Subject: Re: Free Software vs. Open Source
From: Al Davis <>
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002 00:19:36 -0700

A few years ago I didn't see the difference.  A few experiences 
changed that.

Look at the web site www://  .  This site claims to 
support the open source movement.  It distributes open source 
electronic design automation software.  They have a special license, 
the "open source" license.  You need to fill out a form and click "I 
agree" to download.  They are promoting open source little tools, 
designed to augment the commercial products of their sponsors.  Their 
sponsors are sellers of proprietary software.

I had a chat with the site's boss at a conference. (Design Automation 
Conference.)  They had a booth there.  I mentioned my work, and some 
work done by some others I know, all distributed under GPL, and he 
responded in a matter that showed disapproval.  I mentioned another 
site that promotes free (GPL) EDA software, and he didn't like that 
either.  This response was stronger.  At this point, and even before, 
I knew I didn't want my work on this site.

Also at DAC, we had a "open source EDA birds of a feather session".  
I and a few others presented.  Two of the presentations were from 
vendors of proprietary software.  At one point in the meeting, a 
discussion came up on the meaning, and what open source is good for.  
"You won't find anything new in open source!.  You will find toys.  
It is a good place for interface programs, tying the various 
commercial packages together."  This was said by one of the 
presenters!  I said: "What about academic work?"  The response:  "for 
any real breakthroughs you need to invest lots of money over many 
years, and we need to keep it proprietary".   It just deteriorated 
from there.

I read in EE times about another meeting about "open source".  It was 
by invitation only, and I was not invited.  Nobody else associated 
with free software was invited either.  They anounced a bunch of 
those "open source" gadgets that exist for the sole purpose of 
promoting proprietary software.

I was on a committee supposedly developing a standard for an updated 
modeling language.  I did some work on a software prototype, 
expecting some funding somehow.  In the discussion on funding, and 
what the committee wanted, it became apparent that I was willing to 
provide everything the committee wanted except for one point.  The 
committee wanted to be able to control its distribution.  In 
particular they wanted to deny it to free software developers.  The 
players that so objected were the major EDA companies.  They also 
said my price was too high, even though my price was about a quarter 
of what it would cost them to develop it.  They paid much more in the 
past for something much simpler, and don't feel they overpaid.  What 
they want is for us to subsidize their development, as they make a 
proprietary derivative that is incompatible with the original, and 
deny even its creater any right to it.  They want to rip us off.  I 
withdrew from the committee.  This was painful, because it was my 
idea in the first place.

I attended a session on open source, put on by a vendor of 
proprietary software.  Bruce Perens was one of the speakers.  There 
were about 5 others.  Bruce's presentation was good.  He was really 
talking about free software.  The others were just seizing the 
opportunity to further convolute the concept of open source to sell 
more proprietary software.  The presentations were quite convincing 
about how profitability would be enhanced by opening up certain 
interface code, so there could be standards.  Bruce even swapped 
computers to do his part on free software.  The others all used Power 

If this is open source, I cannot identify with it. 

I don't think the OSI people do, either, but that is what open source 
means to some.

Sometimes I think the ambiguous use of the term "free" in free 
software is deliberate.  I think it is intended to alienate those who 
will use it as a cheap way to develop and promote proprietary 
software, at our expense.  As I now see it, rightfully so.