Subject: Re: the walls have ears
From: "R. Brock Lynn" <>
Date: Sun, 30 May 1999 04:45:24 -0500

[This is a bit of a long one, sorry folks. Bear with me. :]

Tim O'Reilly wrote:
> "R. Brock Lynn" wrote:
> >
> > As to the question of which Free License is ultimately best for businesses, it's
> > the GPL hands down.

> Hmmmm.  There are two issues here:

> * what's best for businesses who just want to make money

> * what's best for businesses who want to make money while
> supporting the ideals of free software and keep returning their
> work to the ecosystem

I would like to believe that these are one and the same goal. Perhaps they are
different. I guess I'm a bit biased in view as I tend to have more "utopian"
ideals. :)

But if a short term goal of only making money is in order, the perhaps the GPL
would not be the best means to that goal. But I reasonably propose that a steady
income of good money that will last for a very very long time, and not just
simply a short term spurt of income, can best be made using a "free software"
license like the gpl which restricts non-free forks.

But of course all the "data" is not in on this yet. The "free software business
world" is still in its infancy. Only time will tell for sure.

But surely I can see the great benefit of integrating free software into the
business world. Free Software of course makes best sense for the consumers
(there is quite a bit of evidence to support this, at least in the server market
:), but the fundamental question is:

How are we going to feed, and more generally "compensate" or "reward" the

And of course there will be other people who need to take care of the more
mundane aspects of the software production "process" to free the "actual"
programmers from the routine so they can concentrate on more and more creative
programming, who will also need to be fed. :)

Heh, how long before we hit Utopiaville? It sure is taking a while to get there,
and Susie Mae is falling asleep in the back seat. At least the vehicle that is
hopefully taking us there seems to be running fine. Hope we don't run out of gas
before we get there. Or is it the trip itself that is more interesting than the
destination? :)

> At least so far, the BSD style license wins hands down for the
> first case.  There have already been scads of companies who've
> made billions as a result of work put out under BSD style
> licenses.  Sun Microsystems, for instance.  And arguably, Uunet
> and the whole ISP market, Yahoo, Amazon, and others.

Yes, I see your point.

But I don't have access to the Solaris source code... It forked to no abandon.
Perhaps Sun will scrap their proprietary model for the pure sake of the further
development of the code, otherwise I see SPARC and UltraSPARC GNU/Linux or
GNU/HURD taking its place in the not so distant future. I've run SPARC GNU/Linux
before, and liked it so much, I scrapped Solaris altogether. That machine is
still today, after more than 2 years, the main DNS server among other things for
a previous ISP company I used to work for.

To the average Joe consumer, Sun is just like Microsoft. In fact you could argue
that Microsoft has benefited from "free software" due to the many UNIX design
features that are a part of "DOS" and "Windows". That is if you consider the
early UNIX from AT&T to be "Free Software". UNIX was the first big jolt in the
general direction of "free software" wasn't it? Of course it was partly due to
the Anti-Trust restriction on AT&T from entering a software market.

> The entire
> internet phenomenon, and all the companies that depend on it, is
> an outgrowth of code and infrastructure developed under BSD-style
> licenses.

> The business value created by BSD-style code, which companies can
> incorporate freely into their (potentially proprietary) products
> and business processes, has already been incalculable.

Quite true.

>  GPL
> advocates dismiss this value because it's removed from the "free
> software" economy.

Yes, that's why I tend to dislike proprietary code-forks. 1) It fragments the
market, and 2) Takes away freedom with respect to the source code.

You lose the free bug fixes (security as well as technical) and enhancements
that could potentially be sent in by the users. It becomes very easy for the
non-free code to contain back doors, and unauthorized surveillance. It makes it
easy for the company to become involved in deceit. And because the code is
unavailable for close scrutiny, it is more likely that crackers will find
security holes, from intense reverse engineering, before the company or the
users do, to their detriment. We need to keep those "2600" readers at bay... ;^)
without, of course, restricting their rights to speak about and read about
security holes, and methods of exploit.

There are many more reasons as well, almost all of them economic, for keeping
the software "free" or "liberated" but it all boils down to keeping the software
free is an all around best way to conduct the production in almost all software
projects. And I propose that by upholding the ideal of disallowing non-free
forks is a step in the right direction.

Perhaps not everyone can understand the complex reasoning so clearly, but it
stands to reason that given a monetary, or economic reward, people will be
inclined to think and study just a little more, so that even more "dollars" (or
other economic units of measure or value) can be achieved. :)

Fellas, there's gold in them thar free software hills. And the hill with the
most of it, that can provide the most in the long term is the hill marked with
the big GPL. :)

But of course don't take my word for it, study the situation carefully, and draw
your own conclusions.

