Subject: Re: Successful FSBs
From: "Tim O'Reilly" <>
Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2002 11:57:37 -0700

On 9/26/02 8:06 PM, "Stephen J. Turnbull" <> wrote:

>   ben> Indeed there are some very well known people who have written
>   ben> a lot of free software who don't believe that it is an
>   ben> ethical issue in the slightest.
> What can I say?  They're wrong, at least in the context of FSB.  Free
> software is potentially an improvement for everyone in society, if we
> can solve the incentive problems.

I have to say that if it's a *premise* of this list that free software is an
ethical issue, then I'm considerably further from being a free software

The "free software" (as in FSF) model is far too narrowly defined for me to
accept that.  It's a bit like translating "help thy neighbor" into "support
the Catholic Church|Mormons|Jehovah's Witnesses" or whatever.  There are
some broad-minded ethical systems, and there are narrow-minded exclusionary
ones that define people who hew to an exact dogma as ethical and anyone else
as unethical.  And I believe that there are proprietary software developers
who are considerably more ethical than some free software developers.

Just as a provocative for instance, if I had to put my faith in the ability
of Jim Allchin or Richard Stallman to make a truly ethical decision, I'd
probably pick Jim.  They both believe fiercely in fundamental principles,
both believe they are doing good work, but Jim is more fair-minded and open.

Free software describes a set of principles that have an ethical foundation,
but there is a hierarchy of ethical values, and the FSF has chosen to
disproportionally elevate one limited set of values.  What's ethical is to
find the greatest good in a given situation, hopefully for the greatest
number.  Richard has a vision of that "greatest good", but I have to say
that I out and out believe he's wrong that requiring all software to be
"free software" is the ethical decision.  One ethical decision is to allow
people who create something to set the terms on which it is shared, and not
to use coercive methods to take away the choice of the customer about
whether or not to accept those terms.  Microsoft fell down on the latter
part of that sentence, not the first.  Richard falls down on at exactly the
same point.  As organizations, I consider Microsoft and the FSF to be
equally unethical, since they both have a strategy of coercion.

Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472