Subject: Re: Competition by internal expertise for F/OSS vendors
From: Thomas Lord <>
Date: Tue, 02 Sep 2008 20:44:28 -0700

If you'll pardon the follow-up-to-self:

> From a labor perspective, it is as if the free software movement
> and open source crowd came together to build the ultimate
> platform for proprietary software, gratis.   If that had been our
> goal, we should be popping champagne corks.

I think that there is a conceptually simple (but socially difficult)
solution to that problem.   Here is one of the weird ways
I conceptualize the problem, followed by a proposed solution:

The "F/OSS community" is bound together at the level of technical
agenda by the charismatic and economic influence of a tiny subset
of that community -- a subset who work for the main firms or for
orgs controlled by those firms.   So, the apache foundation, the
NPO that pays Linus, RHAT, Novell, IBM, now Canonical -- it's
like the old hollywood studio system in that those small number of
firms "own" all the influential talent and all the other players try
to be like or play with those guys.   "We knew who we would have
to hire" -- Tiemann on the Cygnus business plan [paraphrase, sourced
from that "revolution" movie.]

Now, we can pointlessly debate all day why it should or should
not have wound up that way but that's the way it is.   Slashdot
is analogous to Variety.   Maybe RHAT is analogous to MGM.
Linus is Betty Grable.   RMS -- I dunno;  Keaton or Chaplin or

A lot "gets done" in the F/OSS industrial complex by virtue
of the chatter and behavior of the community of hackers, the
core of whom are all those "studio properties" at the big
firms.   Culturally, it really does look from the inside worker's
perspective like something that wants to be the old hollywood

The net effect of that social dynamic is that there are always,
lying about, an oversupply of wannabe hackers, doing stuff
for free.   The large firms draw very heavily on the free labor
pool that, in hollywood, is called "auditions".   All volunteers
are supposed to "build reputation" and that kind of stuff as a
career plan -- this is as if all those hollywood audition tapes
that kids fresh off the bus from Kansas did were the main
product hollywood sold.  It's theft of labor, essentially.
It's exploitation and the *actual* hollywood mostly swore
off it, decades ago.

That theft of labor needs funding:  the payroll for the studio
system celebrities needs to be met.  The big firms need to be
able to connect a big revenue stream to their activities.

The *easiest* way to bring on that revenue stream is to use
the free labor to produce a platform that needs support
services but is otherwise the best choice for web services among
the main choices.   And so those celebrities get paid, in
essence, for "making news" that inspires volunteerism in
service of the creation of a platform for proprietary web
services (mainly).

The simplest corrective to that ugliness is an improved
sense of propriety among the "F/OSS celebs" -- among
the payrolled elite hackers (frequently project leaders).

By "improved sense of propriety" I mean an adoption of
the traditional value of rejecting charity when no charity
is needed.    Accepting charity when charity is not needed
is an embarrassment, at the very least.   F/OSS celebs who
do so should be ashamed.

The easy way forward is for the current generation of celebs
to adopt the value of not accepting charity:  insist on paying
for "volunteer" contributions unless payment is firmly refused.
Refuse to work with lines of code not received under those
conditions.   Refuse to work with bug reports not received
under those conditions.

Eliminate volunteerism and the economics have to change,
probably for the better.  End the studio system and the easiest
way to do that is for the current generation of celebrities to
stand up and say "enough.  no more."

History is not going to judge the past decade of the F/OSS
industrial complex kindly.