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GNU is Not Unix

Democratic GPL Software Company 135

Markar writes "FreeDevelopers.net is a commercial software company that plans to develop GPL software, and is the brainchild of Tony Stanco, a former Security Exchange Commission attorney. Group leadership and major policy decisions are to be voted upon by the developers, making it the first democratically elected software company. FreeDevelopers.net has earned the endorsement of Richard M Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. Details at ZDNet."
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Democratic GPL Software Company

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Actually, if you read the mailing list archives, RMS said that he couldn't see how it could actually be profitable. So, it is not so simple to "earn" RMS' recommendations. ;)
  • Haha...

    You've never had a single, solitary person say "no" to something while the rest of the group wants something else, but no-boy wins because they're in charge?

    If you have a job like that, I want it too! :)

    Democracy is organized anarchy, very little is actually different if you interpret it directly.

    My work is about as close as i've found to what you describe, but good, well thought out ideas occasionally get the 'no way in hell' by a person who really doesn't know the situation (and even after the currently-used alternative has backfired countless times). Rarely do the people who actually do the work get to make the 'real big' decisions.
  • I know you didn't start this argument, but continuing down this path is just going to lead towards the same FUD-fueled arguments that have surfaced here in the past.

    Ok folks -- philosophy and government 101.

    Communism is regulated socialism. Ergo, 'forced', but in spirit, not by military. (Military-forced socialism is generally referred to as fascism or loosely as a dictatorship).

    There is no way to regulate the GPL. Note that you do *NOT* have to submit jack squat if you don't release anything. Note also that the GPL is not an all or nothing thing, like any other software license. This negates all possibility of communism.

    What people *still* don't seem to get, is that no one forces you to use GPL programs, no one forces you to modify GPL'd source. Just like any community or organization, if you are going to be a part of it, you are generally expected to contribute in one form or another, either monetary, work, whatever. You'll sign the NDA but won't use the GPL? You make me laugh.

    This argument is getting *really* stale. If you guys don't like GPL, don't fucking use it. If it's that big of a deal, throw out all your GNU-based programs. Just for the love of god, stop complaining. There is no argument here that hasn't been mulled over a MILLION times on these forums, not to mention elsewhere and for 10 years previous to the inception of this site. It's just mindless bitching and moaning... I feel dirty contributing, but hopefully 2 or 3 of the 4000 people who might see this might actually get a clue.

    Let me sum up the FACTS, and the ARGUMENTS, on BOTH SIDES, so those of you who are going to post it at least 200 more times in here before the hour is up can get a CLUE before you post, so at least this might be interesting.

    1) GPL is viral/evil/morally wrong -- it inhibits the freedoms of the user while under the premise that it actually provides for it. Of course, I still use their code though, becuase it's really good stuff.

    2) GPL is the advancement of sharing culture as a whole, or just software, and we should at least honor it's uniqueness if not pledge wholehearted fanaticism for it.

    3) (works with #1) Use LGPL if you don't like GPL, or BSD. Of course, I'm just wasting time here that I could be spending programming.. wait.. I don't know how to program, but I can type 200 words per seconds thanks to my english classes, and I have a lot of free time to boot. Of course that doesn't have anything to do with my opinion of this whatsoever.

    4) RMS is a commie/red/bastard/marxist/nazi/hippie/whatever. Don't listen to him, because of these reason's he couldn't possibly be correct about anything. I'm a spoiled child of the 80's who's had his brain washed by government propoganda and proof positive that the educational statistics in america being so poor are right on the money. I never read, and I never seek to educate myself on the issues. He sacrifices newborns in a MIT lab late at night. ESR is also a socialist but he's got better hygiene and costume choices.

    5) Communism is socialism, Hitler was a Bolshevik (sp), and we should all embrace capitalism with the whole-hearted glory that all those rich guys with all the money and all the press time saying things like "I didn't say that in that email". America has and always been a capitalist enterprise (hah).

    I would say "did I miss anything?", but of course, that would lead to 400 completely idiotic one-liners by people who actually do have an honest, sound, opinion and want to poke fun at my contempt at the lack of INTELLIGENT CONVERSATION REGARDING THIS ISSUE.

    So... "Did I miss anything?"

    If you like regurgitating crap, I'm going to take a guess that there's some fetish site out there that directly accomodates your needs, so take it there.

  • thank you.

    please clued-in moderators, send this guy to karma heaven.
  • And of course there's the fact that the sort of thing which this company might end up being paid for is hugely boring, and open source doesn't do boring.

    Their goal was 1% of government projects. I would think in the vast pool of potential projects, they could find at least a few percent that are generally interesting.

    It'll be an interesting experiment, anyway.
  • Now there's a thought. Get a burger chain to give away free Deb CDs in their kids meals... :D)

    It'd give you something else to pick out of the burger apart from the gherkins...

  • Amen. You ought to email Taco on this one.

    How about removing HTML priveledges(sp) for people below a certain karma level?
  • Oh, come on; Microsoft is hardly a democracy, yet they have features in, say, Excel that only five or so people ever use.
  • It's like a little club.. you can be a card, and charge card carrying member.. and get your FSF credit card.. it's just like the AARP or something..
  • Your comments suggest that democracy shouldn't work either. Maybe recent events prove you right ;-)
  • I just hope their voting system will be more reliable than that of the United States Government ... :)
  • by jjr ( 6873 )
    Will this company be a kinder gentler company or cut throat like other softawre companies . Remember the main goal for a company is to turn a profit. Having a democratic company to me seems kind of stupid. The best companies usualy are ranned by One good leader who gets the job done. My worry like in many other comapnies thing will be left in the air because remember it is democratic. It make the company even more polictical then it should be.
  • Wouldn't that encourage trolls to simply establish temporary accounts, do their deed, and then simply abandon the account?

    I hear you on not getting modded up, but it really doesn't take more than a week or two to get 5 (for example) karma points if you're contributing somewhat regularly.

    At any rate, I haven't gotten a response from Taco anyway, so my suggestion to him will probably stay in limbo.
  • To be more precise, many developers - to be more specific, many developers without any training in useability and UIs - simply don't understand human cognition and behavior, and compound that ignorance with a temperment that is ill-suited to getting into other people's heads.
  • by redhog ( 15207 )
    Have you ever used Word 2000? Windows? Anything made by MS? Or Sun's StarOffice (Newly opened up as OpenOffice). All of those are developed in a non-democratic fashion. Are the non-bloated, small and contain only the features the users want? Far from. Ok, you have minimalistic projects like QNX, too. But in my experience, the model of developement does not matter at all for the level of featurebloat.
  • I've run a company, and I will tell you from bitter experience, a democratic company does not work. All decisions eventually do not come down to what is best for the company, but what everyone disagrees over the least. You can not run a company where everyone is voting the business or technical decisions and expect to do anything other than fail.

    This is in the same category as paying everyone in the company the same. Sounds nice and idealistic, but when the folks are working 60 hours a week are getting the same pay as the guy who does 40, things break down real fast.
  • Some time in the near future, hot off the wire...

