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GNU is Not Unix

New Eric Raymond article on IntellectualCapital 61

coats writes "ESR has written a new article, "Open Source: Programming as if Quality Mattered" on the Internet politics-and-policy site Intellectual Capital. This article starts off with the Netscape OpenSource release, describes how it fits in with the way the Internet was built, mentions Linux, and then goes on to wonder whether staking the corporation on some one else's closed-source software is not the height of irresponsibility-- Let's say you are a chief technical officer (CTO) at a Fortune 500 company and you have just spent millions of dollars on a strategic business system with software you cannot see inside and cannot modify, software that depends on a single vendor to service. Now are those systems going to change to serve your business plan or your vendor's business plan? " While it does not say anything new, it's phrased more towards a business audience. The comment below it also gives an interesting perspective. In a related story, Recoil wrote in with this interview of ESR.
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New Eric Raymond article on IntellectualCapital

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  • Little children, cover your eyes, ESR is not worthy of the baby Gnu =)
  • Red Hat is privately held (and so doesn't post their profits), and doing quite well; Look at the new folks they've hired recently. Don't try to tell me a company about to go under would start something as long-term as RHAD.

    I've bought their boxed set before; I know other folks doing so now. Their new support deal with IBM promises to be quite profitable.

    Red Hat is an excellent example of how open source can be profitable, not the other way around.
  • by zerblat ( 785 )
    What does this have to do with GNU? Oh well...
  • You're argueing from the manufacturers perspective. Giving away something I can sell is generally not good for me. Open Source (and maybe even open processor design, who knows) works because the consumers have a different perspective.

    If I'm in the banking business, I generally have no interest in selling the software I develop in-house. My choices are 1/ keep it to myself so my competitors don't get it, 2/ share it so my competitors get it, but we all can improve on it.

    Traditionally most companies go with #1, but it's pretty obvious that #2 is better for banking as an industry (better return on investment - especially with the outrageous fees people like me charge for contract work).

    As soon as a few banks get together and produce a good open source product, the incentive to stick with option #1 dissappears - why spend lots of money to develop an inferior product? In that way Open Source is inevitable. Some day (maybe next year, maybe in twenty years) an Open Source banking product will come along. When it does, there will be no turning back for that market.

    The same thing applies almost anywhere. Shared development just makes too much sense. It just takes a few initial risk takers to get started (and some market segments are more averse to risk than others).
  • Here's an expansion of the comments I made on

    Eric Raymond says there are two styles of software distribution, "closed source" and "open source." He equivalences the latter with "the Internet engineering tradition" and says they are "fundamentally opposed styles of software development." I believe he is wrong. The world is not polarized into two camps; there are many intermediate forms.

    Consider a commerical product where customers get the software and are allowed to modify it but not redistribute the source or modifications. This can be loosened someone by allowing patches to be redistributed gratis to other licensed customers. In this case, the customer gets nearly all of the benefits of "open source" (peer review, a fallback path if the supplier stops working on the project, etc.) without the need for granting redistribution rights.

    I worked on one proprietary software package which was released with source code under a license similar to that I gave, so this does happen in real life.

    I see very, very few additional advantages to the *customer* between this model and the "open source" model advocated by Raymond. I have never heard him address the need for nor benefit of the redistribution requirement.

    On the argument he gave, that of a company which just spent several million on closed, propritary software. He forgot to mention that the normal solution to that problem is for the supplier to put the source code in escrow. If the supplier goes out of business or can no longer provide support or revisions, the customer gets the source code. This is standard.

    Finally, he omits to mention that some "closed source" software has been found to be of very high quality. There's a very famous study of the quality of the space shuttle avionics code. As I recall, there was one problem found in the integration level, and it wasn't serious enough to affect the mission. The problem is this sort of code review is very, very expensive. I believe it was in the many hundreds of dollars per line of code.

  • One of the comment-posters (whose name and E-mail address I will not post so that he doesn't get flamed) said the following:

    In an open-source environment you will never be paid for your intellectual property. If you manage to create an exciting new feature, or discover a way to increase performance by 50%, you'll never see the rewards of it. Your competitors will take the code you created, and put it into their products. Suddenly your hard work is helping your competitors to beat you in the marketplace. Open source sounds good on paper, but the only way you'll make money at it is in customer support. Because if you come up with anything exciting and new, everyone of your competitors will take it from you and you'll never see a dime from it except from your autobiography. No one is going to get rich making open source software.

