GPL not encouraging new technology

Alex Hudson home at
Sat Nov 30 22:48:07 UTC 2002

On Sat, 2002-11-30 at 21:06, Niall Douglas wrote:
> Again, you're restricting yourself to the current business model 
> mindset. It doesn't have to be that way. If a law existed which said 
> that all COTS had to come with source and could be reused by anyone 
> so long as they paid a percentage of the sales cost (including zero 
> if they sold it for free) ie; in other words, if mandatory reuse were 
> legistlated for, then this whole situation would change.

If a law existed that mandated everyone had to buy my software, my whole
financial situation would change :o)

Basing business models on forced laws is a bad idea. I don't think my
unacceptance of that is a 'restricted mindset'. If you that 'I work with
what I have' as 'restricted', then I suppose so...

> > I don't think that's necessarily the case. Proprietary software tends
> > to come to market fully-formed (i.e., developed already); Free
> > Software isn't usually written and then marketed.
> You mean here marketed = distributed. I'm not. I mean marketed = 
> distributed for profit.

Marketed = distributed?? That's not what I mean. Clearly, all Free
Software is written then distributed. It's hard to see otherwise. 

"Distributed for profit" is also a fairly meaningless phrase, in this
context. We're talking about marketing - but you're talking about
marketing Free Software being more difficult that non-free. Saying I'm
talking about marketing as being a non-profit activity is merely begging
the question on your part - yes, if you assume that Free Software cannot
be effectively distributed for profit, then when I talk about marketing
I'm talking about a non-profit activity. It's illogical, though.

> Except that all bespoke projects I've ever worked on tend to reuse a 
> lot of COTS

I doubt that very much. You probably 'customise', or 'extend', rather
than reuse - if software is reuseable, it doesn't fit the COTS
definition. COTS software comes 'as is' - you cannot change it, you only
get to use it.

> Much bespoke software as well uses customised GPL 
> software because the GPL permits not releasing source if you don't 
> distribute the software. So, I think it's the opposite of what you 
> say.

How does the above further your argument? If it's bespoke, it's not
COTS, and hence nothing to do with the COTS market we were talking

Anyhow, it's arguable whether the above is the case anyway: I suspect a
contractor re-using GPL on a bespoke, proprietary, development is a
licence violation, pure and simple. I can't see otherwise.

> > Free. It of course depends on your definition of innovation, but
> > frankly, there's nothing new under the sun.
> I'd disagree. If you read patent law, they have a strict definition 
> of what is to be regarded as innovative

Patent law is the best example of what is not innovative! Indeed, all
patents are required to set out how they build upon current knowledge. 

The two basic tests are a) originality, and b) non-obviousness. Test a
is passed if there is no previously published work including the
invention; this is a fairly easy test to pass. Test b is more a matter
of opinion, since only someone 'familiar in the art' could judge it, yet
they are not the ones who are asked. 

Patent abuse has been rife since the time they were invented; my above
criticism is not limited to post-1970/contemporary action. I don't have
any rose-tinted glasses with respect to some golden age of innovation -
it's clear even such names as Edison were intent on bending the system
to their own end. Judging innovation on the basis of the patent system
is very flawed.

> And I think if you apply those criteria to non-subsidised free 
> software, you won't find any innovative projects performing strongly. 
> To my knowledge, they don't exist - and hence my original point.

If you're talking about critera A and B set out above, there are
numerous examples of innovative Free Software. There are even examples
of software patents in Free Software (such as Raph Levien's printing
patents). None of this proves anything, of course, because innovation is
merely in the eye of the beholder.

Free Software tends to lose out in such beauty contests as a rule, since
it is de-mystified compared to proprietary software. If someone presents
a cathedral, you are immediately impressed, even if the actual detail is
not very good. If you see the cathedral being built, you are not
impressed so much, even if the details are much better. Proprietary
software has wham-factor; Free Software tends not to.

> > > Hence yes, I do assume the right to make money out of writing 
> > > software, just as much as painting a wall or anything else others
> > > consider of value.
> > 
> > You can assume the right all you like; your business will not succeed
> > unless someone is willing to pay you :) 
> Hence the "others consider of value" :)

I should have said, "pay you enough". It is not good enough that
something has _value_, it must have sufficient value to fund you now and
in the future. Proprietary software is very good at making more money
from things than their value suggests, in my opinion, but of course it's
not very good at competing. Short term gain versus long term stabilty, I

> I don't quite understand you here. Bespoke software is custom usually 
> once-written software to perform usually one strictly defined task. 
> So therefore surely the customer is exactly buying the software?