    Reuters: In a new twist to recent events, a GPL company has secured its first major government contract announced the Press Office for the Governor of Florida.

    FreeDevelopers.net, a commercial software company which develops software distributed using an 'open' license, known as the GPL, which allows users to freely copy and distribute the software, won the contract against intense competition fromm IBM and Compaq.

    The multimillion dollar contract, to develop a statewide foolproof voting system, attracted intense interest after the furore caused by vote counting in the US Presidential Elections.

    "I'm extremely pleased that the company has shown that it can beat the best the commercial world has to offer" said Tony Stanco, president of FreeDevelopers.net.

  • cooperative, democracy, communism, greed, whatever...this is not the point. Software is a tool. Not developers should be allowed to vote what to do next but users should be allowed to vote what developers should do. If users could vote, I assume there would be less bloat and more stability in software technology.
  • That just proves that the only thing worse than having developers in charge is having marketers in charge ..
  • Why is this "mob rule" meme so attractive to some people?

    Here is an illustration, with the same level of cynicism, of how stupid that meme is:

    Democracy: a majority telling the minority "Do what we say, or else..."
    Everything but democracy: a minority tell everyone else "Do what we say, or else..."

    Now which choice is more attractive?

    "Oh", but you say, "that is a false model! We have rights to protect us from the tyranny of elites and the tyranny of mob rule!"

    I'm sorry, were do you think those rights come from? You may claim them, but other people don't have to respect them. The only reason you have the illusion of rights is because the people you associate with believe they have the same rights as you do. All rights, all law, everything that makes civilisation "civil" is the result of a consesus among people. Democracy is the formalization of that consensus.

    There are many forms of democracy, just like any any theory political organization. You don't even have to vote for democracy to happen.

    Maybe this can be a viable way to run a business, maybe it can't. It really depends on who is involved. A bunch of control freaks aren't going to do too well. But people like those involved in some of the more successful open source projects could do very well. If there is one thing you could say about "geeks" is that we respect competence. We let those lead who prove themselves worthy. We defer decisions to those who know what the hell they're doing. The traditional business world could learn a few things from us.

    (You know, the business world, the place where Dilbert is not so much a parody but a representation of real-life events, only exaggerated and improbably occuring close together).
    Bush's assertion: there ought to be limits to freedom
  • Software development works well as a Benevolent Monarchy... not a Communist or Democratic situation. Your average and junior developers do not have the experience to make consistently wise decisions most of the time (hey... just like in the US elections:)

    Brian Macy
  • > I never chose to live in a capitalist society,
    > I was born into it. Where's the choice there?

    That's a funny question, since capitalism is _all about_ freedom of choice. No, you didn't get to chose the system you we're born into, but what exactly are the choices you would like to be able to make that you can't make under capitalism?
  • I was talking about capitalism. Why have you suddenly changed the subject to society? I agree with most of what you say. You are prevented from doing lots of things by society and it's government; not by capitalism.
  • So you have to make an effort or you starve, you say. Well that sounds like nature to me. Who decided it's the job of some system of government to change that?

    Don't like the company you work for? Start your own. There's the freedom. There's the choice. Before you tell me that it's easier said than done, don't bother. I know.
  • I don't think it's so easy to dismiss this.

    The idea of being a software company that releases its source isn't that revolutionary. Sure, the projects may be boring, but that doesn't necessarily matter. The "many eyes" advantage of open source is just one of the advantages; if the only developers working on a project are ones working at the company, you can still make a business case for releasing source. For example, if the government contracts out for a piece of software, they might want to make sure they can still get the code if the company goes under.

    Any given project might still be controlled by a small group of people in this business model - different projects would be parcelled out to different developers in the company. This happens in a normal software company too.

    Remember, the developers working for this company are paid employees (/owners), not volunteer developers.

  • If you thought the schedule for Mozilla got stretched out over a long time, just wait until you see the results of a "real" democracy.

    In my experience, developers (including me) basically never want to release their code because there is always refinements needed. The pressure, and eventual mandate, to release always comes from "above".

    This new model proposes that effectively there would be no "above" -- the corollary of that is that there would be a tendancy towards bloated schedules, feature creep and gold-plating in order to satisfy the desires of the majority on the team.

    That may be great for team satisfaction, but it doesn't generally produce great results from the end user perspective. something now is almost always better than something better a year later.

    In politics, it is sometimes said that "democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the other ones". In software development, I would tend to say the opposite.
  • I think the idea is that the company is going to get paid for the development of the project. The project won't ever get created for the government unless the government pays for the project's completion. So this can still work. The developers get paid while they are working on the software, not after. It will be interesting to see how this affects the business model.
    You can't "sell the blades but give away the razors for free" in this case. That is, you don't have any incentive, as I see it, to turn to scrimp on a project to turn it out and start selling lots of copies of it in this system. On the other hand, you don't really have any incentive to turn anything out quickly at all, Except for the sake of your credibility as a business to get hired. Then again, if you're bidding for government contracts, is the scheme for "hiring" really the same? Do government contracts have strict deadlines? I would hope so but I really don't know.
  • How long will freedevelopers.net last before it files for chapter 11?

    A) 1 year
    B) 2 months
    C) 2-3 weeks
    E) 5 days
    F) tomorrow
    G) 10 minutes from now
    H) yesterday
  • Ultimately, communism (and socialism) needs to force people to act against their human nature.

    To invoke 'human nature' as an unproblematic axiom to argue against communism -which is based on a the idea that human nature is determined by the economic relations of any given society -really begs the question. Nor are communists alone in dismissing the idea of some imutable human nature. For a classic, and very pursuasive argument, made from a non-socialist position, see John Dewey's Does Human Nature Change.

    It seems to me that any society that has yet existed has required some level of coercion. Our system, what it is once again becoming fashionable to refer to as 'capitalism,' clearly does. You might think it is 'human nature' to satisfy wants, but coercion stops you simply emptying a bank vault, or driving off with that Porsche. Maybe it is different where you live, but where I am we have all sorts of laws protecting property, and there are many people who have been locked away from society for property offences. Presumably it was in their nature simply to take what they wanted with undue disrespect for capitalist property relations.

    It would thus be open to paraphrase you as:
    Ultimately, capitalism needs to force people to act against their human nature.

  • Of the communist societies that have existed in history, all of them have reserved the ownership of all property to the state (though they have not always exercised that reservation). Most times this exercise of control has come down to declaring with the barrel of a gun that "what is under your domain of control now belongs to the state, because we say so".

    If there ever has existed a communist society, it has only been in the form of a 'primitive' tribal society in which no state and no property exists (the definition of communism). I'll take it that you are speaking of authoriatrian state socialist regimes, run by nominally communist parties ...

    Of the capitalist societies that exist, all of them have reserved the ownership of most property to private individuals (they almost invariable do excercise that reservation). Again what stops X from taking my Porsche is a system of property law underwritten by the coercive apparatus of the state. The barrel of the gun (of the police) is operative there too. The necessity of a police force and of a prison system, demonstrates that 'human nature' (if there is such a thing) is not such as to accept this particular arrangement of property relations.

    Only the initiation of force is coercion.