    Now I know this is one of the classic arguments against Free software, but it seems pretty accurate to me. I realize this guy is coming to software from a businessman's prespective instead of a hacker's perspective (i.e., "How can I make money from this? instead of "How can I make something useful?"). But he *has* hit on one of the fundamental driving forces behind Free software: to eventually replace all proprietary software with Free software. This is RMS's vision, and as more and more really *good* Free software gets written, more and more people will begin to realize the potential for that vision to be fulfilled. As that happens, we're going to get more and more hostility from software companies who don't want to shift their primary business focus to something else (like support, for example). So I ask: does anyone have a good response to this argument? I'm looking for something that will sound good to a businessperson, not just to a hacker. Something to persuade them that there might not be much money in Free software (or Open Source software, as they will be calling it), but that's not the point: the point is to make computers more reliable.

    Anyway, I'd like to hear how you would respond to this guy's argument.

  • So if your vendor isn't responsive, you get a new vendor.

    If you're unhappy with a problem in a closed software product, switching vendors isn't as easy as it sounds. Data files created by closed software products are often incompatible with software from other vendors. In order to change vendors, money would need to be spent to convert the data to the new format. Then more money would need to be spent to purchase the new software. Any money spent on the old software would be lost.

    With Open Source software products, it's easy to move to a better vendor and continue using the same software and the same data files. No money must be spent to convert the old data files, and the money spent to aquire the old software is not wasted.

  • Right off the bat one of ESR's claims is rather dubious. He claims that all the Internet core software is open source and subject to peer evaluation. Where it is not, it falls down and fails.

    That's rather naive. A large number of the major players are not open source, including most of the commerce web servers built upon Netscape, etc. Along with web search engines, email systems like hotmail, etc.

    But more important, I was not aware that Cisco and the other router vendors had made their internal software open source.

    And it's the routers and other data communications equipment which is the core of the internet.

    Some interesting points made, but I certainly don't think he's proven any of them.
  • That is infeasible. The company just spent millions. Are you suggesting that they toss that and spend MORE millions. No way. They've just been locked into the vendor's business plan until their future expected losses exceeds the costs of changing solutions (in terms of software, training, support, etc).

    Eric's comment stands. Yours doesn't :-)
  • What portion of people who currently have a job working with computers are working on a software program which is intented to be sold as a product?

    Personally, the work I do is already a service, not a product. My job title is Programmer/Analyist, but really, I do systems administrator, web development, database administration, network management, help desk type services....

    If I release every bit of code I every write, I still provide a service. They still need me. So I'm not threatened by Open Source.

    So, first, destingish between service and product.

    Now, people working for a software house, on a program which is intended to go to market, they might think they should be threatened by Open Source.

    Their fears probably focus on the software house, and the question of how it will make money, and why it would need to employ them.

  • You know, the stuff you don't see or hear about? The stuff that works like it's supposed to. Now, granted, that kind of software dosen't usually occur on the PC, but...

    Think embedded software. The software that controls the fuel injectors on cars. Network switches, robotics control, in-flight aviation software. It's all closed source (afaik), but works, for the most part, pretty flawlessly. Of course, the compaines that produce this software have lots of internal code review (I'm thinking of NORTEL, just 'cause i know lots of people who've worked there)

    anyway, on to the point. ESR seems to be implying that all closed-source software is a Bad Thing(tm). I figure it's not all that bad, just that most companies don't put forth the (large amount of) effort required to produce good software.

    I will agree with his point that purchasing closed-source software is a risk. the company could go under, or move in a direction that you don't want, leaving you in the lurch. But then, what in life isn't a risk?
  • One flaw with your example. The more software they sell, the more profit margin there is. It's not a fixed cost. Example: a $25 car part might cost $15 to make. How much does another download cost to make? The price of electricity and maintenance on the servers. And if it get's mirrored, that cost can be dispersed. So this game actually gets more profitable for each and every copy, because all the cost is up front and done with (besides CD replication.)

