Subject: Re: Paying for development on a services model?
From: Tom Lord <lord@regexps.com>
Date: Wed, 10 Oct 2001 15:31:13 -0700 (PDT)



As a self-appointed Free Software ethicist on fsb@cynwr:

   Michael ponders:

   Looking towards the future, there are some proprietary technologies
   out there that may ultimately be relevant to Red Hat's open source
   strategy.  If we decide to acquire them (for time-to-market or any
   other reason /except/ to have specifically a proprietary revenue
   stream), and then open them up over time (to get rid of ugliness,
   ensure that we achieve some level of first-mover advantage, etc),
   are we still a legitimate FSB, or not?

Given just those facts and making favorable presumptions about them:
"Still legitimate," in my view.  Time is that thing which keeps
everything from happening all at once.

I would worry about the wisdom of each particular purchase:

Is the system you buy *really* worth the money compared to what you 
might assemble using pure open source tactics?  By what process was
that determined?

Is that *really* the fastest/cheapest/best way to bring that
particular system into an open source state?  What other options
exist?

Is it *really* going to net profit to re-invest in open source R&D
(vs. taking money away from that)?  What happens if you *don't* make
this particular purchase?  I'd guess you probably don't want to
publish the specifics and your sales/marketing playbook on fsb...

If you aren't crystal clear that the answer is "yes" to those
questions -- your legitimacy as an FSB starts look more problematic.

There are probably other questions to consider as well.  For example:
how will the business tactic you're describing be presented to the
public? (I.e., will you be muddying the waters of public opinion about
the importance and viability of pure FSB models).

A rough analogy might be made to the FSF's use of the LGPL: that too
is a tactical play whose ethics need to be considered carefully.

Another analogy might be the large mixed-mode companies.  I think they
can continue to operate in mixed-mode for decades to come, yet were
they to determine and spend their open source budgets in certain ways
-- I would consider them to be legitimate FSBs.

All in all, its probably simpler and better if you can avoid doing
what you propose:  but if its a really winning deal -- the hair might
be worth it.

	Put another way, if the grand plan of any proprietary SW
	acquisition is to expand the universe of open source with a
	fully open source solution,

I really hope the "grand plan" is a bit more focused than *that* --
but I'm probably beginning to sound like a broken record on that
point.

-t