    This might be arguable in terms of bodily self-defence, but when you use it with regard to property, you are making the unwarranted and fatal assumption that 'property' is simply something natural, that arises quite unproblematically between individuals (a la Locke) without the application of state force.

  • VisualSphere is much older!
    Thus we are not at the web currently.
    But we are more or less the same but toward Open Source and not GPL.
    P.S. we are transforming into a stock company on next friday.
  • Lotsa stuff that ends in failure provides helpful info for various future endeavors. I think it's cool that they're doing it. It sounds like an interesting experience for those involved and it may prove to be an effective tool. But maybe I just like feedback loops.
    On second thought, I'd rather make a judgment based on very little or no data. It's never gonna work.
  • a government of the coders, for the coders, and by the coders

    hmm... seems as if you forget why a company exists: to make money. The reason companies want their employees to be happy at their jobs, i.e., perks and such, is that it is more profitable for them to be happy and stay within the company then for them to leave. Companies would treat us like dirt if they knew we had nowhere else to go.
  • case in point... mozilla
  • No.

    The decision to include a package is made by a maintainer, not by "Democratic process". Any maintainer can say "I am making a package for this" and upload it into the distribution (there are some social rules for this, kind of an ettiquet - but no vote)

    Forking? Nah, I don't think anyone would get kicked out for frivilous forking... flamed almost definitly. Asked to not fork frivilously? probably. Upload access revoked? nah. (yes upload, not CVS)

    The democratic process is really only used for things like electing leaders, and making "political" decisions. Even "do we include xfstt in the distribution" is a lower level than it gets used on (unless the package had a licence that was causing controversy and the question had to be solved that way - even then that would be rare)

    I think democracy works best when it is used either a) for very general "directional" and policy stuff or B) as a last resort for problem resolution

  • Well, it turns out that we agree with each other to a small extent. There are indeed two ways for society to be organised, capitalism or anarchism. Traditional communism, such as Maoism, Menshevism or Bolshevism, are merely simple forms of state capitalism, where instead of a few thousand organisations with all the capital and power, there is a single organisation, the state, holding it all. This clearly suffers from all the drawbacks of state supported market capitalism, and then some.

    I go for anarchism too, but anarchosyndicalism rather than anarchocapitalism. This is because anarchocapitalism is just not sustainable. If a society has money, then it has the means to concentrate power. That power will be concentrated, until you have the same conditions as the current form of western capitalism, without even the single benefit of a state: protection from the inevitable rise of robber barons.

    The only argument against anarchosyndicalism is the irrational belief that money is necessary. It isn't. There is so much effort expended in trying to supporting the existence of money, all of which is wasted. Nothing useful is generated by this work. Freeing people from this horrific wastage would deliver the benefits of the useful work that they can do, as well as increased leisure time. Note that work is not the same as employment. Work is necessary, employment isn't.

    I do think this is possible within my lifetime, but it will take the destruction of the delusions inherent in money, markets and states. Where do we start? Right here, right now.

  • Watch out, if RMS himself hears you, he'll remid you that he's not part of any open source projects, but he is involved in free software projects instead. There is a difference, and I think he's right too.

  • You're nuts if you think capitalism is about freedom of choice. The choice it presents to everyone is to work or starve. Choosing starvation is not much of a choice, and the alternative leaves you as a wage slave. The company that enslaves you in this manner, and the people who run it, are authoriatarian and do not present you with a choice either. You either follow theirs orders without question, or you don't keep the job.

    Where's the freedom? Where's the choice?

  • Stallman's. Bruce Perens originated The Open Source Defnition. Stallman has been prepared to say that the OSD does capture the spirit of free software, but that he's still unhappy to lose the focus on freedom. The focus of the term open source is more about how to build a business model, so that corporations will be more ready to accept the software.

    I agree with Stallman on this too.

  • Free as in beer.

    I'd be curious as to what kind of projects the government would pay to have developed. Would they really pay to have things like a Linux kernel and Apache worked on? If every developer on these projects got a reasonable salary for their work, these would quickly turn into extremely expensive projects. This kind of thing doesn't strike me as something tax dollars should be spent on. Maybe I'm missing something here.

  • Communism is basically the idea that the workers should control the means of production. FreeDevelopers.net is therefore a much more 'communistic' company than managed software companies.

    BTW, don't let the claims made by the authoritarian governments of China and the USSR mislead you; they have even less to do with communism than our government has to do with capitalism. There's an interesting interview with Noam Chomsky on this topic here. [everything2.com]

  • No! It's very different. If you select people this way, it may work just fine, as it does in many companies. However, when you select decisions using democracy, you're, IMHO, pretty much fucked.
  • At the Free Information Ecology Conference [nyu.edu] earlier this year, I saw rms give his usual history of software from the gnu perspective speech.

    It had all the usual rms fireworks. During Eben Moglen introduction, rms started screaming, "Will you stop it! Why don't you go take your cell phone and call someone who cares!" An 1 hr 15 min.s into his 45 minute time slot and still taking about the early 1980's, Yochai Benkler (the conference organizer) started to signal with his hands that the time was up. To which, rms yelled, "Are you kidding me? I'm not even halfway done yet!" Needless to say, his speech was entertaining, informative and one-sided.

    Ok, but that's not the point. At this conference, I asked him, "If accept you're notion of freedom, isn't there still a problem with deciding which non-compatable patches and standards to use? How does free software address the issue of control of the agenda?" To which he replied (and I'm paraphrasing here), "There is no agenda in free software! There is only one right way to do things!"

    Well, I'm glad to see that he has joined on with a group that understands this problem and wants to address it democratically. I'll be really interested to see if they can pull it off credibly.

  • First, RMS didnt write the first Open Source project, And second, RMS is not, never has been, and will not be a Open Source person, he is a Free Software person. And i really dont belive that RMS
    wrote the first "free/open" project, he started the Free Software movement, but free (as in speech)has been around for a long long long time.

  • True democracies are inherently flawed - that's why America is a Republic. The Electoral College insulates against the tyranny of the majority and also forces the government to be broader, instead of focusing on the needs of a few concentrated population centers. That's also why we have a Senate to balance the House.

    If this guy really was inspired by the US Capitol, maybe he should set up a similar scheme, perhaps called the Electoral Coders? and what about a SeNet?

  • grrr, accidentally mismoderated a post, so I'm posting to undo it.
  • Even if the business model can work in the long term (ie profit is made with support, services, and other specific developments on order), which is highly questionable, I wonder if they can raise enough money to start. It seems that they're currently broke, and they haven't attracted many investors (who, if they expect short term profites, will screw up the project anyway). So how will they fund all their developpers? Vapor long-term stock options? Doubtful.
  • A person who works coding for 60hrs a week may be doing it for fun. It still makes sense to pay all the coders the same in such a company because its the most fair. If enough of them feel that a given coder is not devoting enough time to his work- they could vote him out of the company. To make decisions about who should be hired or fired there should be a personnel commitee who are elected from the set of coders.

