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O'Reilly on the Commoditization of Software 285

Posted by michael
from the it's-the-users,-stupid dept.
Iorek writes "International Data Group/Sverige has a great interview with Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly & Associates Inc. From predictions of eBay's purchase of Oracle to discussions of the failings of open source licenses, O'Reilly's certainly not reserved. I couldn't help but be reminded of the rise of this site and slashcode."
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O'Reilly on the Commoditization of Software

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2003 @11:38PM (#6370694)
    How well is Andover/OSDN [andover.net], owner of Slashdot, doing? Honestly.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    reminded of slashcode?

    have you ever seen slashcode?

    i've seen better code in the toilet after an all you can eat enchilada buffet.
  • by saitoh (589746) on Friday July 04, 2003 @11:47PM (#6370719) Homepage
    The best/greatest standing part about open source isnt GNOME or KDE, or that we all have free speach software, its what we are DOING with that software. Amazon is built on perl, and look what it has accomplished.

    Later in the artical he comments on Debian, and how the creator and his company Progeny dont view linux as a product, but "a set of commodity software components he can put together for different purposes."

    What he's getting at is that if the OSS community wanted to push forward, you need an idea and then use linux as the tools for that idea, suhc as automated backup, or something snazy like amazon (where it is a tool, and not the product). Trying to market it as a free desktop platform (in which case linux is the product) just wont cut it. I've done projects for my university, and its worked before, and it will work again.

    Disclaimer: Do I beleive that linux cant be a product? No, I'm just saying that *ONE OF* (and not limited to) the best ways is to use it as a tool, not a product.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Amazon is built on perl, and look what it has accomplished.

      Negative cash flow and massive debt?
    • by Delphix (571159) * on Saturday July 05, 2003 @01:01AM (#6370936)
      I think a good example of this is Mac OS X.

      Apple used FreeBSD as the platform on which to build the Mac OS X. However O'Reilly is right on in this case. Besides the modifications to the core kernal / toolset the Open Source community doesn't get much back.

      It's not so much a case of them not distributing, but they don't distribute anything that was originally open source other than the core OS. Aqua, Quartz, Carbon, the Classic Environment and all the great apps (iTunes, Safari, iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, etc, etc) are all proprietary.

      So Apple gets the core of their OS devleoped for them by Open Source community. I'm not saying they don't give back, but they do get quite a bit out of the deal. And get to sell their software (&hardware) to boot.

      In the end I guess Open Source is just a two edge sword.
      • by Arandir (19206) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:39AM (#6371202) Homepage Journal
        First, Apple has given back to every Open Source project it's borrowed from. The two main examples are FreeBSD and KDE. Why aren't they giving back Aqua? Because they didn't borrow Aqua from the community!

        Second, according to the Tim philosophy of Open Source, Apple is the equivalent of Compaq. It's taking commodity software and "improving" it with proprietary additions. This works great (it worked great for Compaq), but eventually the paradigm shift will occur, and people are going to say "why am I paying proprietary prices for what should be commodity goods?"
        • by slux (632202) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @05:00AM (#6371564)
          Yes, but given back very little in comparison to what they've got. The projects Apple has "borrowed" from would exist without apple, OS X most likely would not without them. But then again, they've chosen their licenses so that they allow this, and it's entirely okay if Apple takes everything and never gives anything back.

          The impression I get from Slashdot is that many GNU/Linux /BSD users are these day jumping to Apple because the only motivation they ever had for using it was the utility value (which the OSI advocates) and they see more of that value in OS X with all it's non-free programs. Fine if you'd like that to be the future of operating systems but I sure as hell wouldn't. Go ask someone who was around about the old UNIXes.

          What we have with GNU (/Linux/*BSD/Hurd) is a free OS which can change the way people think about software completely and bring the copyright law (at least for software) eventually back to reality. Even if you can't do everything you can with Apple's proprietary stuff right now, if it feels like the right thing you should refuse to sponsor the software companies that choose to license their software non-free.

          I for one think that a future where all software was free would be better for the society. Not necessarily for the same reasons Stallman has, I'm not sure I see how non-free software is "morally wrong" but you can accept that idea even on lighter grounds, just like the current copyright law has accepted that we should not have these freedoms by default.
          • GNU/Linux /BSD

            The fact that you needed to place a space in there for that to even appear make any sense is, to me at least, yet another indication of the essential absurdity of the "GNU/whatever" moniker.

            • by slux (632202) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:06PM (#6372926)
              The space is there because the BSDs generally (with the exception of Debian GNU/FreeBSD) try not to use GNU tools wherever possible.

              I think people miss Stallman's point with the whole GNU/Linux thing more often than not. He started a project to assemble together a operating system called GNU in 1984. When Linux came around, thanks to the GNU projects efforts there was _everything_ ready to make a complete free operating system except the kernel. People then grabbed all the GNU tools and the ones GNU hadn't had to develop because they already were there and combined them with Linux to get an operating system. They then continued to call this Linux. Stallman had been working to achieve this from the 80's and now his project wasn't getting any kind of credit even though it had been a main player in making this possible.
          • by reallocate (142797) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @10:42AM (#6372232)
            But, the individual consumer buying an Apple product really doesn't care about licenses. Apple's relationship with open source is, almost certainly, unknown to that consumer. It is relevant only because it allows Apple to market an attractive product.

            O'Reilly noted that keying a license to distribution rights and obligations loses impact when the application is something like Amazon ot Yahoo, i.e. an app that won't be distributed. That applies, too, to millions of consumers of open source code who will never modify or distribute any code.

            The GPL and other open source licenses assume that code consumers are also code producers, i.e., developers. That is no longer the case.
          • The BSD that Apple borrowed from is really the same parent that the BSDs of today have. Apple mainly borrowed from NeXT not directly from things like FreeBSD. To a great extent the projects apple borrowed from don't exist anymore.
    • by musicmaster (237156) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @07:15AM (#6371799) Homepage
      Linux is just Linux and Perl is just Perl. They are just two nice little pieces of software that Amazon is using. Sure, they are making a lot from what they have built on top of that. But that is their right. Wasn't opensource about freedom? I think we should be glad if Amazon reports a Linux bug if they find one.

