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Re: collab.net support

From: Tom Lord <lord_at_regexps.com>
Date: 2002-12-17 00:30:49 CET

       I truthfully don't follow your argument at all. It's not as
       though Collabnet is the only company in the world that's
       allowed to make a profit from Subversion. Anyone can do so.
       Go ahead and start your own company. :-)

As a practical matter, that's an absurd suggestion and (by the smiley)
I'm presuming you know that.

        If somebody makes Subversion better, the whole public
        benefits. That includes individuals, moms, dogs, kids,
        nonprofits and even (possibly) for-profit corporations too.
        Everyone gains.

No, not necessarily. The details matter.

Why did "somebody" decide to make Subversion better? What irrational
factors (e.g., news reporting) may have influenced their decision?
Did they do this out of a false belief about the nature of employment
in the free software world? Did they do this to participate in a
media-manufactured system of open source heroes?

What other free software projects did they _not_ make better because
they were busy working on Subversion? If some of those other projects
are better for the "whole public" or NPOs or what have you -- then the
time spent improving Subversion has harmed the "whole public", NPOs,

Was "somebody" someone who is in a learning phase of their career?
Did working on Subversion teach them valuable lessons? or bad habits?

You can't just say "Open Source? It's all good." and wave these
concerns out of the way.

> By your argument, I guess you can never work on any open
> source project, because it's always possible that some
> entity (which you dislike) may profit from your work later
> on.

         (and a reply: Yeah. Companies profit from Apache, Sendmail,
          Bind, Linux, BSD, etc..)

You're employing a shameful rhetorical tactic called "pessimal
reading", where you come up with the most absurd reading of what Bob
actually said, then reply to that absurd reading. Look again at the
details of what he actually said (and then reiterated).

In general, there is something of a business crisis in the free
software world. It's particularly noticable around businesses based
on linux distributions.

Those distributions represent a huge amount of unpaid work.
Businesses using them got some free help bootstrapping themselves into
now favorable positions. So, not only did they get the unpaid work
for free (as in beer), they traded that for favorable market positions
that raise the barrier of entry to new competitors. While in theory
"anyone" can start selling their own distro, in reality, there's only
a few established companies and investors with deep pockets who have
any chance in this area.

So what's the crisis? Well, they aren't being exactly agressive about
figuring out how to sustain the free software movement with R&D
investment. Companies spend a little on public projects, sure, but
you can count the number of employees participating, industry wide, on
the fingers of a few 10s of people and (total, industry-wide) corporate
donations to code-generating individuals and NPOs with no more than 7
significant digits per year. When they do spend on public projects,
it is most often for very narrow tactical purposes -- not to make the
ecology of projects healthier overall. Often they spend R&D money on
entirely in-house projects that, while rooted in free software,
benefit nobody but the company themselves.

So the crisis is that in the medium term, as engineering businesses
go, these aren't sustainable models. And when they start leading
volunteers and soaking up volunteer work for their own aims, and
capturing mind-share in the press, one has to start to wonder whether
they aren't, overall, doing more harm than good. And then there's
some social justice and labor issues....


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Received on Tue Dec 17 00:19:21 2002

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