narrowly that
no one is included :-)

so my question then is, if we want an FSB to be something in the middle,
between idealisticly aligned development businesses and greedy users
using the software to produce proprietary source-secret software, then
what exactly do we want an FSB to be?  must it assume one or more
of the roles specifically laid out in the GPL license?  that is to say,
must an FSB play one or more of these exact roles to be a "Free Software
Business"?

  authoring free software
  modifying/extending free software
  distributing free software
  supporting free software

or possibly these as well:

  authoring free documentation
  modifying/extending free documentation
  distributing free documentation
  supporting free documentation (?)

to me, Open System Consultants appears to be a Free Software User.
They *are* an important part of the Free Software Industry, as members
of it's *consumer* market.  We may feel that using an open source
language to produce a proprietary product, selling their source code
without the right to modify and/or redistribute it, and using the word
"Open" in the name of their company conflicts with the Altruistic Goals
of the open source community, but we must admit that the *business* of
Free Software is still an experiment, and for experiments to teach us
anything, there must first be many different types of attempts, many
failures, and many only-partial successes toward reaching the goal of
survival through profitability, before IMO we can say what *should* and
especially should *not* be allowed.  if we as a Community invalidate
experimentation by businesses that think they can innovate and be
profitable, we'd be stifling any further innovation by limiting what is
"allowed" beyond those 4 (or 8) business practices explicitly
sanctioned by the text of the GPL.

i don't think we should decree from on high that Open System Consultants
is not a Free Software "Business", but maybe we should instead segment
the Free Software Industry into businesses categories accordingly,
reserving our subjective judgements about what is right and wrong, good
or bad, until the successes and failures of meeting *business* goals can
be factored in.

a skeletal segmentation of the free software industry might begin with:

    A. businesses that develop free software
    B. businesses that contribute to free software
    C. businesses that distribute free software
    D. businesses that provide support for free software
    E. businesses that use free software

i was about to add all those again, replacing free software with free
documentation, but i think documentation usually falls into one of the
above categories, the developers may write their own docs, others may
contribute docs, support providers might extend, rewrite, repackage docs
into other formats, or even patch the docs.  in those cases, in my
loose-ish industry, the docs become part of the software package itself.
by that token i guess O'Reilly would probably fall into category D.
(selling) support for free software.

i will probably now be flamed because most books are not themselves
"Free" as in freedom, but that is what i meant by "loose-ish".  the
strict definition of "Free Software" and the distinction between that
and "Open Source" software must be blurred somewhat in the context of
business (as it may be in the mind of those outside the industry).  If
O'Reilly publishes a restrictively licensed book about a truly Free
software project, the book cannot be considered a "contribution" to the
project because it can't be incorporated into the software, or
distributed with same freedom that the software can.  O'Reilly can
however sell the book to the software's users separately, as a form of
value-added support with its own licensing terms, in the same way
someone could offer a toll-free technical support phone number for
apache users to call and ask questions but the terms of it's use contain
a restriction that the customer cannot tape-record the call or post
transcripts of Q&A sessions on their website's Apache FAQ.  the content
of the support, (like the content of the O'Reilly book) remains
proprietary.  selling proprietary support (or even add-ons) for free
software is another possible, valid, and i assert allowable, business
experiment.  O'Reilly and 1-900-ApacheQA are not just users of Open
Source they sell support.  then again, i guess maybe i should just leave
the distinction between software and docs, open and owned, to the patent
attorneys :-)

if a business chooses to take an open source product, fork the code and
make their own version, releasing their product as free software under a
new name, they are developers of open source software, competing with an
existing developer (who may or may not even be a *business*) from within
the open software industry.  if on the other hand they release a
reverse-engineered clone under a proprietary license, they are (perhaps
nefarious) users, who are also competing with a free software developer
from outside the industry.

so i guess my point is that if you want to clarify the discussion to
differentiate businesses like Open System Consultants from the
discussion of Free Software Businesses, it might be clearer if we use
more descriptive terms like Free Software *Development* Businesses or FS
*Support* Businesses, or Businesses that do not develop proprietary
software (if that's what we we mean).

OSC is certainly not a developer of Free Software, but they have their
place in the industry, and BTW, may very well be in the black, happily
making money "in the industry", and merrily considering themselves a
Free Software Business.  if they *are* in the black (even as a lowly
lifestyle business), would you not want to at least mention businesses
like theirs in your article, if only as an example of one extreme on the
spectrum of possible experiments now taking place to try to make money
in the Free Software world?

-dave