Discussion:
Successful FSBs
(too old to reply)
Simon Cozens
2002-09-18 19:27:28 UTC
Permalink
In my role as perl.com editor, I'm researching a piece on FSBs that are
actually Doing OK. ActiveState have recently started turning a profit,
and are well-known in the Perl world, so I'm going to be doing some
interviews with them, but I'd also like to run some interviews with
representatives from any other FSBs that are in the black.

If you're up for that, please contact me off list.

Many thanks,
Simon
--
"He was a modest, good-humored boy. It was Oxford that made him insufferable."
Brian Behlendorf
2002-09-19 02:47:36 UTC
Permalink
ActiveState sells non-Open-Source software packages, as does CollabNet.
I'd seen statements here that imply that this would disqualify AS and us
as an FSB, than an FSB needs to be one whose revenue comes from anything
but commercial software licensing. It's understandable - if you stretch
the definition of a FSB in this way, IBM and Sun are FSBs as well.
Perhaps even Microsoft, if you consider their Unix Services for Windows
(if I'm not mistaken, it includes ports of various open-source utilities?)

So, anyone care to define 'FSB'?

It might also be interesting to index economic performance with the %age
of developer time spent writing code that is given away, versus code that
is kept in-house or sold only under a non-open-source license.

Brian
Post by Simon Cozens
In my role as perl.com editor, I'm researching a piece on FSBs that are
actually Doing OK. ActiveState have recently started turning a profit,
and are well-known in the Perl world, so I'm going to be doing some
interviews with them, but I'd also like to run some interviews with
representatives from any other FSBs that are in the black.
If you're up for that, please contact me off list.
Many thanks,
Simon
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-19 06:00:13 UTC
Permalink
Brian> So, anyone care to define 'FSB'?

A partial definition would be that FSB is an activity, not an
organization. If work related to an FSB gets reported in the accounts
as an organizational unit (eg, department), that _department_ is an
FSB, whatever the whole business might be.

Brian> It might also be interesting to index economic performance
Brian> with the %age of developer time spent writing code that is
Brian> given away, versus code that is kept in-house or sold only
Brian> under a non-open-source license.

That would be a good measure of FSB-orientation. As a sanity check,
also compute a conservative aggregation accounting unit level --- you
only get to count the hours as FSB if the whole unit qualifies.

That probably means that collab.net, ActiveState et al would be 0%,
since I bet you don't keep accounts that fine. But for bigger
businesses that would be an important sanity check.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Jan-Oliver Wagner
2002-09-19 07:16:17 UTC
Permalink
Post by Brian Behlendorf
So, anyone care to define 'FSB'?
It is certainly not a simple task.

The group that was recently busy setting up the FSF Europe
worked on the definition for a GNU Business. It has only reached
version 0.9.10, but I strongly hope it will be finalized in the
near future since the FSF Europe is now up and running quite well.

http://mailman.gnubiz.org/pipermail/gnubiz-disc/2000-December/000014.html

Best

Jan
--
Jan-Oliver Wagner http://intevation.de/~jan/

Intevation GmbH http://intevation.de/
FreeGIS http://freegis.org/
Adam Turoff
2002-09-19 13:10:18 UTC
Permalink
Post by Brian Behlendorf
So, anyone care to define 'FSB'?
Not yet.

Can we agree on businesses that are/aren't (or were/weren't) FSBs?

My short list of FSBs (incomplete):
Aladdin
Covalent (What's your take on this Brian?)
Easy Software (the CUPS people)
Great Bridge (RIP)
MySQL
RedHat
Scriptics (RIP)
Sleepycat
Sourcefire (snort)
SuSE
Ximian
Zope Corp

All of these business work on true open source products (i.e., not
something that's just free for non-commercial use like TrollTech).
Many of them release software under the GPL, and make money off of
secondary services (consulting, support, maintenance contracts), and/or
through relicensing under proprietary licenses.

I think Russ mentioned the term "lifestyle business" a few weeks
ago. Two or three on this list might qualify as lifestyle businesses;
I'm not sure what that means for the overall health/idea of an FSB...

Z.
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-19 13:39:19 UTC
Permalink
Adam> My short list of FSBs (incomplete):
Adam> Aladdin

Bzzt.

Dunno about the new Artifex incarnation, but Ghostscript (in the
Aladdin version, ie, what the developers are doing now) _is_

Adam> something that's just free for non-commercial use like
Adam> TrollTech).

Not to mention that Qt is now GPL-compatible enough that RMS has
signed off on an XEmacs port to Qt, despite that fact that the Windows
version of Qt is aggressively proprietary. All he asks is that the
Makefile bark loudly (and exit fatally ;) if a user tries to build on
Windows.

These are important examples, because Aladdin in the person of Peter
Deutsch is definitely on the Light side of the Force, while Trolltech
is pretty damn grey still IMO.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Jeremy White
2002-09-19 14:22:11 UTC
Permalink
Post by Adam Turoff
Aladdin
Slipping in alphabetically, I'm curious why CodeWeavers
doesn't make your list. The vast majority of our effort
is on Wine, which is (recently) LGPL...and you can even
build it on Windows <grin>.
Adam Turoff
2002-09-19 14:30:50 UTC
Permalink
Post by Jeremy White
Post by Adam Turoff
Aladdin
Slipping in alphabetically, I'm curious why CodeWeavers
doesn't make your list. The vast majority of our effort
is on Wine, which is (recently) LGPL...and you can even
build it on Windows <grin>.
Because I said it was an incomplete list. ;-)

Thanks for the tip.

Z.
Danese Cooper
2002-09-19 14:40:43 UTC
Permalink
At the risk of being flamed, I must point out that Sun
runs several FSBs. Most follow our preferred FSB of
transparent co-development with a community of both
Sun and non-Sun members to produce a zero-cost
and a Sun-branded version of the same software under
various Free and Open Source licenses.

When I explain the relationship between OpenOffice.org 1.0
and StarOffice 6.0 I usually say it is similar to that of Debian
Linux and RedHat Linux (potentially imperfect analogy,
since I'm not certain that RedHat starts with Debian, but you
hopefully you get my drift ;-).

The projects that fit this model are OpenOffice.org, NetBeans
and GridEngine. Links to all of our projects can be found
on SunSource.net.

We also host a very successful project that to date does not
include a Sun-branded distro, and that is Jxta.

Of course Sun also has many proprietary projects, and
even if we converted all of our current proprietary software
development to FSBs, we would still wish to offer a branded
version because providing enterprise support for a branded
version is much more straightforward and can actually be
profitable.

So, are these FSBs or not?

Danese
Post by Jeremy White
Slipping in alphabetically, I'm curious why CodeWeavers
doesn't make your list. The vast majority of our effort
is on Wine, which is (recently) LGPL...and you can even
build it on Windows <grin>.
Adam Turoff
2002-09-19 15:15:44 UTC
Permalink
Post by Danese Cooper
At the risk of being flamed, I must point out that Sun
runs several FSBs. [...]
So, are these FSBs or not?
Sun's role in the free/open source community is rather charged.

Instead of discussing the specifics of Sun's case, how about
switching to a hypothetical case. Suppose Honda Motor Co. (developers
of the ASIMIO) were to release a toolkit for robotics. Honda's revenue
comes from selling motor vehicles, with a miniscule fraction coming from
sales of robots. They develop the software used in ASIMO, make it open
source, and host community resources for that software (web site,
mailing lists, CVS repository, etc.).

Under what circumstances would Honda be classified as a FSB?

Similarly, under what circumstances could Disney be classified as a FSB?
Their revenue comes from selling content and extending copyright
protection in the US, yet they provide a home to Squeak.

Z.
Brian J. Fox
2002-09-19 16:10:02 UTC
Permalink
Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2002 11:15:44 -0400
From: Adam Turoff <***@panix.com>

Similarly, under what circumstances could Disney be classified as a FSB?
Their revenue comes from selling content and extending copyright
protection in the US, yet they provide a home to Squeak.

Alan hasn't been at Disney for quite some time now.

But this doesn't refute your point, it's just minor pedanticism :-)

Brian
== The Difference Between Cultures: ==
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Liberte', E'galite', Fraternite'
Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll
Brian J. Fox
2002-09-19 16:07:24 UTC
Permalink
Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2002 07:40:43 -0700
From: Danese Cooper <***@Sun.COM>

At the risk of being flamed, I must point out that Sun
runs several FSBs.

Sun appears to manage several OSS projects -- not run a business
around that management (i.e., have a P&L against that management).

My stab at defining an FSB:

A busines whose software aspect is 100% libre software, and that
has a P&L based solely on at least one of: distribution of;
training in use or mechanics of; support of; creation of; or
management of said software.

Brian
== The Difference Between Cultures: ==
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Liberte', E'galite', Fraternite'
Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll
Larry M. Augustin
2002-09-19 14:36:34 UTC
Permalink
I think that the concept of a "lifestyle business" is very important
here. All too often I see businesses where the principals are making a
very good living for themselves, but they would not be able to grow that
business to make a good living for 10 times as many people. Also,
lifestyle businesses are generally a bad investment; there's usually no
way for an investor to make a return.

There's nothing wrong with that kind of business. Many people make a
good living with a lifestyle business. But when discussing FSBs, we
need to be clear which we are talking about. Venture Capitalists are
not going to fund a lifestyle business. A lifestyle business is likely
to employ 10s, not 100s or 1000s of people.

I'd like to see the discussion focus on non-lifestyle FSBs because I
think those are harder to build but ultimately more interesting because
they can employ a significantly larger number of people creating free
software.

Larry

--
Larry M. Augustin, ***@lmaugustin.com
Tel: +1.650.966.1759, Fax: +1.650.966.1753
-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, September 19, 2002 6:10 AM
To: Brian Behlendorf
Subject: Re: Successful FSBs
Post by Brian Behlendorf
So, anyone care to define 'FSB'?
Not yet.
Can we agree on businesses that are/aren't (or were/weren't) FSBs?
Aladdin
Covalent (What's your take on this Brian?)
Easy Software (the CUPS people)
Great Bridge (RIP)
MySQL
RedHat
Scriptics (RIP)
Sleepycat
Sourcefire (snort)
SuSE
Ximian
Zope Corp
All of these business work on true open source products (i.e., not
something that's just free for non-commercial use like TrollTech).
Many of them release software under the GPL, and make money off of
secondary services (consulting, support, maintenance contracts), and/or
through relicensing under proprietary licenses.
I think Russ mentioned the term "lifestyle business" a few weeks
ago. Two or three on this list might qualify as lifestyle businesses;
I'm not sure what that means for the overall health/idea of an FSB...
Z.
Alan Hudson
2002-09-19 16:14:37 UTC
Permalink
Post by Larry M. Augustin
I think that the concept of a "lifestyle business" is very important
here. All too often I see businesses where the principals are making a
very good living for themselves, but they would not be able to grow that
business to make a good living for 10 times as many people. Also,
lifestyle businesses are generally a bad investment; there's usually no
way for an investor to make a return.
Guess it depends if you are an investor. But if you goal is creating
open source software while getting paid then...
Post by Larry M. Augustin
There's nothing wrong with that kind of business. Many people make a
good living with a lifestyle business. But when discussing FSBs, we
need to be clear which we are talking about. Venture Capitalists are
not going to fund a lifestyle business. A lifestyle business is likely
to employ 10s, not 100s or 1000s of people.
Why the focus on Venture capitalists? Focus on running a business that
is profitable on its own. Expand as you can instead of a big burst and
possible bust.
Post by Larry M. Augustin
I'd like to see the discussion focus on non-lifestyle FSBs because I
think those are harder to build but ultimately more interesting because
they can employ a significantly larger number of people creating free
software.
From a global/technological economic point of view I bet these small
businesses are vitally important. I employ 5 folks in my niche software
business(3D graphics) that generates a lot of open source(200K+ LOC last
year).

If successful FSB's are ones that contribute the most to open source
development then I expect you'll find that the lions share is generated
in so called lifestyle businesses. Its pretty easy to get a 10 person
company together of like minded folks. To get 100 or 1000 moving in the
same direction is another beast.
--
Alan Hudson
President: Yumetech, Inc. http://www.yumetech.com/
Web3D Open Source Chair http://www.web3d.org/TaskGroups/source/
Larry M. Augustin
2002-09-19 23:34:33 UTC
Permalink
Post by Alan Hudson
Post by Larry M. Augustin
I think that the concept of a "lifestyle business" is very important
here. All too often I see businesses where the principals are making a
very good living for themselves, but they would not be able to grow that
business to make a good living for 10 times as many people. Also,
lifestyle businesses are generally a bad investment; there's usually no
way for an investor to make a return.
Guess it depends if you are an investor. But if you goal is creating
open source software while getting paid then...
Yes, but we have frequent discussions on this list about how to raise
money to start FSBs. Recognizing that a business is a lifestyle
business immediately tells you that raising money from investors is not
an option.
Post by Alan Hudson
Post by Larry M. Augustin
There's nothing wrong with that kind of business. Many people make a
good living with a lifestyle business. But when discussing FSBs, we
need to be clear which we are talking about. Venture Capitalists are
not going to fund a lifestyle business. A lifestyle business is likely
to employ 10s, not 100s or 1000s of people.
Why the focus on Venture capitalists? Focus on running a business that
is profitable on its own. Expand as you can instead of a big burst and
possible bust.
It's not a "focus". I see a lot of lifestyle FSBs that want to raise
money and want introductions to VCs. It doesn't work. A 12 person
business that is profitable on its own may not necessarily be able to
grow into a 50 person business. It may not work at 50 people. I see a
lot of people that have 12 person profitable businesses, and want to
raise venture capital because they can't find a way to get to 50 people,
and think that raising money will do it for them. That's usually not
the case.
Post by Alan Hudson
Post by Larry M. Augustin
I'd like to see the discussion focus on non-lifestyle FSBs because I
think those are harder to build but ultimately more interesting because
they can employ a significantly larger number of people creating free
software.
From a global/technological economic point of view I bet these small
businesses are vitally important. I employ 5 folks in my niche software
business(3D graphics) that generates a lot of open source(200K+ LOC last
year).
They are vitally important. I think there are a lot of them. But is
that the future of FSBs?

Are the only "pure" FSBs are lifestyle businesses?

Are the only non-lifestyle FSBs mixed businesses like Sun and IBM?

Larry
David N. Welton
2002-09-19 17:43:01 UTC
Permalink
Post by Adam Turoff
Aladdin
Covalent (What's your take on this Brian?)
Easy Software (the CUPS people)
Great Bridge (RIP)
MySQL
Prosa SRL (www.prosa.it)

Originally (and also in their new, reconstituted form) they were
constrained by their articles of incorporation (I think that's the
right term) to only use and develop free software.

http://www.prosa.it/history/statuto/statuto
Post by Adam Turoff
RedHat
Scriptics (RIP)
Sleepycat
Sourcefire (snort)
SuSE
Ximian
Zope Corp
--
David N. Welton
Consulting: http://www.dedasys.com/
Personal: http://www.dedasys.com/davidw/
Free Software: http://www.dedasys.com/freesoftware/
Apache Tcl: http://tcl.apache.org/
Brian Behlendorf
2002-09-19 17:52:28 UTC
Permalink
Post by Adam Turoff
Covalent (What's your take on this Brian?)
(full-disclosure, I'm a tech advisor to Covalent)

I think they have the same model as us, IBM, Sun, and others: write and
give away a lot of free/OS software, but sell a branded commercial product
that incorporates both open code and commercial code.

I think the example of "Squeak" is inconsequential, because it's a
research project that really has nothing to do with Disney, but with
someone who is/was a researcher there with the ability to investigate
anything that interested them. Unless I'm mistaken and there's a lot of
use of Squeak internally at Disney.

I like Larry's call to distinguish between the "lifestyle" businesses and
the "non-lifestyle" ones. Slightly before & concurrent with getting
involved with Apache, I started a web site design company called Organic
Online (in 1994, "Online" was the precursor to ".com") which built some of
the first web sites for companies like Harley, Levi's, Nike, Saturn Cars,
and tons more. It was a lot of fun, but it was all "time & materials",
and ultimately a fairly instable business. It grew to 3000 people at one
point, and then crashed with the rest of the dot-com industry, but it's
hard to tell whether that crash was due to dot-com or inherent limitations
in the T&M model. Anyways, I could go into a long litany of things that
were not fun about T&M, but let me leave it with, I didn't want to get
anywhere near that same kind of model again in the future.

I suspect there may be a third kind of FSB: one that uses & creates open
source software in the course of their work, but whose product has nothing
to do with software. Disney is an example, to the extent they may use
Squeak (or Apache or Linux, etc) inside their business. ISPs, as Tim
O'Reilly likes to point out, are a great example of this. It may be hard
to constrain this category given that 60% of the world uses Apache, but
perhaps one could refine it by calling any company that not only
contributes the odd patch but makes it a part of an employee's
responsibility to feed back into the pool they draw from an FSB. So how's
this:

FSB, Class A: companies (or divisions of companies) whose services are
entirely or mostly focused on (perhaps privately branded) open source
software; this includes support, custom engineering, consulting, etc.

FSB, Class B: like Class A, but also sell software with a non-Open-Source
component. These companies must not just pull from the Open Source
community, but feed back to it as well, and not just accidentally or by
happenstance, but for a business reason.

[I *not* would consider companies who incorporate Open Source software
into their products, but do *not* feed back to the community, FSBs]

FSB, Class C: companies (or divisions) who use Open Source software in
some part of their business, do not sell or provide services around a
software product at all, but do feed patches and enhancements back to the
open source community.

The hierarchy implied is intentional - I'd have a lot of respect for
someone who could build a large Class A company. Perhaps there's some way
for a Class A company to not be a "lifestyle business" as Larry describes;
that would be interesting. I don't know, though.

Also, in all classes, the open source component must be more than just an
offhand research project, it must be functionality related directly to the
company's products/services.

Brian
Rich Morin
2002-09-19 19:40:11 UTC
Permalink
Post by Adam Turoff
Aladdin
...
Although you're welcome to make your own classification scheme, it
seems peculiar to leave out firms who are contributing directly to
the success of the Open Source community:

ActiveState (Perl for Windoze, etc.)
Apple (Darwin, FreeBSD spin-offs)
IBM (Linux distribution and support)
O'Reilly (books, conferences, etc.)
...

-r
--
email: ***@cfcl.com; phone: +1 650-873-7841
http://www.cfcl.com/rdm - my home page, resume, etc.
http://www.cfcl.com/Meta - The FreeBSD Browser, Meta Project, etc.
http://www.ptf.com/dossier - Prime Time Freeware's DOSSIER series
http://www.ptf.com/tdc - Prime Time Freeware's Darwin Collection
Adam Turoff
2002-09-19 20:25:55 UTC
Permalink
Post by Rich Morin
Post by Adam Turoff
Aladdin
...
Although you're welcome to make your own classification scheme, it
seems peculiar to leave out firms who are contributing directly to
I said the list was incomplete. ;-)
Post by Rich Morin
ActiveState (Perl for Windoze, etc.)
I agree with Brian that ActiveState doesn't really fit the FSB
model, even though we haven't defined what it is.

ActiveState is a tool vendor who happens to focus on open source
programming languages. In a sense, ActiveState is about as open
source as Borland or Metrowerks were when they sold tools for C
and C++ development. At one point, ActiveState was deeply involved
with Perl core development, but that was years ago. ActiveState
has a liberal licensing policy where many of their products are
available free-of-charge, sometimes with source code, but they
always come with encumbered licenses that fail to meet the OSI
guidelines.


Can theKompany be considered an FSB? Some of their projects are
open source, some are proprietary, and at least one (Kivio) is a
hybrid: open source core, with proprietary add-ons.
Post by Rich Morin
Apple (Darwin, FreeBSD spin-offs)
IBM (Linux distribution and support)
Apple, IBM and Sun seem to fit the Disney model to some degree; although
they may sponsor open source projects, very few people are retained on
those projects, and the vast majority of income comes from non-software
or non-open source related activities.

To call Apple, Sun, etc. FSBs seems to imply that free/open source
software is a form of Ice-9[*].
Post by Rich Morin
O'Reilly (books, conferences, etc.)
I'll defer to Tim on this, but my gut feeling is that O'Reilly
isn't an FSB, but has a long standing free/open source bent on its
many offerings (print/online publication, conferences, etc.).

Z.

*: Ice-9: a fictional material described by Kurt Vonnegut in
(I forget which novel, they all run together) that is a
high-temperature crystaline form of water. Introducing a small
crystal of Ice-9 into a container/body of water instantly turns
all of the water in the container/body into Ice-9.
Rich Morin
2002-09-19 21:08:13 UTC
Permalink
Post by Adam Turoff
Post by Rich Morin
Apple (Darwin, FreeBSD spin-offs)
IBM (Linux distribution and support)
Apple, IBM and Sun seem to fit the Disney model to some degree; although
they may sponsor open source projects, very few people are retained on
those projects, and the vast majority of income comes from non-software
or non-open source related activities.
To call Apple, Sun, etc. FSBs seems to imply that free/open source
software is a form of Ice-9[*].
First, let's broaden the discussion to include firms which have an active
Open Source component to their business. IBM, for instance, has so many
irons in the fire that NO single activity defines the company.

If free software is strategically important (e.g., OpenOffice for Sun),
enables critical products (eg, Darwin for Apple) or forms the basis for a
set of services (e.g., Linux for IBM), the company can be considered to be
a "player" in the FSB arena.
Post by Adam Turoff
Post by Rich Morin
O'Reilly (books, conferences, etc.)
I'll defer to Tim on this, but my gut feeling is that O'Reilly
isn't an FSB, but has a long standing free/open source bent on its
many offerings (print/online publication, conferences, etc.).
What is the essential difference between Tim's publishing a Linux book
that includes a Linux CD and RedHat publishing a Linux CD distribution
that includes a Linux book? When Tim runs a conference (possibly at a
loss), is this less a part of the community than a USENIX event would be?

If we get too picky with our definitions, we may find that the only
businesses that make real money off Free Software aren't actually FSBs!

-r
--
email: ***@cfcl.com; phone: +1 650-873-7841
http://www.cfcl.com/rdm - my home page, resume, etc.
http://www.cfcl.com/Meta - The FreeBSD Browser, Meta Project, etc.
http://www.ptf.com/dossier - Prime Time Freeware's DOSSIER series
http://www.ptf.com/tdc - Prime Time Freeware's Darwin Collection
Simon Cozens
2002-09-20 04:05:09 UTC
Permalink
Post by Rich Morin
If we get too picky with our definitions, we may find that the only
businesses that make real money off Free Software aren't actually FSBs!
To me, the possibility of that conclusion makes it vital that we do
examine this properly. If it turned out that the "para-Open Source"
companies such as AS and O'Reilly were on the whole profitable and
the "pure Open Source" companies which support and sponsor development
on the whole weren't, that would speak volumes about FSB strategy.
--
``Perl is the successfull attempt to make a braindump directly
executable.''
- Lutz Donnerhacke in de.org.ccc
Adam Turoff
2002-09-20 14:44:17 UTC
Permalink
Post by Simon Cozens
Post by Rich Morin
If we get too picky with our definitions, we may find that the only
businesses that make real money off Free Software aren't actually FSBs!
To me, the possibility of that conclusion makes it vital that we do
examine this properly. If it turned out that the "para-Open Source"
companies such as AS and O'Reilly were on the whole profitable and
the "pure Open Source" companies which support and sponsor development
on the whole weren't, that would speak volumes about FSB strategy.
Rich's conclusion is that there is no such thing as an FSB.