    Where there may be issues with pay would be the unglamorous non-hobbylike jobs such as manning a tech support line or something. Those could either be farmed out to traditional firms or taken on as bonus pay by someone from the main group. Also emergency overtime paid for by clients could be easily tacked onto the base pay as a bonus. But voluntary long hours dont call for anything special. There should really be no set standard hours- perhaps just a weekly minimum of time spent on work related issues (30 hrs?).

    Also there should be annual bonus awards- where the entire group votes on those project groups most deserving of a reward bonus. These could stand as extra incentives. the main incentive is of course the freedom. Anycoder getting base pay can work on any project he likes- so long as the main group thinks it is not total garbage. This gives an idividual freedom to do their hobby for a living. If they are ambitious they could seek out menial duties for extra pay (taking on support duties, writing docs, sysadminning) or seek sitation awards for excellence, or perhaps they could go for recognition by joining on of the steering commitees.

  • I assume that you are talking about the recent election here in America. But the thing you forget is that America!=democracy America==republic. Simple fact the system is working exactly as it was designed it was just not designed to do what many people thought it was designed to do. Nothing to see here move along.
  • This is kind of OT but would someone please tell me how the above is a troll? I never really bought into the moderators on crack theory before but I'm starting to get think maybe there is something to it now.
  • A company where nobody is empowered to make leadership decisoins? I can't wait to see them vote themselves into bankruptcy. They'll self-destruct very quickly; its these romantic notions that call into question the legitimacy of the whole open source movement.
  • This ballot is too confusing. How about:

    A) 1 year B) 2 months

    C) Pat Buchanan D) 2-3 weeks

    E) 5 days F) tomorrow

    G) 10 minutes from now H) yesterday

  • The preceding comment is actually funnier when you realize I pressed Submit when I meant to hit Preview. It also doesn't help that I'm in Florida.
  • Didn't you hear? McDonalds was giving a free world away in every Happy Meal.

    (Now there's a thought. Get a burger chain to give away free Deb CDs in their kids meals... :D)

  • The concept reminds me a lot of the Java Bug Parade; bugs are submitted, then users can vote (repeatedly, mind you) for bugs that they feel are most important. Unfortunately, you then see a lot of biasing of which bugs are more important that others, sometimes the bugs aren't really bugs at all. A good example was the 'bug' for the lack of Java support on Linux. Tons of votes, and eventually we got something, but it took them about 6 months to deal with that. But usually what happens is that bugs that are going to be more apparent at the client end of a program (visual UI, calculations, performance) will be voted more highly than more severe bugs relating to security, privacy, and robustness, which are generally the last thing clients of java programs care about.

    Having seen a lot of software projects, there definitely does need to be a heirarhcy of leadership, such that the person(s) at the top have a focused goal and thus can reject ideas that general users may supply that are impractical to the project (like a breakout game in a office suite, for example). Maybe if, prior to allowing the voting of new suggestions, those suggestions are weeded out of things that are just not needed, so that only ideas that are closely related to the project goals are voted for. Those that do the weeding, of course, would have to be selected somehow as well.

    But I know it's been said here before : most OSS projects live or die by how it's managed. I can't see a purely democratic management style producing something as fine-tuned as classic OSS projects.

  • ...and it's -potentially- a workable business model for GPL'd software.

    Consider: Under the GPL, you really can't sell software the way it is typically sold now. You simply can't sell permission to use software that's freely licensed for everyone's use; that just makes no sense.

    But the Open-Source model does have two rather serious flaws. First, overall development times tend to be slow, even though individual bugfix and security issue times are very fast. Second, Open-Source software "naturally" evolves, but this means there's no reliable way to control that evolution. We've seen both of these flaws illustrated to dramatic effect with Mozilla, with its very long development time and bloa^H^H^H^Hfeatureset that practically rivals Emacs.

    However, those two flaws allow serious money to be made in consulting. In the case of development times, a consultant being paid to work full-time on a piece of software will generally get the job done much more quickly than ten people working in their spare time. We've seen this with Perl6 development. In the case of feature development, it allows a company to ensure that the features they need are incorporated into existing software. This is something we haven't really seen yet, but it can easily be extrapolated from the first possibility.

    In the end, it's like using FedEx as opposed to the standard mail systems. Standard mail tends to be much cheaper, but FedEx will get there faster, and it's more reliable. If this model works for sending packages, why wouldn't it work for software?
  • ...we don't live in that world.

    I rather think we do. THe world is littered with examples of worker and democratically controlled enterprises. They ar ewidely recognised to have a higher success rate than normal businessess because of the involvement they promote. Co-operative's have a history that stretches back more than 150 years, there are 749,000 of them worldwide and they represent nearly 725 million members (and now thier own TLD)

    And where did it suggest that every part of the developemnt process was going to be put to the vote?

    Paul M

    "There are no innocent bystanders. What where they doing there in the first place"

  • Mondragón Corporación Cooperativa [www.mcc.es] is a group of big and small cooperatives in Spain. It includes many types of heavy and light industries, banks, travel agencies, hypermarkets, a university and schools. The region where they are concentrated has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Spain.

    Some of the cooperatives are "pure" and others are "second-level", the members are other cooperatives.

    Some of them were previously capitalistic small firms that couldn't stand the crisis. The workers got help from MCC and rescued the business.

    If you are concerned about competitiveness, think who will be more dedicated to the work, a wage slave or one of the coowners of the business.
  • I propose a fix to the karma system so that only people with a karma level above some set level (like maybe even just 5 points) can post links (or HTML at all to keep it simple).

    This is a great idea. After all, the big justification for AC's is to allow people who truly need to be anonymous to post. This doesn't meaningfully restrict that, but it would cut down significantly on a certain category of mindless trolling.

  • A bigger justification is that arguments that depend upon the identity of their author are inherently weak, and that people who don't judge ideas on their own merits shouldn't waste their time on reading.

    That's inherently weak itself. I don't think that arguments should necessarily be evaluated depending on the identity of the author, although being able to identify authors can be very helpful contextually. In fact, your argument falls down in the very area I'm talking about: when reading an AC's message, one has to rely on cues other than identity to tell whether the author is likely to be serious or just trolling/flamebaiting.

    Besides, in general, dialogs with ACs are unrewarding - it's difficult for ACs to tell when their messages have been replied to. I don't usually reply to ACs, and I see others advocate not doing so. Unless you're a Chinese mole working deep in the NSA, if you want anonymity just get yourself an anonymous, free web email account and create a Slashdot login called "ParanoidElf" or something.

    We need P and EM and UL/OL/LI to make ourselves fully understood without resorting to pointlessly obscure textual conventions *like this*.

    We meaning trolls, or we meaning ACs? ;)

    I sometimes use *this* even in HTML messages, I don't think it's so bad.

    Having zero barriers to entry results in a not-insignificant class of messages which don't add anything meaningful, and in fact actively attempt to disrupt things. I've never been in favor of eliminating Anonymous Cowards, but I think this minor restriction would be an improvement, at little cost.

  • I presume its going to make its money from supporting the said software.

    It said in the article that the company is going to bid on government projects, but if all the government has to do is get one copy of the GPL software which it can then freely distribute according to the GPL, then isn't the revenue stream of the company going to be a bit limited ?

