GPL not encouraging new technology

Simo Sorce simo.sorce at
Mon Dec 2 09:57:14 UTC 2002

On Sun, 2002-12-01 at 19:54, Niall Douglas wrote:

> Now I'll repeat myself, this time with hopefully more clarity. 
> Proprietary software tends to get money much earlier in its 
> development cycle because the workers need paying. Free software 
> tends to get money only once it's mostly complete and mature because 
> you can't sell something which isn't written yet.

There's no proof of this theory.
It's your idea.

> The only source of 
> substantial funding for infant free software is government grants, 
> and those really are bespoke.

It is the same for "real" blue-sky wannabe proprietary software.
I know no company that invest money on a project that need many years of
development. They all depend on previous governmental university

Tell me of a real "blue-sky" project that was completely developed and
funded by a company and that involved a substantial amount of innovation
that made it something completely different from what there were before.

I think you will not find out much, as proprietary software is tied much
more to wide public acceptance and so imitate much more what already

The real big innovation of the last 2 decades was the net, and it was
not made by companies with a proprietary model, or it would have gone
nowhere (see IPX, DECnet, SNA ...).

> And that's my problem with free software - it is not long-term self-
> sustainable because it cannot encourage entrepreneurs except those 
> making money off the back of selling other people's work. This is bad 
> (in the long-term) for software and hence society.

Unproven, and misleading, imho. Why selling other people work's should
affect software production? I see no connection, is like saying that if
bakers didn't existed bread will have never be done.

Software is a service, you do not need to sell it as a box to make a
living, there are many ways people live with free software providing

> On 30 Nov 2002 at 22:48, Alex Hudson wrote:
> > Proprietary software has wham-factor; Free Software tends not to.
> That would depend. Free software tends to be much more powerful in 
> non-obvious ways. I go "wow" much more often with free software than 
> with mainstream commercial.

I think you go wow because you know not much free software and tend to
think (as many): "oh dear how do unpaid(?) people manage to produce a so
useful software?"
While for a proprietary software you give as datum that an overpaid
software must have quality and you look only at features.

> In the contracts I've worked upon, it's explicitly written that all 
> rights become the purchaser's. Could be a military thing though.

This is a position in favour of free software actually, as you can give
all the rights the customer need (she can legally modify and keep
working the software) and let you stay the software owner.

> That is entirely possible, and of course I know the proprietary range 
> much better than the free one. However I came at this point from the 
> basis of logical theory and then looked for evidence to disprove it. 
> So far, I have not found any.

The problem is that you start from unproven axioms.
You can derive any logic if you also decide and model what is the
background over your idea.
This way of thinking has been hopefully be abandoned when Galileo
Galilei introduced the scientific method ;-)

> > Personally, I don't see any proprietary replacement for Mosix, for
> > example, I guess one probably exists somewhere, but unlikely to be as
> > well developed.
> Surely Cray have something?

Well if this is the way you answer any objection I also have an answer
for you:

Surely Free Software is viable in someway ....

To answer your question, no cray has a whole different way to conceive
parallelization (a much more effective for it's goals indeed, but

> Daemons no but plugins yes. The NT kernel is quite extensible eg; it 
> uses a unified namespace of which parts are provided by plugins eg; 
> pipe manager, file system etc. Technically one could do much of what 
> GNU Hurd can in NT - it's just Microsoft have chosen not to and 
> indeed seem to actively have prevented anyone knowing much about it.

No, no, no, please can you try to document yourself before making

The Hurd is completely different, they are indeed based on a microkernel
architecture, but here where the similarities end.

We speak of daemons not of plugins for a real valid difference:
in hurd you can plug in a new filesystem as user of the system, you do
not need to be root to do that, and this is something NT kernel, nor any
other classic kernel can do.

> Very few people know that file points in NTFS can hold multiple 
> streams or run through a translator eg; reparse points which work 
> like symbolic links, or zip files appear as directories etc.

You can do the same with the linux kernel by modifing a file system.
You can do the same on a samba server by making a vfs plugin, where is
innovation here?
streams are part of different OSs since a lot of time, and the same can
be said for vfs plugin methods, where's innovation here?

> I agree 
> that GNU Hurd is somewhat innovative, but it's been overtaken by time 
> and history and the fault for that, in my opinion, lies squarely with 
> the psychological consequences of free software.

No the fault of that is that there is no fault.
Real innovative blue-sky software need TIME to be built, and also proper
conditions to be accepted be it free software or proprietary.

> > Even Apache - with the 2.0 multiprotocol support - is doing things
> > found no-where else in the industry. I disagree with the cloning
> > thing. If Free Software were only cloning, proprietary software could
> > keep ahead by innovating. That concept has been killed dead by the
> > fact that Free Software competes, betters and stays far out ahead (see
> > Apache, for example). This isn't about being energetic, as you said -
> > it's about being innovative.
> Apache, like KDE is coming from a strong existing base. Well-known 
> and respected programmers within each project then posit their views 
> on best future direction and democracy chooses the best path.
> Unfortunately, it will tend to choose a path most comfortable to the 
> most developers. This will tend to be conservative and not overly 
> radical. Thus returning me to my original point of not encouraging 
> innovation.

