Editor's Note: Rich and Snooty
Jan 13, 2006, 23:30 (17 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
Re-Imagining Linux Platforms to Meet the Needs of Cloud Service Providers
By Brian Proffitt
When my first-born was about seven, she attended a day camp at
the YMCA during her summer vacation. For this particular camp, she
and her fellow campers would take a bus out into the wilds of
Indiana and spend most of the day tromping about in the majestic
woods and prairies of the Hoosier State. The best part was she
would come home really tired so she would get to be early and leave
her mother and I with some private time of our own.
One day after picking her up at the Y, she announced to us that
she'd won a contest from a candy bar we'd packed in her lunch. Now,
I'd happened to notice that the candy bar manufacturer was
apparently running a contest for a $20,000 prize at that time. (Why
a candy bar manufacturer has to run a contest to attract customers
in the United States is beyond me.) Thinking she was probably
mistaken, we asked our daughter where the wrapper was (just in
case). She informed us that she'd thrown it away.
But, we asked in our sweet-yet-befuddled tone, if you thought
we'd won, why did you toss it in the trash?
"Because," she replied, "I didn't want us to be rich and
After we finished laughing, we politely informed her that if we
were to ever receive a large amount of money, Mommy and Daddy would
be more than willing to take the risk of becoming snooty.
Becoming rich is not something I have given a lot of thought, my
daughter's anti-wealth stance not withstanding. You don't, I fear,
make lots of money as a technology writer. But I do keep an eye on
the bank book, because I do live in a consumerist, capitalist
society and needs have to be met. The same, I'm pretty sure, will
hold true for a programmer living in such a society. They are doing
what they like to do, for the most part, but at the end of the day
they still want to get paid.
This is why I am always befuddled when pundits come out of the
woodwork and start taking whacks at the GNU GPL as some sort of
communist manifesto. I think on many levels this is simply a
On the money/capital level, this is simply not applicable. I
suppose, in some nations, there are communists who use the GPL, but
using the GPL does not automatically make you a communist. The GPL
is geared to share knowledge and information, not capital. If I
share code I have written, I still have to figure out a way to get
paid. Maybe I will provide services, such as technical support and
documentation. Maybe I will run a training program. Or maybe I will
work in an unrelated field and share my code for the sharing's
sake. I am still a capitalist on the level of money. Using the GPL
just means I am not going to rely solely on intellectual property
to rake in the bucks.
Personally, I think using the GPL makes you a better capitalist
than those who don't. If you choose to use the GPL, then you have
to get creative. Falling back on IP is lazy and potentially
dangerous. Say I invent Program A.0 and sell it with a proprietary
license. I make some money at it, enough to write some new features
into A.1 and live comfortably. But then someone comes along and
sells Program B.0 and it is a much better app than any of my A's. I
now have to adapt quickly or die. And if I die, all of my A users
are left out in the cold.
But if I create openA and use support as my primary revenue
model, then I have more flexibility when someone comes along with
Program B. I can actively recruit other programmers to add B's
features into openA, I can just keep making a living off of the
support and passively watch openA's community of users and
developers add what features they want. Even better, if B is
released as openB, then I have the option of merging projects,
incorporating code, or supporting openB too. Yes, I still have to
adapt or die, but because my code is open, I have a lot more
options and potentially a lot more help.
You could make an argument that using the GPL is communist on
the information level. After all, information is the commodity and
is totally shared, right?
Not quite. I may share my code, but I can still hold the author
rights to it. If I choose to pick up my code and take it to another
license, I can do that. I could even be a sneaky so-and-so, add
some slick code my former open source companions hadn't thought of
yet, and sell the new proprietary version for big bucks. If I
wanted to. Or I could stay in the open source model, add the same
code, and sell box/support/consulting and make big bucks. The
choice is mine, not the community's.
Because in a true communist society, all resources are shared
and everyone gets a say on what to do with them. Ownership is not
The simple truth here is: there is nothing in the GPL which
precludes ownership, whether intellectual or captial.
The GPL should not need defending from labels like this, really.
I would wager that a majority of Firefox users (especially those on
Windows) are not even aware of the browser's license, much less
what it means. The end-users are just happy to get a decent browser
that doesn't blow huge security holes in their systems.
"Communism" is just a scary booga-booga to try to scare off
users because certain products are having (or are about to have)
problems matching the performance of their open source
counterparts. because let's be honest--if Linux sucked, would
anybody spend any effort denouncing its license? Much less with
outdated Cold War labels? No, they would attack Linux for its
suckiness. For instance, I have a whole laundry list of things I
hate about Internet Explorer; frankly, its license is way, way down
on that list.
So if the best its opponents can come up with is license FUD,
doesn't that say something about how open source really compares to
its proprietary counterparts?
Thought so. Next!