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Eric Raymond In The Cab Going to The Bazaar

Dec 19, 1999, 02:52 (12 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Paul Ferris)

By Paul Ferris
Editor, Linux Today

The last morning of The Bazaar, I was able to catch up with Eric Raymond in a cab on the way to the convention hall.

Linux Today: Eric, this is the first Bazaar, correct?

Eric: Yes.

Linux Today: I understand that you wrote this piece of email or something, called the something something bazaar, or something...

Eric: The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Linux Today: Oh really?!? Then maybe your paper has something to do with why the Bazaar is called "The Bazaar"?

Eric: Well, I think so, yes....

Linux Today: Eric, This has to feel good!

Eric: It's part of a larger pattern of things that feels good, which means that we're winning!

Linux Today: Yes! We're well on our way to world domination. A lot of people just want to talk about Linux being Linux without any long term goals. But I don't see that being anything very negative. I just want to hear your thoughts on World Domination Now.

Eric: I think that the most important thing is not Linux in itself dominating the world, but Open Source infrastructure dominating the world. Solving the software quality problem. It's because Linux right now is our most plausible means to that end that I back it.

Linux Today: So, for example, the BSDs... [BSD used in the context of this interview refers to several alternative operating systems that are also Free Software or under various Open Source licensing schemes. There are three popular variants, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD. LT ed.]

Eric: I would actually like to see them succeed more than they are currently because mono-cultures are vulnerable. If you get a mono-culture that has just one genetic line then the first plague can wipe it out. I would like to see more diversity in the open source community.

Linux Today: For example, what's going on with Outlook right now?

Eric: I don't know about that...

Linux Today: That's how Melissa is traveling, a current virus plaguing the non- open source and free software communities. Because the mail program will run executables automatically, because of poor user choice in some instances or in others due to extremely poorly thought out security measures in the mail client, this leaves people open to a one, two, three punch scenario.

The user gets a piece of mail that contains the virus embedded in an executable or maybe it's a piece of Java script that's taking advantage of a well-known hole. The virus infects the current machine, reads information off of the client computer, and then passes itself on to other computer users.

These virtues would be less of a problem if it were not for the fact that everyone is practically using the exact same email clients with exactly the same or very similar security holes.

For example, you can get a spreadsheet that will load a piece of ODBC code that will do some viral damage. The viruses wouldn't transfer if it were not for the fact that everyone is using the same piece of proprietary, bug-ridden, crash-prone software. Not that I'm opinionated or anything... So, anyways, you don't want to see Linux end up at 99% like this and then it being a similar thing right, only I would have to add that Linux would be far more secure than that, but it would still be vulnerable for similar reasons -- am I right?

Eric: It would be more secure, because it wouldn't depend upon "Security Through Obscurity" which any cryptographer [People that ensure that programming code used for encrypted transmissions and stored documents is un-crackable LT ed.] will tell you is a very bad idea. Still I would feel easier in my mind if there was some diversity.

Linux Today: I think that there is going to be some of that anyway, even if something like Linux took over in terms of like 99%, not everybody would be running the same mail client -- That's something, um, a horrible thing called "choice". God Forbid we have choice! You know? It's been a great thing for America, right, Eric, that everyone has no choice? I mean, that is real efficient.

Eric: Hey, ask a Soviet central planner...

Linux Today: Would you agree that BSD users are necessary and a key to Linux's success?

Eric: I don't think they're a key to Linux's success, but I think that something like the BSDs may eventually be important for making the whole Open Source ecology succeed.

Interestingly, I just learned from some BSD people I was having dinner with the other night that there is now code in the BSD kernel that was written by Linus [Linus Torvalds -- Creator and maintainer of the Linux kernel LT ed.].

I'm not sure that he sent it himself, but the patch came in with a notation that said "Linus did this..."

Linux Today: Wow, that's pretty wild. Would you agree that there's "a bit" of competition among the Linux and BSD folks?

Eric: Well, of course there is! But I think that it's less virulent than it used to be because the Linux crew has proved its point now so they don't have to be really territorial about the whole business.

Linux Today: Yes, but would you ever like imagine, you know like, somebody working for Microsoft, sending someone from Apple, they would first not have the opportunity, but even if they could... You know what I'm saying?

Eric: Light snow in hell the day that ever happens...

Linux Today: So we're looking at impossible phenomena, it's in a lot of ways Darwinism... survival of the fittest and cross-pollination in that particular respect ... I guess not survival of the fittest... as you get more diverse pieces of stuff, things grow and they get better, that's what I'm saying...

Eric: Exactly.

Linux Today: As opposed to, for example, if you keep breeding human beings with each other, they will end up with third arms growing out of their back kind of situation like -- Or, for example the way that Microsoft products seem so inbred to me in terms of quality. They don't ever have like a check where somebody says like "Hey, this is a better product, so everyone's gonna buy that until you fix yours."

Eric: They sure seem to have the software equivalent of genetic anomalies...

