Subject: Re: Fwd: Wall Street article on a new Cooperative
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <stephen@xemacs.org>
Date: Tue, 20 Apr 2004 18:16:38 +0900

>>>>> "Matt" == Matt Asay <masay@novell.com> writes:

    Matt> You trust in the checks and balances that exist in the web
    Matt> of a myriad of conflicting self-interest. (That is, you
    Matt> trust in the overall balance of self-interest.)

More precisely, you trust in individuality, which means that interests
are partially compatible, rather than wholly conflicting, and
voluntariness, which means that nobody has to accede to an arrangement
that is a net loss to them ex ante.  Adam Smith is not talking about a
balance of power, he's talking about a system of mutually beneficial
arrangements, provably so because they are voluntary.

But this doesn't mean that some reasonable people won't judge the the
initial distribution of resources for satisfying others' needs is
unfair, or that those with large initial shares will not be able to
increase their relative share.  This can reasonably be considered
"exploitative" or "against the public interest", though I disagree.

    Matt> As for the Sherman Antitrust Act, it is designed to prevent
    Matt> collusion in pursuit of the restraint of trade. I don't see
    Matt> this in Avalanche,

Relative to pure open source, clearly there are restraints of trade in
Avalanche, if only to encourage companies to join.  The members vest
ownership rights in a monopolist, in return for access.  This _is_ a
trust, a permissible one under current law for the reasons you give.

    Matt> As for the critique (made by others) that Avalanche does
    Matt> nothing for open source, how so? Why is it any less open
    Matt> source because it is restricted to a smaller group of
    Matt> participants than most open source projects,

From www.gnu.org: "Thus, you should be free to redistribute copies,
either with or without modifications, either gratis or charging a fee
for distribution, to anyone anywhere."  Software distributed under NDA
is not free.  There are similar statements on www.opensource.org.

"Does nothing for open source", I'm with you.  I think this is a good
thing, at least as an experiment.  But "less open source" is a matter
of definition. 

AFAICS it's unrelated to the right to fork the code base, which refers
to modification.  I assume what Brian meant was the right to fork the
_project_, ie, create a new distribution without permission of the
owner.

    Matt> a restriction largely dictated by our voraciously hungry
    Matt> legal system?

Hungry legal system dictates?  If the "NO WARRANTY" disclaimers leave
open source developers open to substantial tort risk, I'm unaware of
it.  Let's put the horse before the cart here: Avalanche faces tort
issues (that they spent 3 years working on, they say) precisely
because they're maintaining proprietary interest in the software.

Why they're doing that is an interesting question.  It looks to me
like what's going on is a gated community that, instead of being a
defensive response of the proprietary software vendor to the threat of
open source to its lock-in, is an offensive measure by the clients
using open-source techniques to undermine vendor lock-in.  The
software pool seems to be an attempt to leverage the idea of "local
public goods" (eg, a private tennis club where a bunch of people get
together, form a non-profit, buy land and construct facilities---with
a fence around them and membership cards).

    Matt> We should be hoping Avalanche will succeed, regardless of
    Matt> whether we directly share in its benefits as members of the
    Matt> co-op, no matter that it doesn't fit our established view of
    Matt> what open source "should" be. It's about time our industry
    Matt> innovated its business models.

But what is the spillover that you see?  I say it's "good" because I
think it will increase GDP, it's a more efficient way of doing things,
while increasing public appreciation of open source.  This is good for
society as a whole, but it's really just "free trade" (in a better
sense than the minimum that economists insist on).

But where are the benefits to the open source developers and users
_outside_ the club?  I don't say they're not there---we do need
innovation in our industry.  I just don't see them very clearly.

And I would definitely say that rms "should" not like this at all.
This is clearly threatening to the notion of software freedom as
fundamental, and something that individuals should get.  The OSI, on
the other hand, should be talking to these guys about phased release
a la Ghostscript, dual licensing, etc.

-- 
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences     http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
               Ask not how you can "do" free software business;
              ask what your business can "do for" free software.