Zope Corp and MySQL AB disprove that conclusion, even if you completely
discount the lifestyle FSB.

If I understand your point, Simon, then "para-Open Source"
organizations like Oxford, UC Berkeley, CMU, MIT, O'Reilly,
ActiveState, Apple, IBM and Sun are more important to the long-term
health and viability of Open Source.

Lifestyle FSBs are still an open issue, given their mixed history
and short life (c.f. Cyclic, Cygnus, and countless others).

Z.
Simon Cozens
2002-09-20 16:27:49 UTC
Permalink
Post by Adam Turoff
Post by Simon Cozens
Post by Rich Morin
If we get too picky with our definitions, we may find that the only
businesses that make real money off Free Software aren't actually FSBs!
To me, the possibility of that conclusion makes it vital that we do
examine this properly.
Rich's conclusion is that there is no such thing as an FSB.
The conclusion *I* was referring to at least is that "it may be the
case that the majority of businesses who make money out of free software
don't do so in a pure-FSB manner, and the majority of those who try to be
pure-FSB don't turn a profit".
Post by Adam Turoff
If I understand your point, Simon, then "para-Open Source"
And so my point was basically "we ought to look more deeply into whether or
not that conclusion is true, because if it is, it will affect how we council
new FSB startups."

Simon
--
"Do not meddle in the affairs of cats, for they are subtle and will piss on
your computer." --Bruce Graham
Larry M. Augustin
2002-09-20 17:08:34 UTC
Permalink
Post by Simon Cozens
Post by Adam Turoff
...
Rich's conclusion is that there is no such thing as an FSB.
The conclusion *I* was referring to at least is that "it may be the
case that the majority of businesses who make money out of free software
don't do so in a pure-FSB manner, and the majority of those who try to be
pure-FSB don't turn a profit".
Post by Adam Turoff
If I understand your point, Simon, then "para-Open Source"
And so my point was basically "we ought to look more deeply into
whether
Post by Simon Cozens
or
not that conclusion is true, because if it is, it will affect how we council
new FSB startups."
Amen!

Or, the conclusion may be that "Pure FSBs work as lifestyle businesses,
but not as investor-backed businesses."

But, to paraphrase slightly, "we need to look more deeply into whether
or not that conclusion is true, because if it is, it will affect how we
council new FSB startups."

Larry

--
Larry M. Augustin, ***@lmaugustin.com
Tel: +1.650.966.1759, Fax: +1.650.966.1753
Adam Turoff
2002-09-20 17:43:22 UTC
Permalink
Post by Larry M. Augustin
Or, the conclusion may be that "Pure FSBs work as lifestyle businesses,
but not as investor-backed businesses."
But, to paraphrase slightly, "we need to look more deeply into whether
or not that conclusion is true, because if it is, it will affect how we
council new FSB startups."
Again, both Zope Corp and MySQL AB appear to meet the criteria of
successful, investor-backed and FSB (even though we haven't defined what
constitutes an FSB yet). [*]

So the conclusion that "pure FSBs fail as investor-backed businesses"
appears to be false, at least in some circumstances. Nevertheless,
it is important to study where it is succeeding, where it is failing,
and why it doesn't make sense to grow lifestyle businesses into
investor-backed businesses.

(I'm purposly ignoring more contentious issues: whether RedHat, a
successful investor-backed business, is a FSB, or whether other
businesses like Sun and Apple are "para-Open Source" or FSBs.)

Z.

*: MySQL is privately held and has been profitable since 1996.
http://www.mysql.com/company/factsheet.html

MySQL AB recently closed its first round of financing with leading
European early stage investors.
http://www.mysql.com/company/management.html

At the behest of its largest investor, Opticality Ventures, Zope
Corporation released its software as open source, concentrating on
providing premier customization services.
http://www.zope.com/Corporate/CompanyProfile
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-22 17:35:39 UTC
Permalink
Post by Simon Cozens
Post by Adam Turoff
Rich's conclusion is that there is no such thing as an FSB.
The conclusion *I* was referring to at least is that "it may be the
case that the majority of businesses who make money out of free software
don't do so in a pure-FSB manner, and the majority of those who try to be
pure-FSB don't turn a profit".
I think Simon has hit the nail on the head.
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
David Kaufman
2002-09-23 04:38:24 UTC
Permalink
Post by Adam Turoff
Rich's conclusion is that there is no such thing as an FSB.
there *can* be no such thing as a Free Software Business if you define
Business so narrowly (and i might add radically) as to exclude business
which own and/or license any intellectual property :-) or violate,
somewhere in someone's opinion, the spirit of the GPL, or the feel-good
information wants to be free doctrine, even though that may be mine, or
yours or Open-Source's Altruistic Values. businesses are about Value,
and who can deliver it to a Market, not about Values, and who believes
in whose.
Post by Adam Turoff
Zope Corp and MySQL AB disprove that conclusion, even if you
completely discount the lifestyle FSB.
If I understand your point, Simon, then "para-Open Source"
organizations like Oxford, UC Berkeley, CMU, MIT, O'Reilly,
ActiveState, Apple, IBM and Sun are more important to the long-term
health and viability of Open Source.
if we exclude relevant participants like ActiveState, Apple and O'Reilly
from membership in the "Open Software Businesses" club, then all we do
is exclude ourselves from the Business aspects of Open Source software.
if we don't the define term "Free Software" (as used in the term "Free
Software Business") a bit more broadly to, say... "of or pertaining to
the entire open source industry", rather than "living and breathing the
rules of a particular software IP belief system, moral code, or licensed
behavior", then to be a successful free software business we'll
eventually have to forgo owning or selling anything!

IMO you only need to *participate* in the Free Software Industry, and
succeed in that business to be a Successful Free Software Business.
succeeding at business just means finding and keeping customers, selling
something of value, making a profit, and surviving to make they payroll
another day. therefore succeeding in the Free Software Business could
be defined as "profitably participating in the Free Software Industry".

by that definition, i don't know whether ActiveState (for instance) is a
*Successful* FSB. they are a Free Software Business since they
participate in the industry, but if you want to exclude their profits
from sale of their proprietary software from consideration in measuring
the "profitability" of their participation in the FS Industry, then no,
they may not be participating "profitably". OTOH if you reasonably
consider even those proprietary tools "participation" because, though
some tools are not open source, they are *dependent* on the open-source
industry to the extent that they couldn't exist without it.

how can AS's proprietary IDE for debugging Open-Source-perl-language
code, *not* be considered at least "participation" in the open source
industry? it may not be "good" participation in someone's opinion. it
may not be "good for" the open source movement in someone else's, but it
*is* participation and it is business, is it not? if it's a popular
visual debugger or a successful (?) product, that's because it's a good
tool, designed and developed for, and marketed exclusively to, perl
programmers, because perl is popular, and perl is popular because it's
free-as-in-freedom, *and* free-as-in-beer, and cool, and the not-free
debuuger wouldn't exist without it. until another business builds a
better or "freer" or otherwise more Value-able visual debugger for perl
on Win32... i guess it will continue to be a Potentially Successful Free
Software Industry tool that is Not Free (in either sense of the term)
and if that's not a Free Software Business story, what is?

clinging blindly to the GPL like a bible and trying to apply it's theory
of freedom to the business of software development, distribution and
support is like trying to apply textbook child psychology to actually
raising a kid. there are a lot of good ideas in there, and they may
look good on paper, but where the rubber meets the road each kid is
different, each business is different, each piece of software attracts
different a diffent group of users. and just like each parent must
figure out for themselves what works with their kids, each free software
business must find it's own opportunities to create and sell value to
it's unique market.

even a free software businesses cannot concern itself nearly as much
with whether it's activities are "important" or even compatible, with
the "long-term health and viability" of it's community. obviously a
business is not going to do things that it knows could even be
*apparently" harmful or completely counter to the goals of the industry
it is in, if only because a business's reputation is critical to finding
and keeping customers. any business might take the position that it's
industry's health and viability *is* important to it's own success, but
if it chooses to do so, the goals being met are the self-serving ones of
survival and profitability -- it's own business success, not the
industry's success. and if it chooses to do something apparently
counter to the "ideals" that are common in its' industry, then it's
taking the risk that it's customers will find more value in buying and
using it's closed source tool, than in avoiding proprietary software at
all costs, even in the case where there *is* no suitable open source
alternative, no competition. ActiveState takes that risk fairly boldly
because, one would assume, that it's customers, developers, are going to
be for the most part, more interested in the tools than the ideals.

the term free software, in terms of it's use in for-profit businesses,
cannot be limited to single software package, a particular license, a
specific versioned tarball, or even an entire class of software with
similar licensing terms. there are just too many angles. O'Reilly &
Associates sells information (some restrictively licensed, some not)
packaged into slacks of tree slices, while Covalent forks the apache
code, adds their own value, and resells the result, contributing (only
some?) of that value back to the community. companies use open tools to
produce closed products, and vice versa. these are all valid business
practices, realistic strategies, and Necessary Experiments. the open
source "community" can be, and is, very picky about what *software* it
accepts into the fold, but i'd suggest that the open source "business
community" does not have that luxury with respect to businesses, lest it
find itself devoid of any company. (pun intended)

it is most definitely cannot saddle it's "membership" with the
altruistic goals of the "community". just ask anyone in the
not-for-profit fund-raising industry. if "membership" in that industry
were dependent on the "purity" of the businesses' individual goals, and
that were defined as the business placing the industry's goals equal or
higher than it's own single simple goal of success in terms of
profitable survival... well, there'd be no not-for-profit fund-raising
industry! there is in fact more than enough profit in the
not-for-profit fund-raising industry to support an entire, well
industry... of products and service bureaus, vendors and suppliers to
assist these foundations and funds in their goal of raising massive
funds for "good" causes, without turning a "profit". the fact that such
and industry exists simply proves that only when a business can meet
it's profitability goals while *simultaneously* supporting (or at least
appearing to support) the altruistic goals of the larger industry, can
it survive and succeed.

when we consider Free Software more broadly as an entire industry, then
we see that while Apple, for instance, is not "in" that industry, in the
sense that they would not exist without it, they are most definitely
"in" the industry in the sense that they participate in it, and have in
fact become a quite important factor in the Free Software industry, of
late. what's the difference? is Apple a Free Software Business even
though they primarily build sell and service Non-Free Software? ...even
though they build, sell and service hardware, too?

take the auto industry as an example. some companies in that industry
do research, the researchers support companies that do engineering work;
GM employs the engineering firms, acquires materials and builds
automobiles, others buy those automobiles in bulk, market them, sell
them and service them. others finance the sale and lease of cars.
still others sell add-ons and third-party automotive "plug ins" :-)
more businesses exist solely to repaint, clean and refuel automobiles,
to rent them, buy them, resell them, refurbish them, drag them around
town when thy break, and crush them into cubes for recycling when they
can no longer be repaired. are any of these companies not in the
automobile industry? are any not "automotive" businesses? isn't Honda
an Automobile Business even though they also make motorcycles? isn't
Suzuki in the industry too, even though their cars
are but a relatively recent (and somewhat pathetic) addition to a
product line traditionally consisting of motorcycles, recreational
Jet-ski's and ATV's? of course they are. they each participate in
multiple industries, to varying degrees, and with varying degrees of
success in each.
Post by Adam Turoff
Lifestyle FSBs are still an open issue, given their mixed history
and short life (c.f. Cyclic, Cygnus, and countless others).
balderdash, i say :-)

continuing with the Free-Software-as-an-Industry-not-a-Religion theme,
every industry has lifestyle businesses; should the guy who owns and
operates his own auto repair shop *not* be considered a member of the
automotive industry, not an "automobile business", simply because he is
a tiny player, whose business may cease to exist the day he retires? i
think he *should* be a member since, after all, he and thousands of
others just like him constitute 90% of the national automotive third
party parts market. without them, TRW, a *huge* third party
after-market parts manufacturer (who also participates in the credit
reporting industry in no small way, yet is not denied to be an
automotive parts business, too) would not be participating in the
Automotive industry at all. TRW's automotive parts business is
dedicated to providing support to lifestyle businesses like this.

if, for argument's sake, some large proportion (like 30%) of all the
perl CGI scripts ever written happen to be written by self-employed
freelance programmers working as independent contractors for the
websites of small businesses' in their local cities and towns, how can
these small businesses *not* be considered Open Source businesses, even
given their "mixed history and short life"?

ActiveState is the TRW of this Open Source market. they've make a
successful business out of selling software (some free, some
proprietary) to programmers who use open source languages to sell their
programming services to anyone who'll pay for it. they add value to the
open source industry by enriching it with more tools, more activity,
more demand, and thus more business opportunities in the Open Source
market. while these self-employed "lifestyle business" developers
aren't major players *individually*, in our "Free Software Industry",
they do consider theirs open source businesses, and ActiveState treats
them as such, listens to their business needs, and the needs of *their*
customers, because these programmers are using open source for it's
value, are adding value, and are profitably selling the resulting
services and products. is there an IPO in their future? probably not.
a Fortune Magazine cover? i don't think so. but they are businesses
nonetheless. are they Free Software Businesses? many would tell you
that they are. are they *Successful* Free Software Businesses?

well, of course that depends on your definition of success.

but please, if you want to limit your definition (or the discussion) of
"successful free software businesses" to Pre-IPO Free Software
Businesses, or Venture-Capital-Funded Free Software Businesses, Free
Software Businesses
That-Offer-Major-Medical-Insurance-Benefits,-Can-Afford-The-Salary-I-Wan
t,-And-Can-And-Will-Topple-Microsoft's-Monopoly-One-Fine-Day, by all
means do so, but call a spade a spade.

-dave
Simon Cozens
2002-09-23 09:51:40 UTC
Permalink
Post by David Kaufman
they may not be participating "profitably". OTOH if you reasonably
consider even those proprietary tools "participation" because, though
some tools are not open source, they are *dependent* on the open-source
industry to the extent that they couldn't exist without it.
I'm afraid you've just tripped my bogometer: I read this after looking at
Radiator, the major product of Open System Consultants.
(http://www.open.com.au/)

It's written in Perl; does that mean they're participating in the free
software industry? Does that make them an FSB?
--
I used to be disgusted, now I find I'm just amused.
-- Elvis Costello
David Kaufman
2002-09-23 17:47:08 UTC
Permalink
Post by Simon Cozens
Post by David Kaufman
they may not be participating "profitably". OTOH if you reasonably
consider even those proprietary tools "participation" because, though
some tools are not open source, they are *dependent* on the
open-source industry to the extent that they couldn't exist without
it.
I'm afraid you've just tripped my bogometer: I read this after
looking at Radiator, the major product of Open System Consultants.
(http://www.open.com.au/)
It's written in Perl; does that mean they're participating in the free
software industry? Does that make them an FSB?
by this broad definition, yes, they are a business and they are
participating in the industry, but only as consumers, or users. they're
using Free Software to produce non-free software. since they're not
developing free software, they're relevant to the free software industry
only as consumers. they're certainly not the only software company
building non-free software in perl!

i see your point, though. if we define an FSB too broadly and everyone
is included, it's about as meaningless as defining it so narrowly that
no one is included :-)

so my question then is, if we want an FSB to be something in the middle,
between idealisticly aligned development businesses and greedy users
using the software to produce proprietary source-secret software, then
what exactly do we want an FSB to be? must it assume one or more
of the roles specifically laid out in the GPL license? that is to say,
must an FSB play one or more of these exact roles to be a "Free Software
Business"?

authoring free software
modifying/extending free software
distributing free software
supporting free software

or possibly these as well:

authoring free documentation
modifying/extending free documentation
distributing free documentation
supporting free documentation (?)

to me, Open System Consultants appears to be a Free Software User.
They *are* an important part of the Free Software Industry, as members
of it's *consumer* market. We may feel that using an open source
language to produce a proprietary product, selling their source code
without the right to modify and/or redistribute it, and using the word
"Open" in the name of their company conflicts with the Altruistic Goals
of the open source community, but we must admit that the *business* of
Free Software is still an experiment, and for experiments to teach us
anything, there must first be many different types of attempts, many
failures, and many only-partial successes toward reaching the goal of
survival through profitability, before IMO we can say what *should* and
especially should *not* be allowed. if we as a Community invalidate
experimentation by businesses that think they can innovate and be
profitable, we'd be stifling any further innovation by limiting what is
"allowed" beyond those 4 (or 8) business practices explicitly
sanctioned by the text of the GPL.

i don't think we should decree from on high that Open System Consultants
is not a Free Software "Business", but maybe we should instead segment
the Free Software Industry into businesses categories accordingly,
reserving our subjective judgements about what is right and wrong, good
or bad, until the successes and failures of meeting *business* goals can
be factored in.

a skeletal segmentation of the free software industry might begin with:

A. businesses that develop free software
B. businesses that contribute to free software
C. businesses that distribute free software
D. businesses that provide support for free software
E. businesses that use free software

i was about to add all those again, replacing free software with free
documentation, but i think documentation usually falls into one of the
above categories, the developers may write their own docs, others may
contribute docs, support providers might extend, rewrite, repackage docs
into other formats, or even patch the docs. in those cases, in my
loose-ish industry, the docs become part of the software package itself.
by that token i guess O'Reilly would probably fall into category D.
(selling) support for free software.

i will probably now be flamed because most books are not themselves
"Free" as in freedom, but that is what i meant by "loose-ish". the
strict definition of "Free Software" and the distinction between that
and "Open Source" software must be blurred somewhat in the context of
business (as it may be in the mind of those outside the industry). If
O'Reilly publishes a restrictively licensed book about a truly Free
software project, the book cannot be considered a "contribution" to the
project because it can't be incorporated into the software, or
distributed with same freedom that the software can. O'Reilly can
however sell the book to the software's users separately, as a form of
value-added support with its own licensing terms, in the same way
someone could offer a toll-free technical support phone number for
apache users to call and ask questions but the terms of it's use contain
a restriction that the customer cannot tape-record the call or post
transcripts of Q&A sessions on their website's Apache FAQ. the content
of the support, (like the content of the O'Reilly book) remains
proprietary. selling proprietary support (or even add-ons) for free
software is another possible, valid, and i assert allowable, business
experiment. O'Reilly and 1-900-ApacheQA are not just users of Open
Source they sell support. then again, i guess maybe i should just leave
the distinction between software and docs, open and owned, to the patent
attorneys :-)

if a business chooses to take an open source product, fork the code and
make their own version, releasing their product as free software under a
new name, they are developers of open source software, competing with an
existing developer (who may or may not even be a *business*) from within
the open software industry. if on the other hand they release a
reverse-engineered clone under a proprietary license, they are (perhaps
nefarious) users, who are also competing with a free software developer
from outside the industry.

so i guess my point is that if you want to clarify the discussion to
differentiate businesses like Open System Consultants from the
discussion of Free Software Businesses, it might be clearer if we use
more descriptive terms like Free Software *Development* Businesses or FS
*Support* Businesses, or Businesses that do not develop proprietary
software (if that's what we we mean).

OSC is certainly not a developer of Free Software, but they have their
place in the industry, and BTW, may very well be in the black, happily
making money "in the industry", and merrily considering themselves a
Free Software Business. if they *are* in the black (even as a lowly
lifestyle business), would you not want to at least mention businesses
like theirs in your article, if only as an example of one extreme on the
spectrum of possible experiments now taking place to try to make money
in the Free Software world?

-dave
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-24 04:46:05 UTC
Permalink
Executive summary: weakening the definition of FSB because few
companies qualify is a bad idea, IMO. Maybe we should weaken it, but
if so, what we should do is weaken the definition of FS from RMS's
definition or the OSD to "achieves the goals of education, sharing
among programmers, and modifiability/repairability by users to a very
high degree."

Interesting back door for O'Reilly, for example, because even though
the books are (mostly) not free, they are clearly enabling for all
those goals, not least through their (well-deserved) popularity.
David> so my question then is, if we want an FSB to be something
David> in the middle,

I don't see any point in defining an FSB as "something in the middle".
We can admit that all will fall short, but still aim for perfection.

David> between idealisticly aligned development businesses and
David> greedy users using the software to produce proprietary
David> source-secret software, then what exactly do we want an FSB
David> to be? must it assume one or more of the roles
David> specifically laid out in the GPL license?

No.

David> to me, Open System Consultants appears to be a Free
David> Software User. They *are* an important part of the Free
David> Software Industry, as members of it's *consumer* market.

Bull. As consumers, they're tiny. "Part," yes, but negligible, just
as I am. Let's be realistic: the only potentially important consumers
of open source software as individual entities are governments.

BTW, I think it's Bernard Lang and Jean Camp we owe thanks to for
keeping those possibilities "on the radar" as they develop in the EC
and Peru, etc.

David> the Altruistic Goals of the open source community,

The open source community's goals are in general not altruistic, or at
least not necessarily so. We have a classic multiperson prisoners'
dilemma here (it is a dominant strategy, or nearly so, for everyone to
free ride) with substantial beneficial externalities to choosing the
dominated strategy. These beneficial externalities are especially
strong because of the network effects.

Thus, compared to any "classic game theoretic equilibrium" it is in
everyone's interest (including Microsoft's, I suspect, although I
haven't computed it) to have an open source outcome where all
contribute their software to the public domain, and all return
appropriate financial remuneration to developers whose software they
use.

This may be a pipe dream, but OTOH there may be institutions we can
construct which will enable us to come far closer to the ideal than
the current situation. Let's not give up the ideal. That unfairly
cheapens the achievements of those who "made it" as well as those who
came damn close.

David> if we as a Community invalidate experimentation by
David> businesses that think they can innovate and be profitable,
David> we'd be stifling any further innovation by limiting what is
David> "allowed" beyond those 4 (or 8) business practices
David> explicitly sanctioned by the text of the GPL.

I think you're projecting here. Nobody has said "Only if RMS would
like it is it an FSB."

While I don't want to restrict FSB to the roles enumerated by RMS in
his various writings, I do insist that if your profit comes from
selling non-free software you are not an FSB. Not even if your
operating profit is used to subsidize substantial amounts of
(loss-making) FS development---in that case you are a proprietary
software business philanthropist, specializing in FS philanthropy. We
know how long that philanthropy will last if you fall into the hands
of a conventional VC, right?

