Subject: Re: Exploring the limits of free software: Cygnus, and GPL
From: John Gilmore <>
Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 16:31:52 -0700

Brian B said:
> If I understand Cygnus' product offerings correctly, they do the
> following...

Yeah, and they stopped beating their wife, too.

You seem to be ignoring my post of yesterday that says you can get
Cygnus's software, with GPL source, for $79 at Fry's.

There are many ways Cygnus has screwed up at doing free software.
They're still shipping a proprietary debugger while talking about how
great an open source company they are.  They were actively moving away
from the open source business model until it got trendy, then they had
to hurry to run the other direction.  (You may have noticed how many
more times the word "Linux" appears in their Web site and press
releases now, though it's a minor part of their business).  They are
still scummily trying to weasel on the details, rather than making a
clean business model choice that matches the public image they're
projecting.  Like Netscape's license, their eCOS license grants
themselves special rights that nobody else has.

But at the same time, they still contribute far more technical work to
the free software base than any other company I know of, including
RedHat, which has many fewer programmers than Cygnus, and IBM, which
has a medium sized team contributing to Apache.  They have something
like a hundred programmers working on GNU.  They're pushing the state
of the art of processor emulation (let's hope their PlayStation II
emulator is free software when released).  Their recent embedded OS
(eCOS), written from scratch by Cygnus, is free software.  Over the
last ten years Cygnus has probably put more than thirty million
dollars' worth of development (as measured by the salaries of the
folks doing the work) into the GNU tools.  Cygnus's 10-year
anniversary is coming up this year -- phooey on the pholks who said a
phree software support company couldn't survive and prosper!

I strongly suspect that Cygnus would not be contributing at this level
in the absence of the GPL.  The GPL provided great leverage to pry
loose all sorts of corporate hands from features to be added to the
GNU software base, in real contracts that I have negotiated.  If
Cygnus could have taken their GNU tool changes proprietary at some
point, they would have misguidedly done so; and then the decision
would be whether to open up, rather than whether to close up.  (Cygnus
is currently blowing that decision with regard to their proprietary
debugger GUI, their "source navigator", the "Cygnus Foundry"
development environment project (which failed but might contain useful
bits), and other tools they wrote from scratch or bought.)  Virtually
all the companies that started with "Berkeley licensed" software are
today shipping proprietary versions rather than free ones.

The GPL is the backbone of the GNU Project, and of Linux.  It alone
requires commercial folks to resist the siren song of proprietariness.
This is why I only write GPL code these days, despite hearing anguish
from BSDoid folks who want to use my code.  If they want to give
people the option to make my code proprietary, sorry; they'll have to
rewrite it.