    Now, as to how they can make money? Open source the game engine, but not the music, sound effects, artwork, etc. So, make the engine open source and downloadable, and sell the boxes in stores with the extra stuff that makes it a game, and not just an engine. Advatages include (but are not limited to) a better game engine, as more companies and programmers download it, use it for their game, amking improvements to the engine, which get folded back into the original. Eventually, you have an inCREdible game engine, that would run on more platforms, and run better. This opens up bigger markets for the original game developer, and cuts costs on improvements to the engine for the next game.

    The customers would also be able to download that engine and plug it in under the content of the game. Upgrades for as long as the engine is compatible with the content. That could save the customer money (i.e. does not have to upgrade hardware as often as the engine gets tuned, making the original game maker even MORE popular.)

    At least, that's how I see it. Comments?
  • by broonie ( 5807 )
    Good job I tried to view this using Lynx the first time round - the document selects Tacoma and Ariel for fonts, and my Netscape doesn't deal at all well with their absence, rendering them in microscopic and ugly courier.

    I can't install xfstt on all the machines I use - some don't have Windows licenses and some I don't have any control over.
  • It is by design you as a company whant you customer locked into you product line.

    To this there is two ways to lock them in.
    First and common in North America is the impolite and dangerous. This is due to bugs and poor quality of product. Method is you are locked in or else you loose big time and I give no care to your rate of return on the investment.
    Second is the Demming, Japanese way which says you work with your vendor to a common goal of toalal profitablity of both. You work an agreement that you both produce quality product and help each other develop them. While this happens each companies bottom line are helped and any saving you make you pass to your customers, and profits are passed to you vendors.

    As how I see Open Source, this method garantees that the above, first method can not happen. It can work in the second case, since you both are helping each other.

    Any how this is my quick 2 cents.
  • by Pyro P ( 7396 )
    Anyone else notice that this article was on an .asp?
  • It will be a long and hard battle before open source ever gains the level of acceptance that traditional closed source systems do, especially among the senior IT managers who make the decisions that lead to adoption of open source systems. Open source is supported in the corporate world primarily by the technical people (such as those who read /.) who know and understand why open source is such a Good Thing, but do not have the authority to get their organizations to adopt it. It's precisely this situation that prompted Linus to say: "But not many people want to come out of the closet to officially say they are using Linux...I know that Linux is used in places like Boeing, but I can't point people to a Web page that says so." And senior management is notoriously difficult to convince, especially for such a revolutionary concept as open source, and being blinded by M$'s vast marketing war machine to boot.

    Another, and potentially more serious, problem is the dearth of applications that matter to most companies. Most open source development efforts are useless from the point of view of many businesses. I know for a fact that lots of corporations spend millions of dollars for Microsoft Office licenses, while using only Word to write memos and Excel to balance books. There is no real open source equivalent (yet) for either of these applications, which works compatibly with their closed-source equivalents (to get them to switch while keeping their old documents). Correct me if I'm wrong. You also won't be able to find an accounting or inventory tracking system in the open source world, which are very important to most companies. And while the last two are relatively trivial compared to such massive efforts as the Linux kernel and the GIMP, they are also unglamorous projects from the hacker point of view. Unglamorous but vitally necessary. This mindset has got to change if open source is to be taken seriously in the corporate world. The other difficulty with these applications in particular is that they require knowledge which is typically out of the domain of the regular open source hacker, who typically has training in electrical engineering or computer science, not business administration, accounting, or management (a hacker with an MBA... now that's something I've never heard of before!). And professionals of those types are always in it for the money.

    (this has got to be the longest post I've made on Slashdot. Maybe I should write a paper that fleshes out these details...)
  • I think there's too much discussion that goes on through anti-Microsoft glasses. Open source is great, it gives us many choices that weren't there before. While there were no popular choices, Microsoft spews out bad products. There's no reason to "improve the product."

    Open source should be used as an infrastructure and not necessarily as an end product.

    The Internet is a new infrastrucutre like the highway system. It gives everyone a new form of communication. Many systems globally now count on this. There better damn well be some peer review among everyone if everyone is going to depend on it. Just like the bridge example. I don't want the thing falling under my feet. My goods may travel over that bridge to my customer. There are many consequences.

