Subject: the Free Software Movement in Industry
From: Tom Lord <lord@regexps.com>
Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2001 17:28:30 -0700 (PDT)


Comments?


		     Towards Shared Goals for the
	  Free Software Movement and the Computing Industry:
		A Corporate, Industry-wide GNU Project

To the corporate boards of the software industry, I offer a new
slogan: "Here is the Free Software Movement: Embrace and Extend!"


    The Free Software Hard-Line and Big Business are Complementary

I'm a strong believer in the Free Software Movement "hard-line": that
all software ought to be Free Software, distributed under the terms of
the GPL.  There are solid ethical and engineering reasons to take that
stance (which are amply argued elsewhere -- I won't rehearse those
arguments here).

I'm also a strong believer that growth-oriented, profitable, socially
responsible businesses can be based on Free Software only, without any
need for proprietary or even "open source" (non-GPL) components.  The
simplest argument in favor of this view is to recognize that
proprietary software licenses are largely an accounting convenience
rather than a necessary condition of how software-based businesses
operate.  When customers pay license fees, the positive value they are
paying for is the value of the engineering and service processes of
their supplier.  That's rational behavior for those customers and I
don't think we really need the specific threat of legal license
enforcement to induce that payment behavior -- other forms of contract
are possible.

Sometimes license enforcement is used to punish one company that
avoids work by stealing source code from another.  Under the rules of
proprietary software, that makes sense.  But from a larger
perspective, those rules cause needless inefficiencies and help to
build anti-competitive monopolies: results that impede the growth of
the industry as a whole.  The rules of proprietary software break-down
cooperation between programmers separated by company boundaries, even
when such cooperation can be of benefit to both organizations.

So there is no necessary contradiction whatsoever between the
computing industry and the Free Software Movement.  Indeed, each can
help the other.


		 Using Ordinary Software Life-cycles to
		   Renew the Free Software Movement
		      and the Computing Industry:

		A Massive, Industry-wide, R&D Project;
		       A Computing Renaissance

There is an obvious way to proceed for an industry that is currently
made up of a mixture of proprietary, open source, and Free Software
business models.  It would plausibly be reckless and destructively
disruptive to simply release all existing proprietary software under
the GPL.  On the other hand -- software is not immortal.  Most
software has a natural life cycle and slowly fades away once it is
replaced by something newer and better -- once it becomes "legacy"
code.  Organizations regularly plan around that life cycle, attempting
to harness it as a source of growth.

The natural way to proceed, then, is to begin engineering the bulk of
our proprietary systems into legacy status -- cooperating across
company boundaries to build novel and superior replacements,
distributing those replacements as GPLed Free Software.

In other words: let's rebuild our software infrastructure from scratch
-- this time under the GPL.  That's not one project: it's many.  There
isn't a single obvious solution: there's a need to experiment with a
variety of strategies.

Overall, that's a large project.  It's a call for MASSIVE R&D
investment in Free Software.  That investment would cause immediate
industry growth, advance the state of human knowledge, advance the
state of computing infrastructures everywhere, drive companies to
learn to cooperate more fully on GPLed projects, and permit a graceful
deprecation of proprietary software and business practices based on
proprietary licensing.  It would stand a very good chance of sparking
a technology and business renaissance for the software-oriented
segments of the computing industry.

>From the perspective of the Free Software Movement -- such investment
could bring about a return to the best characteristics of the early
days of the GNU project.  The Movement would once again have a
coherent strategic goal and a clear(er) tactical path for achieving
that goal.  Best of all, since that tactical path would be to engineer
a future of BETTER software -- the Movement would once again have an
opportunity to serve a valuable educational role.  

It is inevitable that most or all of our existing proprietary systems
will one day in the not too distant future become legacy code: we can
plan for that, and use it as an opportunity to try something new --
Free Software all the way.

That's my suggestion to the boards of IBM, Sun, HP, Red Hat, and
others: look beyond the Open Source Licences and embrace the Free
Software Movement itself.  Decide to make a formal goal of relegating
all existing proprietary software to legacy status by building
superior replacements.  Institute sizable R&D processes aimed at
designing and building those replacements as publicly visible Free
Software projects.  Become a new GNU project.  

And then see what happens.