Shoot the Bastards

One of the endearing characteristics of Denny Crain, senior partner in TVs Boston Legal, is that even as a caricature of an elite lawyers he is right on Denmark and true to form – aristocratic and arch conservative. Sure there are one or two carefully cultivated liberal notions but otherwise Dennys red-necked from cranium to toes. And proud and prosperous for it.

One can imagine what the legal firm of Crain, Schmidt, et Alia would do with the following IT case. A prestigous Ivy league professor, a one time Denny Crain protege, leads a group of Linux and Open Software organizations in a suit against a young computer whiz, son of Boston area computer Titan fallen on hard times. The young computer whiz has developed the next “killer application” but has run afoul of the Linux groups who are requesting a constraining order on the launch of the whizs product because the kid has used some installer code and some Java routines that are open source. So the whiz must either replace the the offending code segments or make his complete software package Open Source. The whiz kid says the installer source is generic and was not lifted from any open source project; but rather from work done for his ex-Titan fathers company. As for the Java code, only parts of Java are Open Source and this code is from a third party who the whiz is paying for the code rights. If he is forced to replace these code segments, the whiz kid will lose the 3-6 month entry advantage he has over a Redmond Washington colossus preparing to enter their “MeToo” product with less features but with a “lite” version being given away free with their operating system software.

Both parties are approaching Crain, Schmidt, et Alia. What will Denny Crain do ?

“Shoot the Bastards”

My intutive, gut feeling is the dialogue would go something like this.
Denny: “If I were Dick and carrying a shotgun, I would shoot the bastards. So what if Eric is an old school buddy. He always had weird notions on how to make a buck. But this Open Source claptrap – giving away major pieces of software for free is just all wrong. It goes against the American way. How is anyone going to make a living if increasing portions of our intellectual property can be had by all for nothing ? Between outsourcing, Open Source, and pirate copy distribution, America is going to give away its Intellectual Property and Competitive Advantage in one foul swoop. Now I have no sympathy for ex-Titans fallen on hard times. But his kid – this kid has chutzpah – willing to challenge the software Colossus. And coming to us as the best legal shop in town. I like this kid. Lets go with him.”

And agreeing with Denny, I would like to shoot a few paintballs at the Linux and Open Source community and its sanctified approach to Open Source.

If you work in a college or university, Open Source makes a lot of sense because it fosters collaboration and co-operation in a standard way while reducing software capital and operational costs significantly. Open Source makes available software resources to students and faculty that might not be available otherwise except on terms preferential to the software distributor. Yet that software distributor is often using code that was developed and pioneered on college and university campuses. In addition, Open Source projects give senior undergrad and graduate students worthwhile and sometimes seminal thesis projects to work on. This is the case for Open Source particularly in a educational or governmental setting where labor and other costs are almost completely covered by tuition, budget appropriations and other means.

But in the private sector, Open Source is a double-edge sword. On one hand, Open Source cuts capital and operational costs down substantially. But for basic support, training, and maintenance services you must contract with Open Source supplier or designated provider or develop in-house expertise or contract out to third party suppliers. And developing in-house expertise is a mixed blessing because almost all of the work done in Open Source by your staff must become Open Source itself if you intend to commercialize it. There are exceptions with Open Source suppliers like Trolltech, MySQL, and others offering dual licensing terms, so that you can commercialize your work; but, as to be expected, you must pay negotiated fees for the use of their software in your commercial context. Such dual licensing Open Source shops are considered pariahs by many in the Open Source elite.

Yet the Open Source elite is being short sighted. It is dissing any other model but some “pure” ideal as the only way to preserve Open Source ideals. It is as if pure Open Source is the one best way to develop, manage, and distribute software. This is similar to Fredrick Taylor, Dayle Carnegie, or Alfred Sloan proclaiming a one best way to manage all organizations over all time. True, in the current IT Market of consolidation and emergence of monpoly and oligoply powers, Open Source currently does act as a buffer against the Behemoths of the software industry. It helps to prevent them giving away their software for free in limited markets while charging for complimentary software in a bundle or monopoly prices in the markets they dominatee – Microsoft is number one offender as covered elsewhere. If you as IT vendor open-source or simply give away your software for free, you have largely prevented this avenue of attack.