  • Though I think this idea has elements of loopiness (a technical term) in it, I will have to disagree with you. This is a mischaracterization.

    There are two ways that a company can earn revenues off of development. One is to develop a product and sell it. For Open Source Software (Free Software for those of you in Rio Linda), this is not a viable business model. If this was their business model, you would be correct. However, there is another way to earn revenues off of development. And that is contracting out development services.

    Someone needs something developed, they go to a developer to create it. This group can make good money in this are if they get a good reputation. To answer you question, the government would be wrong to pay for pre-existing Open Source software. But if the the software they needed did not exist, paying for it is the only way they're going to get it. I'm not expecting the government (or anyone else) to buy Ada compilers from this group. That would be stupid. However, paying them to port legacy software to Ada would be a different thing.

    The big difference between the product-model and the contract-model, is that in the former the developer creates a product and searches for a customer and in the latter the customer needs a product and searches for the developer. Both models are needed in the real world of commercial software, which is why a completely Open Source world isn't realistic.
  • Every implementation of communism or socialism beyond the small group level requires people to be forced to things. But every proponent of communism or socialism (who uses those words) advocates those systems on at least a regional or national level.

    What if someone decides that they don't want to be "co-owner"? What if a group wants to set up a market to sell their produce at instead of handing over to the "gatherers and sharers"? Ultimately, communism (and socialism) needs to force people to act against their human nature. That's why the only communism that has ever worked has been at a small and voluntary level. It takes authoritarian means to expand it beyond the group of volunteers sharing their stuff.

    This is also the reason why the Free Software Movement(tm) of the FSF has worked: it's voluntary. It's also why the goal of 100% Free Software will never work. There will always be people who don't want to release their stuff as Free Software, and if you force them, you twist the meaning of "Free" into a cruel parody of Orwell.
  • This isn't anything new (look up anarcho-sydicalism), there are cooperatives now and ususally they outperform corporations, and their employees are a hell of a lot happier.

    But even there they have bosses. They're just hired by the employees instead of the board of directors.
  • coercion stops you simply emptying a bank vault, or driving off with that Porsche

    Since communists do not believe in private property, let me define coercion in property-less terms. Coercion is the invasion of another person's personal domain of control without their permission. Thus, striking someone's nose with your fist is coercion, because the nose belongs in their domain of control. You can hit your own nose as often as you want.

    In the case of the Porsche, the coercion is the use of the vehicle without authorization of the person who controls it. There are many systems for determining who controls an object (who is the owner). Though most systems use force to protect these controls, not all force is coercion. Only the initiation of force is coercion. Of the communist societies that have existed in history, all of them have reserved the ownership of all property to the state (though they have not always exercised that reservation). Most times this exercise of control has come down to declaring with the barrel of a gun that "what is under your domain of control now belongs to the state, because we say so".
  • you are making the unwarranted and fatal assumption that 'property' is simply something natural, that arises quite unproblematically between individuals (a la Locke) without the application of state force.

    It's the only assumption that I can make. Because the only property-less or communal-property systems I have ever seen have been either small voluntary groups are large state tyrannies.

  • Sure, like this will work. We'll just wind up squabbling in court about poor voting ballot layouts and mis-counted votes. Nothing will ever get voted in!

  • This is just Rob being political again! I say it's a Republican company! So there!


  • > Try to think instead of believing what you are told.

    I actually laughed out loud when I read this!

    If anyone who knew me heard anyone telling me that they would be amazed also.

    I am a sceptical scientifically minded person who takes nobodys word for anything. Paranoid, I have been called, arkward, contrary, but never that I just "believe what I am told"

    That I believe strongly in capitalism surprises some people. Perhaps it's because they think my beliefs come from wanting to be different. They are mistaken. My beliefs come from knowing for a fact that there are very few questions to which there is a single correct answer from which a controlling government can decide policy. I believe that any succesful governmental system must recognise that and thus not try to find one. The only way that can happen is by giving all the power to the ppl themselves to distribute amongst themselves the way they see fit. There are 2 ways to do this IMO. capitalism (_without_ the current interventionist bullshit govermnent) and anarchy.

    Oh, how I wish there were another.

    BTW, Capitalism will always fool the short sighted into believing that is is "unfair" or doesn't work somehow. They will see the truth once (if/when) bullying goverments get out of the way and ppl are taught how to use their power to eliminate over-powerful compaines that the governments helped to create.
  • For an example of a large employee-owned company, check out:

    HyVee [hyvee.com], a large midwestern grocery store chain. Although it is run in a more authoritaian manner, all of the employees are actual owners of the chain (even part-timer baggers and shelf stockers), with shareholder rights and all of the other usual privleges. As can be expected, managers are employees who have been around awhile (since the number of shares is proportional to the length of employement). Decisions regarding what items the chain will be selling is made up of a committee of managers from several stores. If a manager is incompotent or rather unpopular, there is a very real danger of having the manager fired simply because the shareholders (= the employees) don't want him to be there.

    Some side benefits are that the stores tend to not be unionized (even in strong labor union areas of the midwest--- where grocery stores tend to have a lot of union workers), have relatively low turnover of employees, and a great deal of internal promotion rather than outside hiring.
  • Comparing it to how some states (or at least Oregon) votes, how does something get put on the ballot even before it can be voted on? Someone gathers signatures? Or a pre-vote? Otherwise there could be hundreds of bugs, feature requests, etc that end up on the ballot. There will still have to be some higher power or gatekeeper deciding on what gets voted on.

  • In the mid80s I attempted to set up a bottom-up representative computer network development company [thinkofit.com] and spent thousands on lawyers trying to figure out how to avoid problems with the SEC. Althought there were other problems with implementing this idea, I eventually came to the conclusion that in order to do it without undue government harrassment, one might either have to bring down civilization as we know it, or acquire political authority over the SEC.

    This idea was based in part on a vision I wrote up in a 1982 white paper [geocities.com] when I was "Manager of Interactive Architectures" at a major videotex startup -- some of the ideas for which are starting to take shape, such as an implementation of a more flexible voting scheme [brumleve.com].

    Back in the common law days, if the laws weren't simple enough for the common man to remember, they were discarded, primarily via jury nullifcation (yes, not only did they have juries back then, but juries originated among the "pagans" who didn't particularly like one guy from somewhere else telling them how to run their communities). Then the lawyers took over and made laws so complex you couldn't operate as a competent adult unless you had a law degree. Then the laws got so complex not even law degree qualified you to operate as a full citizen. Then things got _really_ corrupt, and you have to have been a political appointee to a Federal bureaucracy like the SEC, in order to just go do something that appears a bit out of the ordinary.

    It looks like being a former head of the SEC, while it wasn't absolutely necessary to try the experiment in GPL software organization, was most definitely helpful in avoding the Fear Uncertainty and Doubt factors that accompanied my attempts to placate such fears with lawyers fees 15 years ago.

    Having looked at the problems with my original ideas, I'm quite skeptical of the approach these guys are taking -- particularly focusing as they are on government contracting -- although I suppose this is consistent with their drawing an analogy to the kibutzim. The kibutzim received a lot of help from the Israeli government.

  • I guess Mr. Tony Stanco has read The business from Iain Banks. In this book Banks develop the idea of a large and secretive company where people at every step of the corporate ladder are elected by the people just below them.

    I hope for them that they won't have an office in Paml Beach though!

  • Since not all people are good, as has been pointed out as a reason that this will fail by other commentators here, you'd figure that some sort of compromise could be reached. Electoral college, anyone?
  • As a person who has seen Debian work from the inside (I am a debian developer), I would like to disagree with your assessment of why it works or doesn't.

    The reason it works, imho is that democracy is used where it is needed, and not used where it isn't. It is used to make changes to policy, and settle important disputes that effect all of debian. It is used for "big picture stuff".

    At the same time, each developer is like a "king" when it comes to the packages that he owns. As the xfstt maintainer, I can completely fork xfstt for debian (not that I would, I am the upstream maintainer now too; something I should devote some time too very soon now that my life is settling down).

    Its the balance of using democracy for big picture stuff and allowing discourse between the developers to solve the technical issues. (actually in the past it wasn't a democracy for big picture stuff).

  • Could you offer some examples of these cooperatives that are outperforming other corporations? I look at the Fortune 500 and feel pretty confident none of them are cooperative work environments.
    Here's two:
    • Puget Consumers Coop: highest retail sales per square foot in the Seattle area
    • REI: largest member owned coop; dominates sales of outdoor recreation gear in every market where it has a store
    Both of these are member owned, not employee owned, however.
  • Comparing it to how some states (or at least Oregon) votes, how does something get put on the ballot even before it can be voted on?

    It depends on the size of the company. By roberts rules, generaly one person makes a motion, and the chair/parlimentarian/whatever asks for a second (or two). If the required second(s) are given, then the motion is discussed. there is then a motion to vote, or a motion to table. There is a heirarchy in this process, even in non-heirarchical organizations. More expereinced, respected people will make motions out of the blue, and they are usually seconded for discussion as a matter of course. A newer member who had something they wanted to bring up would informally talk it arround to make sure there were at least a couple of other people who thought it would be worthwhile.

    Its interesting that non-profits often work this way while "money-making" companies don't. I put money-making in quotes because non-profits regularly launch sucessful bids to make money, its just that the goal of that money is not to simply accumulate or pad some CEO's salery. So a collective company could simply manage itself as a non-profit organization whose overall goal was to provide a good standard of living for the members.

    -Kahuna Burger

  • That's of course why Holland has the fourth largest banking sector in the world despite only having 7 million people living there. Holland is the perfect example of a country run for it's people rather than the profit of a few old men. Probably not having to fork out for unnecessary nuclear weapons helps as well.
  • I thought the US government focussed primarily on the needs of those who were paying them the most.
    If true democracy doesn't work and a republic does, why are there far fewer people begging on the streets of Amsterdam than Washington. America may have the wealthiest people in the world, but they also have the highest poverty rate in the first world too.
  • Nope I'm not wrong. Think about it the fine folks at Debian take packages (many of them have written those same packages) and integrate it into a OS (the kernel tools and over 3k packages last I looked, along with an installer and a *sweet* package system) How is this so different from what these people are talking about. The Debian folks decide on features that they want to include (what packages are installed by default, what packages are ported, how things are set up by default, how they want the installer to work, package management stuff) and then they decide how this should all be done when it is done etc. Sounds like what most managers at software companies do to me. Simple fact coding is best done by one person or at most very small groups. It is then up to another group on how to put all the little parts together and make them work. Much like well Debian. They take a bunch of little bits that where written by other people. Think about it how sexy are install disks or a partition program and yet somehow it all gets done and done well. The simple fact is these are craftsmen (people, women, beings) they do the boring stuff because it needs to be done to make the sexy stuff work. In other words the Debian example is perfect the decisions aobut how to code are still going to made at the same level they have always been made in almost every software project ever. By the coder. The decisions about what to code, which in the end boil down to what features you want to include and making all of the little bits work together will be being made in the same way Debian makes those same decisions.
  • I wrote "In other words the Debian example is perfect the decisions aobut how to code are still going to made at the same level they have always been made in almost every software project ever. By the coder." I pretty sure this clearly states that I do understand that the decisions about how to implement something is in fact made by the coder(s) usually one or two people with complete control that really is the only way to do it it is a creative process after all. And then you are right all of the big decisions are made by voting. This is what I said. The decision to include say for a random example, xfstt, is made in a democratic matter and then, because it is really the only way it can be done, the decisions about how to implement xfstt are made by you the maintainer. Now you say you could fork it for Debian if you wanted to. I'm sure you could. I'm also sure if you don't have a very good reason that can be explained to alot of other people you would find your CVS rights gone. I could be wrong on this please educate me if I am. I think if you reread my post and enage the sacrasm filter you will find that we agree. Debian works because the decisions about what to do. Include package x, y, and z etc etc are made by a vote. Then the decision about how to implement those decisions are made by the coders who in the end are responsible to the people who have made the decision about what to do. The great thing about democracy is that when you are one of the people who makes the decisions about what to do you are going to want to really try and make it work.
  • You are 100 percent right democratic software development can not happen. I'm feeling kind of sad that I'm going to have to go tell my Debian servers that they don't exist and that I'm going to have to tell my Debian box at home (That I just got x 4.0 to work on) that it can't exist in the real world either. Mainly because you are right no one will do the boring stuff and it just can't happen because of course democracy==communism. Yup that was a very smart comment sir. Thank you for showing me the way.
  • Stanco - the name sounds familiar ....

    Let me think ....

    Let me think ....

    Wasn't he associated with ...?

    No! Wait!

    I got it wrong.

    I was thinking of the RONCO company, the makers of all of those wonderfully cheap infomercial gadgets.

    Nothing to do with this at all

    Nothing to do with this at all


  • Could you offer some examples of these cooperatives that are outperforming other corporations? I look at the Fortune 500 and feel pretty confident none of them are cooperative work environments.

    The Mondragon Cooperative (a very large one) is a famous example, there are others. Give me your mail and I can send you some more detailed info. There aren't any coops in the F500 because there aren't any that large ... hell, do we really need corporations that large? The only thing most corporations that large do is remove local business opportunities for people and flood communities with shit jobs (e.g., Wal-Mart, Pepsico, et. al.) The coutry has turned into a minimum wage cesspool due to this.

    The idea that a democrtically run enterprise is less efficient than a hierarchical one is a myth. The reason business people hate co-ops and unions is not because they're less efficient, it's because they lose control.


  • I've never worked in a Code Shop so I cannot speak to the methodology. I am not advocating pure assembly line mentality. I was only stating that the assembly line is the Authoritarian's idea of an ideal.

    Marx even commented, similar to your comment, that a worker caught in the assembly line mentality soon becomes disconnected from the actually work being done. If it is the worker's job to code the drivers for the HP printer set and that is all the worker does, the first few will be perfect, the last few will suck.

    Automobile manufacturers realized this and now cross-train their workers to do several jobs. The ideal for the best built product is to have one craftsman work on it from start to finish. But rarely can the price of the product match the cost of making it. The solution in those cases is to create teams. The team methodology of development, I believe, is the best model for software creation.

    The team can divide the labor within the team as it sees fit, but the directive of action comes from outside the team. This goes to your Effective argument. Within the military, this effictiveness can be seen with A-Team's (not the show, but the covert behind enemy line squads). They are given a mission and then they decide how to accomplish it.

    It isn't democracy in the pure sense, but makes sure the overall goals are being accomplished while giving the maximum freedom to the worker. Whether or not the team has a 'leader' is up to the team, but at the end of the day, the work needs to be done.

  • If users could vote, we'd have the most bloated software known to mankind. A majority of the users will always want the Swiss Army knife over the large set of quality tools.

    This ties in to the dilemma between developers and marketers. Marketers don't understand why your Word Processor shouldn't also be your email client, so when a user suggests it, the Marketers run back to the developers with this brilliant new idea. At least in current models, the developers have a chance to nix the idea. In a model where the user dictates completely . . . we have programs that crash constently. Oh wait. . . we do already.

  • This isn't anything new (look up anarcho-sydicalism), there are cooperatives now and ususally they outperform corporations, and their employees are a hell of a lot happier.
    Could you offer some examples of these cooperatives that are outperforming other corporations? I look at the Fortune 500 and feel pretty confident none of them are cooperative work environments.

    As a 'right-sized' business, as discussed in the latest issue of the Utne Reader [utne.com], maybe a cooperative will work. But I don't think it would ever be considered an unqualified success. The 'democracy' of the marketplace is supposed to come in through the stock market. Which, we all know has nothing to do with democracy but the aforementioned plutocracy.

    The American bashing, I believe, is unwarranted. Americans are idealistic about their(our) government because it does work and has brought us from a piss-poor ragatag collection of seperate interests to _the_ dominant world power. Now, all this may crumble (history tells us all empires fall) but what has brought us to this point is our idealism that we have a superior form of government, and political philosophers tend to agree that liberal democracies are the best way to run governments as it does strip out the tyranny of the few and the tyranny of the masses.

  • Actually, this is also false. Capitalism is a vague term which is often abused. Personally, I think capitalism can save the world, right all wrongs, and do wonders for clearing up unsightly blemishes due to adult acne. The problems are not in the vague sense that capital is required to have a business, this is a basic rule of an industrial society-- that some sort of pooled resource (like a factory or a restaurant) is required to be used by multiple workers to produce goods or services more efficiently than those same individuals might do that work on their own, using only the resources they own personally.

    Whether the shared resources belong to the state/society (socialism), to the community (communism), to no one in particular (anarchism), or to a group of owners (capitalism) is relatively uninteresting. The first three systems are fairly inclusive and basically everyone in the group is an owner. The fun part for those systems then gets to be about how to pick managers, since I think we'd all agree that if everybody in a factory wanted to do the same job, or if everyone in a restaurant wanted to wash dishes, that the shared resource would largely go wasted or be used inefficiently. So do we use consensus decision making at the community level? Do we have dictators who appoint managers? Do we hold elections for representatives who select managers as a group? In all, it becomes about this process which determines the nature of that society.

    But with capitalism, the owners (literally shareholders) of the shared resource pick the managers. If you have a single shareholder (like a sole proprietorship) or a few select shareholders (like a family business), this management selection process is fairly skewed in favor of what those people want, and may or may not benefit workers. Also the rewards of the company's success go primarily to the owners, and the smaller that group is, the fewer people who benefit by default. However, there is nothing to prevent unions or other employee groups from demanding shares in companies as a condition of employment. Indeed, many of the larger companies now have efforts to make more employees shareholders. The only downside is that the number of shareholders in these companies makes that portion owned by the workers usually seem insignificant. But, again, there is nothing to prevent workers from accumulating capital in the business they work for. Indeed, if more workers did this, and then paid close attention to how they voted their shares, the nature of capitalism in the US would change dramatically. You would see the workers becoming the owners, and they would choose their managers, and they benefit from corporate success.
  • A company of free developers by free developers, for a free world

    Theres a free world? Why wasn't I told?
  • the end result is a dehumanizing assembly line which is the most efficient method

    I've never seen an assembly line produce code that actually works. Your argument is flawed by something critical: efficiency works on machines and things, but only effectiveness works on people. Programmers who are responsible for a project and are able to put in serious time into a project but have some standards (i.e. checks and balances) that they must follow to continue to be paid, will be far more effective than assembly line programmers. Give someone the same task day after day after day and they may get very good at it but they'll also get very bored by it, which causes job dissatisfaction and a loss of effectiveness. Result? Bad code, bad programs, and slow response time.

    I think this could work. It needs a few things to make it work:

    • The programmers need to be compensated so that they can put their effort into this rather than working for another company and doing this on the side.
    • The company needs to get a base of workers intelligent enough to recognize who make good leaders and pick them. This is the part of democracy that countries lack. Organizations can, however, get this (hopefully).
    • Damn, I had other thoughts, but I can't remember them. Hey, I'll tell the FreeDev people instead of you! Hah!
  • Democratic software development won't work. The problem is that is the developers are put in charge, they will add endless k001 features that the great majority of normal users will neither want nor care about. Software developers greatly overestimate the intelligence of the average computer user, so you need a strong 'Gatesian' hand, if you will, to force them to develop for the user, and not for each other.

    KTB:Lover, Poet, Artiste, Aesthete, Programmer.

  • Democracy in business is a fine idea, but it doesn't necessarily equal success. A perfect example is the turnaround that Apple has experience under Steve Jobs. Jobs did a lot of things that upset the rank-and-file at Apple. No one thought that pulling the clone-makers' licenses was a good idea. Yet, here we are, and Jobs is looking pretty smart. Most of his decisions never would have survived a majority vote. Businesses need leaders who can make tough decisions; democracy does not encourage people to stand up for those decisions, lest the be voted out of importance.
  • by mahlen ( 6997 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @06:43AM (#618223) Homepage
    When I was at UC Berkeley in the late 1980's, there was a company in Berkeley called Mt Xinu (read it backwards) doing Unix software development. They were a full-on collective of, I think, around 40 people or so, making decisions and sharing ownership in much the way discussed here. They were quite successful in it's time, although I don't know where they are now (of course, the software market has changed quite a bit since then. I was working for the Computer Systems Research Group at UCB, the team that developed BSD Unix then, and Mt Xinu were in fact the first people in the world to take delivery of BSD 4.3 in the summer of 1986 (I think Mt Xinu's founders were friends of CSRG members).

    So, be careful when you go around waving that 'first' sign, folks, or cranky old-timers like me will complain! :) There are, at least here in California, quite a few successful collectively run companies.