I'm more than happy to give honorable mention or even honorary FSB
status to companies like TrollTech, where their primary product is
both free on Unix and probably freely available on Windows via Cygwin,
although their Windows license is proprietary, and Aladdin, which if I
understand the story right would have accepted the GNU GPL as the
primary public distribution license if RMS had permitted exclusion of
the hardware companies which, although they may have distributed
source, were distributing immutable binaries and thus (IMO) do not
qualify for GPL privileges in spirit. But unless the free software is
what pays for the early retirement of the proprietors, those are
technically not FSBs IMO.

I'm also willing to give a _lot_ of credit to firms like those and
like SleepyCat (I'm mentioning these firms because I've studied their
licenses and practices, not because I think they deserve more credit
than anyone else) because they have gone and (1) given away their
software to very large numbers of potential retail customers under
nearly free licenses (by which I mean they allow everyone to see the
source, and most of the customers by head count to freely modify and
redistribute the software) and (2) become their own toughest
competitors by releasing their previous versions of their commercial
products as free software. This (to my mind) clearly distinguishes
them from say RSA where a reasonably good free library (RSAREF) was
publically available, but the "good stuff" never was.[1] Thus RSAREF did
not have the educational value (sharing) that GNU Ghostscript, GPLed
Qt, or Berkeley db v. (current-1) have.

If you want to weaken the definition of free software business, IMO
that's the way to go: measure the freeness by the degree to which the
software product achieves the goals of sharing among programmers,
education of those interested, and modifiability/repairability to suit
the needs of users. Not by "factoring in [business success]":

David> reserving our subjective judgements about what is right and
David> wrong, good or bad, until the successes and failures of
David> meeting *business* goals can be factored in.

We will always be able to find businesses that work to satisfy
business goals, sacrificing "lifestyle" and "ethical" goals. If
satisfying portfolio value growth goals is incompatible with being a
"women's business mutual fund", a "black-owned business mutual fund,"
or a "green mutual fund", I think that's a pity, but no excuse for
changing the definition of those ethically constrained portfolios.

Similarly, the success or failure of FSBs as businesses is no reason
to change the definition.

David> if they *are* in the black (even as a lowly lifestyle

Lifestyle businesses are a symptom of _highly_ evolved economies, not
the reverse. Lifestyle businesses are being excluded because
typically proprietors of successful one are pretty stellar, either as
businessmen or developers (or whatever they do). They can afford it.

What we want to know here is whether "FSB" is a viable business niche
for people who are not yet assured that they can afford to send any of
their kids to Stanford. That wealth can be generated either as 100s
of proprietors or (as LMA keeps saying, I think rightly) as employees
on a large (100s/firm) scale. But a few examples of successful
lifestyle FSBs and a bunch of profitable "not even close" wannabes is
not what we want to see.

David> business), would you not want to at least mention
David> businesses like theirs in your article, if only as an
David> example of one extreme on the spectrum of possible
David> experiments now taking place to try to make money in the
David> Free Software world?

If it were my article, as I understand their business, the answer is
"No chance." They're also "in the black" in the sense that they're
not part of the rainbow at all.


Footnotes:
[1] This may not be a good example, several people have testified on
this list that they consider implementing RSA a trivial (just kidding)
and straightforward task.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-20 09:44:51 UTC
Permalink
Rich> If free software is strategically important (e.g.,
Rich> OpenOffice for Sun), enables critical products (eg, Darwin
Rich> for Apple) or forms the basis for a set of services (e.g.,
Rich> Linux for IBM), the company can be considered to be a
Rich> "player" in the FSB arena.

Sure, and these companies may very well make a "pure" free software
play impossible by employing (for more salary and more fun) the very
people who could give a pure FS play a competitive edge.

Rich> What is the essential difference between Tim's publishing a
Rich> Linux book that includes a Linux CD and RedHat publishing a
Rich> Linux CD distribution that includes a Linux book?

Support. O'Reilly is a book publishing company. None of those great
authors are on retainer in case a reader has a problem with the CD.

Rich> If we get too picky with our definitions, we may find that
Rich> the only businesses that make real money off Free Software
Rich> aren't actually FSBs!

Exactly. That's one of the things that Open Source is about.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-22 17:34:22 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Rich> What is the essential difference between Tim's publishing a
Rich> Linux book that includes a Linux CD and RedHat publishing a
Rich> Linux CD distribution that includes a Linux book?
Support. O'Reilly is a book publishing company. None of those great
authors are on retainer in case a reader has a problem with the CD.
Actually, we do have an active tech support department for all our books,
and regularly relay questions to our authors as well. And we do this for
free, including the service in the price of the often proprietary book.
Whereas FSBs give away the software but charge for the service. Go figure.
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-22 22:39:23 UTC
Permalink
Tim> On 9/20/02 2:44 AM, "Stephen J. Turnbull"
Tim> <***@xemacs.org> wrote:

Rich> What is the essential difference between Tim's publishing a
Rich> Linux book that includes a Linux CD and RedHat publishing a
Rich> Linux CD distribution that includes a Linux book?
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Support. O'Reilly is a book publishing company. None of those
great authors are on retainer in case a reader has a problem
with the CD.
Tim> Actually, we do have an active tech support department for
Tim> all our books,

But does this tech service department *help* with failed CD installs?
Are they trained for that?

And what do you do if a reader complains that the author doesn't
reply?

Unless the answers are something radically different from "Best
effort, but untrained" and "Ping the author; soothe the reader" I
don't see anything close to FS business, although there's obviously a
lot of FS activity going on.

Tim> And we do this for free, including the service in the price
Tim> of the often proprietary book. Whereas FSBs give away the
Tim> software but charge for the service.

Going the extra half-mile and failing will sell a lot of books for
O'Reilly. It loses customers for the FSB, which must go the whole
mile as a matter of course and then check whether the customer wants
another half.

Tim> Go figure.

That's exactly what we're here for! :-)
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-23 16:33:01 UTC
Permalink
Thanks for the vote of confidence in our tech support staff, Stephen. You're
making an awful lot of assumptions, weaving them into a straw man, and then
shooting it down. I think that they are as good or better than the tech
support at traditional software companies. In fact, many of them *were* on
the tech support team of O'Reilly's software division, when we had one. And
in addition to free support for books, they also provide support for our
paid Safari online information service.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Tim> On 9/20/02 2:44 AM, "Stephen J. Turnbull"
Rich> What is the essential difference between Tim's publishing a
Rich> Linux book that includes a Linux CD and RedHat publishing a
Rich> Linux CD distribution that includes a Linux book?
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Support. O'Reilly is a book publishing company. None of those
great authors are on retainer in case a reader has a problem
with the CD.
Tim> Actually, we do have an active tech support department for
Tim> all our books,
But does this tech service department *help* with failed CD installs?
Are they trained for that?
And what do you do if a reader complains that the author doesn't
reply?
Unless the answers are something radically different from "Best
effort, but untrained" and "Ping the author; soothe the reader" I
don't see anything close to FS business, although there's obviously a
lot of FS activity going on.
Tim> And we do this for free, including the service in the price
Tim> of the often proprietary book. Whereas FSBs give away the
Tim> software but charge for the service.
Going the extra half-mile and failing will sell a lot of books for
O'Reilly. It loses customers for the FSB, which must go the whole
mile as a matter of course and then check whether the customer wants
another half.
Tim> Go figure.
That's exactly what we're here for! :-)
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-24 11:52:13 UTC
Permalink
Tim> Thanks for the vote of confidence in our tech support staff,
Tim> Stephen. You're making an awful lot of assumptions,

Well, I'm sorry if you consider that a vote of no confidence.[1] Do
you really mean to imply that some customers identify ORA with "tech
support"? Anyway, I didn't intend it that way. I am a very big fan
of O'Reilly, both you and the company named for you, have been for
more than 10 years, and think that both have been major forces for
promotion of free software and the spirit of sharing in software.

My point should be obvious if you turn it about: don't you think Bob
Young et al might take offense at _your_ "strong vote of confidence"
in Red Hat's tech support staff?

So I think it's reasonable to expect better support from Red Hat (even
though you may not get it), and reasonable to change vendors if you
don't get a certain level of it. Good support from O'Reilly based on
a book purchase is an unexpected bonus, and I'd be crazy to not buy
CJKV just because it happened that nobody at O'Reilly was willing to
answer my questions about compatibility of Linux driver-hardware
compatibility after buying the bronco book. Right?

The question here is defining "free software business", and for the
purpose of advising would-be FSB startups, I don't think ORA qualifies
as a "true FSB" to emulate.[2] AFAIK none of ORA's primary activities
depend on the existence of free software, nor on whether or not any
given free software product stays free. Look at how naturally the X
Window System Series encompasses X Protocol (as free as you can get),
Xlib and Xt (multiple licensing model), and Motif (decidedly unfree,
at least it was when vol. 6 was first published). My own dogeared
favorite, UJIP, happily advocates all sorts of proprietary software.
"To emulate ORA's contribution to free software, you find a business
model that doesn't care whether software is free or not."

How do we justify calling that an FSB in a way that's useful to
startup FSBs? I don't have a good answer, although I'd like to have
one. Maybe you have a generic model in mind (ie, lines of business
that are as profitable for free software as they are for nonfree
software), or perhaps there is something specific about ORA
publications and support services that is enabled by free software?


Footnotes:
[1] I apologize for the word "untrained." What I meant was "prepared
for a broad range of fairly specialized questions."

[2] I'm rethinking the issue of classifying ORA as an FSB, although I
wouldn't currently classify it as an FSB. Cf. my reply to David
Kaufmann, which I wrote _before_ reading your post.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-24 20:07:08 UTC
Permalink
On 9/24/02 4:52 AM, "Stephen J. Turnbull" <***@xemacs.org> wrote:

stuff about O'Reilly snipped. Thanks, Stephen, for the nice words.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
How do we justify calling that an FSB in a way that's useful to
startup FSBs? I don't have a good answer, although I'd like to have
one. Maybe you have a generic model in mind (ie, lines of business
that are as profitable for free software as they are for nonfree
software), or perhaps there is something specific about ORA
publications and support services that is enabled by free software?
Well, I wouldn't call us an FSB. But I'm also not sure that making up a
rigid definition is all that useful.

I've always liked to point out that humans like to think in terms of
boundaries, but that natural events tend more to gradients surrounding an
increasingly dense core. Where is the edge of the earth's gravity?

I suppose, in practice, you can define a pragmatic edge, but it's always
changing, just like the shoreline between land and sea.

I think it's more interesting to ask the question "What business practices
associated with free software are the most successful?" rather than defining
a business as an "fsb" depending on whether or not it meets some litmus
test.

My guess is that very few, if any, successful businesses will be rigid FSBs
by the hardline definition of this group. Every single example I can think
of has a mix of free and proprietary in its business model. I just don't
think that drawing a bright line makes a lot of sense.

Earlier in this thread, someone mentioned that I like to cite ISPs as
examples of businesses that profit from free software. I challenge you to
distinguish them from even the early Red Hat except on grounds of ideology,
and the fact that they didn't actually distribute software in the 1980's
paradigm, but instead delivered it in the emerging paradigm of the 21st
century. Very little proprietary software for many of them; in some cases,
major contributions back to their community. (I like to point out that Uunet
was driven originally by usenet, and that Rick Adams was the author of B
News.)

Here, to me, are some interesting questions:

* To what extent is the software sold or "performed" by the business shared
by a community of developers rather than controlled by a single entity? Do
those developers compete or cooperate in extending it? (I love the fact
that Apache was started by a community of users. This is far more
interesting to me than the Red Hat branded ketsup model.)

* What circumstances control the different economic returns from a strategy
of maximizing usage vs. maximizing revenue? That is, when is it better to
give your software (or documentation, or music, or whatever) away in order
to get users and visibility? When is it better to restrict distribution or
user license rights in order to get revenue?

* What kinds of products and projects are not created by the natural
dynamics of free software communities and benefit from added incentives
created by managed scarcity (i.e. Redistribution restrictions)?

* What are the useful competitive tools that matter when the product is a
freely redistributable commodity?

* What are the "real" ownership practices of free software communities,
independent of licenses. (See my earlier note about RMS and free
documentation.) Eric Raymond addressed this in "Homesteading the
Noosphere." I agree that there's a strong system of moral rights that
amounts to "property rights" that play a bigger role in this discussion than
is often acknowledged.

* What are the possible revenue streams associated with free software? How
hard are they to achieve? (i.e. What are the costs beyond the development of
the software required to realize them, versus the possible return?)

I think that answering these questions is the point of this discussion, but
the framing of the question around "identity" ("What is an FSB?) and narrow
definitions seems to me to get in the way of the answers.

If you want a definition, I'd say something very broad, like "An FSB is any
business that uses free software as a significant part of its business
strategy, and that profits, directly or indirectly, from the wider use of
free software."

And yes, that includes O'Reilly, and IBM, and Sun, and ActiveState, and
CollabNet, as well as Red Hat. But if you don't use a very broad
definition, I think that before long you won't have any members left in the
set at all. Red Hat, and SleepyCat, and so on, all have at least some
proprietary component to their business -- often more than outsiders realize
-- and the distinctions that are made seem to me to be largely of academic
interest. If Red Hat gets 25% (numbers pulled out of a red hat) of their
revenue from proprietary training, and over time they add other proprietary
products and services, at what point do they cross over the line and
suddenly stop being an FSB?
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
Rich Morin
2002-09-24 21:02:09 UTC
Permalink
After about 30 years in the computer field, my reaction upon hearing
the words "free" or "open" is to hang onto my wallet. I have heard,
for instance, both Intel and Microsoft claim that they were the most
open platforms around, because their product could be used with so
many {OSes, boxes}. As a result, my (rather jaded) view is that any
vendor will be happy to sell into an "open" arena, as long as _their
own_ product faces no real competition.

Similarly, most FSBs find _something_ to restrict, in order to coerce
the "free beer" crowd into dipping into their wallets. It could be
distribution, features, support, updates, or something else, but there
is almost always a part of the offering that you can't get for free.

That being the case, my question becomes "what part(s) of the total
offering can I restrict, while doing the least damage to my goals in
releasing the software?" This depends entirely on my goals, but at
least it is an answerable question.

Keeping the source code open is very important to me. I discovered
the Unix community about 20 years ago and was really excited about
its status as a "distributed laboratory for computer science". At
the same time, I was severely dismayed by the fact that my status as
a "binary licensee" kept me from (legally :-) examining the source.

With the advent of widespread Free and Open Source software, I have
full access to the laboratory. So, it is important to me to make my
own creations available to others, for both others' benefit and mine.
Other developers may have goals that differ from mine, however, and
they should pick strategies that work toward their desired ends.

-r

P.S. Apropos of the "lifestyle" issue, I am a third-generation
independent businessman. For me, the ability of an individual
to set up their own business is a very important freedom and
one which (sadly) is often threatened by labor laws, etc.
--
email: ***@cfcl.com; phone: +1 650-873-7841
http://www.cfcl.com/rdm - my home page, resume, etc.
http://www.cfcl.com/Meta - The FreeBSD Browser, Meta Project, etc.
http://www.ptf.com/dossier - Prime Time Freeware's DOSSIER series
http://www.ptf.com/tdc - Prime Time Freeware's Darwin Collection
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-24 22:21:00 UTC
Permalink
I really like this formulation of a central goal for free software/open
source: "full access to the laboratory."
Post by Rich Morin
After about 30 years in the computer field, my reaction upon hearing
the words "free" or "open" is to hang onto my wallet. I have heard,
for instance, both Intel and Microsoft claim that they were the most
open platforms around, because their product could be used with so
many {OSes, boxes}. As a result, my (rather jaded) view is that any
vendor will be happy to sell into an "open" arena, as long as _their
own_ product faces no real competition.
Similarly, most FSBs find _something_ to restrict, in order to coerce
the "free beer" crowd into dipping into their wallets. It could be
distribution, features, support, updates, or something else, but there
is almost always a part of the offering that you can't get for free.
That being the case, my question becomes "what part(s) of the total
offering can I restrict, while doing the least damage to my goals in
releasing the software?" This depends entirely on my goals, but at
least it is an answerable question.
Keeping the source code open is very important to me. I discovered
the Unix community about 20 years ago and was really excited about
its status as a "distributed laboratory for computer science". At
the same time, I was severely dismayed by the fact that my status as
a "binary licensee" kept me from (legally :-) examining the source.
With the advent of widespread Free and Open Source software, I have
full access to the laboratory. So, it is important to me to make my
own creations available to others, for both others' benefit and mine.
Other developers may have goals that differ from mine, however, and
they should pick strategies that work toward their desired ends.
-r
P.S. Apropos of the "lifestyle" issue, I am a third-generation
independent businessman. For me, the ability of an individual
to set up their own business is a very important freedom and
one which (sadly) is often threatened by labor laws, etc.
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
David Kaufman
2002-09-25 06:09:24 UTC
Permalink
[...] most FSBs find _something_ to restrict, in order to coerce
the "free beer" crowd into dipping into their wallets. It could be
distribution, features, support, updates, or something else, but there
is almost always a part of the offering that you can't get for free.
true. that's why i like Tim's observation that perhaps it's not so much
a matter of finding profitable FSB's as it is a matter of finding in
what ways, and to what degree, businesses can, or must, produce un-free
(as in freedom) products and services to extend, augment and subsidize
their free software products and services.

snort, for instance, is embracing both extremes quite successfully and
seems to me, to perhaps be one model that could apply to many free
software projects. snort.org offers the "pure" GPL'ed product, with
full source code, sourceforge CVS access, mailing lists and freedom
for the price of a free beer. simultaneously, the author operates a
business dedicated to selling the same product, with a sexier name, more
slickly packaged, well-marketed and optionally bundled with high-end
technical service packages, hardware and even hosting service options.

snort seems to be a great candidate for Simon's interviews as well as a
good example of the dual-licensing model, with the split-personality
twist. is snort a proprietary product or open source? it is whichever
you need it to be, depending on the your needs as the user, or the
"audience", if you will. snort.org's audience needs open-source and
they get it. sourcefire.com's audience needs a sales rep, a warrantee,
a service contract, a shrink-wrapped box (or optionally, a rackmountable
box) and they get it. it's a great example of the marketing axiom that
people value a thing based more on the price they have to pay for it,
than on it's actual inherent "value".

contrast this with MySQL, who also dual-licenses, but does not
"dual-market" their software. they seem to be missing the point that
snort has embraced: if you're selling bottled water, you might not want
to include the fact (in your marketing brochures) that the same water in
the Perrier bottle can be acquired for free from the same stream, if you
don't want to pay for the bottle, the label, or delivery (to a $1.00
vending machine near you). of course it is true that GPL'd MySQL and
proprietary MySQL are the same thing, but if Marty Roesch were in
charge mysql.com would redirect browsers to mysql.org, where a
Times-font, no-frills, no-gif's, geek-friendly site would offer source
code, build instructions, mailing lists and CVS snapshots, while
SQLFire.com (or some such) would sell the product with a department of
marketing staff writing the press releases, ad designers fashioning the
new logo, and the only technical development going on there would be
re-configuring InstallShield to each new released version, bundling the
dbserver with different operating systems and expensive hardware, and
re-programming the call-routing software for the new floor of tech
support operators and for-rent company technical consultants.

i suppose those customers who can pay hundreds or thousands for a
license want to see that they are getting a "high value" product, and
either don't realize or don't care that a similarly functional free (as
in both freedom and beer) version is available, as well.

it *feels* deceptive to me, to be so duplicitous, but the ends do seem
to justify the means, as the geeks who frequent the geek-friendly
snort.org *are* driving up the value of SourceFire's proprietary
product, and they do deserve a free-as-in-beer unlimited royalty-free
license to the product, with a side order of freedom, for their
contributions, and those (we) geeks who don't happen to contribute?
well, i'll just consider the $25,000 license to be a tax on those who
can't be bothered to compile their own open-source software, install it
themselves without 1-800 tech support, and/or host it themselves on
their own server, or hire personnel to do so :-)
That being the case, my question becomes "what part(s) of the total
offering can I restrict, while doing the least damage to my goals in
releasing the software?" This depends entirely on my goals, but at
least it is an answerable question.
if dual-licensing, with dual pricing, dual service-levels and dual
bundling is used, it would appear (mind you *just* appear) that nothing
significant is "held back" from the free version. it is just targeted
towards developers who perhaps don't necessarily need (or want to pay
for) say, the slick foolproof install program, silk-screened CD,
friendly telephone tech support operators, and highly market-researched
and catchy new name. i suppose it's a half-full vs. half-empty
question, whether you want to look at this as "restricting/limiting the
free version", or "enhancing the commercial version in ways the users of
the free version wouldn't really need or want, but that add ease of
puchase, ease of use, and other value that the less technical consumer
market sees as value", (like removing recusive acroyms, technical lingo,
and smileys from the documentation, and reformatting the manpage into a
printed booklet with screenshots and large print frinstance).
Keeping the source code open is very important to me [...] to make my
own creations available to others, for both others' benefit and mine.
Other developers may have goals that differ from mine, however, and
they should pick strategies that work toward their desired ends.
exactly. i seem to be seeing this, in myself and others, over and over
again. it's like Maslow's hierarchy of human needs, but turned upside
down. developers of open-source software first and foremost seek
competence and self-actualization though conceiving, designing and
developing good software, *then* (in order of importance, not nec.
chronologically) we seek the approval, acceptance and esteem of our
peers, by sharing it and collaborating on it's improvement with other
developers, and then (seemingly least importantly) we try to figure out
how to use it to meet our basic human physical needs like paying the
rent and buying groceries. ironically, the latter gets the least
attention, much less innovation.

but social peer-approval (from other developers and users) it is the
priority. i'd rather write and collaborate and release free software in
my spare time, and find some *other* way to support myself, than hide my
source or discourage other developers, my colleagues, from
collaborating, contributing and sharing in the satisfaction (and esteem)
that we get from
producing high quality software.

of course, money doesn't appear to be damaging snort's goals, esteem or
product one bit :-)

i'm quite interested in hearing how others feel about the dual licensing
+ dual branding model that snort is using,

-dave
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-25 07:59:29 UTC
Permalink
Tim> Well, I wouldn't call us an FSB. But I'm also not sure that
Tim> making up a rigid definition is all that useful.

I agree, not to FSB operators, not directly. It is definitely useful
to economists. I think economic thinking is useful to FSBs as long as
you remember that economic models are benchmarks---not reality, they
primarily emphasize the rapidly decreasing benefits to following the
herd, and they (perhaps) expose assumptions which permit substantial
profit when you find a market where they're _not_ true.

Tim> I've always liked to point out that humans like to think in
Tim> terms of boundaries, but that natural events tend more to
Tim> gradients surrounding an increasingly dense core.

How to be a perfect businessman: become perfectly One with The Market,
and then do what comes naturally. No argument from me; that's
precisely analogous to what I say when trying to teach graduate
students to stop being _students_ and start being _economists_.
But...

Tim> I suppose, in practice, you can define a pragmatic edge, but
Tim> it's always changing, just like the shoreline between land
Tim> and sea.

