Subject: Re: Successful FSBs
From: "Tim O'Reilly" <>
Date: Sun, 27 Oct 2002 08:19:42 -0800

On 10/26/02 11:08 PM, "Stephen J. Turnbull" <> wrote:

>   Tim> But there should be a definition that understands more nuance
>   Tim> than has been shown in this discussion.
> Why?  If you tell Amazon or UUNet that they should be, or even "are",
> an FSB, what good does that do?  "Ask what your business can do for
> free software."  But do such businesses need to be called FSBs?
> Aren't we grown up enough to do business with everybody from Peter
> Deutsch to IBM's webserver and virtual Linux divisions to Microsoft
> employees who use and want to support XEmacs, even if they're not
> called "FSB"?

Well, I'm not a big fan of boundary definitions.  I really don't care who
*is* or *is not* an FSB.  But people on this list obviously do.  And I'm
arguing that if *the people on this list* have more inclusive definitions,
they will be more effective, and will see more opportunities for engagement
and success.  I'm not saying that any individual who wants to start a free
software business should use anything but their principles to guide their
own business.  But if they want to understand what the options are, they
should study *all* the people who build their businesses using free software
in one way or another, and learn from all of them, not just the pure cases.
It might well be that the non-pure cases are more instructive.  (For
example, I believe that the lesson of ISPs -- free software as service,
without any proprietary added value -- is a model that even the purest of
FSBs could adopt, and yet the model is not considered because the ISP
industry, unlike Linux, is not one that has had a lot of ideology associated
with it.  And my beef is that the discussion has been a lot more about the
ideology of what is "free" than it is about understanding success or
business. I prefer a discussion that looks at all three.)

And as for what difference it makes to Amazon or Uunet.  Well, quite
specifically, my argument led to:

* Amazon realizing that they'd overstepped by using their patents
aggressively.  (I don't think that they'll do that again, while they will
continue defensive patents.)

* Amazon opening up a web services API.  Not free software, but way more
open than they were, and enabling free software to build services based on
their site.

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