In addition, as an Open Sourcer or free giveaway supplier, you have thrown the emphasis for revenues over to support, maintenance, training and future updates and extensions. These are all current areas where many commercial vendors have their weaknesses. EULA and other software licensing terms are so favorable to the software license vendors, that they can and do throw out beta and “just good enough” software knowing full well that EULA protects them against any warranty (LOL) or other legal/punitive actions. Open Source also fosters more practical re-use plus the opportunity to develope faster fault/bug fix times – with dozens if not hundreds of developers able to go to source and develop fixes immediately, and through open forums, co-operatively. This along with the proviso of “no software before its time”(there is considerably less pressure on Open Source to release for quarterly financial results) has garnered Open Source software a deserved reputation for quality and reliable wares despite what any Get the Flax campaigns may proclaim.

But this production of quality software does not qualify only one model of Open Source to be declared as the “pure and best model” for developing software. Yet the Open Source and Linux elites have taken that attitude and approach. Any variations or dual source approaches are treated as pariahs. For example, how many Linux distributions contain Trolltech, Zend, MySQL or Java software or trialware ? Remarkably few. How many Linux and other Open Source distributions include shareware or even commercial trialware? Remarkably few. Yet how many Linux and other Open Source conferences allow commercial and non-Open Source software participants? Remarkably many. Why this dichotomy ?

Perhaps the most glaring elitist Open Source treatment has been on Sun. Since its beginning, Sun has been a pioneer among hardware and software firms in its support of Open Source software. Open-sourcing its filesystem, Motif implementation and most recently its grid software and Solaris operating system are just a few examples of how Sun has been a major Open Source supporter. Suns Java Community Process has few parallels in commercial software for allowing developers to determine the schedule and scope of future Java development. Yet as we pointed out above, Suns free and largely open Java development environs are not included in most Linux distributions or other Open Source distributions. Nor are the hundreds of Java Open Source projects (see here) which deserve distribution to developers. And why – because the Open Source elites have taken umbrance to the fact that Sun has not completely and “purely” Open-Sourced Java.

Yet the Open Source elites are part of the problem in the first place. When Java was under attack by Microsoft with Redmond producing its own “Java spec” and threatening to cutoff Java Virtual Machine distribution with Windows if it was not allowed to do so (the same way Netscape was killed – so there could be no doubt of the consequences in Open Source and other circles) – what did the Open Source elites do ? About as much as Adobe, Borland, BEA, IBM, Oracle and a host of other software vendors that have profited mightily from their Java wares – next to nothing.

What the Open Source elites and these Java vendors should have done was told Microsoft in no uncertain terms that at anytime removal of the latest JVM from the Windows and IE distrbutions would result in the these organizations switching out of IE browser and recommending to their clients to do the same. Because there was little or no support from the Open Source elites and development community, Sun concluded that to protect Java it would have to retain final control over the direction of the product.

If action had been taken, all the ballyhoo about AJAX and Flash would be moot. Java, which has a better security model, more supple API, very small footprint available, and inherently better operational performance than the JavaScript-based AJAX and Flash would be the dominant Web desktop as well as server player. Look IBM was readying desktop weblets, Oracle had applet based client-server, and Java animation and 3D were just beginning to thrive.

Web 2.0 would have ocurred in 1998-99. Certainly not enough to exstinguish the excesses that were Web 1.0, but probably enough to cushion the fall. Java in the Web browser would have offered an immediate alternative to the chaos that was the IE+ActiveX caused storm of browser-based worm attacks that perodically has paralyzed the industry from 2000 to this day. And Microsoft would have been in no position to stop all development on IE including bypassing all pledged W3C standards support.

So when I hear Eric Raymond or Richard Stallman or other Open Source elites proclaiming that GPL 3.0 or pure Open Source is the only way to go; it appears to me as short sighted as Bill Gates “mea culpa” over no updates IE for 7-8 years is calculated. So if you lined up Messieurs Raymond and Stallman versus Messieurs Ballmer and Gates and asked me which was less endearing I would be hard pressed to choose. For both parties are corrosively coercive and ultimately regressive in the IT marketplace.

(c)JBSurveyer 2006