Given that almost all humans most of the time are wedded to thinking
in terms of boundaries, if we want to give pragmatic advice, I think
we have to have pragmatic boundaries.

Tim> I challenge you to distinguish [ISPs] from even the early Red
Tim> Hat except on grounds of ideology, and the fact that they
Tim> didn't actually distribute software in the 1980's paradigm,
Tim> but instead delivered it in the emerging paradigm of the 21st
Tim> century.

Very simple: unlike Red Hat, their business operations don't care
whether any given piece of software is, was, or will be open or
proprietary, except as directly reflected in the bottom line. If you
can substitute proprietary software for the free software in your
operation with no change except that you give up your free beer, in
what sense are you promoting _free_ software, or even "access to the
laboratory"? (Well said, Rich! Nice phrase!)

This "works" because they only have to deal with a small number of
vendors. If BIND, the OS, and Apache all go proprietary one day
(including past versions for the sake of argument), the ISPs shut down
for a day, go to Fry's Electronics, buy one copy of each product, and
they're back up. Raise fees to cover the one-time cost, otherwise no
change in day-to-day operations. Sure, it's more complex than I put
it here, but (to the best of my limited knowledge) it really doesn't
much affect their day-to-day operations. (It doesn't count if their
sysadmins moonlight on Linux or Apache dev teams, only if that's part
of the job description.)

If all free software that Red Hat deals in suddenly went proprietary,
the first thing that would happen to Red Hat is that they'd have to
hire a bunch of lawyers and purchasing agents, probably at the expense
of riffing a few now-useless developers who no longer have access to
source, and losing some of their best to now well-paying proprietary
upstream projects---a radical change in the way they do business.

You can draw a complementary distinction for Aladdin, too, though not
quite as sharp. If they withdraw the AFPL and GPL and make Ghostscript
entirely proprietary, then they're going to want to add marketing (and
maybe support) functionality aimed at the retail market. They
probably need to add programmers to work on driver development etc
that currently are mostly contrib, and might have to replace existing
contrib work with "clean room" implementations if the authors balked
at the proprietary scheme. They don't _have_ to change anything, but
clearly their incentives change radically if they give up the current
open source (in spirit, if not to the letter) approach.

Note that although Usenet itself and the ISPs have tended to enable
distribution of free(-ish) software, precisely the same technologies
can and have been used to distribute proprietary software (not to
mention "warez"). The only reason that Usenet/ISPs tend to be
associated with free software is that proprietary vendors prefer to,
and because of restricted distribution can afford to, control the
distribution channels themselves.

So the distinction can be made. I don't know if it is a useful one.

Tim> If you want a definition, I'd say something very broad, like
Tim> "An FSB is any business that uses free software as a
Tim> significant part of its business strategy, and that profits,
Tim> directly or indirectly, from the wider use of free software."

Tim> And yes, that includes O'Reilly, and IBM, and Sun, and
Tim> ActiveState, and CollabNet, as well as Red Hat.

Not to mention Microsoft and RSA, both of which depend on the Internet
and its largely open source infrastructure for important components of
their strategies. Oops! That's too close for comfort.

I think Rich's felicitous phrase "access to the laboratory" is useful
here. This should be enough to exclude Microsoft's current strategies:

An FSB is a business that _promotes_ "access to the laboratory" via
free software as a significant part of its business strategy, and that
profits, directly or indirectly, from the _substitution_ of free
software for proprietary software.

This doesn't have to be organization-wide. Also, I would like to
advocate _promotes_ and _substitutes_ as key parts of the definition.
What do you think?
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-25 15:54:00 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
An FSB is a business that _promotes_ "access to the laboratory" via
free software as a significant part of its business strategy, and that
profits, directly or indirectly, from the _substitution_ of free
software for proprietary software.
That is interesting. But I will point out that Microsoft's "shared source"
strategy has exactly that characteristic--except for the embedded definition
of "free software." They are trying to give "access to the laboratory" as a
way of helping to displace someone else's "proprietary" software (Java),
which itself has a limited "access to the labororatory" strategy...
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-22 16:48:24 UTC
Permalink
Post by Rich Morin
Post by Adam Turoff
Post by Rich Morin
O'Reilly (books, conferences, etc.)
I'll defer to Tim on this, but my gut feeling is that O'Reilly
isn't an FSB, but has a long standing free/open source bent on its
many offerings (print/online publication, conferences, etc.).
What is the essential difference between Tim's publishing a Linux book
that includes a Linux CD and RedHat publishing a Linux CD distribution
that includes a Linux book? When Tim runs a conference (possibly at a
loss), is this less a part of the community than a USENIX event would be?
Sorry to be responding late to this thread. I'll start out by saying that I
don't consider myself "an FSB" if an FSB is a binary option. To me, FSB is
not a description of a business's identity, but of some or all of its
business practices, and some or all of its sources of revenue.

It does seem rather silly to me to say that Red Hat is an FSB because they
redistribute free software as part of their business, while O'Reilly is not,
because we don't distribute free software. RedHat make a great deal of
their money from transactions that are only indirectly related to free
software redistribution. I haven't studied their financial statements, but
I don't see them redistributing the course materials for their training
classes (which I understand form a very significant revenue stream for
them), and I don't even know how they would redistribute the underlying
value that lets them charge for service contracts and so on. Of course,
free software is more a central part of Red Hat's ideology and business
promise, and that makes sense to me.

But if FSB means, "free software ideology is a central tenet of the
business," I'm even less an FSB. I believe strongly in both free software
and proprietary software, in free information and in proprietary
information. I'm always mindful of the remark I heard from Haridas
Chaudhuri, a teacher of Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga, when I was a
teenager. Someone asked him how he reconciled a belief in reincarnation
with the discoveries of genetics, and he smiled and said, "Oh! You pick the
hat to fit the head." That's a thought that should be kept handy in the
mental toolchest! Anyone with a one-size-fits-all philosophy is doomed
either to ill-fitting hats or going hatless into the storm, depending on
what's available.

There are a wide range of strategies available for sharing the fruits of
your mind, from free redistribution to managed scarcity. Which one you
choose depends not only on your objectives, but on your tactics for
achieving them. (For more on this subject, see the piece I wrote for Nature
a few years back on what Bill Gates and Larry Wall have in common.
http://www.nature.com/nature/debates/e-access/Articles/oreilly.html.)

But back to the specifics of O'Reilly as an FSB.

* My core mission is orthogonal to the free software/open source debate, but
intensely informed by it. My vision at O'Reilly is that our business is
about capturing the knowledge of early stage technical innovators and
transferring it to the people who want to follow them. At heart, we're a
knowledge transfer company.

* As it turns out, many of the innovations in the technical industry have
come from independent developers in a "research" setting, and some of our
biggest opportunities have come from software like Unix and the Internet
that were originally developed and spread without primary reference to the
profit motive.

* What drew us to those technologies was not their openness or lack thereof,
but the fact that they were under-documented, that there was a vast body of
shared knowledge among an early community that had no vehicle of
transmission once the technology was aimed at a wider group. For example, I
wrote what I believe was the world's first Unix system admin manual in 1983,
when I asked the company I was contracting for the naïve question, "how are
your customers going to learn about this root stuff?" I knew the way all of
us at Masscomp learned it was by going and asking Tom Texeira, and I also
knew that customers, at one remove, weren't going to have that option.
(Incidentally, I later reacquired rights to that book, resold them to
Multiflow, where Mike Loukides and later Aeleen Frisch expanded and rewrote
it. When Multiflow went under, I acquired the rights to the expanded
edition, and it eventually was published as Aeleen Frisch's Essential System
Administration, which has taught hundreds of thousands of people how to do
Unix system admin.)

* Many of the grassroots technologies we document are free software (or
started out as free software), many of them are proprietary, and many of
them are in a gray area in between. Is HTML free software, for instance?
(I've often argued that "view source" was one of the most important things
about the web, and that it places a big part of the web pragmatically into
the open source world, even if it's ignored by people who are obsessively
focused on software licensing rather than on practical effects.)

* Even when we document proprietary technologies, we're really documenting
the collective knowledge of that technology's best users, not the knowledge
of the technology's proprietary owner. We scour the net to find people who
seem to know far more about the product than the average, and ask them to
share their knowledge. And we try to expose the underbelly of the product,
so that people will have as much as possible of the increased power over
their software that's familiar to people in the Unix/free software world.

* We are quite unashamedly willing to say, "our goal is the spread of useful
human knowledge" rather than "our goal is the maximization of the spread of
free software." And in many cases, free redistribution does not appear to
us to be the best way of achieving our goal. In other cases it does. When
considering the licenses for books, we sometimes release under free
redistribution licenses if the authors ask us to do so and we think that the
benefits of doing so are greater than the drawbacks. (See various articles
collected at tim.oreilly.com/opensource where I've addressed the various
elements of this equation over the years.)

In the end, I'd say that by the definition of at least the ideologically
inclined in this group, O'Reilly is not an FSB. But I think we have a model
that a lot of companies that you might consider FSBs, from Red Hat to
Aladdin and SleepyCat, are also adopting. Like companies that started out
hybrids, such as ActiveState and CollabNet, they are surfing the edge
between free and proprietary in quest of a bigger goal.
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
David Kaufman
2002-09-22 20:05:30 UTC
Permalink
Post by Rich Morin
What is the essential difference between Tim's publishing a Linux book
that includes a Linux CD and RedHat publishing a Linux CD distribution
that includes a Linux book?
to the consumer of the software? there is precious little difference.
and to any business, that which differentiates it's products in the mind
of the customer is all that really matters, in terms of it's success...
(remember the thread is entitled "Successful FSB's")
Post by Rich Morin
If we get too picky with our definitions, we may find that the only
businesses that make real money off Free Software aren't actually FSBs!
i agree. we should broaden this definition, and the discussion,
especially when you step back and consider the reality that the vast
majority of "Free Software"'s consumers, the users, are still attracted
to, and remain "customers" of, free software because of it's
free-as-in-beer aspect. while they may appreciate the fact that the
security tends to be better, the bug-fixes and releases more frequent,
or just the basic quality higher, they pragmatically also weigh all
these factors against the cost of the software to determine it's value,
which determines whether or not they will use it. in some cases the
value of apache is higher than IIS only when they purchase it from
covalent with customized tools and support. in other cases (from the
all-important end-user's point of view) the value of PHP is really only
higher than ASP because their ISP offers PHP/FreeBSD for less than ASP
on Win2K. That's market reality which is the only reality a business
must consider (to be $ucce$$ful).

i think we may be getting a bit too hung up on purity. many end users,
the consumers of free software, and even much of "the public" can
appreciate the difference and understand the value trade-off between
"purely free" actually free software and "apparently free" or
less-than-free (as in freedom) software. but we're not debating the
definition of free software, we're debating the definition of a free
software business, and that is a necessarily much broader concept.

-dave
Stefane Fermigier
2002-09-19 21:42:27 UTC
Permalink
Post by Adam Turoff
Post by Brian Behlendorf
So, anyone care to define 'FSB'?
Not yet.
Can we agree on businesses that are/aren't (or were/weren't) FSBs?
Aladdin
Covalent (What's your take on this Brian?)
Easy Software (the CUPS people)
Great Bridge (RIP)
MySQL
RedHat
Scriptics (RIP)
Sleepycat
Sourcefire (snort)
SuSE
Ximian
Zope Corp
Nuxeo (www.nuxeo.com), Nexedi (www.nexedi.com), MandrakeSoft
(www.mandrakesoft.com), OpenCascade (www.opencascade.com) in France.

S.
--
Stéfane Fermigier, Tel: 06 63 04 12 77 (mobile).
http://nuxeo.com/ - http://aful.org/ - http://portalux.com/
Download OpenOffice.org: international office suite for Windows and Linux
-> http://www.openoffice.org/dev_docs/source/1.0.0/
Ralph Corderoy
2002-09-19 23:45:26 UTC
Permalink
Hi Larry,
Recognizing that a business is a lifestyle business immediately tells
you that raising money from investors is not an option.
I've been staying quiet, hoping I could work out the definition, but I
give in. What's a `lifestyle business'?

Sorry to detract from the `What's an FSB?'.


Ralph.
Brian J. Fox
2002-09-20 00:10:25 UTC
Permalink
Date: Fri, 20 Sep 2002 00:45:26 +0100
From: Ralph Corderoy <***@inputplus.co.uk>

Hi Larry,
Recognizing that a business is a lifestyle business immediately tells
you that raising money from investors is not an option.
I've been staying quiet, hoping I could work out the definition, but I
give in. What's a `lifestyle business'?

It's when your business is synonymous with your lifestyle.

Any "Mom & Pop" shop fits this definition.

These business typically don't have many employees, and couldn't scale
to support more than they have.

It's my belief that we on this list are looking for business models
that are sustainable, scalable, and easy to understand. Being "VC
Fundable" is one marker that these goals have been achieved.

Brian
== The Difference Between Cultures: ==
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Liberte', E'galite', Fraternite'
Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll
Rich Morin
2002-09-20 00:50:27 UTC
Permalink
Post by Brian J. Fox
It's my belief that we on this list are looking for business models
that are sustainable, scalable, and easy to understand. Being "VC
Fundable" is one marker that these goals have been achieved.
FWIW, I have no interest in having employees (and even less in dealing
with the demands of VC funding :-). If my business scales, it will be
in some method that allows me to work as a relatively independent party.

Having said this, I recognize that operations like RedHat and ORA (to
say nothing of IBM :-) need to have employees, chains of command, etc.
I also recognize that they are quite a bit better at extracting money
from the community than cottage industries are.

Recognizing this, I'd like to see a model emerge in which the wealthier
outfits recognize the benefits of subsidizing the poorer (but useful)
ones. For example, I'd like to see more corporate funds going into the
FSF, the Perl Foundation, etc. If a company believes that a developer
is doing good work, they should offer a grant. Tim's support of Larry's
work was a good model for this (and would still be, but for the current
economic realities).

-r
--
email: ***@cfcl.com; phone: +1 650-873-7841
http://www.cfcl.com/rdm - my home page, resume, etc.
http://www.cfcl.com/Meta - The FreeBSD Browser, Meta Project, etc.
http://www.ptf.com/dossier - Prime Time Freeware's DOSSIER series
http://www.ptf.com/tdc - Prime Time Freeware's Darwin Collection
Brian J. Fox
2002-09-20 01:32:56 UTC
Permalink
Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2002 17:50:27 -0700
From: Rich Morin <***@cfcl.com>

If a company believes that a developer is doing good work, they
should offer a grant.

Sure, in the ideal world. But they won't. They will pay for an
organization whose business interests are closely aligned with their
own, thus guaranteeing the longevity of that organization.

That's why it is so easy to find support and service business models
around free software -- nobody cares about the software specifically,
they care about someone else worrying about the software.

Those support and service organizations could be good candidates to
offer grants, but instead, they just hire the top hacker for the
software of interest.

Brian
== The Difference Between Cultures: ==
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Liberte', E'galite', Fraternite'
Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll
Simon Cozens
2002-09-20 04:12:43 UTC
Permalink
Post by Rich Morin
If a company believes that a developer
is doing good work, they should offer a grant.
As I'm sure everyone on the list is painfully aware, while everyone may
agree this is a good idea, it's hard to argue it and advance it without
(sometimes rightly) being accused of self-interest.

(And no, Rich, please don't think I'm accusing you; I'm just honestly
making an idle comment.)

Simon
--
Calm down, it's *only* ones and zeroes.
Larry M. Augustin
2002-09-20 14:39:37 UTC
Permalink
Post by Rich Morin
If a company believes that a developer
is doing good work, they should offer a grant.
Why?

"Should" is the operative word here. Maybe they should, but they won't.

If the work is "good", but not absolutely critical to their business,
why not just be a leach and take something for nothing?

A few businesses are going to see a greater good in supporting
developers in that way, but most businesses are not. Most are just
going to take the narrow view, look at the P&L, do the ROI calculation,
and not pay.

Some (e.g. MSFT) will even take while actively working against the
developer.

--
Larry M. Augustin, ***@lmaugustin.com
Tel: +1.650.966.1759, Fax: +1.650.966.1753
Lynn Winebarger
2002-09-20 05:20:26 UTC
Permalink
Post by Brian J. Fox
It's my belief that we on this list are looking for business models
that are sustainable, scalable, and easy to understand. Being "VC
Fundable" is one marker that these goals have been achieved.
I don't know why "scalable" would be a requirement. Doesn't the
list maintainer run a "lifestyle business"?
Really, there's no reason to be biased towards large-scale businesses.
Quite the opposite, actually, free software seems to enable people
to _escape_ that kind of business. That and perhaps the 10x performance
differential between classes of programmers.
If anything, why not orient towards how you convince large businesses
to deal with small-scale operations (like Russell's government contract
problem a while back)? I mean, if we were going get exclusionary of
certain types of FSBs.

Lynn
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-20 10:19:01 UTC
Permalink
Post by Brian J. Fox
It's my belief that we on this list are looking for business
models that are sustainable, scalable, and easy to understand.
Being "VC Fundable" is one marker that these goals have been
achieved.
Lynn> I don't know why "scalable" would be a requirement.
Lynn> Doesn't the list maintainer run a "lifestyle business"?

Because investors want to be able to reinvest in a known success. The
business doesn't have to be scalable. The _model_ does. [We need to
talk investors if we want to talk self-sustaining growth; life-style
businesses by definition are eating the owners' wealth (at least
potential wealth).] If it's clear how to hive off one more "just as
profitable as this one" (even if that just means "finding someone like
Russ to do the same thing Russ does, in a different territory"), then
the model can scale though the business does not. McDonald's works
that way; it's neither impossible nor an MLM fraud, though the latter
is much more common than franchises like McD's.

However, even with that, it's much cheaper and safer to grow
exponentially with an exponentially growing success than it is to find
an exponentially growing number of fixed-size successes. I don't see
a way to impose McD-style quality control on a myriad of small devel
businesses, though.

Lynn> If anything, why not orient towards how you convince
Lynn> large businesses to deal with small-scale operations (like
Lynn> Russell's government contract problem a while back)? I
Lynn> mean, if we were going get exclusionary of certain types of
Lynn> FSBs.

The antagonistic reply is "big clients are like big investors: they
want their clients to grow with their needs."

The supportive reply is "hmm ... you've got something there: it may be
a small piece of software (# KLOC) but if it integrates well into the
client's operations, it's as big as the client is (# workstations)".

I don't know if that latter translates into beancounting logic, but I
don't see any a priori reason why not. However, it seems more likely
to me that a big company would buy out the owners and employ them (or
even make them partners) rather than maintain a VC-type relationship.
KS> Maybe some businesses can't plausibly grow beyond three or
KS> four people (again, without changing their business model),
KS> simply because they don't sell products or services with a
KS> large market. Is that what you mean by a "lifestyle
KS> business", Larry?

It's surely not size or market share.

I would define a "life-style business" as one where the owners eschew
a profitable (in money terms) opportunity because the tradeoff against
other values that they can most effectively achieve through their
business is unfavorable.

By this definition I think the great majority of pure FS development
plays have to be classed as "lifestyle".

KS> I think software freedom drastically reduces the transaction
KS> costs of cross-company cooperation, but doesn't reduce the
KS> coordination costs within companies much. Coase's "Nature of
KS> the Firm" therefore predicts free-software firms will employ
KS> fewer people each than proprietary-software firms.

Good point, but I wouldn't rely on it. This argument is mostly about
development. The other services that firms provide their customers
are generally not going to be nearly as drastically affected by open
source, I think, and if OSS development is in fact a loss center, the
distribution may very well be bimodal with many many tiny lifestyle
businesses chewing into their owners' net worth, and a bunch of
relatively large firms that can fold the costs of OSS into overhead.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Lynn Winebarger
2002-09-20 14:22:34 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Post by Brian J. Fox
It's my belief that we on this list are looking for business
models that are sustainable, scalable, and easy to understand.
Being "VC Fundable" is one marker that these goals have been
achieved.
Lynn> I don't know why "scalable" would be a requirement.
Lynn> Doesn't the list maintainer run a "lifestyle business"?
Because investors want to be able to reinvest in a known success. The
business doesn't have to be scalable. The _model_ does. [We need to
talk investors if we want to talk self-sustaining growth; life-style
businesses by definition are eating the owners' wealth (at least
potential wealth).]
That measure of wealth fails to count whatever values the owner
is exercising (not sure what the correct wording is, referring to your
response to Kragen). But don't economists take the fact that they
are not taking the potential wealth as a measure of economic
value in and of itself (i.e. >= the potential wealth)?
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
However, even with that, it's much cheaper and safer to grow
exponentially with an exponentially growing success than it is to find
an exponentially growing number of fixed-size successes. I don't see
a way to impose McD-style quality control on a myriad of small devel
businesses, though.
I don't know how you plan to impose McD-style quality control
on programmers period. See Fred Brooks. It seems to me there's
leverage there (at least for those 10x more productive ones).

Lynn
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-20 16:30:56 UTC
Permalink
Lynn> That measure of wealth fails to count whatever values
Lynn> the owner is exercising (not sure what the correct wording
Lynn> is, referring to your response to Kragen).

Yes. Deliberately so.

Lynn> But don't economists take the fact that they are not taking
Lynn> the potential wealth as a measure of economic value in and
Lynn> of itself (i.e. >= the potential wealth)?

Yes, they do.

In the economist's idealized world (== the one that we can build
analytical "general equilibrium" models for), everything can be bought
on markets. So there is no good reason not to run "pure" businesses
which maximize wealth. We (well, "I"---and all right-thinking
economists :-) take this as a benchmark against which to measure
success, not as the measure of success itself. Because in the real
world, "money can't buy me love," or software freedom, either, money
alone is not a sufficient statistic.

But I think that that is a reasonable benchmark to use to define
"lifestyle business", as one which increases value to owners by
deliberately deviating significantly[1] from wealth maximization.
This (by definition, but I still think it is the "right" definition)
is not going to appeal to VCs and other "non-family" investors.

Lynn> I don't know how you plan to impose McD-style quality
Lynn> control on programmers period. See Fred Brooks.

Exactly.

Lynn> It seems to me there's leverage there (at least for those
Lynn> 10x more productive ones).

I don't understand. It seems to me that "be a star programmer" is not
really a business model. Sure, on average the stars will be richer,
whether they take that in financial or non-financial form. But that's
always true, and is perhaps more certain if you draw a salary instead
of running a business.



Footnotes:
[1] My argument to Adam Turoff about Ghostscript is precisely that
it's not clear to me that Aladdin deviated "significantly" from
financial wealth maximization.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Adam Turoff
2002-09-20 14:31:51 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Lynn> If anything, why not orient towards how you convince
Lynn> large businesses to deal with small-scale operations (like
Lynn> Russell's government contract problem a while back)? I
Lynn> mean, if we were going get exclusionary of certain types of
Lynn> FSBs.
The antagonistic reply is "big clients are like big investors: they
want their clients to grow with their needs."
The supportive reply is "hmm ... you've got something there: it may be
a small piece of software (# KLOC) but if it integrates well into the
client's operations, it's as big as the client is (# workstations)".
I don't know if the antagonistic reply addresses what's going on
in software today. I don't understand your supportive reply.