It's the same in proprietary software, you are telling us nothing that
applies specifically to free software. Proprietary software tend to be
as conservative as it can too, and innovate only in lock in methods in
my experience. And I can prove that, what proprietary OS is currently
widely used? Which is the one that won? How much was it innovative? How
many proprietary software companies tried to build blue-sky innovation
in OS field? How many survived?

If you honestly answer these questions you will see that proprietary
software is conservative as well, and that there has not been much
innovation in this industry besides the success of Free Software.

If you want to be accepted in the market and succeed you have to be
conservative as much as you can otherwise people will not understand
your technology and will not risk with you.
Currently the only software I see that has been able to be both
conservative, adherent to standards (otherwise it get blamed), and yet
innovative is free software.

> You'd be right :). It's probably impossible to reach a conclusive 
> position as well. However, the chances are that if something looks 
> funny and smells funny, it probably is funny. What I want to guard 
> against is zealotry. The free software ideology is 99% good but I can 
> also see some serious concerns about its long-term sustainability and 
> trampling down commercial alternatives is fine and good until they no 
> longer exist and are no longer bringing vast sums of new money into 
> the profession.

long-term sustainability is a strong factor in free software imho!
Of course it all depends on the subject, as you didn't specified by whom
it need to be sustainable. If you say users then free software last a
lot more. If you mean developers taking home bread? Well, there's always
need for new software, everything need software nowadays and any new
product or process need new software or need to adapt existing one, I'm
sure developers will have a job in future in a free software world.

> It has everything to do with it. Government subsidies are AFAICS the 
> only method free software has of creating real innovation. We spent 
> hundreds of years getting away from dependence on government to allow 
> private enterprise, and I think it a bad idea to return to that so 
> long as governments are structured the way they are.

I'm just asking, has the Hurd been subsidised by government?
And what's wrong in government subsidising software? It is just a
"customer" like any other, just a bit more wise sometimes.

> > Ditto the quality argument: Free Software does not
> > prescribe love from developers, more peer review, or any of that.
> > These are not the differentiating factors.
> Oh come on now! You telling me free software isn't on average of much 
> higher quality than proprietary? I'm sorry, I just don't believe 
> that.

No, "on average" it is not better than proprietary.
Quality is not something inherent to free software, a license cannot
change the quality of the software by magic.
Go and look at sourceforge and see. You will find very good software and
very poor software, I'm not sure about the average.

> Quality in software has a direct correlation with user satisfaction. 
> If my absolutely critical Windows 2000 server crashes twice a year, I 
> will be much less happy than with a crash once every two years. Same 
> even goes with reading email, or browsing the web or indeed anything.

User satisfaction stimulate better software only if you can put the
producer in competition with others, this is possible in free software,
a lot less with proprietary software that uses proprietary formats. 

> > > And it's precisely that reason that they still haven't succeeded ie;
> > > because blue-sky stuff just doesn't sit well with free software. If
> > > they'd set out to write the perfect functional clone (which is what
> > > they have ended up doing anyway), their goal and ideology would have
> > > been compatible.
> > 
> > How is the Hurd a functional clone? I don't see that they have ended
> > up doing that at all.
> Read again: I said that's what they *should* have done and if they 
> had, they'd have succeeded like Linux has.

blue-sky software does not succeed because it is blue-sky ... please! It
does not happen in any kind of software, you for sure may remember lot
of innovative, nice, blue-sky, proprietary software that failed!

> > I also don't see that your argument as presented
> > the case that the Hurd has not "succeeded" because it's blue sky. Hurd
> > development has been slow because there are not enough hackers working
> > on it: it's pretty simple. 
> And why aren't there enough programmers on this project? Answer me 
> this one question straight, no mucking around. If you can answer this 
> without fufilling my logic regarding free software offputting 
> volunteers for radical ideas, well, we'll have made progress!

See above.

> > Your point
> > that use of the GPL "stifles blue-sky innovation" is clearly wrong, so
> > you then use this "non-subsidised" device to make the argument
> > unwinnable. All blue-sky innovation is subsidised: if you cannot
> > afford the development fail, as a business person you must not do it.
> > The risk with blue-sky is that it will probably fail, so you should
> > expect to lose your money. 
> I see what you're saying but I'm afraid I have not been clear enough 
> in my arguments. I'm talking bigger pictures, over the space of 
> years. Quite simply, I'm asking the question: who will produce the 
> most radical innovation over twenty years? Free software or 
> proprietary?

look at the last 20 years of free software and think that now people
producing free software has increased at exponential rates.. go figure!

> They cannot compete because free software is superior to the current 
> proprietary model. But no one can say what happens between a 
> /different/ 
> proprietary model and free software.

uhmm interesting: what you mean by different proprietary model?

> In the end, IMHO free software gets 98% of the way there but it 
> causes me grave concern about long-term viability. There is a better 
> way, but we'll need
> (a) free software to become an extremely serious 
> threat to proprietary 

this is already true in some filed 

> (b) a leading step-change product endorsing a 
> third way

uhmm free software vs proprietary software

>  and (c) support from politicians in order to bring it 
> about.

We are seeing support here in Europe


Simo Sorce - simo.sorce at
Xsec s.r.l.
via Durando 10 Ed. G - 20158 - Milano
tel. +39 02 2399 7130 - fax: +39 02 700 442 399
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