      O'Reilly is right that data collections like Yahoo maps, E-bay and Amazon are the future. However, he is wrong about the answer. We will have to collect our own data. And just as with the software it may take some legal experimenting before we find the right formula.

      There will be some setbacks like CDDB, but we can overcome that.

      Also I am not very worried about the fact that the first implementations of such collections are commercial. The power of the opensource/opencontent is not in being first. It is in being with many and in being volunteers who provide things for free. We are a herd: slow to react, but impossible to resist.

      Let me just do some guesswork how the answers might look like:
      - Amazon: for the book evaluations we might have some open alternative that gets supported by a lot of smaller vendors. Just as with Netscape one vendor (maybe Borders) might pay the bills and let the others have a free ride just to get access to a wider public.
      - Yahoo maps: at some point all software about maps will be standardized. At that point it might very well happen that the real providers of the data in the maps - mainly government agencies - take over.
      - E-bay. E-bay doesn't have a real data collection. It is just the place where everyone goes, just as Slashdot is the place where everyone goes when they want a certain type of discussion. But this is a rather delicate position. It is just as with pubs or search websites: for years one is the most popular and then at once there is a shift.

      • Borders partnered with amazon. As did Toys 'R Us and many others.

        The point is, whenever someone to "pay the bills" comes along, Amazon makes it cheaper to partner with them than to compete. Hell, I can make 15% right now just by clicking a few forms and putting links on my website.. and I have no leverage whatsoever. Why on earth would I want to go out and dedicate millions of dollars to competing with them when I can get 15% for 1% of the expenditure, and devote the other 99% to something completely diffe
      • Wasn't opensource about freedom?

        The Open Source movement eschews freedom. The Free Software movement is about freedom. When Open Source advocates adopt the language of freedom, I think that's good and telling at the same time--good in that more people need to know about software freedom. I agree with the FSF when they say we need more freedom talk [gnu.org]. And I think everyone is grateful for the Open Source movement bringing in more people who use and develop Free Software (as well as securing the GNU Gene

  • by Exitthree (646294) on Friday July 04, 2003 @11:56PM (#6370753) Homepage

    ...Apple. Look at what Apple did with OS X. Apple took an Open Source OS and pinned it up with a proprietary front-end. The system benefits from all of the Open Source advancements in hardware control, while at the same time, the user has all the benefits of a modern, easy-to-use interface.

    Perhaps the article should have pointed out that the commoditization of Open Source largely involves the things the user never sees. What hasn't evolved yet is a fundamentally easy-to-use Open Source GUI for the whole slew of commodity parts in the back-end.

    Other companies have taken a similar path with commodity software, Red Hat for instance. However, their business plan involves capitalization on commodity products, not in the interface department, but rather in the support department. In theory, these two branches aren't that far separated. Interface and support both help the user accomplish the same thing, that is, getting work done on the computer.

    I think we're nearing the turning point where we decide there aren't that many tasks we haven't managed to code on the computer. In comparison, we have a much larger area to cross in making things easier for the user. It would make perfect sense, business-wise, to assume that the area that is most open for development is the area that is most profitable. Therefore, I imagine this is the next area that software, internet, and computer manufacturers will flourish.

    • Bingo.

      Don't think that O'Reilly doesn't know this either. Check out how many books, articles, and so forth they have published since OS X came out. I had the privilege a few months ago to have a sit down with the current editor of the Apple books, and from the way he talked it seems that O'Reilly is nothing short of ecstatic about the OS.

      O'Reilly, IMHO, publishes by far the best books on the market. This is because they have excellent editors and scouts (for lack of a better word) to find very intelligent, very insightful people to write their books. I suggest people check out there dev sites more often; they are treasure troves of info

      The O'Reilly Network [oreillynet.com]

      MacDevCenter.com [macdevcenter.com]

      OnDotNet.com [ondotnet.com]

      OnJava.com [onjava.com]

      OnLamp.com [onlamp.com]

      openp2p.com [openp2p.com]

      osdir.com [osdir.com]

      Perl.com [perl.com]

      XML.com [xml.com]

    • by mindstrm (20013) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:02AM (#6371109)
      regarding an open source gui...

      (agree with everything you said, btw)

      As a long time hardcore technical guy, and let me back that up by saying I'm a unix nut, I've been using linux heavily for 10 years now, solaris before that, and I get right into the guts.. I like assembly, circuit boards, and whatnot. I like a command prompt and I don't like microsoft.... anyway....
      as a hardcore technical guy, open source liker, and a recent convert to OS-X... the comment about a gui got me thinking.

      I like open source. I like open everything. I don't like being told what to do with my computer. Yet, I LOVE OSX, and I recognize that the one strength MacOS really has is that apple controls the desktop. It's not that you can't skin it, ,or change it's behavior.. but, in general, it's built to behave a certain way, and you can go around to macs everywhere, and the machine behave the way you expect them to. The developer knows what the user expects, and doesn't have to account for a dozen different ways to interface with things. More importantly, he has somewhre to start.. look how many windows applications have varied interfaces. To really understand this, in case anyone is doubting it, just sit down with a fresh mac and mac user for a few hours and learn how to install software, work with files, etc... you'll get it.

      So.. we want an open source gui. Here's the thing... the only reason the mac has the "world class gui" feel to it is BECAUSE of a certain lack of openness.. we're talking about a benevolent dictator here. Apple developers know what to expect on the desktop, know how the mac user expects it to behave... and that's the main attraction. If you don't want that, you might as well go use linux.