A big comapany like GM is going to be wary to deal with Joe's Garage
ERM, and is certainly more comfortable dealing with SAP. On the
other hand, large companies are already using packages like Perl,
CVS, Linux and RT. If one of those open source packages isn't
quite working right, there's a clear path to getting support, paying
for features or training (absent an O'Reilly title or a healthy
training industry for that product).

The "you can read the source and modify it yourself" argument
doesn't really wash in these circumstances; the real issue is that
the software "just works" in the simple case, and it can be easily
modified by many people (and you don't get ignored like you would
with Microsoft or Oracle).

Perhaps this is the reality behind free software and the boutique
FSBs that support them. I'd also buy the argument that there's
some tie between the complexity of the product and the ability to
build an FSB around it. Projects like CUPS, Ghostscript, Snort
and RT seem to be doing a good job to be supporting their authors
through lifestyle FSBs, while projects like Perl and Linux are too
big to support a single lifestyle FSB (although many lifestyle FSBs
are built around them).

Just to add another monkey wrench into the mix, it seems like
Perl-based content management systems are released at the rate of
2 per month, yet never seem capable of supporting even a small
one-person FSB. Perhaps content management is "too complex" to
support a lifestyle FSB around a single product; Zope Corp fits
the model of a VC-funded FSB and seems to be doing well.

Z.
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-20 16:02:59 UTC
Permalink
Adam> On Fri, Sep 20, 2002 at 07:19:01PM +0900, Stephen
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
The supportive reply is "hmm ... you've got something there: it
may be a small piece of software (# KLOC) but if it integrates
well into the client's operations, it's as big as the client is
(# workstations)".
Adam> I don't understand your supportive reply.
From the VC's point of view, if you have (say) a content management
package, even if it's only a small part of the full solution, you
still have a fair amount of growth prospect by selling more "seats".
The small scope means that support effort can be managable even as you
grow. As the clients grow (and need more seats), the FSB grows, too.
This doesn't necessarily require a lot more development effort.

On the other hand, the VC can supply some help with management. A
good VC can help place your software at a big company by making the
claim that you can manage growth (and thus serve the client's future
needs) more credible.

However, this does mean that a small, development-oriented company is
going to have to go through a "phase change" as it grows, tilting from
development to service. Once it does it can also broaden its product
line to bigger items that require more resources to put in place.

Adam> If one of those open source packages isn't quite working
Adam> right, there's a clear path to getting support, paying for

Is that "no clear path"?

Adam> features or training (absent an O'Reilly title or a healthy
Adam> training industry for that product).

[...]
Adam> Projects like CUPS, Ghostscript, Snort and RT seem to be
Adam> doing a good job to be supporting their authors through
Adam> lifestyle FSBs,

I don't know much about the others, but Ghostscript doesn't seem to be
a lifestyle business to me. Sure, Peter believes in free software and
has done a lot to support it in many ways. And he obviously enjoyed
and is proud of his work there. But isn't everybody who manages their
own successful business?

OTOH, Aladdin has a licensing program which gets a reasonable return
from the customers who have sizable revenues to fund Artifex license
fees, while taking advantage of the "many eyes" with the AFPL and GNU
GPL versions. It's arguable that most of the latter users would never
have paid a dime to Aladdin/Artifex anyway---but they submit lots of
bug reports, patches, and drivers. Seems to me that Aladdin's
business model can easily be justified as "we bill the clients who
budget in units of $1000, not those who budget by $.01".
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Jonathan Corbet
2002-09-20 14:24:15 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Rich> What is the essential difference between Tim's publishing a
Rich> Linux book that includes a Linux CD and RedHat publishing a
Rich> Linux CD distribution that includes a Linux book?
Support. O'Reilly is a book publishing company. None of those great
authors are on retainer in case a reader has a problem with the CD.
As an O'Reilly author, I get a fairly steady stream of questions, via
O'Reilly, from people who have trouble making the example code work, or who
just want somebody to help them get their work done. O'Reilly may not sell
support as part of its business, but O'Reilly's customers do seem to expect
a certain level of response. The commercial support is left up to the
authors, I guess.

And hey, Linux Device Drivers is even available for download and
redistribution under the FDL. Various other O'Reilly books are similarly
available. You're sure O'Reilly isn't an FSB?

jon

(who has avoided adding Eklektix/LWN to the list because, after all, the
request was for *successful* FSBs...)

Jonathan Corbet
Executive editor, LWN.net
***@lwn.net
Benjamin J. Tilly
2002-09-20 16:48:27 UTC
Permalink
[...]
Post by Brian Behlendorf
Post by Alan Hudson
From a global/technological economic point of view I bet these small
businesses are vitally important. I employ 5 folks in my niche
software
Post by Alan Hudson
business(3D graphics) that generates a lot of open source(200K+ LOC
last
Post by Alan Hudson
year).
They are vitally important. I think there are a lot of them. But is
that the future of FSBs?
I think they are important for the future of FSBs.

With open source virtually anyone can start a small
project. Standard development dynamics favour teams
that self-organize with just a few key developers,
with the open source edge being that those few people
get bug reports and feedback from many more. The
relatively few projects that get too large for this
model tend to self-organized into a fractal structure
with the majority of the work being done in projects
of the favoured size, and then with a center where
things get integrated.

I don't think that this will change.

Some of these teams will naturally form into FSBs
whose size is self-limited. This implies that we will
continue to see small FSBs of this size. Similarly I
see plenty of small delis in NYC that aren't about to
grow. There are natural forces driving that size for a
certain kind of problem.
Post by Brian Behlendorf
Are the only "pure" FSBs are lifestyle businesses?
Is Red Hat a pure FSB? It certainly doesn't seem like
a lifestyle business to me!

The fact that there is a natural tendancies that
encourage the existence of lots of small businesses does
not mean that there aren't also roles for larger ones.
Heck, even the small businesses may generate roles. For
instance all of those small delis need fine meats, and
by and large the ones in my neighbourhood are all selling
the Boar's Head Brand. Which means that there is a larger
business based on the opportunities for a lot of small
ones.

The same can work in software. For instance for a long
time Microsoft did a lot of business through providing
tools, training, certifications etc to encourage small
contractors to use the Microsoft toolchain.

Which raises two questions:

1. What services can be provided to existing or would-be
small FSBs?

2. Is there a reasonable model in which plausible niche
FSBs would choose to organize under a larger umbrella
instead?
Post by Brian Behlendorf
Are the only non-lifestyle FSBs mixed businesses like Sun and IBM?
I don't think so. But I think that they will be a
prominent source of examples going forwards. And I think
that that is a good thing.

Cheers,
Ben
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Ralph Corderoy
2002-09-21 11:53:37 UTC
Permalink
Hi Adam,
Post by Adam Turoff
Again, both Zope Corp and MySQL AB appear to meet the criteria of
successful, investor-backed and FSB (even though we haven't defined
what constitutes an FSB yet). [*]
And MySQL AB apparently has 50 employees spread around the world.

http://www.mysql.com/company/management.html says

David Axmark
Co-founder

David Axmark is one of the founders of MySQL and worked with the
product well before it had a name. He has worked as a consultant and
software developer for nearly 20 years. Interested in free software
since the early 80s, David has been committed to developing a
successful business model through open source software.

If he's particularly interested in a "successful business model" might
it be worth someone inviting him to join the list in the hope he has
time to contribute?

Cheers,


Ralph.
Benjamin J. Tilly
2002-09-25 17:13:56 UTC
Permalink
[...]
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Tim> I've always liked to point out that humans like to think in
Tim> terms of boundaries, but that natural events tend more to
Tim> gradients surrounding an increasingly dense core.
How to be a perfect businessman: become perfectly One with The Market,
and then do what comes naturally. No argument from me; that's
precisely analogous to what I say when trying to teach graduate
students to stop being _students_ and start being _economists_.
But...
[...]

I disagree.

What you describe is good advice for making the right
short-term decisions. It is horrible advice if the easy
short-term decisions lead you off a cliff. A classic
instance are the twin dynamics pointed out in The
Innovator's Dilemma:

1. Companies are under pressure to increase profit margins
and improve products.
2. Customers are under pressure to replace high-margin
technologies with low-margin ones when the low-margin
ones become good enough for their needs.

If technologies improve faster than customer needs
increase, this means that the natural path for technology
companies to take leads over a nasty cliff when the next
technology improves into usability. At that point it
does no good to improve your product further because it
already does more than your bottom end customers you need.
And restructuring to get your profit margins low enough is
virtually impossible to do.

To pick one current instance, Sun has a good product
whose role in the IT industry has kept moving upscale.
(How many people run it on their workstations any more?)
Linux running on x86 hardware is much worse, but it has
become good enough for a lot of customers. As a result
there have been a series of high-profile Linux conversions
in a number of industries.

Sun has been trying to figure out how to get people who
are going to switch from Solaris to Linux to switch to
Linux offered by Sun. The problem is that Sun is geared
towards producing a much higher-margin set of products
than Linux vendors are. As a result they have to find
the line between gold-plating that low-end customers
don't want which destroys the value proposition of Linux,
and cutting out things that customers *do* care about.
Finding that line takes a lot of work (particularly since
every one of those value-adds matters to someone), and it
is highly unlikely that Sun will succeed.

All this despite the fact that Sun has, by all accounts,
been very good at paying attention to customers, giving
them what they ask for, etc. In other words Sun's
troubles are not mismanagement, they are the natural
result of basic business forces.

So how does this relate to the problem of FSBs, other
than the fact that technologies centered around free
software support several disruptive technologies? Well
the basic value proposition of free software is that it
guarantees customers low margins on the software product.
This is good for getting customers to switch, but runs
counter to the natural desire of businesses to improve
their margins. Therefore businesses that engage in free
software strategies are under pressure to find higher
margin businesses to be in. Some of the options for
doing that are consistent with being an FSB. Some are
not.

Cheers,
Ben

PS Why is it a big deal to decide what the label "fsb"
should refer to? O'Reilly made a lot of money from Perl,
and supported it in return. Said support included hiring
many well-known Perl people, and helping resolve at least
one bitter dispute with a significant investment.
Judging from the articles from the time which they have
on their site, this was a deliberate business strategy.
If we don't count O'Reilly as an fsb, is discussing this
course of events now off-topic on this list?
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Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-26 04:50:54 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
How to be a perfect businessman: become perfectly One with The
Market, and then do what comes naturally.
ben> I disagree.

ben> What you describe is good advice for making the right
ben> short-term decisions.

Oh, c'mon, Ben, you should know better than that. Neither Tim nor I
was talking about a gradient algorithm. Tim's gradient is a property
of reality, and I'm talking Musashi's strategist (or Gordon Dickson's
Dorsai if you prefer a modern Obscure Reference)---making _globally_
correct decisions intuitively.

ben> All this despite the fact that Sun has, by all accounts, been
ben> very good at paying attention to customers, giving them what
ben> they ask for, etc. In other words Sun's troubles are not
ben> mismanagement, they are the natural result of basic business
ben> forces.

*shrug* Being in tune with "basic business forces" and seeing trouble
coming a decade in advance is called "strategic management." There is
a reason why boards of directors are willing to part with $100,000,000
compensation packages, and it isn't day-to-day TLC for the customers.

It's because (rightly or wrongly) the boards believe that these CEOs
are better than the average bear at _business model selection_, which
is precisely about working with, and not against, the basic business
forces.[1] Such decisions are worth 10s, sometimes 100s, of billions of
dollars over the life of their implementation and influence on future
decisions.

ben> PS Why is it a big deal to decide what the label "fsb" should
ben> refer to?

(1) Ethics are always a big deal. In this case, I'm thinking of the
people who dislike Red Hat, and allow their dislike for some Red Hat
activity or other to spill over into claims that Red Hat isn't an
FSB. This is just the flip side of "we like Tim, and he likes FS, so
ORA must be an FSB." I think the "ORA is an FSB" position is much
more defensible, but I still think both are fallacious and for the
same basic reason. Talk is already cheap, let's not debase the
currency further.

(2) Slippery slopes. How often do we have newbies come in and say,
"Well, in _my_ market niche I have to use proprietary licenses. Can
I still say I'm an FSB because I develop on and for Linux and my
website runs on Apache and Perl?" How about s/Linux/Cygwin/?

(3) As a matter of practical advice. We've been through this before,
but another example, as long as I'm here. If some bright college
student comes to you with a neat piece of code and says, "I want to
make a business out of this," is your immediate reaction going to be
"Take a look at O'Reilly, they're an excellent FSB"? Are they even
going to be on the radar, or are you going to say "look at Aladdin,
SleepyCat, Sourcefire, ..., but not Red Hat or SuSE, they're something
else again, ..., and see which looks most like your kind of market"?

ben> O'Reilly made a lot of money from Perl,

Indeed? Which brand of Perl do they sell?

This is just the old "Q: How do you make a lot of money from the
lottery? A: Write a best-selling book about how to make a lot of
money from the lottery." fallacy.

ben> and supported it in return. Said support included hiring
ben> many well-known Perl people, and helping resolve at least one
ben> bitter dispute with a significant investment. Judging from
ben> the articles from the time which they have on their site,
ben> this was a deliberate business strategy.

This business strategy is called "patronage." A society hostess does
the same for an author she thinks has potential. A patron of the arts
need not be an artist, nor does a patron of FS need to be an FSB.

ben> If we don't count O'Reilly as an fsb, is discussing this
ben> course of events now off-topic on this list?

No, because ORA is an important source of several kinds of support for
both FS in general and FSBs in particular.



Footnotes:
[1] Yes, I know it's really because Enron's boss sits on Exxon's
board, and they're helping each other steal. No, I don't think so.
And in any case, that's how they sell their stockholders on the deal.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Benjamin J. Tilly
2002-09-26 11:53:31 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
How to be a perfect businessman: become perfectly One with The
Market, and then do what comes naturally.
ben> I disagree.
ben> What you describe is good advice for making the right
ben> short-term decisions.
Oh, c'mon, Ben, you should know better than that. Neither Tim nor I
was talking about a gradient algorithm. Tim's gradient is a property
of reality, and I'm talking Musashi's strategist (or Gordon Dickson's
Dorsai if you prefer a modern Obscure Reference)---making _globally_
correct decisions intuitively.
Ah. So the secret to succeeding in business is to be
just shy of omniscient so that you can figure out
everything about the market before anyone else does?
With a talent like that, stock speculation might be an
easier way to wealth!

[...]
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
ben> PS Why is it a big deal to decide what the label "fsb" should
ben> refer to?
(1) Ethics are always a big deal. In this case, I'm thinking of the
people who dislike Red Hat, and allow their dislike for some Red Hat
activity or other to spill over into claims that Red Hat isn't an
FSB. This is just the flip side of "we like Tim, and he likes FS, so
ORA must be an FSB." I think the "ORA is an FSB" position is much
more defensible, but I still think both are fallacious and for the
same basic reason. Talk is already cheap, let's not debase the
currency further.
Ethical issues always generate lots of conversation.
Particularly if RMS is anywhere near. But there is no
connection that I see between FSB strategies and your
beliefs about the ethics of free software. Indeed
there are some very well known people who have written
a lot of free software who don't believe that it is an
ethical issue in the slightest.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
(2) Slippery slopes. How often do we have newbies come in and say,
"Well, in _my_ market niche I have to use proprietary licenses. Can
I still say I'm an FSB because I develop on and for Linux and my
website runs on Apache and Perl?" How about s/Linux/Cygwin/?
Tell them that if you use free software, then you are a
free software _consumer_. I don't see the problem.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
(3) As a matter of practical advice. We've been through this before,
but another example, as long as I'm here. If some bright college
student comes to you with a neat piece of code and says, "I want to
make a business out of this," is your immediate reaction going to be
"Take a look at O'Reilly, they're an excellent FSB"? Are they even
going to be on the radar, or are you going to say "look at Aladdin,
SleepyCat, Sourcefire, ..., but not Red Hat or SuSE, they're something
else again, ..., and see which looks most like your kind of market"?
I am going to look at what the code does before I say
anything. One size doesn't fit all.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
ben> O'Reilly made a lot of money from Perl,
Indeed? Which brand of Perl do they sell?
http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/prkwin32/desc.html was
bought by a lot of people for the software inside.
(Not all of which was free or open source.) Lemme see
if I can find a better description..ah, look at
http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/addserv/NH/97-11/97-11-07/0021.html
(the Unix version of the same). Note the use of a
mixed proprietary/free software strategy.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
This is just the old "Q: How do you make a lot of money from the
lottery? A: Write a best-selling book about how to make a lot of
money from the lottery." fallacy.
ben> and supported it in return. Said support included hiring
ben> many well-known Perl people, and helping resolve at least one
ben> bitter dispute with a significant investment. Judging from
ben> the articles from the time which they have on their site,
ben> this was a deliberate business strategy.
This business strategy is called "patronage." A society hostess does
the same for an author she thinks has potential. A patron of the arts
need not be an artist, nor does a patron of FS need to be an FSB.
I just pointed you at an actual product that O'Reilly
shipped which contained software written by Larry Wall
which was not generally available elsewhere. There
may have been a large element of patronage, but it
doesn't seem to have been straight patronage to me.

[...]

Cheers,
Ben
--
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Simon Cozens
2002-09-26 13:21:45 UTC
Permalink
Post by Benjamin J. Tilly
I just pointed you at an actual product that O'Reilly
shipped which contained software written by Larry Wall
which was not generally available elsewhere.
This is just a data point, I'm not weighing in on any side just yet:
JPL was written in late 1997, and released with the ResKit in November
1997. It was added to the public Perl repository in October 1998. I'm
not sure how much earlier it was made publically available, nor what
the original terms of distribution were.
--
Anything to do with HTML processing /usually/ involves a pact
with an evil supernatural being, I find.
-- Sean Burke
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-27 03:06:53 UTC
Permalink
ben> Ah. So the secret to succeeding in business is to be just
ben> shy of omniscient so that you can figure out everything about
ben> the market before anyone else does?

Yes. That's why I want definitions and boundaries, as crutches for
those of us who are merely mortal.

ben> Indeed there are some very well known people who have written
ben> a lot of free software who don't believe that it is an
ben> ethical issue in the slightest.

What can I say? They're wrong, at least in the context of FSB. Free
software is potentially an improvement for everyone in society, if we
can solve the incentive problems. If you live in society, and all
businesses do, by definition, you are ethically obligated to consider
free software because of those benefits. You're not required to harm
yourself to implement it, of course.

The fsb mailing list IMO is about describing how software businesses
can do The Right Thing without harming themselves, as the proprietors
themselves see "harm"---no exclusion of either lifestyle or pure-
profit-oriented FSBs. And about advocacy, because the a priori
arguments for impossibility of FSB are pretty plausible. Ie, "a
moment's reflection shows FSB can't work" is (absent advocacy) an
ethically acceptable (to me, anyway) amount of consideration.

ben> Tell them that if you use free software, then you are a free
ben> software _consumer_. I don't see the problem.

*shrug* You don't want to.[1] Fine. I have a specialized need (as a
working economist) for a strict definition. I have already advocated
that a strict definition has pragmatic and ethical benefits for
FSBers, and having said that, I'll let it rest. (Well, something will
appear on http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp/Tools/Attitude/, most
likely early next week, but that's just "attitude". :-)


Footnotes:
[1] Hint: you've just excluded GNU/Linux/Apache/Perl-based ISPs,
which several of the fuzzy-definition advocates want to include.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-27 18:57:37 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
ben> Indeed there are some very well known people who have written
ben> a lot of free software who don't believe that it is an
ben> ethical issue in the slightest.
What can I say? They're wrong, at least in the context of FSB. Free
software is potentially an improvement for everyone in society, if we
can solve the incentive problems.
I have to say that if it's a *premise* of this list that free software is an
ethical issue, then I'm considerably further from being a free software
business.

The "free software" (as in FSF) model is far too narrowly defined for me to
accept that. It's a bit like translating "help thy neighbor" into "support
the Catholic Church|Mormons|Jehovah's Witnesses" or whatever. There are
some broad-minded ethical systems, and there are narrow-minded exclusionary
ones that define people who hew to an exact dogma as ethical and anyone else
as unethical. And I believe that there are proprietary software developers
who are considerably more ethical than some free software developers.

Just as a provocative for instance, if I had to put my faith in the ability
of Jim Allchin or Richard Stallman to make a truly ethical decision, I'd
probably pick Jim. They both believe fiercely in fundamental principles,
both believe they are doing good work, but Jim is more fair-minded and open.

Free software describes a set of principles that have an ethical foundation,
but there is a hierarchy of ethical values, and the FSF has chosen to
disproportionally elevate one limited set of values. What's ethical is to
find the greatest good in a given situation, hopefully for the greatest
number. Richard has a vision of that "greatest good", but I have to say
that I out and out believe he's wrong that requiring all software to be
"free software" is the ethical decision. One ethical decision is to allow
people who create something to set the terms on which it is shared, and not
to use coercive methods to take away the choice of the customer about
whether or not to accept those terms. Microsoft fell down on the latter
part of that sentence, not the first. Richard falls down on at exactly the
same point. As organizations, I consider Microsoft and the FSF to be
equally unethical, since they both have a strategy of coercion.
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
Rich Morin
2002-09-27 19:30:44 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tim O'Reilly
As organizations, I consider Microsoft and the FSF to be
equally unethical, since they both have a strategy of coercion.
Ahem. Both the FSF and Microsoft restrict the manner in which their
IP gets used. So, for that matter, does ORA. As long as you accept
the premise of IP, restrictions on use are part of the picture.

Both the FSF and Microsoft tend to eliminate competition. Microsoft
bullies computer vendors actively sabotages non-M$ standards, and
undercuts competitors, using resources from other parts of the vast
M$ enterprise. Even the US Court system has agreed that M$ is a
monopoly; they just haven't said what they plan to do about it.

The FSF, meanwhile, eliminates competition by the use of the quality
of its software and the viral nature of its license. If the FSF's
software was no good, the license wouldn't matter. But it is always
good enough to be a "plausible promise" (in ESR's terms), so additions
to it happen and make it even better.

As I understand it, GCC's success (it's a "category killer, in ESR's
terms) has largely eliminated non-GCC C compiler development. Only
a few firms bother to write their competing compilers. Compiler
writers who might otherwise be interested in contributing improvements
may well be discouraged from doing so, because they cannot earn enough
(under the GPL) to justify the work.

Nonetheless, the FSF is not keeping others from trying to write
compilers, let alone playing dirty tricks on them (e.g., by making the
dominant OS recognize and reject their compilers' binaries).

So, I don't really accept Tim's assertion. The FSF's coercion is
pretty tame by comparison to the well-documented predations of M$.

