|FROM ||From: "Inker, Evan"
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] Essay on GPL
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From: "Inker, Evan"
To: "'Ruben I Safir'"
Subject: [hangout] Essay on GPL
Date: Fri, 22 Mar 2002 18:00:42 -0000
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Essay can be found at http://www.linuxandmain.com/essay/sgordon.html...
Running a corporation in an open source world
by Shawn Gordon
Shawn Gordon is founder and president of theKompany.com
, producer of a variety of open source and other
software for Linux and other platforms.
Since I started theKompany in August of '99, we've had a growing presense
and influence on a variety of things Linux. Being the first real company
that was focused on KDE brought with it joys and frustrations and now over 2
years later, iIve experienced a large amount of both.
I came from the HP 3000 a couple years ago after 16 years, and I came to
Linux because I was excited about everything going on and the possibilities,
not to mention my dislike of Microsoft going back many, many years. My
philosphy on the HP 3000 was to sell useful software at a reasonable price,
and I wanted to bring this same philosphy with me to Linux. I didn't really
care so much, or pay attention to all the licensing stuff; we were just
planning to take care of our customers, and then give back various projects
to the community so that we could be part of everything going on. The
thought was to contribute infrastructure items, which we did, and build
applications on top of them, which we've done.
So what has happened in that time? Well, we've come out with a lot of
software, and sold a lot of units. We've got supporters so ardent they would
take a bullet for us, and detractors so vocal that it makes me want to give
it up at times. The main source of frustration for me has typically centered
on the GPL license and the common misunderstanding of it by the general
masses in the Open Source world. Sure, the basic premise is clear, but it
becomes a bit murkier the more detail you have to spend on it. áLet me give
you some examples:
We sell one product that is GPL. On at least a weekly basis we get someone
telling us that we have to give them the source code because it is GPL. Some
of them become verbally violent and abusive when I point out that the GPL
provides for us to charge for the source code, we just have to make it
available, and this we have done. Some of these people even tried to hack
our system to get the code because they thought it was their God-given right
to have it. These are also typically the people who contribute nothing to
I had RMS come to me on this product to make sure we weren't violating the
GPL, and he admitted that we were not, but in the course of the conversation
he proceeded to project onto the KDE project aspects of theKompany in a
totally inappropriate fashion and was very negative about KDE in this
regard. Now, to my mind there is far more corporate involvement and control
over GNOME than KDE, but RMS chose to see things the way he wanted to see
them in this instance and say that it was too bad the KDE didn't stand for
freedom. Again, this had nothing to do with KDE, this had to do with just
one of our banner products and the way we chose to implement and license it.
What is the net result of this? We won't use the GPL for anything anymore.
It is far too frustrating to deal with; it is ambigiously worded in places
that make it just too risky for a company like us. I've heard the arguments
about selling services, but for what we are doing it just really doesn't
work. Look at it this way. I can send 1,000 copies to a distributor who will
put it on store shelves around the world. People will walk in, pick it up
and buy it. Now let's say that the software was free (as in cost) and I just
sell services. Well, now I can't put it on a store shelf and for every
customer; I have to go and hunt them down somehow and persuade them to use
our free software and then pay us for support -- but they should only really
need support if our software is hard to use or poorly designed, which isn't
the case or our objective.
Now the argument can be made for things like distributions and databases,
but these are infrastructure pieces -- what about something like Erwin or
Visio? The cost of dollar acquisition is tremendous and probably far
outweighs what can be made in the short term.
Like it or not, Linux is headed on the fast track to the main stream. That
means that more and more corporations are going to want to build software on
top of it. This will be closed, open, mixed, variant, whatever, but it's
going to be there. What is to be gained by alienating companies like us or
someone like IBM with license jihads? We've got a fella on the KDE developer
list that likes to lash out at me and some other KDE and Qt oriented
companies on a regular basis, with no more logic than "we are comanies that
are trying to make money, so therefore we are bad". I find his rants tiring
and unproductive; it's like pro-life and a pro-choice proponents trying to
bring each other to their point of view -- it's just not going to happen any
time soon, if ever. What I find exceptionaly frustrating in these debates
over "choice" and "freedom" is that they go one way only. As long as I
choose the choice and freedom afforded by the GPL, then I'm ok, but if I
choose a different style of choice and freedom (exercising my right to
choose) then I now become evil.
I really like Linux, and almost without exception we have terrific customers
and employees. á think far too many people spend far too much time and
mental energy tied up in license discussions when their creativity and focus
could be spent building something fantastic for themselves or maybe the
community, and I hope they start to think about tolerance, choice and
freedom as flowing both directions, not just in their direction.
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New Yorker Linux Users Scene
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because it's either fair use or useless....