Dean Pannell (aka Dinotrac): Milk, Magnets, MegaMarts and...Mundie?
May 17, 2001, 23:00 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dean Pannell)
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By Dean Pannell (a.k.a.
I've been dreaming naked for the last week. There I am,
accepting the Nobel Prize all bare skin and embarrassment. At least
that's how it seems since Microsoft Muckety Craig Mundie preached a
goofy little sermon on Microsoft=America, free software=barbarian
invaders and the GPL will steals while you sleep.
I've seen responding dissertations on everything from Ayn Rand
to Sun Tzu. The philosophical underpinnings of Capitalism vs the
inevitable onslaught of the gift economy. Heavy thinkers thinking
deep thoughts. Unfortunately, deep thought is not my thing. I like
my thoughts nice and shallow, so I can keep an eye on them. Leave
heavy philosophizing to the heavy philosophizers. They like it and
it keeps them occupied.
Fortunately, the whole thing ain't that hard. In fact, it's
really simple if you've ever lived in rural America. Part one is
the Megamart Menace. When some big old "We do it all cheap" store
moves into town, the local merchants try to block it, fearing for
the cozy little businesses that they've built into a local
monopoly. When the Mart starts Marting, some locals adapt and
prosper, others complain as they put out their "Going out of
This Mundie thing is a little weird, because it's MegaMart
complaining about mom'n pop. Seems MegaMart's property value is
dropping fast because mom'n pop are giving away the store. It's a
fact of marketing we all understand: when folks can get a cheaper
and better product than yours, your inventory ain't worth diddle.
Ain't no two ways about it. Free software is real bad for
Microsoft's IP inventory.
Old C.M. really screwed the pooch trying to paint free software
as anti-business. Maybe you can't make money from the software.
Maybe you can. But anti-business? Hah! Small town businessfolk know
better than that. My refrigerator happily wears assorted
flexi-magnet doodads from some of the most successful business
people in town. They give 'em away. Seem to think it's good for
Little magnet doodads ain't like some product, just tacky
marketing fooferaw. Let me tell you about the little fast-mart down
the street. They sell the cheapest milk in town. Everybody buys it,
store don't make a dime on milk. One time, they raised the price by
30 cents. Nobody bought milk there. Store didn't lose money on
milk, but couldn't sell anything to people who didn't come inside.
Milk price is back down now. Store's doing real well. Owners even
popped for a nice overhaul. It seems that you don't have to make
money on every item in the store. You do have to get people into
C.M.'s shot another big blank. He tried to say that the GPL can
steal your crown jewels while you're not looking. He must think
people are too stupid to read. The GPL does have a neat little
"share the wealth" provision built in, It says you can't stick
GPL'd code into programs that you give away or sell unless you make
those programs GPL'd too. This is the famous GPL "viral effect" we
hear about. I don't think that can really be what he means, though.
After all, it's just about the nicest virus you could ever hope to
meet. It doesn't hide from you. It doesn't run off and "infect"
anything without your permission. In fact, if you don't send it out
into the world, it'll even do chores for you without making a
single complaint. Don't want to GPL things you send into the world?
Write your own code. No rocket science there. No, that's not what
he wanted people to worry about.
C.M. mentioned "using" GPL'd software when he talked about that
stuff, and I think he did it on purpose. I think he wants companies
to worry that some programmer will see really neat stuff in a GPL'd
program and use the same idea in the company's code. Ooh! Bad!
You've just lost all your IP. Clue time: This is just another
copyright case. A laundry list of remedies are available, but
declaring the company code GPL'd ain't likely to be at the top.
Unless, of course, it's all stolen. In that case, you deserve what
This is another place where small business horse sense comes
through. You see, in the same speech where C.M. said GPL bad, he
said showing the code is good. He even talked about this strange
"Shared Source" dealie that Microsoft has now.
Wait a minute!!
Shared Source good, Open Source bad? IF the GPL can steal your
children in the night just because some programmer happens to see
something nifty, then why can't Shared Source rob you blind? That
don't make a lick of sense, friend. You can grab GPL'd stuff off
the wire while nobody's looking. You can't get Shared Source unless
you give Microsoft your name, address and first-born. Try asking
your local insurance agent if she'd rather do cold calls or work
qualified prospects. Believe me, I'd much rather worry about some
hobby hackers who don't know I have their code that a big nasty,
well-financed Microsoft with my name on its list. Especially since
I don't plan to steal anything. Especially since everything I do is
for my own use, which is OK with the GPL, anyway.
You see, kiddies, it really ain't that hard. Just common
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