-r
--
email: ***@cfcl.com; phone: +1 650-873-7841
http://www.cfcl.com/rdm - my home page, resume, etc.
http://www.cfcl.com/Meta - The FreeBSD Browser, Meta Project, etc.
http://www.ptf.com/dossier - Prime Time Freeware's DOSSIER series
http://www.ptf.com/tdc - Prime Time Freeware's Darwin Collection
Simon Cozens
2002-09-27 21:36:59 UTC
Permalink
Post by Rich Morin
Ahem. Both the FSF and Microsoft restrict the manner in which their
IP gets used. So, for that matter, does ORA.
Wait! I'm an ORA author. I was asked under what terms I wanted my work to be
available. There was no coercion. If ORA restricts the IP, it's on my
instructions.
Post by Rich Morin
So, I don't really accept Tim's assertion. The FSF's coercion is
pretty tame by comparison to the well-documented predations of M$.
Again, untrue. The FSF's coercion strategy has changed over the years, but
the current one is to coerce software projects to license themselves under
the "GPL version 2.0 or any future versions".

Of course, since the FSF writes any future versions, you're expected to
license your work in perpetuity to any terms the FSF decides to set in the
future. That's one hell of a commitment.

You claim the FSF wants to restrict the manner in which their IP gets used.
This isn't true. They want to restrict the manner in which *your* and *my* IP
gets used.

Not even Microsoft stoops so low.
--
So remember when you're feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger-all down here on Earth. (Monty Python)
Rich Morin
2002-09-27 22:30:03 UTC
Permalink
Post by Simon Cozens
Wait! I'm an ORA author. I was asked under what terms I wanted my work to
be available. There was no coercion. If ORA restricts the IP, it's on my
instructions.
I didn't say that ORA coerced _you_. The fact remains, however, that the
vast majority of material published by ORA (and most other publishers) is
copyrighted with "All Rights Reserved". If Tim gives authors the chance
to make their own decisions, that's great; most publishers don't (I do :-).
Post by Simon Cozens
Post by Rich Morin
So, I don't really accept Tim's assertion. The FSF's coercion is
pretty tame by comparison to the well-documented predations of M$.
Again, untrue. The FSF's coercion strategy has changed over the years, but
the current one is to coerce software projects to license themselves under
the "GPL version 2.0 or any future versions".
RMS certainly attempts to persuade software authors, by essays, verbal
arm-twisting, etc. In fact, I have had a number of conversations with
RMS over the years about licensing issues and such. But he has NEVER
done anything to me that I would characterize as coercion.
Post by Simon Cozens
Of course, since the FSF writes any future versions, you're expected to
license your work in perpetuity to any terms the FSF decides to set in the
future. That's one hell of a commitment.
Again, it's an entirely voluntary one. Many authors (apparently) trust in
the good intentions of the FSF and are willing to give them a "proxy" to
keep the license up to date (responding to legal issues, etc.). But, if
you don't trust the FSF, you don't have to use their license at all, let
alone give them some sort of "blank check" for future licenses.
Post by Simon Cozens
You claim the FSF wants to restrict the manner in which their IP gets used.
This isn't true. They want to restrict the manner in which *your* and *my*
IP gets used.
What they want isn't the issue; it's what they _do_ that matters. If they
convince me, through force of argument, that the GPL is the best license
for a particular project, _I_ will make the decision to use it. Argument
isn't coercion.
Post by Simon Cozens
Not even Microsoft stoops so low.
Didn't Microsoft issue a restriction a while back on the kinds of licenses
that developers can use? IIRC, it basically said "BSD OK; GPL NG"...

-r
--
email: ***@cfcl.com; phone: +1 650-873-7841
http://www.cfcl.com/rdm - my home page, resume, etc.
http://www.cfcl.com/Meta - The FreeBSD Browser, Meta Project, etc.
http://www.ptf.com/dossier - Prime Time Freeware's DOSSIER series
http://www.ptf.com/tdc - Prime Time Freeware's Darwin Collection
Simon Cozens
2002-09-27 23:00:14 UTC
Permalink
Post by Rich Morin
RMS certainly attempts to persuade software authors, by essays, verbal
arm-twisting, etc. In fact, I have had a number of conversations with
RMS over the years about licensing issues and such. But he has NEVER
done anything to me that I would characterize as coercion.
If "arm-twisting" is not characterized as "coercion", then I'm probably
already in the wrong conversation.
--
Rule the Empire through force.
-- Shogun Tokugawa
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-28 06:17:02 UTC
Permalink
Rich> What they want isn't the issue; it's what they _do_ that
Rich> matters. If they convince me, through force of argument,
Rich> that the GPL is the best license for a particular project,
Rich> _I_ will make the decision to use it.

Tell that to Bill Perry and Beopen.com, who preferred Qt on technical
grounds, but were forced to use GTK, when they enhanced XEmacs. Or to
NeXT, who apparently made a legal misjudgement in planning their C
compiler product.

The GPL, like all[1] IP licenses, is inherently coercive once accepted.
And don't tell me that "you could have written a new Emacs from
scratch." Exactly the same argument applies to the "Microsoft tax"
(and in fact to all of Microsoft's predatory practices that I know of).

Do you not see the irony? Microsoft's monopoly is founded on nothing
but IBM's decision[2] to commission a "new OS from scratch"!



Footnotes:
[1] For practical purposes the "permissive" licenses are non-
coercive, but even there there are some terms (hold harmless, eg).

[2] Presumably to avoid Digital Research's IP, but I don't know exactly.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Lynn Winebarger
2002-09-28 07:12:17 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Tell that to Bill Perry and Beopen.com, who preferred Qt on technical
grounds, but were forced to use GTK, when they enhanced XEmacs. Or to
NeXT, who apparently made a legal misjudgement in planning their C
compiler product.
The GPL, like all[1] IP licenses, is inherently coercive once accepted.
And don't tell me that "you could have written a new Emacs from
scratch." Exactly the same argument applies to the "Microsoft tax"
(and in fact to all of Microsoft's predatory practices that I know of).
There's nothing in the GPL that irrevocably binds a "user" to it.
What might bind somebody is their own unwillingness to rewrite
the software from scratch, but that is, again, not the fault of the
GPL, the FSF, or RMS. And surely NeXT had some lawyers.
Perhaps they thought they could just ignore their clear legal
obligations? (or is that the legal misjudgement you're referring to?)
And I will suggest that if it's that big of a problem they can
rewrite Emacs from scratch. What makes your comparison to
M$ so outrageous is that with Emacs, you can know exactly how
the innards work. AFAIK, the FSF doesn't claim any rights over
algorithms, or make the claim that writing code after having studied
theirs must result in a derivative work (which would be akin to saying no
academic can publish a paper on a subject after reading someone
else's work without violating copyright). Neither of these can
be said of M$ and reading their published works (and they are
published literary works, no matter what chicanery M$ may wish
to perpetrate with state contract law).
Why is it the biggest proponents of free markets always seem to be
the first to cry about having to take responsibility for the choices they
make (in these licensing arguments, at least)?

Lynn
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-28 11:34:09 UTC
Permalink
Lynn> There's nothing in the GPL that irrevocably binds a "user"
Lynn> to it.

Which argument holds for all of M$'s practices that I know of. But I
said that already.

Lynn> Why is it the biggest proponents of free markets always seem
Lynn> to be the first to cry about having to take responsibility
Lynn> for the choices they make

Who's crying? _I_ am not a professional software developer, not even
(yet) a wannabe. I lose nothing from accepting any free license, be
it viral or permissive. I don't even own the copyright to my work on
XEmacs; I've assigned it to the FSF, and have never regretted that.

I'm simply pointing out that all restrictive licenses, whether free by
the definitions of RMS or the OSI, or proprietary, appeal to the
coercive power of the government. And that RMS and the FSF do in fact
behave in _predatory_ ways, taking advantage of the large corpus of
GNU software to advance an agenda that (AFAICT) only a minority of
free software advocates actually support in full.

Why point this out? Because I for one oppose parts of the radical
agenda, and therefore refuse to concede the moral high ground to the
radicals where they haven't earned it.

Lynn> (in these licensing arguments, at least)?

It's not about licenses per se. It's about the market power of the
FSF, which deliberately has reserved that market power through its
licensing policies, and unceasingly seeks to expand it through means
which are in no way limited to persuading other developers of the
correctness of FSF policies. Those means include the use of IP as a
club[1].

Rich says "[I'm not in one of the markets where they have a lot of
power, so] I can't be `coerced'." I respond, "I _am_ in a market
where the FSF has Microsoft levels of market power, and my choices are
visibly constrained." Compared to Microsoft, of course overall it's
much smaller, and as Rich Bodo reminds us the size of the GNU Project
is a large overestimate of FSF market share. _But_ RMS's goal is to
have power over _all_ software: he wants to require all software to be
free forever. Every decision he makes is referred to the ultimate
goal of "monopolization" of software in that sense.

We liberals[2] hate monopolization, period. However, we probably hate
RMS-style "monopolization for our own good" even more than we hate
MS-style monopolization "for MS's profit." :-)


Footnotes:
[1] The Aladdin Ghostscript/GNU readline case. Peter Deutsch said
that Brian Fox, the _author_ of readline, disagreed with RMS.

[2] Our host has declared war on the misuse of this word, so I'm
going to use it properly without apology or definition.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Lynn Winebarger
2002-09-29 00:38:22 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Lynn> There's nothing in the GPL that irrevocably binds a "user"
Lynn> to it.
Which argument holds for all of M$'s practices that I know of. But I
said that already.
Since I don't know what the contracts are for people whom M$ actually
allows to use their [M$'s] proprietary code in other software products, I can't
say whether it holds for their practice or not. Certainly they have attempted
to lock people in by holding their data hostage. I don't see this improving with
the impending Palladium.
I see no such attempt at locking-in in the GPL. If the code you combine
with a GPL'ed work can be reasonably extracted, the extracted part can
be distributed however you like. It's only the derivative work that is "infected".
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
I'm simply pointing out that all restrictive licenses, whether free by
the definitions of RMS or the OSI, or proprietary, appeal to the
coercive power of the government.
This is ridiculous. I could say the same thing about the use of paper
money, the construction of roads, or the fact that contracts aren't
practically meaningless exchanges of words and/or paper. What part
of life in the company of other humans doesn't have some dependence
on the existence of social order?
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
And that RMS and the FSF do in fact
behave in _predatory_ ways, taking advantage of the large corpus of
GNU software to advance an agenda that (AFAICT) only a minority of
free software advocates actually support in full.
If you're referring here to the enforcing the GPL on libraries, I disagree.
If someone does not want to use the GPL on their work, they should
refrain from deriving it from GPL'ed works. And, yes, I think the creation
of the interface to readline itself makes the work derivative of readline. [1]
What's predatory is that someone would believe they found a loophole
allowing them to evade their obligations. If they did not wish to take
on the obligations, they didn't have to use someone else's work in the
first place.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Why point this out? Because I for one oppose parts of the radical
agenda, and therefore refuse to concede the moral high ground to the
radicals where they haven't earned it.
And I refuse to cede the moral high ground to those who think
we should live in a jungle of any form.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
It's not about licenses per se. It's about the market power of the
FSF, which deliberately has reserved that market power through its
licensing policies, and unceasingly seeks to expand it through means
which are in no way limited to persuading other developers of the
correctness of FSF policies. Those means include the use of IP as a
club[1].
You'll have to explain further how this is "market power" for the FSF
(and no one else has the same, modulo the right of the FSF to use
a non-free license (which I think highly unlikely)), and why these
developers don't have a choice (presumably the same choice as the
people who originally wrote the GNU software).
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Rich says "[I'm not in one of the markets where they have a lot of
power, so] I can't be `coerced'." I respond, "I _am_ in a market
where the FSF has Microsoft levels of market power, and my choices are
visibly constrained."
I refuse to accept that characterization (assuming you're talking about
Xemacs). If you find the GPL onerous, you can and should write your
own version. Or find something else you'd like to do with your time.
If it's really just technical decisions (with no legal issues involved), then you
can always fork.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Compared to Microsoft, of course overall it's
much smaller, and as Rich Bodo reminds us the size of the GNU Project
is a large overestimate of FSF market share. _But_ RMS's goal is to
have power over _all_ software: he wants to require all software to be
free forever. Every decision he makes is referred to the ultimate
goal of "monopolization" of software in that sense.
You have a funny notion of "monopolization". I don't believe RMS
wants power over all software. Copyright is a completely artificial
construct. Nobody has any inherent right to play with different
licensing models. Quite the opposite. Any restriction on our fundamental
right to copy what we see should be on the terms of the people as a whole,
not on the terms of those who would restrict our rights merely to serve
their business model. If you can't make money within the terms set by
(a properly balanced) copyright, you should take your ball and go home.
I for one don't need your invention/work that badly. If there are people
who do, you can sit down negotiate a private agreement with them.
Just don't try to take advantage of selling on the public market.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
We liberals[2] hate monopolization, period. However, we probably hate
RMS-style "monopolization for our own good" even more than we hate
MS-style monopolization "for MS's profit." :-)
The problem is that it isn't for "your own good", it's for the good of human
society as a whole. Two different things.
But there is no monopolization of course.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
[1] The Aladdin Ghostscript/GNU readline case. Peter Deutsch said
that Brian Fox, the _author_ of readline, disagreed with RMS.
As I understand it, the FSF's copyright assignment form gives the
original author complete rights to distribute his/her code under other
licenses. Unless readline was a work-product while employed by
the FSF, Brian Fox should then be able to donate a version of readline
with an exception clause to Aladdin. (I could be wrong about the assignment
form, or the particular form Brian might have signed).
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
[2] Our host has declared war on the misuse of this word, so I'm
going to use it properly without apology or definition.
As long as it's not an attempt to exclude those freedom loving
individuals who recognize that living in a society comes responsibilities,
and it's not their right to decide what those responsibilities are. It's
the price of the convenience of not living in a real jungle (or other
place untamed by man).

Lynn
[1] For that matter, I don't think taking a single work and merely
splitting it into pieces that run in a distributed manner constitutes
the creation of 2 separate works, either.
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-30 07:03:17 UTC
Permalink
Executive summary: Lynn's flames are neutralized via reflection. FSB
relevance: how liberal thinking leads directly to a successful _pure_
free software play (Cygwin and Ghostscript (probably could have been
pure)), and a partial economic analysis of defects of the "ransom
model" of funding free software development (footnote 2) as compared
using a proprietary license of a certain form.
Lynn> What part of life in the company of other humans doesn't
Lynn> have some dependence on the existence of social order?

None. That's why I'm a liberal and a free software advocate.

Lynn> You'll have to explain further how this is "market
Lynn> power" for the FSF (and no one else has the same,

Huh? My point is that it _is_ exactly the _same_ market power that
all intellectual property uses. The FSF chooses to use it in
different ways from Microsoft, which is good but not the point. The
fact that it's the FSF's choice, and not mine, is what matters.

Lynn> If you find the GPL onerous, you can and should write your
Lynn> own version.

s/GPL/Microsoft EULA/ (or any or all Microsoft license(s)). Score:
Lynn 1, anti-Lynn 1. Dead heat.

In fact, I do not find the GPL onerous. I don't hesitate to work
within its restrictions when that's to my advantage, which is often.
Neither did Perry and Beopen. But I don't see the point in claiming
that it is not restrictive or that those restrictions are not backed
by the coercion of the state.

The point is that if the GPL is coercive, but we put up with that
because of the net social benefits generated, then we had better
provide a full account of the social losses _and_ the social gains
derived from "Microsoft coercion" (to the extent that it is legal,
which most of it is). Maybe we should put up with that, too.

Maybe, and to some degree.

Lynn> You have a funny notion of "monopolization".

That's precisely why I put it in quotes. It's a metaphor, not a
precise statement.

This is no different from the kind of metaphors that socialist FS
advocates are wont to use: "social responsibility" and (for extremists
like RMS) "slavery". It just happens that I like the monopolization
metaphor, and you don't, and you like the "social responsibility"
metaphor, and I don't. Well, you probably don't realize that "social
responsibility" is a metaphor[1], so I'm +1 there.

Lynn> I don't believe RMS wants power over all software.

RMS wants to prevent me, and everybody else, from making certain
contracts with _all_ software developers for _all_ products. I didn't
say he wants absolute power over any software. But to the extent that
he wants power, he wants it for all software.

Lynn> Copyright is a completely artificial construct. Nobody has
Lynn> any inherent right to play with different licensing models.

All property rights are artificial. If your shoes fit me, why
shouldn't I take them if you're not wearing them? No two-year-old
understands _others'_ property rights. Even five-year-olds have
trouble with the concept. It's unnatural, learned thinking. As any
Native American or Australian aborigine can tell you, to his dismay
and my shame.[2]

As for the inherent right to play with licensing models, that's called
"freedom of contract." It _is_ that simple. For liberals.

Lynn> Quite the opposite. Any restriction on our fundamental
Lynn> right to copy what we see should be on the terms of the
Lynn> people as a whole, not on the terms of those who would
Lynn> restrict our rights merely to serve their business model.
Lynn> If you can't make money within the terms set by (a properly
Lynn> balanced) copyright, you should take your ball and go home.
Lynn> I for one don't need your invention/work that badly. If
Lynn> there are people who do, you can sit down negotiate a
Lynn> private agreement with them. Just don't try to take
Lynn> advantage of selling on the public market.

Quite the opposite. Any restriction on our fundamental right to to
show our product to only those we choose [privacy], should be on the
terms of the people as a whole, not on the terms of those who would
restrict our rights merely to serve their consumptive appetites. If
you can't sate them within the terms set by (a properly balanced)
copyright, you should take your ball and go home. I for one don't
need your money that badly. If there are people who do, you can sit
down and negotiate a private agreement with them. Just don't try to
take advantage of buying on the public market.

Score: Lynn 1, anti-Lynn 1. Dead heat.

This moralizing is pointless. Our arguments have exactly the same
form, they just give priority to different rights. It's a dead heat,
and you can't avoid that. Neither of us denies the right the other
cites, we just evaluate their importance differently.

I do think that you should consider that the historical assignment of
copyright to authors has a big practical advantage over the opposite
assignment (to readers). Assigning copyright to readers prevents the
vast majority of license contracts from ever being written. They
involve unborn readers, while an unborn author has nothing to contract
over, so it's no problem. So assignment of copyright to authors
vastly expands freedom of contract (and therefore the possible a
priori _social_ gains from trade).

It also makes contracting much cheaper. Authors generally do not know
with whom they want to contract. Even modern marketing methods are
very poor at identifying potential partners (thus the popularity of
spam). Readers, on the other hand, invariably immediately associate
author with title, and therefore can cheaply zero in on appropriate
partners (even if the author has transferred copyright). "Properly
balanced" _from society's point of view_ arguably means the extreme of
assigning all copyright to authors![3]

Why should you care about these hypothetical contracts and a priori
gains from trade, when what you really want is access to Microsoft
Windows code for your own projects, and publishing source would be a
minimal resource burden on Microsoft compared to the social gain?

Here's a practical example. Another way to think of proprietary use
of copyright is as an improved "ransom model": early buyers get the
software faster, and sellers get the money earlier (and more
certainly), than in the basic ransom model. Everybody wins. We
deal---theoretically---with the late buyers' losses by limiting term
of copyright to the ransom date. In practice, that's difficult to
guess, of course, and will also be different for each product. But
every scheme has practical problems.[4] The theory is valid as far as
it goes.

Interestingly enough, two of the successful free software development
businesses (Aladdin and Cygnus) both have easily identifiable partners
for contracts concerning as yet nonexistent products: printer/fax
manufacturers and platform (CPU) manufacturers, respectively. The
"nonexistent" is important, because it means copying is not possible,
or, equivalently, the copyright for the "first copy" is assigned to
the author.

Isn't it interesting how the liberal view of society so quickly leads
to identification of a successful _pure_ free software business model?

Lynn> The problem is that it isn't for "your own good", it's
Lynn> for the good of human society as a whole. Two different
Lynn> things.

You are declaring my right to decide things for myself to be
irrelevant is irrelevant to my own good. Word play aside, have you
thought that through? How do you reconcile that with your "love of
freedom"? Ie, under what circumstances would you deny the good of
human society as a whole because of one person's freedom?

Lynn> As long as it's not an attempt to exclude those freedom
Lynn> loving individuals who recognize that living in a society
Lynn> comes responsibilities, and it's not their right to decide
Lynn> what those responsibilities are.

It does exclude such thinking. A liberal believes that an
individual's freedom limits the responsibility that society may
impose. You clearly believe the converse. Choose a different halo
word for your own beliefs, please. We had "liberal" first.

Please note that I do not reject the values of the "good of human
society as a whole" and "social responsibility" on which you place
such high weight. I also place great value on them. However, as a
liberal I _construct_ them based on aggregations of _individual_ good
and responsibility to _individuals_, and therefore end up weighting
freedom more highly than you do.

Lynn> As I understand it, the FSF's copyright assignment form
Lynn> gives the original author complete rights to distribute
Lynn> his/her code under other licenses.

My take is that it does not allow that author to relicense (that would
nullify the assignment), which is what would be necessary for
_Aladdin_ to do the distribution. But ask a lawyer; I have yet to
find one who is willing to interpret that clause, even off the record.[5]


Footnotes:
[1] Yes, it's a metaphor. Making sense of it requires either
accepting the metaphor or a multivolume philosophical dissertation. I
doubt that you can come up with a terse definition that a liberal can
accept. OTOH, I'm pretty sure your definition of "freedom" is usable.

[2] Yes, an American liberal can feel shame about the massive land
fraud called "the United States of America." I don't know what to do
about it, but it is a shame.

[3] Note that, once again, the principal economic argument against
lengthening copyright term (for new IP) has exactly this form. Ie,
over the years it becomes hard to find and identify authors, so that
requiring readers to get permission becomes an unacceptably large
transaction cost. See also the discussion of the ransom model. So
"properly balanced" surely does not mean infinite term, and is
possibly compatible with fairly short term.

[4] But ransom has its own problems. The obvious one is the free
rider problem that implies that the ransom date will be later than it
"needs" to be, and perhaps will never come. The less obvious one is
that in order to compute one's own "fair share" of the ransom, each
would-be buyer has to solve the firm's "customer identification"
problem. (This is independent of, but made worse by, the free rider
problem.) This is wasteful duplication---the firm should do that.

[5] One did joke that a lawyer's first guess would be that in that
clause "use as the Author sees fit" refers to _running_ the code.
This is actually plausible in that there is no obligation for the FSF
to distribute your code, and therefore you may have no rights to it
at all in the absence of explicit FSF permission, unless you have
previously distributed it under a free license! This is of practical
significance for those who have, as I have, signed assign.future.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Brian J. Fox
2002-09-29 06:09:33 UTC
Permalink
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <***@xemacs.org>
Date: Sat, 28 Sep 2002 20:34:09 +0900

It's not about licenses per se. It's about the market power of the
FSF, which deliberately has reserved that market power through its
licensing policies, and unceasingly seeks to expand it through means
which are in no way limited to persuading other developers of the
correctness of FSF policies. Those means include the use of IP as a
club[1].

