Subject: Re: Interesting business morality statement
From: Rich Morin <>
Date: Fri, 17 Dec 1999 10:30:45 -0800

[warning - rambling note ahead... :-]

As a person who has made a living from an FSB (Prime Time Freeware)
for several years, I can attest to the fact that both morality and
mores intrude on what would otherwise be "business" decisions.  This
is not to say that morality and mores do not have their place in the
proprietary software world (to say nothing of the greater business
community), but I think their role is a bit larger in the free
software community.

Part of this has to do with the reasons that folks produce free
software.  RMS, for instance, says that the FSF didn't write the
GNU tools because they were interesting to do (many weren't), or
because they could be improved from the Unix versions (many were),
or because it's useful for folks to be able to look at source code.

Rather, his motivation (and that which he ascribes to many of his
developers) is that using proprietary software is immoral, so it
was a moral duty to replace it.  Whether you agree with RMS on this
or not, this is clearly a case where folks are being motivated by
non-business concerns.

Others in the community take equal pains to "get things right".
When L. Peter Deutsch was crafting his license agreement, he took
the time to work with me in allowing PTF-style distributors to
include his code.  He didn't have to do that, but he did so because
this kind of distribution was something he wanted to see happen.

In short, I think that FSBs are held to a higher (or at least a
rather different :-) ethical standard than most other companies.
Several motivations are involved, including:

*  vision - building a better world
*  reputation - what goes around, comes around
*  responsibility - leave your campsite cleaner than you found it

These concerns aren't always easy to reconcile with the needs of
running a profitable business.  Worse, the interpretations of the
"Right Thing To Do" vary sharply among members of the community.
I have had folks tell me, for instance, that it is immoral to sell
free software CDs for anything more than the replication costs.
Well, the economics of pure competition may push things in that
direction, but I don't agree that it is a moral requirement!

In the face of these sorts of varying interpretations, the FSBs
must find a path that is "Good Enough".  With apologies to Abe,
"you can please some of the people all of the time...".  But, as
the Ricky Nelson ("Garden Party") song goes, "you can't please
everyone, so you got to please yourself".

The Free Software community is a fairly small little village.  I
know many of the players; they know me.  Unlike my geographic
community (the San Francisco Bay area), where I am essentially
anonymous, my actions in the Free Software community will have a
real effect on how folks will deal with me over time.

Makes life interesting...

Rich Morin:, +1 650-873-7841,
Prime Time Freeware:, +1 408-433-9662,