    My old mother...always says, my lord, that facts are like cows. If you look them in the face hard enough they generally run away. She is a very
    courageous woman, my lord.
    --Mervyn Bunter, "Clouds of Witness" by Dorothy Sayers
  • by kaisyain ( 15013 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @05:49AM (#618224)
    I worked for a very small company where we did the same thing. Guess we weren't smart enough to have our massive PR machine brainwash the world that we were doing something revolutionary. Probably because we didn't think we were. I'm sure other companies have done the same thing. They just didn't earn the endorsement of RMS and the FSF...whatever that's supposed to mean.
  • by schporto ( 20516 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @06:30AM (#618225) Homepage
    I agree but I think you miss one point. Programmers are doing stuff for free now. The thing is they're tending to do what they want not what other's want. So if we make it democratic then a programmer who wants to code a SCSI driver for his old machine, might instead be told no that's not important the people want you to work on USB support. The programmer doesn't have USB on his machine, so instead quits the group. This could be a downside to this idea. I think.
  • by LHOOQtius_ov_Borg ( 73817 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @08:09AM (#618226)
    Indeed. The idea of a truly democratic company is noble, idealistic... and unrealistic...

    Successful projects are driven by strong leadership, even "cults of personality." FDR was the closest thing the US has had to a king, and one of its most successful builders. Microsoft is the Bill Gates (or Bill Gates / Steve Ballmer) cult. Sun's vision comes from Scott McNealy and Bill Joy. Let me point out that even non-commercial open-software groups follow this trait. When you think of Linux, does a particular person come to mind? GNU? Perl?

    The developers involved in these projects choose what to work on, but they choose it from among the things that the managers (volunteer or paid) put into the engineering plan, and they tend to conform to the vision of the leading visionary/ies of the project.

    Companies also need strong leadership - they are dictatorships, though the best ones are "enlightened dictatorships" which give some of the dictatorial powers to different people in the organization through meritocratic appointments. The bland, ruthless bureaucracy promoted by this poster is also inefficient for reasons of low worker morale and high turnover.

    Look at "poster boy" companies like Saturn or SAP: workers get some say in their work through merit gaining them say, pay is equitable but not equal, people are treated well, creativity is encouraged - but at the end of the day there are managers who manage, and a single vision handed down by the leaders which everyone is expected to work towards.

    Letting developers vote on their projects also won't lead to a market-driven product that will sell (though not only developers make those mistakes :-) Market surveys are not democracy, they are an attempt to judge the trends and moods of the buying public so that the leaders of the corporation can figure out how to manipulate it in best accordance with their vision. Do not confuse being asked your opinion with having a say in the outcome.

    An enlightened dictatorship is the best way to run a company. People need leadership, markets value stability (electing a new corporate president every 4 years would spook investors), and a collective rarely - if ever - has the vision to inspire innovation (though having a lot of smart, creative people around to translate that vision into a reality is a necessity for a truly exceptional business).

    Being a member of the executive committee of a company, I can assure you that consensus decision making is inefficient, indeed prone to deadlock, and that given the necessity of a business to move quickly, respond to markets, present a coherent image to clients, and other things that a non-commercial entity may not need to do... even in committees what generally winds up happening is that the most powerful executive prevails and thus "it" is done...

    True democracy is rare in government, even rarer in business... not everyone can, or wants to, be the boss. Decisions aren't easy.

    I wish true democracy did work for running a business, it is a great ideal. However, if you want to actually get anything done, someone still needs to have executive power, veto power over any committee, and the vision to make a coherent group working towards a common goal out of a collection of individuals.
  • Quick post becuase I'm way tired and I don't want to make the S/N higher than it has to be:

    It is true that most large (i.e. n developers for n > 1 ;-) ) projects need coordination and leadership (c.f. the programmer team ``layout'' described in Fred Brook's _The Mythical Man Month_, probably the seminal text on SoftEng, whereby you have one head ``architect'', a ``junior architect'', a few ``toolsmiths'', and a bunch of ``implementers''). Initially, yes, a democracy may seem unworkable due to the communication overhead involved in reaching consensus on everything. However, the power of democracy may also be used within the organization to allocate positions of power to the most worthy candidates (Ms. X has the most design experience so she gets elected to the 6 mo term of ``Lead Architect and All Around Object Model Person'', etc), analogous to our meatspace political system, a government of the coders, for the coders, and by the coders.

    You could argue that this isn't pure democracy, and you'd be right. But a meritocracy / representative democracy would be a damn sight better than most of the slave pits I've coded in...

    As far as ``boring'' goes (maybe another comment, no sleep in 27 hours). well, yeah, but then you have the knowledge you're a) getting paid to do boring work, b) getting paid to code, which is better than working at McDonalds or some shit, and c) maybe making the world a better place in some small way by having your code out there to educate/inspire/etc/whatever another coder and/or by helping some suit appreciate the power of open source tools.


  • by MartinG ( 52587 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @05:45AM (#618228) Homepage Journal
    > This is another one of those ideas, like
    > Communism, which are only really going to work
    > in some mythical fairy-tale land where people
    > are good and work for the benefit of all.
    > Unfortunately, we don't live in that world.

    The difference here though, is that the only people in the system are those who chose to be in it. That's what makes it nothing whatsoever like communism or any other choice-free authoritarian system.

    This is about _choosing_ to do whats good for everyone, much like I do already in my spare time with open source software, and so do many others.

    Communism on the other hand is about forcing others to do things for the good of others whether they like it or not.

    In one system, you can be a hero and be happy to think you made good choices. In the other you are a slave and you get no choice at all.

  • by Luminous ( 192747 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @07:34AM (#618229) Journal
    The only reason democracy is around is to avoid a government that is tyrannical, but democracy doesn't make the trains run on time. Democracy is woofully inefficient, relying upon a method of gathering the will of the majority and translating that will into action.

    In a business, efficiency saves money, produces more, and earns more. While the end result is a dehumanizing assembly line which is the most efficient method, it also is the most authoritarian with each worker given a specific duty.

    Most corporations do include an element of democracy. It is called market surveys. Taking the governance philosophy of democracy and applying it to business is a recipe for a very flat bland business. That is one of the effects of democracy, it chops off the extremes. This is good when the extremes are the hyper-negative, but bad when the other extreme is genius.

    Some real considerations that should be made are in internal authority structures. We are locked into a hierarchical-pyramid authority structure. I'd like to see some experiments in other models.

  • by Jon Erikson ( 198204 ) on Friday November 17, 2000 @05:34AM (#618230)

    This is another one of those ideas, like Communism, which are only really going to work in some mythical fairy-tale land where people are good and work for the benefit of all. Unfortunately, we don't live in that world.

    There's a reason why all major open-source projects to date are controlled by a small number of people. It's because it becomes next to possible to get any real direction when you've got to pander to the masses. Instead, you end up with a series of watered-down proposals that offend nobody and excite even less people, and which will make FreeDevelopers.net a hugely dull company that goes nowhere.

    And of course there's the fact that the sort of thing which this company might end up being paid for is hugely boring, and open source doesn't do boring. There's no kudos in plugging away at an open source inventory program is there? It sounds far more 31337 to be a kernel hacker, and I can see people drifting away from this project as they get bored with it.

    Nice idea, but it's not going to happen. Democratic software development is an ideal that just won't be successfully implented ever.

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