Subject: Re: The merger: a user's perspective
From: "Tim O'Reilly" <>
Date: Thu, 18 Nov 1999 10:16:57 -0800 wrote:
> Tim O'Reilly wrote:
> > We certainly would consider hiring someone with the right credentials to
> > do this.  Obviously, we don't publish books only on free software, and
> > we don't free all of the books that we publish[...]
> >
> > (Re completely free books--we've recently released our Samba book under
> > those terms, and are working with the Samba team on integrating our
> > efforts with theirs so that this is the official doc; we are doing the
> > same with a book on Gnome, and are coordinating with Miguel; we also put
> > out the Learning Debian book under these terms, and many years ago, the
> > Linux Network Administrator's Guide.  We have a couple of other projects
> > like this in the queue as well.  But unless these books surprise us by:
> I have seen you talk about this multiple times, and every time there is a
> glaring omission.
> Please add Programming Perl to your mental list of the list of books that
> this has happened with - the online perldoc documentation is largely based
> on the contents of that book.  Yes, there was some argument at one point
> about how free that documentation is, but the Debian project managed to
> amiably sort out their differences with the Perl developers so *I* consider
> it free.

Oh, I agree with that completely. And I've mentioned it many times in my
arguments with Richard. Programming Perl is in fact my ideal model for
how free documentation and commercial books should interact. I'm always
glad to provide material that's useful for providing online
documentation for a product (which is Richard's appeal as to why
documentation should be free), but I believe that saying that everything
that goes into a commercial book should be available under GPL takes a
further step. 
> > a) being substantially more successful than we would expect if they were
> > non-free
> How do you judge that?  With the Network Administrators guide you had
> problems.  But Programming Perl worked well for you.  I suspect that
> reviewing the difference between those two projects could be instructive.

Exactly.  The difference is that something identified as the complete
Programming Perl book is not available online for free.  I guarantee you
that if it was, we'd lose some substantial fraction of sales.  We'd hear
all the time:  "this is just the same as the free stuff that's available

(We got that criticism roundly when we published a lot of the perl
module documentation, in relatively unvarnished form, as part of the
Perl Resource Kit.  That product failed in the marketplace, while the
Win32 version, which included a lot more proprietary information that
wasn't available online, continues to sell quite well.  As I've said
many times, the ambiguity between free speech and free beer runs deeper
than many free software advocates acknowledge.  People like to get up on
the soapbox about free speech, but if it doesn't come with free beer,
they get annoyed.  But more to the point, while they won't pay to buy a
brand of beer that's available for free, they will happily slake their
thirst with the non-free beer that's available next door.)
> > b) show benefits from substantial community involvement that makes them
> > better or faster than would be the case if they were non-free)
> You should ask Randal, Larry and Tom whether the fact that they were both
> improving online documentation and also coming out with a book helped them
> get feedback, made them more motivated, etc.  While you are at it you might
> also ask them whether the synergy could apply to a third edition at some
> point.  I really think that there are more books out there for you based on
> mixing work producing online documentation with a hardcover book.

Getting them motivated to do a third edition is as tough as it was to
get them motivated to do the second!  I think that the ability to update
the book and online doc simultaneously is a great benefit to all around,
but it isn't motivational of more involvement.

But I'm not arguing against the perl case.  I'll gladly cooperate with
ANY free software project to do some kind of integrated project that
allows them to freely use some material from our books to support their
project; my only hesitation is as to the economic effects of freeing the
entire book.  And as noted in my original mail, we're doing some new
experiments to see what happens.)
> > we will also continue to do lots of books about free software under
> > normal copyright as well.  Our goal is to get as much good documentation
> > out there as possible, and we find that economic incentives are often
> > more powerful than moral ones in getting that to happen.  But that's
> > another story.)
> Have you considered borrowing from the Aladdin model...?
> Cheers,
> Ben

Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
101 Morris Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472
+1 707-829-0515, FAX +1 707-829-0104,