Comments

Or rather – nice of him to cloud the issues so spectacularly
The poor man makes an interesting (and perhaps valid) argument, and then goes to undermine it by presenting a veritable ream of “parallels” none of which are remotely parallel to the original argument, but all completely different.

The main thrust of the original BSA argument is that, as copying reduces revenue for software companies they hence have less ability to produce software if it is copied – so those who want software will be unable to get the software they want because the software companies will no longer be able to afford to develop it.

None of the so-called parallels are remotely equivalent, or even analogous.

Sad.

Of course, the BSA argument does not take into account the “open source” movement, which is a far more effective (and legal) way to undermine the traditional software industry. What is intriguing about the open source movement is the motivation of those who actually produce the software in question – namely programmers. Their main motivations in general are:

– An overburdening desire to undermine the software industry.
– A desire to have good software for free.
– Extreme frustration with what they perceive as “poor quality” software.
– A religious belief in the primacy of the open source movement.

Undermining the software industry is a strange motivation, seeing as those who write open source software are programmers… But they do it for free. So how do they live? Well, either they don’t need to “earn” a living, being students, schoolkids or slackers, or they have a day-job and do the open source stuff for fun outside hours. And those who have a day-job, what do they do? Well, the majority of them work in the software industry, which they are working hard to undermine the profitability of by producing free products. Is this a sensible thing to do? I don’t know. I guess I would have to think of a few “parallel arguments” to illustrate the point. But I can’t think of any right now. Oh well.

Interesting
I’d say they’re mostly analogous, but why quibble. I wonder how long it took him to say to himself “I think that’s enough examples now”?

As to whether those that write “open source” software are undermining the industry they work in (by which I assume you mean eroding its profits) – having worked for a software reseller, I know that most (let’s say about 80%) of the money generated from writing software comes from after sales support, maintenance and “upgrades” of various kinds. The commodity software market has a different mix of this, but in general the same idea applies. It’s not like they have the same business model as candlestick makers.

I really don’t think people who write free software do so to undermine their industry. On the contrary, where I’ve seen this issue raised, the hope is that by making software free (as in speech, not free as in beer) the “bad” part of the industry (the abuse of IP rights; monopolistic practices and all the de-merits that go with that) can be minimised by letting support and maintenance activity roam free over transparent source code. By sharing and improving code, and by removing the frictions inherent in proprietary standards and interoperation, this should eventually mean more choice for consumers and more jobs for programmers and others than work in the industry.

With the exception of Red Hat, Novell and a couple of others, all that’s still just a hope, but it looks quite a good one so far. At this stage though, there has to be a certain amount of religious conviction on either side, because we don’t know (yet) what will happen in the long term and there are a hell of a lot of complex facets to the issue that have yet to settle down (legal, social, economic, etc.)

I think if you were to characterize the typical “open source developer” it’s probably closer to the mark to say they are motivated by a hatred of Microsoft, but that’s in the tradition of all strong conviction in that you have to have something to hate. I don’t see much to contradict the view that belief in the capitalist system and the supremacy of possession isn’t equally “religious,” but that’s another kettle of fish.

There’s an interesting paper called Analysis of the Impact of Open Source Software written for the UK government by QinetiQ that covers some of these areas (and has a very good potted history of the movement). It’s a bit old (2001), but worth a read.

Being rather the advocate of my own devil here…
But it’s not really fair to characterise open source developers as being motivated by a “hatred of Microsoft”…

The main driving force behind most open source projects (and the motivation for the developers themselves) has traditionally been frustration that the tools they want don’t exist. It’s easier to build the tools you want than to use ones that don’t work the way you want them too. In fact, programmers of all kinds (open source and otherwise) tend to spend a lot of their time building the tools they need to do their work, rather than doing the work itself.

If one looks at the significant open source projects, the majority have been aimed far more at creating decent tools and platforms for developers than for other people. The earliest OSS projects were for the gcc and g++ compilers, Apache webserver was built by web developers so they could do their work properly, MySQL is far more a platform for developers than a “product”, not to mention the countless other OSS development tools/languages out there(ANT, Python, etc) out there.

It’s long been a tradition amongst engineers and builders of all kinds to develop their own tools; something which has been happening for hundreds of years. What’s unique in OSS (and there doesn’t appear to be a clear analogy with anything else) is it’s open-source-ness. If a mechanical engineer invented a new and useful tool for himself, he would be liable to patent it rather than distribute it (or the plans for it) to all and sundry.

I’m not arguing pro- or anti- OSS here, I’m just pointing out its admirable uniqueness (and yet again the shoddiness of the so-called “parallels” in the original article).

Oops.
“The earliest OSS projects were for the gcc and g++ compilers…”

“I’m not arguing pro- or anti- OSS here, I’m just pointing out its admirable uniqueness…”

Considering we’re talking about the impact of free software on commercial software production, I don’t think it’s too tangential to point out that gcc and g++ are in fact free software (under the GPL license). Not only that, but they are probably the best examples you could give (excepting perhaps the Hurd) of software that is absolutely, positively not Open Source.

While I’m not saying I agree with the FSF’s stance, it does seem that those people who raise the issue of how they think “free” software is bad for for the industry don’t understand the license models on which that software is based. In particular, until you understand the difference between the GPL and BSD models, you can’t form an effective opinion about whether the proprietary software world is being threatened by people “writing code for free.”

So no offense, but I think you really do need to read the introduction to that paper I mentioned before you show any more of your ignorance about this!

By the way, to add some substance to my earlier point about how commercial software production is not like selling candlesticks, the above QinetiQ paper points out that many major IT companies like IBM, HP, SAP, Apple and Silicon Graphics have adopted the Open Source model for at least part of their software needs. IBM is a very interesting example, as they appear to now view software as a cost, rather than an income source. Instead their income comes predominantly from hardware and services.

Seems a little unnecessary
to lower the tone of this debate into a slanging match. I must admit it was an honest slip-up on my part to refer to gcc and g++ as OSS -and FYI I have read a lot more than the introduction to “that paper”, and understand only too well the intricacies of licensing. Anyway, none of that is particularly relevant to the main thrust of my comment, which was about developers’ motivations rather than any licensing details. Perhaps it’s better to read and understand the comment than bottom out at the first error.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.