Subject: Re: Development Shop FSB
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: 12 Mar 2002 16:15:26 +0900

>>>>> "Nick" == Nick Jennings <> writes:

    Nick> Within the confines of the GPL, in an FSB, there seems to
    Nick> be no legitimate way to get paid directly for being a
    Nick> developer of open-source products.

The GNU GPL is not so restrictive.  Until you actually release, you
can hold the software proprietary (in the sense that nobody else gets
a copy until you see how to make money on it).  That's not free
software, of course, until it's released.  Cygnus showed how to make
money on development under the GPL.  Under a minor modification of the
GPL which requires that both source _and binaries_ be distributed "in
the form preferred for modification" to qualify for the public
license, Ghostscript would have made money I believe.  (This is _not_
the Aladdin Free Public License, but it should be sufficient to make
money for Ghostscript).  Special cases, of course, but it shows that
there are legitimate ways.

    Nick> In that case, what is the real difference between working a
    Nick> day job and writing software by night, and making good on
    Nick> support/service contracts and writing software when you've
    Nick> got some free time?

What is the difference between working a day job and cooking gourmet
dinners for your s.o. in the evening, and running a restaurant?  I'm
not making fun of you---I think the analogy has an important area of

There is an escape hatch---but it's a wormhole to the open source
movement.  And that is that unlike ephemeral gourmet cooking, software
development produces a durable asset, an eternal contribution to the
rest of the world.  What's wrong with wanting something back, at least
enough to support the development itself?  Nothing---except that with-
holding your software to enforce payment makes it non-free by

Which leaves you with my .sig, and the very fuzzy area of "if being
proprietary now leads to much more software released as free later, am
I a FSB now?"  I ask you: in your-heart-of-hearts, do you or don't you
believe that Ghostscript has contributed far more to free software
than all of the .wannabes on SourceForge who never use a license other
than GNU GPL, and never release v1.0, either?  Is Aladdin an FSB,
regardless of the fact that its primary free product is always quite
obsolete (though very usable)?  Really, that's something you can only
decide for yourself.

    Nick> If you start an FSB, most likely you will spend most of your
    Nick> time on the income generator, rather than the open source
    Nick> development.

Well, yes.  That's business: focus on the revenue generator.  Consider
that restaurant: administration, logistics, dishwashing, and table-
waiting are most of the cost.  The chef is only a small part of it
(and as McDonald's amply proves, you don't even need a chef to make
money in the restaurant business, you only need customers).

If that focus weren't necessary, you'd have a Free Software Hobby (or
maybe MLM), not an FSB.  If you are very very lucky, you can find a
free software product which can be both your business and your hobby.
Or, you can do as much pure development as you can, you can find ways
to turn support activities into development activities, and you can
learn to derive satisfaction from a "non-development" job well done.

    Nick> Can you really only survive as a programmer by doing
    Nick> proprietary work? Or rather, *how* can one survive being an
    Nick> open-source programmer?

This is no different from the researcher-teacher dilemma that
scientists face.  Except that few scientists have any hope of making
money "directly from their ideas" without IP---they gotta pay for
hardware.  Software engineers have a lot more flexibility in that

Keep the faith, keep looking, when it looks good, go for broke.

Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
              Don't ask how you can "do" free software business;
              ask what your business can "do for" free software.