Linux Today: The effects are the same. You know it's like some of the mail systems you can use instead. Samba doesn't really have a heavy competitor but it's still an awesome product because at least a lot of people can work on it at the same time. There's a lot of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt being yammered by people about what's going to happen when people want paid. Could you answer some of that?

Eric: We're solving that problem in a variety of ways. One of the ways is with task markets like CoSource and SourceXchange.

Linux Today: Explain what these do.

Eric: These set up clearing houses where if you need a particular piece of code made, you can go there and post a job request and then open source programmers will come along and if they are interested in that particular job request they will pick up on it and people can cooperate to put up money in order to have it written in Open Source.

Another way that we're attacking the problem is as Linux companies get more successful you see them actually hiring major developers and paying them to work on useful things that they're interested in.

The third way we're solving the problem is that as these companies IPO there's a tradition developing of putting contributers to distributions on their friends and family lists so they make, you know, 10,000, 20,000, in some cases more from the IPO proceeds.

Linux Today: So, it's a myth thinking that there aren't people actually making a living at this at the developer level...

Eric: Lots of people are and more people all the time. It used to be that I was one of maybe a dozen people in the world who could do Open Source development full-time. Those days are long gone, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of us now.

An argument that I've made in my papers is that over time, the kind of gift culture that hackers have is more efficient for creative work than the scarcity based exchange economy. So, what's happening is that the market is seeking that efficiency.

Linux Today: You have a paper in the works? Or is that still classified Eric?

Eric: I've got another book I'm working on. It's called "The Art of Unix programming". It's a book about the philosophy of Unix considered as design and vise versa, how to think like a Unix guru.

Linux Today: What about the paper on the seven bullets?

Eric: That's not a paper exactly, that'll just be one of my press broadsides. I've added a section to my talk recently on "The Seven Bullets Microsoft Has To Dodge To Survive The Next Eighteen Months". They're in much more trouble than anybody knows, and the DOJ lawsuit and Linux are actually the least of their problems.

The biggest problem is that Microsoft is going the way that all monopolies go, they're pricing themselves out of their own market. Something that we can see very clearly happening with Windows CE at the low end.

They won't price themselves out of the high end for a while yet. There they are getting beat on quality by Linux.

You have to look at the market from the point of view of a PC integrator. You're paying a fixed Microsoft tax, it varies, depending upon how much Microsoft likes you and how much you co-operate with their party line. Typically it's maybe 80 to 100 dollars per machine. That's something that looks reasonable when the price point of your total systems is around $2500, but when your price point is down around $300, -- it's too much. And this means that as the price of hardware drops, the PC integrators are coming under increasing pressure not to pay the Microsoft tax.

The real issue is that this argument about margin means that there is a price below which you cannot make any money cooperating with Microsoft. Right now that price point is down in appliance land. Ok? Which is why Windows CE is doing really badly.

Microsoft technology partners pulled out of their Windows CE alliance about 10 days ago. I think it was Nokia, GTE and Sylvania -- I'm not sure I've got the names right.

Over time as the price of hardware drops the functional point at which PC integrators can't make money dealing with Microsoft is going to rise. When that price point rises past the price point of the average consumer desktop PC it's game over for Microsoft.

And the problem is that they can't lower their prices because their revenues have to go up every quarter. If their revenues don't go up, their stock price doesn't go up every quarter. If the stock price doesn't go up every quarter, very bad things happen to them. Their employees start cashing out, their talent leaves, it turns out that they make more of their money playing option games with their own stock than they do selling software, 36%, all of that income would go away.

So, if their stock price ever tips over, it's going to nose-dive. They can't let that happen, therefore, the knock-on effect of that is that they can't lower their prices, and that means that they are gonna price themselves out of a market, which is what always happens to monopolies.

Linux Today: In regards to the stock: if you envision a pyramid, with the base of the pyramid being your current sales, and starting at zero back when Microsoft sold their first product, that's zero, the top. That pyramid has to grow 30% at the base, every year, in order for them to justify their inflated stock price that they have right now. It doesn't take a genius to take a look at that pyramid and say that at some point that base is going to include the GNP of the world or it's going to stop growing.

Eric: Or it's going to stop and it's not gonna take very long to stop either because they have 91% of the total market now. They just can't get much more revenue expansion out of new customers, they're aren't that many new customers out there.

Linux Today: And certainly not with a quality product like Linux, for example, involved.

Eric: Well, Linux is really an opportunist, it's exploiting a situation where the high prices for software are not sustainable for PC integrators anymore.

Linux Today: So it would be a really good thing for them to choose it.

Eric: Right, and a harbinger of this trend is that Dell is now shipping Linux on all of it's power-edge servers. It's just not cost-effective for them to do the NT Server thing anymore. This is the handwriting on the wall.

Linux Today: Eric, it's been really good talking to you! Look forward to seeing you again. Thanks for your time.

Eric: See you on the net!