[1] The Aladdin Ghostscript/GNU readline case. Peter Deutsch said
that Brian Fox, the _author_ of readline, disagreed with RMS.

I did (and do, to some extent) disagree with RMS on certain details,
such as applying the GPL to readline, instead of the LGPL. I don't
disagree with him enough to have written a replacement (the original
took a weekend to create, and perhaps 3 additional days of cumalative
hacking to get to where I was happy with it).

I find the discussion amusing. M$ and FSF? RMS wants the world to
agree with his philosophical stance -- he feels that if they do, then
the right things will happen. He uses tools of persusion, not tools
of coercion. He doesn't *have* any tools of coercion!

Brian
== The Difference Between Cultures: ==
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Liberte', E'galite', Fraternite'
Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll
Bjorn Reese
2002-09-29 13:56:19 UTC
Permalink
Post by Brian J. Fox
I did (and do, to some extent) disagree with RMS on certain details,
such as applying the GPL to readline, instead of the LGPL. I don't
disagree with him enough to have written a replacement (the original
took a weekend to create, and perhaps 3 additional days of cumalative
hacking to get to where I was happy with it).
Slightly off-topic but an X11 licensed alternative already exists:

http://www.astro.caltech.edu/~mcs/tecla/

(There's also editline, but I don't know if that is still being
maintained.)
Rich Bodo
2002-09-27 23:40:16 UTC
Permalink
Post by Simon Cozens
Again, untrue. The FSF's coercion strategy has changed over the years, but
the current one is to coerce software projects to license themselves under
the "GPL version 2.0 or any future versions".
I've written software for the GNU project. There was no coercion.
They simply stated that to be part of the GNU project, the software
must be licensed under one of the many free software licenses. We
licensed it under the GPL V2.0 and do not plan to change that license.
We kept the copyright, and they had no problem with that whatsoever.
If the leadership there ever becomes coercive, we simply take our ball
and go home.

-Rich

Rich Bodo | ***@ostel.com | 650-964-4678
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-27 23:27:28 UTC
Permalink
Post by Rich Morin
Post by Tim O'Reilly
As organizations, I consider Microsoft and the FSF to be
equally unethical, since they both have a strategy of coercion.
Ahem. Both the FSF and Microsoft restrict the manner in which their
IP gets used. So, for that matter, does ORA. As long as you accept
the premise of IP, restrictions on use are part of the picture.
But that's not the coercion I'm talking about. RMS has on more than one
occasion (alas, I don't have the references) given tacit or explicit
approval to situations in which people have essentially tricked an employer
who didn't understand the terms into releasing under the GPL, or seemed to
say it was OK if people were caught by the GPL because they didn't
understand it. That's what I'm referring to as unethical, not restrictions
on use. I've always said that I'm happy for people to license software
under any terms that a user will accept, absent coercion. I've bashed
Microsoft because of egregious cases of coercion, and I've bashed RMS
proportionally for cases where he seems to approve coercion.

I've omitted Rich's comments about GCC competing on its merits. It's
completely irrelevant to my point. I applaud GCC for this, just like I
applaud Microsoft for the areas in which they have contributed to the
greater good, and places where they have competed fairly to improve the
state of the art.
Post by Rich Morin
So, I don't really accept Tim's assertion. The FSF's coercion is
pretty tame by comparison to the well-documented predations of M$.
-r
I didn't say that they were equal in the scope of their coercion, just that
both seem to accept coercion as a valid tool. And in my book, that's
unethical.
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
Lynn Winebarger
2002-09-28 01:35:56 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tim O'Reilly
But that's not the coercion I'm talking about. RMS has on more than one
occasion (alas, I don't have the references) given tacit or explicit
approval to situations in which people have essentially tricked an employer
who didn't understand the terms into releasing under the GPL, or seemed to
say it was OK if people were caught by the GPL because they didn't
understand it.
Before you make this kind of statement about someone in public, you
should have references. Or abstain from making it.
For the second situation, it is the person re-using the code's responsibility
to understand the terms[1]. There is plenty of information available about the GPL.
If someone can't be bothered to do some due diligence, it's hardly RMS's or the
FSF's fault or problem.

Lynn
[1] I'm assuming (since you say "caught") that you're referring to people putting
GPL'ed code into their own software. I don't know of any other situation in which
they could be described as "caught" by the GPL.
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-28 05:22:37 UTC
Permalink
Tim> I have to say that if it's a *premise* of this list that free
Tim> software is an ethical issue,

Not what I meant. Free software is an ethical issue, but that is not
the only premise for participating in this list, nor the only reason
for being a free software business. However, I think it pretty
unlikely that someone would choose to focus on free software as a
"core competence" unless they (a) like to handicap themselves, just to
prove they can really do it, (b) have a core competence in software
that is already free (and presumably somewhere upstream there is
a Type (c) somebody), or (c) they're doing it for ethical or lifestyle
reasons.

And I think nobody here would advocate that participating in free
software as such is ethically neutral or ethically bad. Their
principle reason for participating need not be an ethical one.

Tim> [...] but Jim is more fair-minded and open.

To me, "but Jim is more _ethical_" an _exact_ translation of your
statement. YMMV. 'Nuff said?
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-28 07:35:12 UTC
Permalink
sjt> Their principle reason for participating need not be an
sjt> ethical one.

That's "principal reason", and I'm referring to something like "I want
to make money in software. It would be cool if I could do it through
free software, hmm, let's see ...." I think for most FSBers "cool" is
not about the challenge of making money in defiance of the invisible
hand, it's basically ethical: sharing, contribution to society, etc.

Tim> [...] but Jim is more fair-minded and open.

sjt> To me, "but Jim is more _ethical_" an _exact_ translation of
sjt> your statement. YMMV. 'Nuff said?

Of course for this to make sense, "Jim" must be "fair-minded and open"
with respect to criticism of _his own behavior_; it can't be merely
academic discussion.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-28 18:04:50 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Of course for this to make sense, "Jim" must be "fair-minded and open"
with respect to criticism of _his own behavior_; it can't be merely
academic discussion.
Yes, that's what I was saying.
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-28 17:53:37 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Tim> I have to say that if it's a *premise* of this list that free
Tim> software is an ethical issue,
Not what I meant. Free software is an ethical issue, but that is not
the only premise for participating in this list, nor the only reason
for being a free software business. However, I think it pretty
unlikely that someone would choose to focus on free software as a
"core competence" unless they (a) like to handicap themselves, just to
prove they can really do it, (b) have a core competence in software
that is already free (and presumably somewhere upstream there is
a Type (c) somebody), or (c) they're doing it for ethical or lifestyle
reasons.
But I don't think that free software is a handicap, even in business. It's
a strategic advantage, when applied strategically! It's a handicap only if
applied dogmatically.

This is my whole point to the list: the secret of being a *successful* FSB
is to use free software where it's appropriate, and not to use it where it
isn't, and to understand the dynamics of the markets it creates.

Free software and open source tend to:

1. Fill niches where commercial vendors haven't yet identified a market.
(This is my alpha-geek argument). Hackers build tools that vendors don't yet
supply. When the market gets big enough, vendors go after it with tools
that make it accessible to a wider audience. If the vendors were blind long
enough, then the free software may have become too widespread to displace,
in which case the dynamic below kicks in.

2. Commoditize markets. (The open design of the IBM PC is an even better
example than Linux, which hasn't yet succeeded to the same level.) In
commodity markets, brand, being the lowest cost provider, and supply chain
management become more important advantages than controlling IP.

3. Allow people versed in computers to share information more easily,
lowering the barriers to entry and advancing innovation. This is open
source as the late 20th century equivalent to the long tradition of
scientific publishing.

These are the three most important dynamics around free software/open
source. RMS's postulated ethical imperative to let users modify the
software they use is really a subset of my third point above, but to my
mind, a far less useful one.

There are a couple of conclusions I'd draw from these three principles if I
were starting an FSB:

* If you're trying to leverage principle #1, you can run a nice cottage
business staying ahead of the big guys, surfing the wavefront of innovation.

* If you're trying to leverage principle #2, scale matters.

* If you're trying to leverage principle #3, you're probably not doing this
strictly for business purposes (unless you're in a business that has product
derived from knowledge flow, like I do).
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
Benjamin J. Tilly
2002-09-30 00:02:00 UTC
Permalink
[...]
Post by Tim O'Reilly
But I don't think that free software is a handicap, even in business. It's
a strategic advantage, when applied strategically! It's a handicap only if
applied dogmatically.
This is my whole point to the list: the secret of being a *successful* FSB
is to use free software where it's appropriate, and not to use it where it
isn't, and to understand the dynamics of the markets it creates.
But now I sympathize with Stephen. It is possible to use
free software dynamics strategically in a manner that is
not relevant to my understanding of the purpose of this
list. Allow me to illustrate with each dynamic that you
define.
Post by Tim O'Reilly
1. Fill niches where commercial vendors haven't yet identified a market.
(This is my alpha-geek argument). Hackers build tools that vendors don't yet
supply. When the market gets big enough, vendors go after it with tools
that make it accessible to a wider audience. If the vendors were blind long
enough, then the free software may have become too widespread to displace,
in which case the dynamic below kicks in.
In which case one could follow free software to try to
identify untapped markets that, once identified, you can
address in a proprietary fashion. For instance web
servers and browsers were invented in free software but
then proprietary companies formed to deliver the same
thing.
Post by Tim O'Reilly
2. Commoditize markets. (The open design of the IBM PC is an even better
example than Linux, which hasn't yet succeeded to the same level.) In
commodity markets, brand, being the lowest cost provider, and supply chain
management become more important advantages than controlling IP.
And, of course, one could do as Sun has tried to do to
Microsoft and release free software to commoditize
markets that a competitor generates substantial profits
from.
Post by Tim O'Reilly
3. Allow people versed in computers to share information more easily,
lowering the barriers to entry and advancing innovation. This is open
source as the late 20th century equivalent to the long tradition of
scientific publishing.
Noticing this pattern may affect people's choices of tools
as they go about proprietary businesses. This makes them
free software consumers, not businesses.

Cheers,
Ben
--
__________________________________________________________
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Free OperaMail at http://www.operamail.com/

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Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-30 01:58:24 UTC
Permalink
Post by Benjamin J. Tilly
[...]
Post by Tim O'Reilly
But I don't think that free software is a handicap, even in business. It's
a strategic advantage, when applied strategically! It's a handicap only if
applied dogmatically.
This is my whole point to the list: the secret of being a *successful* FSB
is to use free software where it's appropriate, and not to use it where it
isn't, and to understand the dynamics of the markets it creates.
But now I sympathize with Stephen. It is possible to use
free software dynamics strategically in a manner that is
not relevant to my understanding of the purpose of this
list. Allow me to illustrate with each dynamic that you
define.
Why is it not relevant? If these things can help you to make a successful
FSB, why does it matter that they can be of use to proprietary companies as
well? That's what bugs me about this discussion: the a priori rules that
make it impossible to answer the question in any useful way. If an FSB is
defined as a business that can only follow rules that are not also useful to
other businesses, it will tend to suggest that FSBs cannot be successful
businesses, since all successful businesses have a lot in common.
Post by Benjamin J. Tilly
Post by Tim O'Reilly
1. Fill niches where commercial vendors haven't yet identified a market.
(This is my alpha-geek argument). Hackers build tools that vendors don't yet
supply. When the market gets big enough, vendors go after it with tools
that make it accessible to a wider audience. If the vendors were blind long
enough, then the free software may have become too widespread to displace,
in which case the dynamic below kicks in.
In which case one could follow free software to try to
identify untapped markets that, once identified, you can
address in a proprietary fashion. For instance web
servers and browsers were invented in free software but
then proprietary companies formed to deliver the same
thing.
Absolutely. But knowing that this happens can help FSBs understand the
limits of their opportunity. Pretending that it doesn't happen won't change
things.
Post by Benjamin J. Tilly
Post by Tim O'Reilly
2. Commoditize markets. (The open design of the IBM PC is an even better
example than Linux, which hasn't yet succeeded to the same level.) In
commodity markets, brand, being the lowest cost provider, and supply chain
management become more important advantages than controlling IP.
And, of course, one could do as Sun has tried to do to
Microsoft and release free software to commoditize
markets that a competitor generates substantial profits
from.
Absolutely. IBM is using this strategy very powerfully. But keep in mind
that *most* times when a company uses this strategy (think IBM and the PC
architecture), someone else (or maybe a whole market) benefits. But again,
knowing that one major result of successful free software is the
commoditization of a market gives a huge amount of information that can be
used to craft an FSB. Forgetting that fact is a recipe for an unsuccessful
FSB.
Post by Benjamin J. Tilly
Post by Tim O'Reilly
3. Allow people versed in computers to share information more easily,
lowering the barriers to entry and advancing innovation. This is open
source as the late 20th century equivalent to the long tradition of
scientific publishing.
Noticing this pattern may affect people's choices of tools
as they go about proprietary businesses. This makes them
free software consumers, not businesses.
By your definition. I consider the fact that Yahoo!, Amazon, google, and a
host of ISPs DON'T consider themselves FSBs to be a MAJOR failure of the
free software and open source movement. Because they don't think of
themselves that way, they don't see that keeping the virtuous circle going
is in their business interest. And because people on this list exclude
them, they don't try to find ways to engage these businesses to be
contributors to the free software ecology. The whole point of the free
software movement was to empower users, yet now we see people who are
building businesses by *using* free software marked out not as FSBs but as
"consumers."

I've spent a lot of energy trying to persuade these kinds of folks that they
are in fact part of the free software and open source ecology, and that
their support matters. (This was the whole basis of my appeal to Amazon
about their 1-click patent, as well as my push to get them to offer web
services API.) If other people were pushing a little harder on this same
point, I think we'd all be better off.

I don't have more time to argue this point, but I will say that the narrow,
exclusionary definition of free software and free software businesses is a
key obstacle to the greater success of free software.
Post by Benjamin J. Tilly
Cheers,
Ben
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-09-30 07:20:27 UTC
Permalink
Tim> By your definition. I consider the fact that Yahoo!, Amazon,
Tim> google, and a host of ISPs DON'T consider themselves FSBs to
Tim> be a MAJOR failure of the free software and open source
Tim> movement.

Amazon? A definition of "FSB" that is compatible with holding the
"one click" patent is one I want to drive before I buy.

Tim> Because they don't think of themselves that way, they don't
Tim> see that keeping the virtuous circle going is in their
Tim> business interest.

I have a problem with that argument. It basically amounts to "for
lack of a name, these companies are totally missing the fundamental
dynamics of their businesses." I find that unlikely.

As far as I can tell, your argument is equivalent to saying that all
businesses involved in software to date have completely missed the
boat, and fail to recognize the benefits of supporting free software.

What about the MIT/X Consortium, and the very deliberate decision that
OTOH Motif would be proprietary? How about sharing with more limited
participation, such as IP pools and the MCC? MPEG, etc? I think
these companies are very much alive to the possibities for sharing,
and simply have judged that more sharing than they already do is not
good for them.

You're a lot closer to the battle zone than I am, so I take your
opinion as an important data point. But it needs independent support.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Tim O'Reilly
2002-09-30 15:15:51 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
I have a problem with that argument. It basically amounts to "for
lack of a name, these companies are totally missing the fundamental
dynamics of their businesses." I find that unlikely.
Not for lack of a name, for lack of sustained argument that they should give
back because their businesses depend on the continued success of free
software. Consider google. I know for a fact that they are now on
Microsoft's "competitor list". If they were using Microsoft software, don't
you think that the squeeze would already be on? Recognizing that your
survival is tied up with the survival of the ecosystem around the software
you use should make these types of companies very concerned about the
further success of free software. Yet I tend to find myself the only free
software/open source advocate regularly making that point. These guys just
aren't on the radar of most FS people -- because they aren't doing the
software distribution thing. Getting folks to recognize that distribution
is no longer an adequate trigger for the license is only step one -- there
needs to be a change of mindset among most free software advocates, so that
they cast a wider net, and think more about who their friends and allies
ought to be, rather than deciding who isn't pure enough to be at the party.

It's the exclusionary, boundary-driven definitions that bother me. We need
a definition driven by a gravitational core, recognizing that the field gets
attenuated the farther someone is from that core, but owning its influence
all the way out to the stars.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
As far as I can tell, your argument is equivalent to saying that all
businesses involved in software to date have completely missed the
boat, and fail to recognize the benefits of supporting free software.
Not at all. Many companies don't depend on free software, and instead gain
advantage from proprietary software. My point is that those whose
businesses *depend* on using and "performing" free software should be seen
as free software businesses, and engaged with as such.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
What about the MIT/X Consortium, and the very deliberate decision that
OTOH Motif would be proprietary?
Yes, and look what happened. That was the beginning of the end for X as a
dynamic platform. That was the old Unix mistake. "Hey! Here's a great
party. We need to own this." But the party was going because the software
was free. It's hard to convert a software community from free to
proprietary and keep the community dynamics lively. Not impossible, but
hard.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
How about sharing with more limited
participation, such as IP pools and the MCC? MPEG, etc? I think
these companies are very much alive to the possibities for sharing,
and simply have judged that more sharing than they already do is not
good for them.
That's absolutely right. Companies make different decisions about the value
of IP. Sometimes they are right, and sometimes they are wrong. The success
of any one strategy doesn't mean that the others are non-starters, just that
you have to understand what elements go together.
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
David N. Welton
2002-09-30 16:36:14 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tim O'Reilly
It's the exclusionary, boundary-driven definitions that bother me.
We need a definition driven by a gravitational core, recognizing
that the field gets attenuated the farther someone is from that
core, but owning its influence all the way out to the stars.
[ ... ]
Not at all. Many companies don't depend on free software, and
instead gain advantage from proprietary software. My point is that
those whose businesses *depend* on using and "performing" free
software should be seen as free software businesses, and engaged
with as such.
I, for one, would be fine with just dumping the idea of nailing down a
'definition'. I am more interested in doing business with free
software than having a 'free software business', and I think your
comments regarding this broader field have been quite interesting, to
date. I hope that on the list we can continue with both discussions,
though. It's of interest to me to see if someone can make a go of it
as a 'pure' FSB, but it's also very important to discuss the
interaction, and border cases, of free software with the rest of the
world, and how it/we can profit from it.

Thanks,
--
David N. Welton
Consulting: http://www.dedasys.com/
Personal: http://www.dedasys.com/davidw/
Free Software: http://www.dedasys.com/freesoftware/
Apache Tcl: http://tcl.apache.org/
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-10-01 05:13:27 UTC
Permalink
Tim> Recognizing that your survival is tied up with the survival
Tim> of the ecosystem around the software you use should make
Tim> these types of companies very concerned about the further
Tim> success of free software.

But surely they are! What that implies about the support they should
provide to "the ecosystem" is another matter.

[...]
Tim> [FS advocates should] think more about who their friends and
Tim> allies ought to be

So let's _call_ them "allied businesses." That serves to remind _us_
that they are less committed to FS than we think they ought to be, and
that they could change their minds _either way_.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Tim O'Reilly
2002-10-01 21:07:57 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
So let's _call_ them "allied businesses." That serves to remind _us_
that they are less committed to FS than we think they ought to be, and
that they could change their minds _either way_.
I'm happy with that. FWIW, what set me off was the name of the thread
(which was, after all, "Successful FSBs") as contrasted with the tone of the
discussion, which might have been more appropriately titled, "Can 'Pure'
FSBs be successful?"

If we want to define pure FSBs and successful FSB-allied businesses, and
then find the overlap, that's a worthwhile discussion.
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-10-02 01:04:53 UTC
Permalink
Tim> If we want to define pure FSBs and successful FSB-allied
Tim> businesses, and then find the overlap, that's a worthwhile
Tim> discussion.

Oh, _now_ I see. :-( I really should have "got" it a _lot_ sooner
(see .sig, which is dated 2001-10-11, but got replaced in April).

My apologies.

My stumbling block is that what _I_ dream about, and so many (eg, Tom
Lord) dream about, is the pure play. I'd like to keep the dream pure,
even though I know it's probably restricted to a dream for most of us.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
Ask not how you can "do" free software business;
ask what your business can "do for" free software.
Adam Turoff
2002-09-30 14:33:17 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tim O'Reilly
Post by Benjamin J. Tilly
Post by Tim O'Reilly
3. Allow people versed in computers to share information more easily,
lowering the barriers to entry and advancing innovation. This is open
source as the late 20th century equivalent to the long tradition of
scientific publishing.
Noticing this pattern may affect people's choices of tools
as they go about proprietary businesses. This makes them
free software consumers, not businesses.
By your definition. I consider the fact that Yahoo!, Amazon, google, and a
host of ISPs DON'T consider themselves FSBs to be a MAJOR failure of the
free software and open source movement.
Labelling everything in the ecosystem as 'FSB' or 'non-FSB' is
about as instructive as labelling everything in a swamp as either
"vertibrate" or "invertibrate". Lots of detail gets lost in those
broad brushstrokes.

I assert that there is a clear definition of what constitutes an FSB.
Obviously it's still eluding us. Whatever it is, it fits businesses
like MySQL, Zope and Sleepycat better than it does Amazon, Yahoo! and
Google. It also ignores the fact that Yahoo!, Amazon and Google exist
and play a crucial role in the ecosystem.
Post by Tim O'Reilly
[...] I will say that the narrow,
exclusionary definition of free software and free software businesses is a
key obstacle to the greater success of free software.
Perhaps the focus on the single term "free software business" is
the problem, rather than the exclusionary definition of that term.

I think what you've succeeded in pointing out is that there's no
good classification for businesses like O'Reilly (which you deemed
a non-FSB), Apple, Yahoo!, Amazon and Google who use, benefit from
and contribute to the virtuous circle. These businesses are
certainly a critical part of the free software ecology. The term
"consumer" doesn't accurately reflect their various symbiotic roles.

Z.
Benjamin J. Tilly
2002-09-30 11:44:59 UTC
Permalink
"Stephen J. Turnbull" <***@xemacs.org> wrote:
[...]
[...]
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
[2] Yes, an American liberal can feel shame about the massive land
fraud called "the United States of America." I don't know what to do
about it, but it is a shame.
Most of the US was not won by land fraud, but by war.
With the arguable exception of Hawaii, I can't think of
any exceptions after the illegal eviction generally
called the Trail of Tears (1838-1839).

