Date: Sat, 25 Aug 2001 02:24:41 -0400
From: "Eric S. Raymond" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: VA going proprietary? Naahhh...
VA's announcement that it would be selling proprietary add-ons to
SourceForge has gotten big coverage , but there is less there
than meets the eye. This is a change in tactics, not strategy.
What VA didn't say in the press release, and what Larry Augustin
and the PR people knew in advance I was going to say on the
community news channels, is the precise reason why this is
What we've found out is that there is something of a disconnect,
at the big corporate customers, between how the techologists and
strategy people perceive open source and how middle management
preceives it. The technology and strategy people, more often than
not these days, actually get it. Middle managers, a more
conservative group by nature and job description, often still
This is specifically a problem because VA's sales guys often
find themselves talking to middle managers who don't get it or only
half get it. So they do their why-open-source-is-wonderful talk --
and the reaction they get is a sort of quasi-instinctive "uh, why
don't we just download it from the web and install and maintain it
ourselves instead of paying you to do it?"
Rationally, this is really pretty stupid. If you add up all the
time and opportunity costs associated with having a bunch of your
guys learn how to do this from scratch (and not necessarily doing
it competently), renting VA's experts is clearly the smarter move.
Usually the prospective customer knows that with the top of his
mind, even -- but there are powerful instincts in the managerial
underbrain pulling the other way.
So what do you do? Tell the customer he's being stupid? No, I
don't think so.
What VA is doing instead is throwing a sop to those instincts by
hanging some proprietary tinsel off the product. This makes it
psychologically easier for Mr. Middle Manager to sign the check; he
can think "I'm buying something real" -- as if bits on a disk are
more real than the people-hours in the service contract that goes
with it. But there it is; most sales and marketing is founded on
the reality that people aren't very rational.
If we were still in a boom time, we might still have the luxury
of perfect doctrinal purity. But face it, people, it's pretty much
raining crap out there macroeconomically. Capital spending is in
the tank and it's probably going to get worse before it gets
better. Until things turn around, Mr. Middle Manager is going to be
even more conservative than usual -- and thus more likely to be
penny-wise and pound-foolish in the way that particularly hurts
We can hold on to the open-source vision, but under these
circumstances we've concluded that we can't afford to be proud
about how we pitch it. VA is a damn fine outfit with a lot of good
people, but companies just as promising have already gone to the
knackers' yard. It won't serve anybody if we go the same way. So
we'll take any edge we can get, even if that means we MPL some
stuff instead of GPLing it and have to have a few meg of closed
code lying around.
And if you think VA has turned into just another corporate greed
machine, ask yourself this -- how many companies would encourage
one of their board members to post anything as brutally candid as
I'm being here? But Larry Augustin knew I was going to do this and
he smiled. We're still the same people and the same company that
earned the Linux community's trust. I hope we'll never lose that.
I'll work to be sure it's so.
So the real news here is that VA is still about open source --
if I didn't believe that, I'd be off their board of directors so
fast it would make your head spin. We're just being pragmatic about
how we sell the idea. Change peoples' behavior first, show them the
advantages in doing so, and their hearts and minds will follow.
The religious fanatics out there won't be appeased by this, I
know. I'm sure there will be cries of "Treason!", "Betrayal!",
"Apostasy!" and so forth. We knew that. We'll stand it -- because
surviving and thriving so we can continue to be the friends of open
source is the most important service we can do for the community we
Eric S. Raymond
"Today, we need a nation of Minutemen, citizens who are not only prepared to
take arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as the basic
purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and
sacrifice for that freedom." -- John F. Kennedy
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