Hmm, not really the case. Certainly, customers very rarely own the
software (in terms of copyright), even if it is bespoke. More often,
they buy the software, and then are tied into a support contract (since
only the writer of the software can maintain it). 

Modern companies see software they right as their "intellectual
property"; and tend to licence it, not sell it. Much like in the COTS
world, you very seldom buy the software.

> This may be your view, but no one in this list has yet shown me a 
> piece of innovative strongly growing unsubsidised free software so 
> I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree. You're completely right 
> that free software is trouncing its competition because its quality 
> is higher (more love from the programmers, vastly better peer review, 
> friendly cooperative competition) but it's merely doing better at 
> functionally *cloning* the competition.

Your argument isn't flawed when someone gives an example of innovative
free software, because you can always say "that is not innovative".
Hence, no-one will argue with you because it's an unwinnable argument.
You produce your criteria - possibly with examples of proprietary
software that fulfils the criteria? - and maybe someone will knock them
down for you. 

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. I personally think the Hurd is innovative, and I don't
see your reference to the NT kernel whatsoever (if it is like anything,
it is like OS/X in that it [currently] runs on Mach - it is *very much*
not like any other OS in terms of the daemonized architecture). 

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.

However, I have no doubt you will knock over every example here for some
reason - as noted, it's an unwinnable argument. I will only note that
'unsubsidised' is a rubbish criteria: this has nothing to do with our
argument. Look at Microsoft: everything they produce, apart from Windows
and Office, is *hugely* subsidised. It's in the figures, you can go see
them. 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.

> > Remember, the GNU project was *designed* as an
> > OS replacement. Not an alternative, a replacement. So, it had to
> > really implement all the functions in a substantially similar fashion.
> 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. 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. 

Hurd is still blue-sky; just take a look at the "GNU" virtual memory
approach outlined by Neal Walfield (I don't have the link to hand, sorry
- the site Google suggested appears to be down). I would personally call
it 'very innovative', since it is completely unlike anything current in
operation - AFAIK, of course - and a system that would be
unimplementable in any system except the Hurd - again, AFAIK. 

> Much of the reason Windows got in there is because the competing Unix 
> vendors refused to get their act together, and now most have gone to 
> the wall. The current closed source tie-down-the-user business model 
> is wholly to blame for this in fact - if by law software had to be 
> reusable, the competing vendors could repackage their competitors 
> software within their own and thus inoperability would have been 
> reached.

That's completely arguable. I would suggest the reason Windows got in
there was because it was built upon DOS. The reason DOS got in there was
because it was a "Model T" in an era of custom cars. Cheap,
mass-produced. Very few Unix vendors have 'gone to the wall', they've
just become less important. Good lord, if SCO are still making a lot
money from OpenServer in *this* day and age, that says something. It's
more simply a shift in the market. 

Reusability/freedom in software is nothing to do with the above shift;
it was merely a market share shift within the proprietary market. You
would have thought, as well, with all the competition between vendors
battling for user mindshare, that the 'energetic' development would have
kept them ahead of Free Software. It hasn't.

> You should have read my words more closely. I said the Hurd was 
> innovative *in* *its* *time* but not really any more. RISC-OS was 
> extremely innovative in 1988, but it sure isn't today. Innovation is 
> 100% relative to the context it's in.

That wasn't my argument. You pointed at RiscOS as being an example of
something innovative (at whatever point in it's product life-cycle).
Clearly, you are not holding it to the same "strongly growing ..
unsubsidised .." etc. standards that you hold Free Software to - RiscOS
was never strongly growing, never hugely profitable, and in fact gained
most of it's market share on the back of the British Broadcasting
Corporation monopoly on computing in schools. 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. 

You seem to be interested in some fabled 'third way', which is very
modern, but seems to me to be meaningless. Software is either free or
not - in this sense, it's a very black and white issue. What you are
talking about is trying to sugar-coat non-free software (or, in
business-speak, 'increase it's value proposition'). That's not something
I suspect many people in this group would find particularly interesting,
nor do I think it is innovative (cf. shared source, Borland's Delphi
system, and numerous other software which have been distributed in the
way you seem to propose). And ultimately, I don't see it being
successful, because non-free software ultimately cannot compete with
free software. Development practice, funding, etc. is all mostly
irrelevant: when free software and non-free software compete, the free
software tends to win. Third-way software depending on "free software
development practice", "open source", etc., is no different to any other
type of non-free software.



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