> So far, the impact of the GPL on business has been relatively
> small.  Linux is the first really big win for the GPL on the
> business front.  Finally, we may be reaching a point in time
> where the benefits of an open process are clear enough that the
> GPL will fly in a business context.

Yes. Perhaps it all comes down to educating the business people. Without proper
education, and understanding of the facts, people tend to make poor decisions
with respect to their own self interests. (and I propose that what is good for
the whole is generally good for the individual.) So perhaps we who care about
having more and more high quality free software for our own use need to start
some kind of "Education Campaign" to help the business people understand just
how much more lucrative free software can be in the long term for their *own*
self interests. Of course short term oddity companies like Microsoft throw off
the gullible business men who think that Microsoft has perfected the process for
long term economic growth. When in fact (or rather at least I don't believe so)
it has not, but rather has acquired its wealth "on the margin" of an infantile
new market... That of software production. The market has yet to "stabilize" so
to speak, and is under considerable "growing pains". Perhaps we are all just
beginning to feel the "labor pains", and the true "baby" hasn't yet been born.

Of course we need to study the thing carefully ourselves first, but I think
enough facts are in to tell that free software in general is the right direction
to head in. Now I guess the "great debate" is over which license is ultimately
best from an economic standpoint. I propose the GPL is best, but I can't say
that with 100% certainty. Only time will tell, but I can say I do have a strong
gut feeling. :)

> This is great, if it happens. But I have a hard time agreeing
> that it's already self evident that this is the case.  When Dell
> generates more revenue on Linux boxes than Sun generates on its
> BSD-derived proprietary UNIX, we'll know that we're on the way to
> the gpl-business future.

That would be a great thing to see. And don't forget Penguin Computing. :)
(Allison Hyunh gave me a free mouse pad at last year's Atlanta Linux Showcase.
So I figured I owed 'em one.)

> But even there, a company like Dell (or
> VA, who might be the next Dell) is really just exploiting a
> loophole in the GPL.

The "viral" quality?

> Commodity hardware, commodity software:
> make your money building a distribution, sales and marketing
> company. But the GPL doesn't necessarily point the way to
> scalable businesses in specific software areas, because it always
> levels the playing field.

True. But this makes it easier for new businesses to enter the market place, and
spurs competition.

Just how competition and cooperation will work with free software development
directly is I guess just speculative at this point, but I think, once fine tuned
at least, it can work quite well... To all the business people's delight.

> And level-playing field businesses (commodity businesses) are
> generally not known for innovation.  They are utilities.

Perhaps for products made from scarce resources. But what about information, or
knowledge based products? (that once created are easily and cheaply duplicated)

It might end up that most income for free software companies will come from
large corporate accounts that need more "vertical" extensions to be developed,
and incorporated into an existing free software system, and that in fact most of
the innovation will come from the user community. Rather odd eh? But then there
is a parallel: A lot of innovation comes from the university scientific
communities and then companies that market products based on this information
make "extensions" for particular purposes and make money that way.

So in the case of software, perhaps what we most want is to allow the community
the freedom to add their own innovations, and let the community lead in the
ground breaking research, and let the companies footing the bill for the
maintenance of the code charge the bigger corporate users for the more vertical
additional features they require but for which there is not much general user
desire for.

> The interplay between open, university-style development and
> proprietary capitalization on the products of that open
> development is the story of Western civilization since the
> Renaissance.

> Maybe the gpl is the start of a post-modern
> renaissance,

Nifty. :)

And don't forget the "enlightenment" that is being brought about as a result of
the *intense* level of information and knowledge that is being brought to each
and every internet service subscriber.

Look up "+secret +information" some time in your favorite search engine, and be
prepared to be startled, and perhaps pleasantly surprised.

It seems that what used to get you checked into a coocoo house permanently is
now becoming normal average conversation material on the Internet. :) And I say:
"More power to us all". Knowledge and Understanding are the ultimate
"liberators" and the Internet is bringing more and more of them to more and more
of us each day. Perhaps the Internet and Free Software are starting to help
"reshape" our society in even more positive ways that we can only start to grasp

> but if so, it's still in the early stages, and it's
> too early to say for certain that it's "best for business, hands
> down."

Yes, let's give it more thought on the business structure front, but certainly,
with enough reasoned thought coupled with observation, the "best" way will show

I have strong intuition that the GPL will show itself as the superior business
tool, but I can only say that: That it's a strong intuition only.

BTW, I commend you on "Open Souring" "Open Sources"!
(Bought a copy at USENIX' NETA this past April. Good collection that is. :)

--Brock Lynn

---------------------  PGP key ID: FED76A3D <> 4 / 5 / 1999

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