    But, if I'm building a building for a customer, as a customer, I damn well want to be involved in the design. I sure as hell want bathrooms installed on each floor. So someone can develop a software product, show how it's going to work and use open standards so I know what's going on. But the final product may be something proprietary that can be sold. The bricks and mortar are not proprietary, but the building might be.

    Open source should be the tools to make life better. Monopolies (like Microsoft) make crapy code. Competition makes better code. I feel open source provides an infrastructure for an equal footing for competition and is not a replacement for "closed source" software.

    "Man könnte froh sein, wenn die Luft so rein wäre wie das Bier"
    "We could be happy if the air was as pure as the beer"
  • You get the satisfaction and often the recognition for finding and creating a new solution. As for a company making money off of such an innovation, why? If it is open source, anyone can use it. So most likely all of one particular company's competitors will use it. It's not a marketing advantage. So who wins? The users or customers! There may not be money involved, but prestige and and the satisfaction are not to be ignored.

    How many examples are there in the sciences where new processes are invented? There's medicine (chemicals), energy, and whatever else that helped develop products that are in use today that help everyone. I don't know that all of these were rewarded with cash....

    "Man könnte froh sein, wenn die Luft so rein wäre wie das Bier"
    "We could be happy if the air was as pure as the beer"
  • > (GNU is not free- it was paid for out of your taxes!)

    Where the heck are you getting this from? Are you prepared to back up this statement? Or are you just falling for the old "all OSS people are communists" propaganda?
  • > So if your vendor isn't responsive, you get a new vendor.

    And if your vendor is MicroSoft?

    Seriously, did you read the article. It's not THAT long. Competition is EXACTLY what he's talking about. If your vendor is Redhat, go to Debian.

    Closed source software, especially once it has become entrenched, does NOT have competition. How do you change vendors if every document you've produced for the last 5 years can only be read by your current vendors software?
  • I fully support OSS, and believe it'll advance software in general quite alot. On the other, I've been wondered who is actually going to pay for the development of OSS.

    Sure, Linus was a student when he developed the Linux kernel, and loads of software is being developed by students and university-funded research teams.

    As an about-to-be professional programmer, though, I don't think I will either be able to contribute to the general good of software during my couple hours of free time a week, or have a company pay me to write software from which they're not going to be deriving profits.

    Customer Support isn't going to pay for all the programmers writing the software, so who is? Maybe I should convert to the hardware biz.

  • A mixture of both worlds seems to be the best solution or whatever you may want to call it (haven't we heard that before?) Take a look at the licensing scheme of MySQL (somewhere on TcX []). MySQL is free for non-commercial use, and costs $200 per server for commercial use, with rates going down proportional to the number of licenses purchased.

    The common opinion seems to be that people prefer OSS over CSS because they can't afford to pay for CSS, and OSS bugs are fixed quicker (not necessarily in the right order.) MySQL is open source, it's free for the Joe who can't afford it, and it's affordable for the Big Shot Bill who can afford it. It solves both problems then: everyone can look at the code, find bugs and report them. TcX is very good at fixing bugs quickly, as far as I can tell from hanging out in their mailing list for a while. It also makes only the people pay for it that really should.

    On that note, I think much of the hatred people have towards CSS is based more on the pricing than the actual I Want Stable Software. There is lotsa stable CSS out there, as people have pointed out. Unfortunately, most companies lack the common sense to price their software in a way that users are actually willing to pay for it. Paying around $700 for NT Server, or around $30,000 for a copy of Oracle (don't know if this pricing info is correct, but some confused Oracle sales rep quoted me on around $36K or so per server) is just absolutely ridiculous. But if PhotoShop were priced at, say, $40, I wouldn't temporarily steal it until my company can afford it (...), but pay for it, already because I respect Adobe for the great products they make.

    The gain in income a software company can derive from selling semi-OSS at a MySQL-esque licensing agreement due to (a) more people buying the software (b) less people stealing it (c) less programmers needed since community helps fix bugs, should probably even out with or top the cost of selling it for less, not making $200 on every x.x.n+1 upgrade, and losing money to some dishonest jocks. (Of course, I'd only call them jocks if they steal software that is reasonably priced.)

