Subject Re: [IBDI] GPL
Author Helen Borrie
At 12:28 PM 19-02-02 +1100, David K. Trudgett wrote:

>Yes, that's obviously the case. No one said it was easy, in fact I
>said just the opposite. I also said that it's not impossible to make
>money that way, which is quite undeniably true. That doesn't mean that
>Red Hat, or anyone else, can start out by selling "boxed sets",

RedHat DID start out by getting funded to develop value-add for GPL software. Sure, you can download RedHat for nothing - but the RedHat distros, rpm, etc. would not have come into existence without the expectation of the investors that they would make money from sales of "free + value-add".

>The subject is not limited to "independent developers" (which, I
>assume, is a nice way to say "one man bands" -- or is that "one person
>bands" these days?? ;-) )

As an "independent developer" I interpret the term to mean one-person operators who earn their income from contracting with organisations to provide specialised services. In our context here, we fund our own R & D (be it open-source contributions or better mousetraps) from personal income and/or personal debt. The "sting" is that, in the absence of provision for return on R & D, we have to live with working for love on products that others are free to exploit. In the current climate, our users take this right to profit from the unpaid work of others for granted. It's the classic story of "The Little Red Hen" - "Who will help me plant this corn?"

>Furthermore, nowhere was it suggested that anyone (not even IBM)
>should base their business plan on what IBM does, or thinks they're
>going to do.

IBM does it, Borland does it over and over. Whether they *should* hasn't been tested. They do it. In the IBM case (at least ostensibly) there is an undertaking (contract? promise?) to pay for what they take. Borland grew JBuilder on freeloading and nothing in recent times suggests it's a practice from which they plan to desist. Open source licences really don't protect anything. They rely on "good behaviour". As we well know, good behaviour is not regarded by all companies as a precondition for continuing to conduct their businesses.

>Nor was there any suggestion that small developers (or anyone else)
>could make a great living by spending all their time writing software
>and then giving it away. One would have to be a little touched in the
>head to suggest anything of the sort.
>On the other hand, it is not impossible to make money and give away
>all your software. Richard Stallman does it, for instance. (And no,
>I'm not saying that anyone could or should do what RS does! He is just
>an easy example to illustrate that something is indeed possible.)

A faulty example altogether. Stallman makes his money from preaching his dogma, not from selling software. It's not possible for most open source developers to develop a business/career plan around the assumption that we can look forward to future as professional speakers or authors with a blank cheque for the next book.

>Don't forget that not everyone wants to be mega-rich (meaning that not
>everyone wants to do what it takes, and make the sacrifices that are
>necessary, in order to get rich).

I don't think "getting rich" would be seen as a main objective. "Paying the rent" tends to be, for most people without the privilege of independent income. Establishing a realistic return on effort is a really difficult thing to achieve if one is spending 8 or more hours a day developing software products that nobody is going to pay for. To most of us, earning a living equates to covering living expenses, funding the unpaid time everyone needs occasionally and putting something by for our old age.

>> Documentation is also a
>> very hard way to make money. Without documentation, nobody is going
>> to use your product, so you need to give away documentation to build
>> market & reputation.
>Yes, it's very hard, but once again, not impossible. The O'Reilly
>Camel Book (Programming Perl) makes a lot of money, for instance.

So do books about Microsoft products. So do many other books that are commissioned on the basis of a market that the publishers regard as fruitful. You can make generalisations about "name" products that are totally invalid for Firebird and InterBase. What is your experience of submitting book proposals re InterBase? What is your experience of even trying to get funding for such a book - or indeed for open source software development - from the developer/user community?

Ann H had written:
>For me, glory is even better when combined with the chance of making
>a filthy amount of money. I also like working for entrepreneurial, self-funded,
>product-oriented small companies and want to see[m] Firebird help them succeed.

My own perspective is that I'd like to make a living out of helping people use Firebird. I'd like to make that my career plan (insofar as I plan for the future in any discernible way). Now, whether that involves making Firebird better by working on the source code, making it more usable by writing a book or a better piece of supporting software or helping people at the implementation-coalface (all things I can do) isn't important. The bottom line is what matters - can I count on a realistic income by committing to these things?

Open source licences don't give me that guarantee.

One (GPL) virtually guarantees that I can't get such a guarantee. It's said to be "less restrictive" inasmuch as no end user of either the source code or the binary products has any obligation to me. But, as someone desiring to use that code to develop my own products and market them in order to earn a living - that is, get recompense for my time - it is much more restrictive, because GPL requires me to give away every scrap of my own source code and anyone else's source code that was compiled with my product, even if I didn't change a single line of the original GPL code.

Another - MPL/IPL - doesn't require me to part with any code that I own, or restrict me to compiling my products with only open source third-party code. All I'm obliged to do is offer up any changes I made to the licensed code - that is the "fee" I pay for using the licensed code and I'm more than comfortable with that. So, even without the guarantee, MPL is "less restrictive" to me (the contributor).

Where I think current open source licences hurt the developer is in their lack of any power to require end-users who contribute nothing to the development of the licensed code (that's most of them, in the case of Firebird) to return anything to the benefit of the code or the people who do the R & D and provide the ancilliary services that nobody pays for. Philosophically, the end-user/developer symbiosis is treated as one of the benefits of open source. In reality, it's the lack of these provisions in the licensing that encourages the freeloading that 99.9 per cent of our users do without a backward glance. (And, as we frequently observe, they are **very** demanding and unforgiving customers).

I think that open source software's survival as anything other than a hobby activity is going to depend on one or two (maybe more) new licensing models that DO reinforce the obligation of non-contributory users to make good, while not restricting the productivity of the developer-contributors on whose time and effort the survival, support and development of the product depends. So - while I get that "buzz" from being part of a great symbiotic movement, I feel no urge to kiss the hem of Stallman's cloak.


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