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Eric S. Raymond: Open letter to Carly Fiorina and HP

Oct 18, 2000, 19:16 (30 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Eric S. Raymond)

Ms. Fiorina, we in the open-source community are very pleased to hear you acknowledge that "The open source movement is natural, inevitable and creates huge benefits. It's part of the next wave of computing, and that will involve participants and users within the industry in open source."

You've talked the talk. Now, can you walk the walk?

A good, easy first step would be for HP to open a website giving access to complete interface specifications for its entire printer line, including its WinPrinters. Even before you began to understand the benefits of open source, making life more difficult for third-party software developers could only have had the effect of shrinking the potential market for HP's hardware. We frankly don't understand why those specs haven't been on line for years already.

A good, not quite as easy second step would be to release your printer driver sources. We understand that this would require an IP-rights audit on the code, which will take some time; but an immediate commitment to release all unencumbered sources would mean a lot more to us (and to your customers!) than general talk of the goodness of open source.

Your most difficult challenge will, of course, be deciding what to do about HP-UX. Your version of Unix is aging and has long suffered from compatibility woes. I know through personal contacts that there is a large and vocal faction in HP engineering that would like to see HP-UX end-of-lifed and replaced with Linux (or one of the open-source BSD Unix versions).

Whether you do that or open-source HP-UX itself won't be an easy decision. The community would accept either choice; but I suggest to you that joining the Linux coalition certainly represents HP's best chance of maintaining a market position free of Microsoft's strangling grip.

The Open Source Initiative is willing to help you develop effective licensing, release, and community-relations tactics; that's what we're here for. We'd like to support your open-source strategy. But there needs to be something more than words for us to support. While we recognize and applaud HP's continuing contribution of engineering time to open-source projects such as Samba, the bottom line is that HP has yet to open-source any significant portion of its own code even in those areas where it would be easiest and most obviously beneficial for the company to do so.

You'll find that open-source developers are eager to welcome HP to the fold, and can be extremely valuable allies in growing your markets and increasing your product value. But you'll also find that we're rather cynical about ringing endorsements; we've heard those before without result, and they won't earn you a lot of cred by themselves without actions and commitments that back them up.

Show us the code, Ms. Fiorina. That's where the real cooperation starts.

Eric S. Raymond
President, Open Source Initiative

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