  • Open source software only works when people make the switch between thinking of software as a product to thinking of it as a service.
  • The pro-closed-source argument is, that your software is a product, and it is what brings money for your company. If this is true for your company you should seriously re-think your place in the software world.

    Sure, if I had the source to Win98, I could compile it for myself and maybe give it out to a few friends... But could I offer service and support to millions of customers, including installation help, maintainance, and support contracts? This is where the real money is made in the software industry.

    Looking at it this way, the source to Win98 isn't that big a deal. What is the big deal is the ability to understand and support it. This is why people can and are making money in the open-source software business.

    We should be thankful Windows is closed source.

    If Microsoft opened the source to Windows up tomorrow, and allowed it to be freely distributed and modified; and they instead positioned themselves as the primary 'support' and IHV supplier for Windows, their business would be almost unstoppable. In time windows would get to the point where it was as fast and stable as Linux, and it would have Microsoft's $$$ behind it to boot!
  • "Intellectual Property" is just smoke and mirrors. Code in and of itself is worthless. It's the ability to understand the code and support/deliver it to customers which is important.

    I justify my job as a software developer because I am not paid for my code, but for my understanding of the code.
  • You basically said he is an opportunist. Great defense.

    PS: Watch out for scary socialists hiding under your bed!

  • How many of you are making a living as OSS software developers?

    I am asking because:
    • I like the open source concept.
    • I need to make a living (and do so as a software developer now).
    • I'm trying to figure out why anyone would choose to become a programmer if the only opportunity was to work for PHB's. Not all of us do, or want to.
    • TANSTAAFL.. I like to know who's buying ;)

    I await enlightenment..

  • Actually many flight controls have true software peer review - multiple packages, independently comparing each other's decisions on-line. In other words, when they use triplicated redundancy solutions for flight critical computing the three computers run three different software packages from three different suppliers. Sometimes they even choose three separately developed hardware platforms too.
  • >In a closed-source world, the software producer
    >can charge for the bits and has an effective
    >monopoly lock on service.

    Right, those bits are intellectual capital. Welcome to Consumerica. If you give me a pension just for being a coder and all-around nice guy, you can have my code. Otherwise, pay up.

    >Accordingly, major closed-source packages cost
    >thousands of dollars up front and thousands of >dollars a year in continuing service
    >and upgrade costs.

    So what? If you make $$$ using that software, instead of just dinking around with your computer, you'll make the money back. Don't like the price? Don't buy it. It's a capital investment in tools. If you have any industry experience, you know some packages can also _cost_ millions to create.

    >...Linux-aware graduates, each one far more
    >knowledgeable about the OS than any Microsoft
    >Certified Systems Engineers can possibly
    >be about closed-source Windows.

    False. I'm not saying they _aren't_ more aware, but it's pretty easy to be knowledgeable about Windows OS internals (I've taken the classes myself, and from your assertion, I doubt you have).

    >We have seen that open source puts the software
    >customer in the driver's seat,

    ...of a vehicle they haven't the foggiest idea how to operate...

    >The lure for software developers is even more
    >direct; with open source, we finally get to do
    >work reliable enough to take unalloyed
    >pride in -- and our work is available for >everyone to see.

    And steal. So, out of the goodness of my heart, I'm supposed to spend years of my life creating, testing, and improving code, only to give it away because it'll be really helpful to people to rip off my work instead of reinvent it or (God forbid) pay me? "Yeah honey, we have to move in with your parents and sell the car, but guess what? A bunch of CompSci students think my rasterization code is really bitchin!" Whoopy-flippin-doo.

    Go back to class, kid.
  • I think you're missing part of the point. I don't think I know the whole answer, but here's a part of it, as I understand it anyway.

    Basically, an appreciably sized company will have a budget for software. One way for you to get paid for your work while you're working on OSS is for making modifications to the OSS that your employer needs. These changes then get used by the employer, but also get returned into the code base for future use and expansion. By that view, the argument of "How do I make money on it?" breaks down pretty quickly. Your employer receives benefits from your coding because he gets the new features he needs. By making a project open source, your employer also receives the benefits of other programmers at other companies doing the same things.