Compare and contrast to Canada which settled the whole
thing by treaties. And which got rather lax about them
at the end, leaving the current situation where nobody
wants to give it to them, but the natives legally should
own about 70% of British Columbia.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
[3] Note that, once again, the principal economic argument against
lengthening copyright term (for new IP) has exactly this form. Ie,
over the years it becomes hard to find and identify authors, so that
requiring readers to get permission becomes an unacceptably large
transaction cost. See also the discussion of the ransom model. So
"properly balanced" surely does not mean infinite term, and is
possibly compatible with fairly short term.
As the one who has been repeating that argument to you
fairly regularly, I would like to also point out that
a similar argument applies for strengthening what is
allowed under copyright. Bills like the DMCA and the
proposed CBDTPA, along with technologies like Palladium,
are objected to because the cost of the coercion needed
to enforce copyright surpasses the general benefit of
the same. (IMHO of course.)

[...]
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
[5] One did joke that a lawyer's first guess would be that in that
clause "use as the Author sees fit" refers to _running_ the code.
This is actually plausible in that there is no obligation for the FSF
to distribute your code, and therefore you may have no rights to it
at all in the absence of explicit FSF permission, unless you have
previously distributed it under a free license! This is of practical
significance for those who have, as I have, signed assign.future.
[...]

Given that one no longer owns copyright, it is no
surprise that you would afterwards have no more rights
than any member of the general public.

I am kind of curious about this. Suppose that I offer
a copyright license. And then I sell my copyright.
Who do users have that license with now? Me? The
current owner? And if it is the current owner, then
are they bound by my previous license? Do I have a
responsibility to disclose this?

What would happen if, for instance, someone released
code under a BSD license, then later moved to the GPL,
then assigned copyright to the FSF? What would be the
status of a proprietary company who was using code
derived from the BSD codebase?

Cheers,
Ben
--
__________________________________________________________
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Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-10-01 07:58:25 UTC
Permalink
Benjamin> Bills like the DMCA and the proposed CBDTPA, along with
Benjamin> technologies like Palladium, are objected to because the
Benjamin> cost of the coercion needed to enforce copyright
Benjamin> surpasses the general benefit of the same. (IMHO of
Benjamin> course.)

That may be why you object to them. I object to coercion (strictly
defined) and invasion of privacy in principle. I accept them only
with due process and in the interest of resolving conflicts with
principles of similar status. "General benefit" is not an excuse.

Of course as an economist I often appeal to the calculus of "general
benefit" as a convenient tool. But this is justified because in
general there are many liberal institutions that enable improvements
in general benefit as an outcome, and we may want to choose "good"
ones. I don't justify liberal institutions on the grounds that they
maximize general benefit (although for a remarkable share of common
situations they do, under a variety of definitions of general benefit).
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
This is actually plausible in that there is no obligation for
the FSF to distribute your code, and therefore you may have no
rights to it at all in the absence of explicit FSF permission,
unless you have previously distributed it under a free license!
This is of practical significance for those who have, as I
have, signed assign.future.
Benjamin> Given that one no longer owns copyright, it is no
Benjamin> surprise that you would afterwards have no more rights
Benjamin> than any member of the general public.

Oh? You don't find the implication that "XEmacs may not distribute
Steve Turnbull's contributions without explicit FSF permission"
disconcerting? What is surprising is that I may have _fewer_ rights
than a member of the general public. Clearly, any of them can derive
and distribute a work. It is not clear that I can distribute (in the
absence of the license-back clause), because my code has not been
licensed by the FSF and therefore is NOT covered by XEmacs's GPL.
They are not otherwise required to license the code at all, although
if they do distribute it must be covered by a free license. It's a
Catch-22, a curiosum, but that's how lawyers earn their keep.

Benjamin> I am kind of curious about this. Suppose that I offer a
Benjamin> copyright license. And then I sell my copyright. Who
Benjamin> do users have that license with now? Me? The current
Benjamin> owner?

That depends on the terms of the license and of the transfer of
copyright. By default, still you. That's the way contracts work.

Benjamin> And if it is the current owner, then are they bound by
Benjamin> my previous license?

That depends on the terms of the license and the terms of the
copyright assignment, and what you mean by "bound". By default, they
cannot revoke it, but do not have any obligations under it.

Benjamin> Do I have a responsibility to disclose this?

Moral, yes (IMHO). Legal, ask a lawyer.

Benjamin> What would happen if, for instance, someone released
Benjamin> code under a BSD license, then later moved to the GPL,
Benjamin> then assigned copyright to the FSF?

There would be three sets of licensees. A set of BSD licensees from
you (including transitive licenses via your direct BSD licensees[1]),
a set of GPL licensees from you (ditto), and a set of (presumably) GPL
licensees from the FSF.

Benjamin> What would be the status of a proprietary company who
Benjamin> was using code derived from the BSD codebase?

Unchanged, except they would have the option of switching to GPL in
order to take advantage of the improvements, if any, in your GPL and
the FSF's GPL code bases.


Footnotes:
[1] You can withdraw your BSD license if you like, but in practice to
make that effective you either have to (a) buy back all copies or (b)
write a new version so good that everybody will take the new version
under the new conditions.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Forrest J. Cavalier III
2002-09-30 14:32:47 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tim O'Reilly
By your definition. I consider the fact that Yahoo!, Amazon, google, and a
host of ISPs DON'T consider themselves FSBs to be a MAJOR failure of the
free software and open source movement. Because they don't think of
Webster's has a number of definitions at "business." One I like
(Leave it to Beaver, anyone?) is:
"a damaging assault, or a hard time"

Certainly publishing and distributing free software as a means
to generate revenue is a hard time. :-)

Attempts at humor aside, there probably would be fewer calls for
disqualified FSB examples if this list were "***@crynwr" for
"free software business activities."

But it turns out that "business activity" IS one of the Webster
definitions of "business" and clearly does not mean an entire
"enterprise." (Webster's needed to use "enterprise" in a
separate clause defining the meaning of business.) We don't
have to change the name of the list.

Any definition is going to exclude some and include others.
This is good, if you are trying to benchmark yourself and
find good examples to follow. I don't know the audience
for the original poster's article. A definition of FSB
is appropriate for them, and the article should be written
with that in mind.

We don't have to settle on definitions for this list.

If the list admits an inclusive definition (even including consumers like
ISPs) I don't think we will be overwhelmed. For example, plain
consumers of software may have good business models, but they are not
interesting enough in the context of this list to dominate any
discussion here (unless it is to the extent that Free software is
a "good thing" which enables such businesses.)
Stephen J. Turnbull
2002-10-26 09:12:58 UTC
Permalink
Forrest> If the list admits an inclusive definition (even
Forrest> including consumers like ISPs) I don't think we will be
Forrest> overwhelmed.

Heh. I don't fear the list be overwhelmed if the definition is too
inclusive; I fear it being underwhelmed.

There is a sort of Laffer curve for definitions. If they are too
strict, the applicable cases are too few, and only academic
specialists are interested. I'm certainly biased in that direction; I
both try to correct for it and admit it explicitly on a regular
basis. But if they are too weak, then everything qualifies and S/N
goes to pot as everybody jabbers about what interests them in terms
they have more or less private definitions for.

For example, Tim says he wants to include Amazon, which clearly has
unnecessarily chosen the proprietary road on occasion (Amazon wins on
title coverage, economies of mass purchase, and stock management
including fast delivery; "one click" ordering just isn't that big a
deal).

I agree with him that Amazon wins if the best platforms are all free,
but this is a matter of pissing in everybody else's soup. The point
is to make sure that nobody steals a march on you by introducing a
much better platform than yours, not that Amazon has a core competence
in use of platforms, much less development. But Amazon is basically
an ASP, and they want to keep the software concerning their core
competences private. To the extent that that integrates with OSS
they've pulled in, they are _not_ going to contribute back to the
community, and in fact they probably don't want their developers to
participate in the community.

Like Tim himself, Amazon is in the business of relying on IP---it
distributes it. Unlike Tim (AFAIK), proprietary IP is also a core
competence (I would assume, and their IP strategy indicates that they
think so). This is an FSB? I think not.
--
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
My nostalgia for Icon makes me forget about any of the bad things. I don't
have much nostalgia for Perl, so its faults I remember. Scott Gilbert c.l.py
Tim O'Reilly
2002-10-26 18:37:40 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
There is a sort of Laffer curve for definitions. If they are too
strict, the applicable cases are too few, and only academic
specialists are interested. I'm certainly biased in that direction; I
both try to correct for it and admit it explicitly on a regular
basis. But if they are too weak, then everything qualifies and S/N
goes to pot as everybody jabbers about what interests them in terms
they have more or less private definitions for.
For example, Tim says he wants to include Amazon, which clearly has
unnecessarily chosen the proprietary road on occasion (Amazon wins on
title coverage, economies of mass purchase, and stock management
including fast delivery; "one click" ordering just isn't that big a
deal).
FWIW, I didn't say that Amazon was *now* an FSB. I *did* say that any
definition of FSB that ipso facto excluded exploration of google, yahoo!,
amazon, and host of ISPs as FSBs was prejudicing the very question that the
thread was purporting to ask: what can would be entrepreneurs learn from
"successful FSBs."

The tragedy, I've argued, is that amazon, google, et al don't consider
themselves FSBs and act accordingly. And for me, "accordingly" is
explicitly and judiciously engaging with open source projects they depend
on, NOT making everything they do open. And of course, it's an even greater
tragedy that folks thinking about what makes a "successful free software
business" are arguing about who's pure enough to be considered rather than
trying to understand what really works and how.

It is my belief that the most successful business models for FSBs come from
the use of the software to deliver software services, not from its resale,
or from the resale of supporting goods. The ISP market is the clearest
example of this model, in which companies charge a monthly fee for access to
services based on free software (Bind, Sendmail or equivalent, Apache, and
various elements of the TCP/IP stack). But by extension the concept applies
to companies leveraging free software further up the service stack. There's
a huge amount to be learned from studying such companies, including the
kinds of margins you can get from services built on commodity software (vs.
from proprietary software that isn't shared by competitors.)

I believe firmly that the economic message of free software is to develop
business models that assume relatively fungible commodity software, and to
get your money from services based on that software. The challenge is to
understand whether (or when) you get your marketplace advantage from an
additional layer of proprietary software, and when you get it from things
external to the software itself. (By analogy, in the hardware market, Dell
gets its advantage not from unique proprietary extensions to commodity
hardware, but from economies of scale, superior logistics, and the lower
cost structure of its direct sale business model.)

Even worse than when the companies that ought to be seen as part of the free
and open source ecosystem are disregarded is when the natural business model
of a piece of free software is signed over wholesale to a hostile monopoly.
I'm thinking of Verisign/Network Solutions. Running domain name
registration services *is* the natural business model for BIND, but no one
in the FS business realized it until too late. If FS advocates had been
thinking more about software as service, we would have avoided the whole
ICANN fiasco, and had a competitive domain name registration system based on
commodity free software.

Of course, it's also true that domain name registration wouldn't be as
profitable for a host of players as it is for a single monopoly player (even
now with regulated competitors nipping at the edges), but that's beside the
point.

I keep hammering on this point because I think that software as service *is*
the future. We're moving into a world in which software that runs on a
single isolated platform is going to be the exception rather than the rule.
Almost all software will have an online service component. Microsoft
completely gets it. What was Passport but an attempt to create identity
services? MyServices had a whole host of forward-looking services. But
Microsoft is having trouble getting traction, because they think like a
monopolist, and the market has seen that movie before, and doesn't like the
ending. (But Microsoft will be back, hopefully with a more open version,
but it will likely still not be as open as many of us would like.)

To my mind, anyone who wants to think about "successful FSBs" should be
thinking about the range of services that will be part of the future
"internet operating system" and what businesses could be built on those
services. Go study .Net and the MyServices vision, and ask yourself how
many of those components are mirroring things that are already out there as
free software. While the free software pundits are arguing over who is an
angel allowed to dance on the head of this pin, we are fortunate that there
are individual developers building software that does look forward to the
future.

For one example, take a look at a proprietary company like groove, which is
building various kinds of groupware services--not just software, but the
services that make that software work, such as management and
synchronization of an "XML cloud"--and ask yourselves whether similar
services could be built, say, on jabber, or even Apple's lightweight
rendezvous/zeroconf framework.

Or take a look at Ping Identity Services (http://www.pingid.org/) and other
folks trying to build digital identity alternatives to Passport. They
aren't "free software" per se, but they are fellow-travelers who ought to be
engaged in the discussion.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
I agree with him that Amazon wins if the best platforms are all free,
but this is a matter of pissing in everybody else's soup. The point
is to make sure that nobody steals a march on you by introducing a
much better platform than yours, not that Amazon has a core competence
in use of platforms, much less development. But Amazon is basically
an ASP, and they want to keep the software concerning their core
competences private. To the extent that that integrates with OSS
they've pulled in, they are _not_ going to contribute back to the
community, and in fact they probably don't want their developers to
participate in the community.
That's actually not true. The developers there are very open to working
with outsiders. I've been working that angle for some time, and making
connections for them. But I won't argue your basic point.
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
Like Tim himself, Amazon is in the business of relying on IP---it
distributes it. Unlike Tim (AFAIK), proprietary IP is also a core
competence (I would assume, and their IP strategy indicates that they
think so). This is an FSB? I think not.
I agree that Amazon is in the business of relying on proprietary IP, but so
is Collab.Net. I'm sure that neither qualifies as an FSB by the narrow
definitions espoused here. But there should be a definition that
understands more nuance than has been shown in this discussion. For
example, even a company like Red Hat, which most people here would (I think)
qualify as an FSB, relies on proprietary IP. They get a significant
fraction of their revenue from training. Are their training materials all
under the GPL, and circulating on the net, able to be used by competing "Red
Hat" trainers? I think not. In the end, I think you'll find very few
"pure" FSBs.

I would suggest a set of categories, perhaps something like this:

Company relies on free software for the majority of its revenue and espouses
free software ideology and thinks of itself as part of the F/OSS community.

Examples: Red Hat, LinuxCare, VA Linux (the latter two included for
historical reasons)

Company relies on free software for the majority of its revenue but
disregards free software ideology.

Examples: Uunet and other ISPs

Company relies on free software for the majority of its revenue but is
actually hostile to free software ideology.

Examples: Verisign/Network Solutions

Company relies on free software and additional proprietary software or other
IP, and thinks of itself as part of the F/OSS community even though not all
its software is free.

Examples: Collab.Net, Sleepycat, Aladdin, O'Reilly

Company relies heavily on free software and additional proprietary software,
but disregards free software ideology and doesn't think of itself as part of
the F/OSS community.

Examples: Google, Amazon, TiVo

Company leverages free software strategically because it benefits from
commodity software, and proactively engages with the F/OSS community even
though it gets most of its revenue from other sources.

Examples: IBM, HP, (Apple), (Sun)

Company leverages free software strategically, tries to learn lessons from
the free/open source software model, but depends on proprietary software or
other proprietary IP for the heart of its business model.

Examples: Microsoft, (Sun)

Company uses proprietary software model to deliver services, but might be
able to leverage open source model to improve its business.

Example: AOL (Mapquest and AIM (not to mention the core AOL service) are
both Microsoft targets, and I predict that both will fall because of AOL's
go-it-alone strategy, whereas if they were to embrace at least open
standards, and perhaps F/OSS, they could stay ahead of the game.)

By studying the strategies, successes, and failures of companies in each of
these categories, it might be possible to develop some useful advice for
would-be free software entrepreneurs. And more importantly from my point of
view, we might get more allies and supporters in the fight to keep the next
generation of computing open.

That's my real agenda. I'm convinced that free and open source software
have built an amazing open computing platform (i.e. the internet) but that
many free and open source advocates haven't thought through where that
platform goes next, and the consequences of failing to get people who are
building components of that platform to think about their indebtedness to
the free/open source software ecology.
--
Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
1-707-829-0515 http://www.oreilly.com, http://tim.oreilly.com
Benjamin J. Tilly
2002-10-01 11:40:54 UTC
Permalink
Post by Tim O'Reilly
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
I have a problem with that argument. It basically amounts to "for
lack of a name, these companies are totally missing the fundamental
dynamics of their businesses." I find that unlikely.
Not for lack of a name, for lack of sustained argument that they should give
back because their businesses depend on the continued success of free
software. Consider google. I know for a fact that they are now on
Microsoft's "competitor list". If they were using Microsoft software, don't
you think that the squeeze would already be on? Recognizing that your
survival is tied up with the survival of the ecosystem around the software
you use should make these types of companies very concerned about the
further success of free software. Yet I tend to find myself the only free
software/open source advocate regularly making that point.
What do you think that Google should be doing? Should
they do some publicity stories so that other people who
need big server farms use Linux, making Google not
having to play flycatcher? Should they test Linux?
Should they give clear bug reports?

I thought they did all of these things.

What else do we want them to do? I would love it if
they open sourced their search technology, but frankly I
understand why they don't. I wish that they would
reserve some space on their front page for links to
organizations that help them (a couple of Linux links, a
reference to chillingeffects, etc). But I also
understand that their strong commitment to not
cluttering that page is one of the best things about
them. (But they have less excuse for not cluttering
http://www.google.com/about.html...)

Incidentally I find the competitor list news interesting,
and it would be good to see that kind of thing mentioned
more often publically. (Though many people might be
inclined to falsely dismiss it as paranoia.)

These guys just
Post by Tim O'Reilly
aren't on the radar of most FS people -- because they aren't doing the
software distribution thing. Getting folks to recognize that distribution
is no longer an adequate trigger for the license is only step one -- there
needs to be a change of mindset among most free software advocates, so that
they cast a wider net, and think more about who their friends and allies
ought to be, rather than deciding who isn't pure enough to be at the party.
They are on my radar. I just don't think they should be
asked to do more without a clear idea what they are
going to be asked for and why. The worst possible
result is that they get the impression that whatever they
do they will be accused of not doing enough. Better then
to just hide and hope you aren't noticed...
Post by Tim O'Reilly
It's the exclusionary, boundary-driven definitions that bother me. We need
a definition driven by a gravitational core, recognizing that the field gets
attenuated the farther someone is from that core, but owning its influence
all the way out to the stars.
If it works like gravity, then it falls off as distance
squared and soon is invisible. Even if it dominates
your motion, keeping you in orbit, in daily life what
you might notice is the tidal pull which falls off as
distance cubed.

The influence is owned but quickly becomes seen as
background noise.
Post by Tim O'Reilly
Post by Stephen J. Turnbull
As far as I can tell, your argument is equivalent to saying that all
businesses involved in software to date have completely missed the
boat, and fail to recognize the benefits of supporting free software.
Not at all. Many companies don't depend on free software, and instead gain
advantage from proprietary software. My point is that those whose
businesses *depend* on using and "performing" free software should be seen
as free software businesses, and engaged with as such.
There is justice in that comment. The question is how
to engage, and what to suggest. The OSI is one answer
that I think has worked out fairly well...

Cheers,
Ben
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peter bryn jones
2002-10-26 15:36:56 UTC
Permalink
Tim> FWIW, what set me off was the name of the thread
Tim> (which was, after all, "Successful FSBs") as
Tim> contrasted with the tone of the discussion, which
Tim> might have been more appropriately titled,
Tim> "Can 'Pure' FSBs be successful?"

Is it possible to define a successful FSB by separating successful from FSB as follows?

Firstly, an FSB could be defined as a business that creates value for users by releasing free software. In other words, releasing software that does something useful for users.

In order to define successful I am going to assume that a business can be judged in financial / economic terms. Also, as this business will presumably be operating in a free software environment, it may be possible for the business to capture some of the value it created for users resulting from this free software. The proportion of the value that is captured will depend on factors such as business model, strategic position etc.

A successful FSB can then be defined as a business in which the increase in value of the business, attributed to the captured value resulting from the release of the free software, is greater than the expenditure required to develop and release that software.

Conversely, an unsuccessful FSB would be one in which the development and related expenditure outweighed the return of value to the business. This case would result in a decrease in the value of the business (assuming a rational market / valuation).

Please note, the magnitude of the value created for users does not itself determine whether or not an FSB is successful, using this definition.

Normally I would expect value to be created by releasing software that offers new functionality, although it could be achieved by removing the costs associated with using proprietary software, through the creation of an alternative. Value can be captured by acting as a standard service company for the free software. In the case of replacing proprietary software the value created for users would be equivalent to the cost of the proprietary software, if the free software was similarly useful, and a proportion of this value could be captured by offering service contracts for this software. Obviously free software developers would do well to offer superior software, but this is additional value created over and above the proprietary cost savings.

The definition above can be used to draw a distinction between successful FSBs and successful proprietary software businesses. Proprietary software businesses can be judged successful if they make an overall return on their R&D, even if they decrease the value of the overall environment for users. This approach would appear to go against the philosophy of the free software movement which seems to take account of the interests of the community as a whole, rather than just the individual business. See below for more on this.

This definition can also be adapted to apply to people in the free software movement who are not acting on a commercial basis. The return of value to them could be described as intangible in the form of recognition, satisfaction etc. In this case it is up to the individual to determine if they got a positive return from the experience of developing and releasing free software, i.e. whether they had been successful.

In summary:

An FSB is a business that creates value for users through the release of free software.

A successful FSB is a business that manages to capture enough of the value it creates for users, through the release of free software, to generate a positive return on the associated costs.

P.S. A successful FSB could have been defined as a business that manages to capture enough value through the release of free software to generate a positive return on the associated costs without necessarily creating overall value for the user community. In this case the primary objective behind releasing free software is to capture value for the business, rather than create value for the community as a whole. Maybe this distinction can be used to differentiate between pure free software businesses (that create overall value for the community) versus some other categories of free software development which do not create overall value for users.

Finally to answer Tims question, within the definitions above, yes I think it is possible for pure FSBs to be successful. Just create value for users of your free software, and then capture enough of that value to generate a positive return on the combined development costs, costs of bringing the software to market and costs associated with capturing some of the value created. Easy in theory, more difficult in practice!

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Ben Elliston
2002-10-26 22:30:35 UTC
Permalink
peter> Normally I would expect value to be created by releasing
peter> software that offers new functionality, although it could be
peter> achieved by removing the costs associated with using
peter> proprietary software, through the creation of an
peter> alternative. Value can be captured by acting as a standard
peter> service company for the free software. In the case of
peter> replacing proprietary software the value created for users
peter> would be equivalent to the cost of the proprietary software,
peter> if the free software was similarly useful, and a proportion
peter> of this value could be captured by offering service contracts
peter> for this software.

When I read Peter's comments, I started thinking about an unfortunate
trend I have noticed in the free software community.

Maybe I am not seeing the situation for what it really is, but my
perception is that much free software today is just a clone of
proprietary software packages. It seems akin to the automotive
industry in years gone by, whereby one company would spend all of the
money on research and development and then another company would churn
out replicas. Perhaps it is a natural requirement that we "catch up"
with all of the proprietary software on offer that people want to run
on free operating systems?

One package that I think highlights this situation is GNU Octave.
Having observed some of the Octave mailing lists, it is clear that
most Octave users want nothing more from Octave than for it to be a
bug-for-bug compatible MATLAB clone. Unfortunately, this leaves
little room for Octave to do things *better* than MATLAB and I think
this short-term approach of satisfying those kinds of user demands is
probably hindering free software in the long term.

Ben

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