      Yes, we can do stuff in linux that OSX can't do. Yes, open is good, no argument here...I'm just tossing out the thought that, when it comes to providing a rock solid user experience, for a general purpose computer... a lack of choice is sometimes what's needed.. to get people thinking and doing the same thing.
      You can sit someone down and show them windows -vs- mac.. and invariably, the mac people get more done, and are more comfortable with their gui.. and it's not because one is more customizable, or more flexible.. in fact it's the opposite.
      • What you're talking about is commonly known as Conceptual Integrity.

        It's something that a lot of projects end up wrestling with, but community projects (open source, or otherwise), usually find themselves in trouble from word one.
      • The unfortunate reality is the humans are creatures of habit, don't like change and don't like being in unfamiliar territory.

        The one thing that's really kept me with Linux as of late is the fact that I can tune it and customize it a whole lot. In the case of a desktop environment I can even change the underlying window manager and I can't explain how impressed I am when I run Konqueror inside of Gnome (I love Konq as a file manager!) and it just works with this completely different setup.

        For someone like
        • I dont think this is about the ability to tweak, tune and skin on OS. It's deeper.

          Most people perceive tweaking and tuning an OS as a deficiency. They might ask something like this: If I hafta to waste my time getting this thing to run faster and more conveniently, why didn't it come that way in the first place?

          Apple successfully controls what it means to be a Mac program. They do that by forcefully controlling the code and the API's that are the platform's core.

          In many ways, the "choice" touted by th
      • Here's the thing... the only reason the mac has the "world class gui" feel to it is BECAUSE of a certain lack of openness

        Wow. You just realized this? Last I checked, Ms has been doing this for 20 years, which is why they are where they are on the desktop.
    • by cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:22AM (#6371160)
      ...Apple. Look at what Apple did with OS X. Apple took an Open Source OS and pinned it up with a proprietary front-end. The system benefits from all of the Open Source advancements in hardware control, while at the same time, the user has all the benefits of a modern, easy-to-use interface.

      The FreeBSD folks get some benefit as well. Besides having another big company using their code, testing it (and supplying patches) they kind of avoid the tug of war that part of Linux is going through - the whole "is it for geeks or the masses?" The coders who are good at one tend not to be as good in the other. So the FreeBSD coders can concentrate on the lower level bits, and have the Apple folks worry about getting the real fancy GUI on top of it.
  • by dreadlord76 (562584) on Friday July 04, 2003 @11:56PM (#6370756)
    I just finished attending a Molecular Biology Training class, and I couldn't help drawing parallels between Open Source and the public Research that is on-going, such as the Human Genome Project.

    Like open source software, public research labs publish the data they found, such as mouse or yeast genome, into the public domain (Humor me, I know that Open Source is not public domain, but it's darn close in terms of availability and cost). In addition, when a lab creates a new genomic library, they are supposed to make it available to anyone who asks. Sounds a lot like Open Source.

    However, privately funded research usually do not have such policy, and use patents, trade secrets, and Copyrights to protect the IP. This has some effect in slowly down advancement in science in many ways. Such research also lead to imporant, and profitable advances for the companies involved.

    But, due to limited public funding, not all worthwhile projects are funded in a timely fashion. A grant request to the NIH may take years before approved. A private company, seizing an oppertunity, may choose to invest and jump start a new field of research.

    It seems that both models can co exist, and maybe it's time to have a publicly funded, or even an industry funded, organization, the supports Open Source development. The group should focus on open standards, common tools and platforms, and anything else someone can make a good case for. Something that will advance our knowledge, and make life easier. Something that we all cooperate on, rather than having blackmails or mighty pissing contests.

    Maybe we should begin to treat Computer Science like Science, and really advance it methodically, rather than "My code is faster than your code..."
    • it's time to have a publicly funded, or even an industry funded, organization, the supports Open Source development.

      We have that, and they call themselves "International Business Machines." As I understand it, they sell so-called "business solutions" based on Linux, and they bankroll some of the kernel developers. In fact, from what I can tell, it's fairly common (sort of) to see companies who use Linux in some way and fund people to develop it for them (Hans Reiser is probably the best example of this).
      • IBM sells Linux? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by solprovider (628033) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @03:00AM (#6371289) Homepage
        Yes, IBM claims to be selling Linux solutions [ibm.com], and I am certain they are responsible for many installations of Linux. Also see their PDF of software available for Linux. [ibm.com]

        But IBM has not ported a critical piece of their own software to Linux clients.

        GOOD
        Clients for DB2 seem to have been ported to Linux.

        Tivoli clients have been ported to RedHat and SuSE.

        Rational seems to have been ported only for RedHat. It also works for SuSE if you are running IBM hardware. (Is this a marketing ploy or because of technical difficulties?)

        WebSphere has a developer client for Linux. I first thought it was not available, then I found this mention of it [ibm.com]. But I could not find it in the Buy Now area.

        BAD
        Lotus does not have Linux clients. IBM recommends running the client under WINE, but this is not acceptable for Fortune 500 companies with tens of thousands of desktops.

        This is the killer. DB2, Rational, and WebSphere are used by developers. Tivoli is used by administrators. Every employee needs to use the mail client and information resources and collaboration abilities of the Lotus Notes client. Without a Linux version of the Lotus Notes client, many companies cannot migrate to Linux desktops. Also, Lotus Notes is the only commercial software with significant marketshare to compete with MsOutlook .

        So, yes, IBM is pushing Linux for servers. But they control one of the major blocks for the Linux desktop in the corporate world, and they are letting us down.
      • From the front page at OSDL - OSDL [osdl.org]
        OSDL, a non-profit, global consortium of leading technology companies dedicated to accelerating the adoption of Linux
        Some of the sponsors from their sponsors page - "Dell, IBM, Cisco, RH, Transmeta, VA Software, Intel, HP" So the "3 - Profit!" stage is somewhat seperate from OSDL itself.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Computer scientists do treat CS as a science. The thing is, CS has almost nothing to do with actual programming.

      Computer scientists are to programmers what physicists are to engineers (though, admittedly, there are far more individuals who do both CS and progamming than there are physicists who are also engineers).
  • by sbwoodside (134679) <sbwoodside@yahoo.com> on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:01AM (#6370768) Homepage
    What's wrong with this picture? Well, one thing is that one of the fundamental premises of open source is that the licenses are all conditioned on the act of software distribution, and once you're no longer distributing an application, none of the licenses mean squat.

    One of the things that was criticized about the APSL [apple.com] was that it covers deployment as well. And they define deployment as anything other than R&D and personal use. Check it out in Section 1.4.

    simon
  • by astrashe (7452) * on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:01AM (#6370773) Journal
    I think that a lot of the dyanamics he's talking about hold true -- obviously, O'Reilley is a very smart guy.

    But it seems to me that he's looking at service industries, and calling them software companies. In order to do that, he has to change the definition of a software company, and as a result he's able to announce this as a shift in the software industry.

    My problem with what he says is mostly aesthetic. It's that same old silicon valley rich guy entrepeneur guru bs.

    He's making a lot of points that most people know -- web applications are more exciting, in many respects, than desktop applications now. Web applications are being built out of commodity pieces. The data in eBay and the customer good will is worth more than the code. All of those are good points, if not exactly earth shaking.

    But the way he's stiched them together is mostly a semantic trick, and he's out there like he's been given stone tablets on some moutaintop.

    It's not evil or anything, just a little icky.

    • by Ogerman (136333) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @03:01AM (#6371297)
      My problem with what he says is mostly aesthetic. It's that same old silicon valley rich guy entrepeneur guru bs. He's making a lot of points that most people know -- web applications are more exciting, in many respects, than desktop applications now. Web applications are being built out of commodity pieces. The data in eBay and the customer good will is worth more than the code. All of those are good points, if not exactly earth shaking.

      I think you're right on. In the buzz that Mr. O'Reilly is caught up in, it's easy to forget that that vast majority of computer users spend their days in MS Office, MS Outlook/Exchange, and XYZ customized core business application used by their workplace -- NOT Amazon and Ebay. Ordinary boring business applications are where the Open Source movement has enormous room to grow and conquer. While the core software 'stack' (OS,GUI,etc.) may be commoditized by this point, the rest isn't.

      It is not uncommon for a medium sized business to spend literally millions USD on software licenses. Part of that is the M$ tax (OS, Servers, Office) and the other part is custom software that only runs on M$ platforms (accounting, ERP/CRM, etc.) Then, tack on all the support / training services needed to keep said software working. If anyone thinks there's no room for Open Source on the business desktop, they're pretty blind to reality. The issue is more how to coordinate developer-consultants such that they can collectively meet needs of their clients. (ie. free software / non-free services & customization)

      But is there a market for an alternative? I challenge anyone who doesn't believe so to investigate what ordinary businesses are currently paying out for their IT needs -- both software licenses and services related.

      Bad economy or not, there is always a market for better product at a better price. We don't need more eBay's and Amazon's; we need more Open Source entrepreneurs.
    • What he's interested in I think is the customer facing part of the software world. Data is only valuable if you're the one doing something with it (ie offering a service to your customers).

      But there's other segments. Some software companies have other software companies as customers (look at Id, they license their engine). Those companies are completely unaffected by commodity software, since they're pushing the envelope and offering something only they can offer. Moreover, Id actually control the rate of

  • by minus_273 (174041) <aaaaa.SPAM@yahoo@com> on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:01AM (#6370774) Journal
    hinderances to OSS is the image. I say this because ive met people who will use macs but they wont use linux because of the people who promote it as an anti business anti capitalist vehicle. The mozilla logo doesnt go very far in helping remove that image. then there those who genuinely belive that through linux they can bring a revolution of a politicla nature. its unlikely to happen it wil just hurt linux
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Well with all due respect, so what? You're saying that these people won't use Linux because some people promote it as anti-business? Good grief, what do you want! You get stable, fast, powerful code for FREE, source code and binaries, packaged up all ready to go with easy installation, people willing to support you for nothing, and they're afraid because some wackos think it's anti-capitalist?!

      What is it? What do you want? A troupe of dancing grizzly bears or something?
      • The guy's right. Before a company commits to spending significant amounts of money on software and IT support, you'd better bet they want to feel very comfortable about the company they are about to keep.

        Why would you expect businesses to trust and deal with a culture that sees business as the enemy?

        BTW, the availability of "stable, fast, powerful code for FREE, source code and binaries, packaged up all ready to go with easy installation" really doesn't impress businesses all that much. Now, if someone pr
    • and conversly I've met plenty of people who will use GNU/Linux precisely because for them it is an effective work around to the problem of the domination of capitalist software. its not just in OSS' image, its in its reality aswell
    • Eh... I dunno how anti-capitalist Linux is. I use it to make money every week.

      Besides... it's all free. Cutting costs and maximizing profit with a completely blind eye to any sort of ideal is all about being a capitalist. So is using someone else's hard work for free. While I love the sort of sharing/working together mentality and ideals of a lot of open source, it's the best of both worlds. Hippies can hug it and Republicans can exploit it!
  • GPL3? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mdxi (3387) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:07AM (#6370791) Homepage
    To condense, O'Reilly says that licenses which allow you to modify and use code without releasing it because you aren't distributing it -- as is the case with Amazon and eBay -- are failures, because they don't force those changes and possible improvements back to the community.

    He does not, however, provide a solution or an alternative, or get into the question of whether Amazon and eBay actually are "distributing" the code by having millions of people outside their organizations use it every day. I believe this (the "ASP loophole") is one of the things being addressed by version 3 of the GPL (the current version dates to 1991, before the birth of the web). If the GPL does change to define, say, execution of programs via CGI interface, as distribution, it's hard to fully imagine what the repercussions will be.
    • Re:GPL3? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rifftide (679288)
      That would be a radical change to the GPL, to say that distributing products created by the software amounts to distributing the software. I doubt Linux will buy into that and many customers won't either - they'll take their software from forked codebases if they have to.
    • I disagree (Score:4, Insightful)

      by poptones (653660) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:57AM (#6370927) Journal
      I don't think he was saying they were failures at all. And I'm pretty sure the reason he didn't offer "solutions or alternatives" is because there are none - and there need be none. To "fix" this (were it broken) would set a precedent pretty much like the one so many of us lambasted corporations for a decade ago - that is, if you use our tools to create a product then you have to abide by our terms, including paying us a license to distribute code made with our compiler. I mean, wasn't this one of the driving forces behind making new compilers and a new OS? One that would be free of this stuff?

      Amazon and all the others are free to build and deploy using the same tools everyone else uses, and playing by the same rules. They are not to blame for being successful enough that their data being manipulated by those tools is more valuable than someone elses. Or for having the money and foresight to employ programmers to use those tools to create new tools for the company's own personal use.

      There's nothing to "fix" here because nothing is broken. Should you have to license hammers from Black & Decker because you build houses for a living?

    • I believe this (the "ASP loophole") is one of the things being addressed by version 3 of the GPL (the current version dates to 1991, before the birth of the web). If the GPL does change to define, say, execution of programs via CGI interface, as distribution, it's hard to fully imagine what the repercussions will be.

      Um, lack of upgrades followed by GPL2 forks?

    • O'Reilly was simply pointing out that a license that is premised on developers modifying and distributing code isn't necessarily relevant when the people using and modifying the code have no intention of ever distributing it. Not only does this include folks like Amazon and Yahoo, it also includes millions of ordinary consumers who buy and use open source. Because they will never modify any code, the GPL is relevant to them only if it results in the availabily of better programs.

  • Tim O is right (Score:5, Informative)

    by RevMike (632002) <revMike@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:10AM (#6370799) Journal
    I have a cousin working for a company that sells, among other things, a mainframe based spreadsheet app. He claims that the market for applications is drying up, and I have to agree.

    The fact of the matter is that the various open source or free products are good enough. As the software consumers become better educated, the market for traditional applications shrinks. OpenOffice.org is good enough that anyone who knows better won't buy MS Office. Opera is as good as any browser out there and can be run free of charge - with only a minor banner ad. One by one any major "shrink wrap" product will feel the pinch.

    The future is in two places - integration and data critical mass.

    Integration is really going to be two businesses - creating then supporting custom collections of free software and writing code to integrate free applications into custom solutions. The first business is already developing - with companies such as RedHat leading the way. The second business is in its infancy - but much of our future lay with workflow scripting.

    Data Critical Mass is the business of becoming the big boy in a market with no natural barriers and doing it well enough that there is no reason for customers to look elsewhere. Very honestly, how long would it take a small group of decent programers to replicate "eBay"? I think about a week. But at the end of the week could we provide better value? Hell, no! Why would anyone list with us, and our "dozens of potential buyers" on day one when they can list with eBay and be seen by "millions"?

    In the future, all general purpose applications will be written by bearded socialist hippies while smoking pot in their basements as the professional (in the sense of getting paid - not work quality) programmers write workflow scripts in the office. Meanwhile the eBays and Amazons are smart enough to keep the "goose laying the golden eggs" alive, content to dominate their marketplace and earn a decent margin rather than try to get a fat margin and instead create an opeing for a competitor.

    • I have a cousin working for a company that sells, among other things, a mainframe based spreadsheet app. He claims that the market for applications is drying up, and I have to agree.

      I heard there's this commodity-priced competitor called "VisiCalc".

    • by mikeophile (647318) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @01:08AM (#6370957)
      I'm not sure what kind of point you're trying to make, but making a living in my basement home office coding applications while high sounds a lot better than writing TPS workflow scripts for a faceless corporation in a partitioned rat maze.
    • Re:Tim O is right (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sheldon (2322) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @04:03AM (#6371451)
      I have a cousin working for a company that sells, among other things, a mainframe based spreadsheet app. He claims that the market for applications is drying up, and I have to agree.

      I agree as well. The market for applications running on mainframes is drying up.

      Your attempt to extend this point further is rather absurd.
    • Re:Tim O is right (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fanatic (86657)
      OpenOffice.org is good enough that anyone who knows better won't buy MS Office.

      Espcially when 'knows better' includes understanding what proprietary file fiormats that change on the whim of the software seller mean to data "owners".

    • Re:Tim O is right (Score:2, Interesting)

      by neutralstone (121350)

      OpenOffice.org is good enough that anyone who knows better won't buy MS Office.

      As much as I love OpenOffice, there's no getting around this: With MS Word, I click the little launcher icon, and within a second, I can start typing text. With OpenOffice Writer, first I launch it. Then I get all of my shopping done. When I come back, I start a load of laundry and maybe read a section of the newspaper. That's usually when the OpenOffice splash screen goes away.

    • The problem with examples like OpenOffice, Mozilla, Opera, etc., is that they are functional copies of proprietary applications.

      People use Office not for the joy of using Word, or PowerPoint, or Access, or Excel, or Outlook, or Internet Explorer. They use Office because they need to write, to draw, to store and manipulate data, to calculate, to communicate, to deal with the web. What Microsoft is really selling is a solution to that problem.

      By concentrating on building software that mimics the proprietar
    • OpenOffice.org is good enough that anyone who knows better won't buy MS Office.

      I know better I've been following Unix business apps for a dozen years. I tried recently to switch, and no openoffice did not meet my needs. MSOffice has way more features, works more consistently and the output looks better. Openoffice is making progress but MSOffice is one of the most advanced pieces of software ever written (yes I know its buggy).
    • Re:Tim O is right (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bigdavex (155746)


      I have a cousin working for a company that sells, among other things, a mainframe based spreadsheet app. He claims that the market for applications is drying up, and I have to agree.

      The fact of the matter is that the various open source or free products are good enough. As the software consumers become better educated, the market for traditional applications shrinks. OpenOffice.org is good enough that anyone who knows better won't buy MS Office. Opera is as good as any browser out there and can be run fr

  • by JLyle (267134) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:15AM (#6370816) Homepage
    Tim O'Reilly's comments about open source licenses and their irrelevance for internet applications reminded of this article [webservicesarchitect.com] by Joe Johnston from a few years ago. It was written around the beginning of the media blitz on Microsoft's .NET platform, and goes into some more detail about possible ramifications for open source software developers of the shift to web services and internet applications.
    • "It is tempting for Open Source developers to look at Microsoft's marketing blitz surrounding .NET and scoff. Unfortunately for them, Microsoft is positioning itself for the future. Because only descriptions of Web Services are needed in order to use them, Web Services greatly reduces the need for vendor-supplied libraries to be installed on local workstations. A Web Service aware application will become a small shell of a program that contains display logic. Where does this leave the Open Source community?
  • by mikeophile (647318) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:24AM (#6370839)
    That a certain percentage of the population be given machine lathes with the condition that they have to produce at least one additional lathe to give with the same condition to someone who didn't have one yet.

    Very soon, everyone would have lathes. The market for lathes would be nil. The new market would be for what you could produce with your lathe. Even that market would wane, since anything that was produced for market could be quickly copied by others.

    I think eventually, the market would shift again. Now, the lathe owners would create new proprietary tools that would be used to produce goods and services.

    It seems the IT industry is going through those evolutions now.

    The PC is our lathe, and the software is the first tier of production from these lathes.

    When a new application comes out, such as the browser, it's just a question of time before the concept is copied to the point of market saturation.

    Open Source is the recognition of this inevitability, and is providing the templates for this first tier.

    Now, the challenge is to take these tools and make our own, custom applications and profit from them.

    Amazon and Ebay have done this for themselves, but are wisely cooperating with individuals who are making new tools to profit with them.

    If Bucky was right, the wealth that can be created by such cooperation has no limits.

  • by LibertineR (591918) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:30AM (#6370849)
    For at least the last 5 years, Microsoft has understood that nobody buys 'Windows or Office or Exchange'. Corporation buy Networking, Information Management and Messaging instead, and the winners are those who provide the TOOLS for these business missions better than the next guy.

    Linux vs Windows was never the proper battle, it was always a battle over what you DO with these things, and how you do them more effieciently than the other guy. Lots of companies NEED something like Exchange, so they by an Active Directory and Windows by default, and so on and so on.

    O'Reilly is dead on right. All this shit is just commodity for the applications built upon it that actually generate income. Superiority of one platform over another is a moot point. No one decides to buy a book at Amazon because of Linux, instead of Barnes and Noble because they run on IIS, so get over it.

    Windows against Linux is now like Goodyear versus Michelin. Who gives a shit? Only tire makers, not CAR makers. So, it is time to focus on building shit that rides on these things, instead of so much focus on the things themselves. No side has an advantage right now, but that could change overnight. Suppose Microsoft buys Amazon, or EBay buys Oracle? Same players, whole new battle, and all this crap over which OS is better doesnt mean a thing.

    What if Microsoft buys Macromedia; takes Flash and does interesting remoting stuff with Web Services tied only to .NET? What is the competing solution from IBM going to look like?

    I've got no answers, but I agree with O'Reilly that things are going to get very interesting over the next few years, and things are never going to be the same.

    • O'Reilly is dead on right. All this shit is just commodity for the applications built upon it that actually generate income. Superiority of one platform over another is a moot point. No one decides to buy a book at Amazon because of Linux, instead of Barnes and Noble because they run on IIS, so get over it.

      Supperiority of the Linux opperating system, and it's useability in business was never the point. It has always been supperiority of the GPL and how the freedom it secures creates more opportunities

      • GNU/Linux treats information like information rather than a false property right

        Totally false. If you dont think information is 'PROPERTY' then go take some that is claimed by someone else and see what happens to you. Information is like anything else. It can be free, it can be owned, it can be rented, it can be stolen, it can be borrowed and returned. It that is irrational, then the world is irrational.

        The GPL is moot, pal. Or did you read the article and understand it? Web Services kick the GPL in th

        • Totally false. If you dont think information is 'PROPERTY' then go take some that is claimed by someone else and see what happens to you.

          You mean like when someone leaked internal documents from Microsoft? Or Siebel? Or the Department of Energy? Anyhow, this argument is bound to go in circles. You say that information is property because the government says it is property. So if the government said that air was property and you could only expect fresh air if you bought it from a private company then air

      • Really. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mindstrm (20013)
        Actaully, that never even came up. The choice to use linux as a platform for projects is based on whether or not it can deliver, and how easily the developers involved in the project can work with it, and the cost/benefit ratio of using it.

        Complying with the license, in this case, sharing source again, is simply part of the cost of using it, and not that hard in practice to deal with.

        So while what you say about linux treating information freely is very true, and quite important from an overall viewpoint,
    • MS makes most of it's money from windows and office. Both of those products are now competing with a commodity free version. They use the profits from those products to dump other products on the market like IE, xbox, exchange etc. Without those monopoly subsidies those products would not last long enough on the marketplace to gain a foothold.

      In the end MS has to find a way to make monopoly level profits from one or more of their other products. More likely they will simply buy something.
    • I agree completely. On a scale that arguibly doesn't exist that much any more, I used to be a database developer. By and large, I didn't care what kind of box or platform my data was sitting on. It was completely irrelevant so long as I could get to the data I needed. A "database server" at that point was a commodity. I'd just ask a DBA for another Oracle instance, and at that point, I didn't care if if was on HP-UX, Sun, NT, Linux, etc. Data is data, and that was the important part. Not the platform
  • Disturbing trend... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by diabolus_in_america (159981) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:31AM (#6370854) Journal
    I think O'Reilly is right, but it points to a very disturbing trend, especially if you are someone who makes a living writing code.

    What he is saying is that business solutions in the immediate future are no longer going to be development and integrated applications (basically, code), but ideas. Why is this disturbing? Because it removes the an entire industry from the equation, or at least, it shifts the software industry down in terms of relevance and importance.

    He is saying that innovation will no longer come from companies like IBM or Oracle, but from the development of new business processes.

    In fact, if you replace the word commodity with the word marginalization in his interview, you'll better see my point. And as software becomes more and more marginalized, the value of the software as well as those of us who write the software drops.

    Frankly, it scares me to think that the skills I've worked so hard and spend so much to develop (and continue to develop) have nothing but marginal value.
    • Yes, But... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LibertineR (591918) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:53AM (#6370916)
      True that the market for Developers(the new mechanics) will shrink. But other markets for those skills will open up, as long as developers keep a business focus to what they do. There is nothing left to innovate in software itself, but much to innovate in the use and application of same to solve or streamline a business process or customer's service.

      I'm happy for the change, so we can get over these stupid platform wars, and focus on things that actually do something besides send bits back and forth. Now we get to focus more on the value of those bits, and I think that is a good thing.

      • Re:Yes, But... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by GrayArea (69302) * <tacticalgrace@yahoo.c3.14om minus pi> on Saturday July 05, 2003 @03:00AM (#6371288) Homepage
        There is nothing left to innovate in software itself...

        Nothing left to innovate in software? We've been at this for, let me see, about thirty years now, and you think we've done all that can be done? That sounds like saying we've seen the end of history. I'd say we'll be seeing a whole lot of different ways to build software, and fifty years from now, people won't even notice that's what they are doing. Just look at them using spreadsheets today.

    • business solutions in the immediate future are no longer going to be development and integrated applications (basically, code), but ideas.

      I think you hit the nail on the head.

      Ideas are what it's all about.

      It's going to get a lot harder to profit from just being a code drone for some large company.

      To profit is going to require thought, a lot of it.

      Not just the kind of thought you use in programming, but non-linear, right brain thought.

      The people who can think holistically have a serious advantage at

    • by yuvtob (533399)
      I think O'Reilly is right, but it points to a very disturbing trend, especially if you are someone who makes a living writing code.

      That was my first thought as well - will someone like me who wants to be the 'Chef' will be reduced to a person selling rice by the ton ?

      However, I realized that the 'coders' workplace will be one of two:
      1. Traditional software companies: until ASPs really catch on, although people will use more open-source software (like the google/yahoo/amazon exmples), the software that
    • It disturbs me too. I like writing applications because applications are interesting. They have algorithms, interesting data structures, architectures that inspire thought, etc.

      There's only so many opportunities to earn a living writing kernels, browsers and interpreters. Everyone else who's in software will be writing perl scripts for websites. Sigh.
    • by cruachan (113813)
      No, I don't think you've any reason to worry. I've seen something similar before - it never works.

      Back in the late 80's/early 90's there was a real buzz about software that would write software. It came in many different forms - Oracle had SSADM software that would generate applications once you put the system design as high level description, various IBM mainframe systems that would generate CICS systems from bolt-together components (very like O'Reilly dicusses in fact) - there was even a PC system cal
    • by freeBill (3843) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @06:43AM (#6371750) Homepage
      ...O'Reilly's point. Commoditization is not the same as marginalization.

      He is comparing the current situation to 1980 when Wang could charge $40,000 for a minicomputer word-processing system. IBM commoditized the market with an open architecture for microcomputers. Tim's saying the same thing could happen in software with its commoditization (which is coming whether programmers like it or not).

      The '80s didn't produce a "marginalization" of hardware engineers (except those who insisted on continuing to sell word-processing for $10,000 a station). It produced a golden age for hardware engineers.

      Tim's also noting that the ultimate winner in those hardware wars was not the company which commoditized it (IBM), nor the company which first took advantaged of the commoditization (Compaq), but the company that realized the ultimate goal of commoditization was build-to-order (Dell).

      It might not be totally clear who O'Reilly's comparing to IBM in the software commoditization process (maybe he's thinking of Microsoft or even Red Hat). But he explicitly states that IBM is filling the role of Compaq with its Websphere package. And he suggests the ultimate winner will offer something like Websphere with no proprietary components and make their money customizing it to each user.

      Not a bad idea. I'm putting my small personal fortune behind it and finding it's not costing much more than Michael Dell spent in his college dorm room. I hope to be announcing just the kind of product he's talking about at OSCON.

      So maybe I'm a little biased.

    • ... look at the field of accounting.

      In someways, it is a commodity/marginalized. Having someone do your personal income tax is a commodity. It mostly based on price and its standarilized. Its not a big part of the process because you could do it yourself and the accountant gets removed from the whole process of calculating taxes.

      In other ways its not a commodity/marginal. Doing corporate taxes is just one SPECIALIZATION which is in high demand. If you are good and specialized accountant then you get
  • Hmmm.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Delphix (571159) * on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:36AM (#6370868)
    Having read the article twice I'm not qutie sure I get O'Reilly's point.

    What he's saying is correct, but it's not exactly earthshattering in anyway. Amazon puts together some services that rock. They patent them. And then they sell the service to others. That just seems logical.

    How that ties into driving Open Source I'm not sure. If they're only devleoping proprietary things (services) on top of an open source backbone, they're not really driving Open Source devlopment. Just because I compile my program with gcc or use a perl script doesn't mean I'm driving open source development in anyway. They're just using it as the foundation to build on.

    Open Source is by definition controlled by anyone who wants it to be. Maybe I'm missing something here, but it seems like he's just stating the obvious and it has little to do with Open Source.
    • Re:Hmmm.... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mindstrm (20013)
      The point is that it's all about tools, not about the code as an end product.. the business model, or the particular instance of use of that code is what's important.

      This is not simply about who writes the open source code.. it's about how it's used.

      Open source code will exist for the same reasons it's always existed.. the point is that just having code to do basic stuff , after a while, will no longer even be an issue. It won't be a question of whether or not any basic function can be done freely or not
  • Economic drivers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pettifogger (651170) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @12:48AM (#6370900)
    What O'Reilly has to say is pretty much on target, but I'm not sure if open source will be entirely subsumed by corporations looking to profit. Perhaps for industrial applications, but not on the home level.

    What's going to happen on the home level is what's already happened to the hardware market. Everyone is looking for the lowest price. When the PC first came out, a lot of people were concerned about the brand/reputation, et al., and were willing to pay a premium for an AT&T, IBM, or other high-line product. That's where the software market is right now. The high-end hardware makers got slaughtered by price. And now the high-end software market is about to get slaughtered. Microsoft (and lots of others) are going to have to compete against the software equivalent of incredibly cheap clone hardware... and they are going to lose.

    • If every application that matters is on the web, then there is no "home market" for anything, except glorified dumb terminals and games.
    • Commodity software is increasing. I like to think of the issue in terms of the barrier to entry for "developing" solutions to problems. As it stands now, tools (frameworks?) like the Microsoft Backoffice suite and .NET, even Java have lowered the barrier to entry for developing solutions to 80% of "softwqre problems" or perhaps have lowered the barrier to developing solutions that solve 80% of a given problem. As the commoditisation continues. it will be "bigger chunks" of the problem space that will bec
  • On that basis, I will predict that -- this is an outrageous prediction -- but eBay will buy Oracle someday.

    I predict that---and this is probably total bullshit---O'Reilly will become 1/10th the master of the software universe he thinks he is.

  • by that _evil _gleek (598545) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @01:33AM (#6371024)
    O'Reilly is WRONG about the license thing. He seems to think it was an oversight, or mistake, that allowed Amazon, Google, etc to work the way they do. As IF.
    It was no oversight at all. It was design. Seems liked he's been believing OpenSource as described by its opponents, like it's communism or something, as opposed to what it is. Those are successes, not failures!
    Actually, I'm a little surprised -- I mean where is that on the 5 stages of understanding the GPL? ("OH its NOT communism, it /is/ possible to make money with it"). I think I was there for like 5 minutes sometime in '96.

    Plenty of companies have been screwed by not getting the source, and getting straight-jacketed into dealing w/ only 1 company.. not just individuals. I see that as the point of opensource, take away the power to abuse that the software industry has, but not to be anti-industry in general. More of a return to the pleasant past, before PC's tookover.
    • Plenty of companies have been screwed by not getting the source, and getting straight-jacketed into dealing w/ only 1 company.. not just individuals. I see that as the point of opensource, take away the power to abuse that the software industry has, but not to be anti-industry in general.

      I am lukewarm on the GPL so let me ask you this question. Let's say you give your data to a company running a web service. They put it in an open source database and manipulate it with a mix of open source and clos

    • But the GPL DOES try to take away your ability to make propritary software the best it can... It's not an oversight, it's Stallman's inability to get the lawmakers of the world to bend to his will.

      Open Source isn't just about software, it's about almost any type of information. Open Source has liberated books, audio, songs, movies, etc. The fact that no license is able to force these companies to release their information is what Tim is talking about. That said, I think it was a serious misnomer to cal
  • build to order (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Parsec (1702) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:48AM (#6371240) Homepage Journal

    Does anyone get how open source will be a profitable "build to order" business plan? Certainly there are a lot of tools which are yet to be created in open source, but it seems like the whole system already is "build to order" for free. You figure out what you need, do a little research, testing, and implementation. A standard procurement model. CD-RW drives all do the same thing, but no one manufacturer is the sole provider. RDBMSs all do pretty much the same thing (+- important features for some), but there's still plenty of room of Postgresql to live along with MySQL and Oracle.

    I can see the use of companies who offer service plans for a base configuration (i.e. a distribution, e.g. Red Hat), and at some point in the near future, much more automation as a whole. But where can you profit from build to order free components except for service, be it sys admin, or tech support?

    IMNSHO, information technology will someday be a commodity service sector. But I don't think software will be the product... just the tools, like a deep fryer or a bucket and mop.

  • Nobody is pointing out something that I think is way more significant: all of the killer apps of the Internet era: Amazon (.com, Inc), Google (Inc.), and Maps.yahoo.com. They run on Linux or FreeBSD, but they're not apps in the way that people have traditionally thought of applications, so they just don't get considered. Amazon is built with Perl on top of Linux. It's basically a bunch of open source hackers, but they're working for a company that's as fiercely proprietary as any proprietary software compa

  • Using OSS tools (Perl, php, gcc) and running on a OSS platform (Linux, Apache, mySQL, pg) is a decoupling from vendor centric solutions to one that's portable across a full range of hardware today and probably well into the future. The same source that runs on a z Series mainframe can run on the smallest devices available - phones and handhelds - and everything in between. Portable code.

    I see just the opposite for the 'lack of standards' argument. Built with XML/SOAP, data is portable.

    If I have to rewrite
  • by Radical Rad (138892) on Saturday July 05, 2003 @02:24PM (#6372994) Homepage
    Let me give you an example of what I would consider a paradigm failure that happens all the time in the open source community. The critic of open source says, "Open source is just not very good at building easy-to-use software." And the open source defender says, "Oh, you haven't seen the latest version of Gnome (GNU Object Model Environment). It's really getting pretty good."

    Tim touches on something here that I have noticed too. Open source does not have a reputation for being easy to use. But why is that so? Some projects are very user friendly but in general the profit motive works against Open Source here. Consulting, Support, and Customization is the main business model in the Open Source world, but if a software is extremely easy for the end users to set up then there is less of a reason for consultants to be brought in.

One of the most overlooked advantages to computers is... If they do foul up, there's no law against whacking them around a little. -- Joe Martin

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