    Basically, the "How do I make money on it?" really only applies if you're working for a company (or you're an independent) that's writing closed-source software. You're not going to get rich off of it, but then again, how many programmers really ever do get rich (As a percentage).

    That's the whole point behind the "Free Software is like Free Speech not Free Beer". The software is available, and you can do what you want to with it, but it may cost you money to add new features/fix bugs. It's not going to cause TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) for software to go away, but it will reduce it. We (programmers) tend to make our living on what corporations spend on TCO. I mean, it's a cost, right? That money's got to go somewhere. Usually it goes into a combination of salary expenses for the people deploying and supporting the software, and into licensing costs. The way to convince a large company to start using open source is to convince the PHB's that the salary (or consulting) expense that they'll take on for a programmer to make the changes they want and integrate new versions of code will offset the licensing costs (assuming the support and deployment costs remain constant, which may not be true).

    Like I said at the beginning, I don't think this is the whole answer, but I hope it's a correct part of the answer. Comments?

  • I've got to add my 2 cents to this debate. Having been in software business for 10 years, I think that Open Source == Communism, Closed Source == Capitalism. I'm not kidding. Sure, Open Source sounds good in theory, just as well as Communism. And Closed Source, like Capitalism, sure has its share of problems. But in the long run, Open Source will simply not survive. All those 10,000 Open Source developers we hear about have full-time Closed Source jobs. How will they pay their bills in the Open Source world? There will not be enough "support and service" jobs for everyone. And I thought that the better software is, the less "support and service" it requires, no? But forget "paying bills". All innovation is driven, to a very large extent, by the desire to get rich. I'm starting my company right now, and while I love doing what I do, I want to get rich. And so do all my friends here in Silicon Valley. To us, this fascination with "Open Source" is a joke. And please, stop comparing Windows and Linux. Why don't you complain that your car breaks down more often than your bike? Currently, Linux does about 15% of what Windows do, so there is no comparison. Open source today is what communism and the whole "left" movement was in the 60s. Now communism is dead, but people still feel the need to challenge the establishment. Thus, they propose Open Source. I am sure they'll grow up some day.
  • Do us all a favor then, SHUT UP. All you are doing is making yourself look like an idiot. First research, then post, but don't read a few lines and post crap, be an original ac.
  • Try cypherpunk(s)/cypherpunks. It worked for me.

    BTW: I put the first "s" in () because the input only allows ten characters.

    It is worth a read.
  • There are some situations in which proprietary is better and some which call for open source. There are essentially three different types of software developed:

    1)Foundation Software. Examples of this would be Linux/*BSD, BIND, Sendmail, gcc, hardware drivers, and (maybe) Emacs. These are all products on which other products are built. These should be open-source for three reasons:
    - Stability is essential. These are the foundations upon which everything else is built, so peer review is necessary.
    - These basic tools should be available to everyone to enhance competition (lower barriers to entry).
    - Similar to the prior consideration, Open Sourcing these would prevent any one vendor from having a monopoly lock (a la Microsoft).

    2)General application software. Examples: Wordperfect, MS Office, Databases, etc. Most apps that people buy. These products should have rigourously open _standards_ but they could or could not be open-source. My feeling is that once an open source competitor enters the market, other vendors would eventually have to move to open source.

    As long as the standards were open and adhered to, proprietary products could compete on the basis of what features they offered as well as their implementation of the standards. The open standards would prevent monopoly lock.

    Open sourcing these products would probably increase reliability overall, but the business model would change; instead of selling a product, the company could sell services associated with the product, proprietary extensions (plug-in modules), or a brand name (like Heinz ketchup).

    3)Specialized application software. Examples might include games, or specialized searching algorithms, etc -- anything where the value is in the _uniqueness_ of the software. Network externalities would probably not apply.

    These should be the prime target for proprietary software houses. In this case, there is real intellectual property embedded in the software, and _that_ is what is being sold. The software is only a necessary vehicle.

    Of course, this is only my (rather pragmatic) view, and fairly un-Stallmanesque.

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes