GNU Business Network Definition comments
Shane M. Coughlan
shane at shaneland.co.uk
Thu Jun 8 14:19:12 UTC 2006
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I have been reviewing the GNU Business Network Definition and have a
comment to make. My comment is based on version 0.9.10, located at
I'm following up from a post by Jan-Oliver Wagner, and considering some
of the points that Stefano Maffulli made previously.
Maffulli said on his blog: "I think [Free Software Businesses] should be
about ethics first and business model secondarily."
He suggests that a Free Software business should be defined by ethics
rather than business model, and that a "company that daily accepts its
social responsibility towards reaching freedom in the digital age,
respecting the ideals contained in the GNU Manifesto" is therefore a
Free Software Business.
This approach ties Free Software into the company mission statement
rather than the company development model. It's not unreasonable but it
leaves a very important question: what about companies that already have
a mission statement that does not include the concept of explicit
adherence with the GNU Manifesto? Most software and support companies
fall into this particular category.
The existing GNU Business Network Definition appears to assume that
companies will choose to entirely adopt Free Software. In doing so it
potentially excludes a vast number of existing companies that would
benefit rather than hinder our overall cause: the promotion of Free
I am concerned about the section of the definition relating to "Service,
Installation & Support."
Service, installation and support exclusively for Free Software is
regarded as a good thing. I agree. However, some statements in this
section are worrying: A company that "occasionally provides services
for specific proprietary programs that do obscure jobs, in conjunction
with Free Software" is regarded in a negative fashion. The same applies
to a company that "normally provides services for specific proprietary
programs that do obscure jobs, in conjunction with Free Software." A
company is therefore being regarded in a negative light for providing
support for even an obscure proprietary application. If they offer any
other support for a proprietary program they are excluded from the network.
This area of the GNU Business Network Definition means that very few
existing support or integration providers would qualify for the network.
This is especially true of large companies with established reputations
as effective support providers. Rather than encouraging existing
support providers to change their deployment models it is likely to
encourage them to ignore the existence of the GNU Business Network.
This appears to be shooting ourselves in the foot rather than helping to
unify the field of FOSS support.
The limitation that one cannot support any software one chooses is very
prescriptive. We're placing a very wide exclusion order on the ability
of a support company to make a choice about what services they offer.
GPL code might be protected from being compiled into proprietary code
through the GPL license, but it is another matter to tell companies how
to run themselves. I don't think attempting to dictate mission
statements and business ethics to businesses is going to win us many
friends from existing companies. It is my opinion that we should give
businesses the freedom to support our software *and* the freedom to
support other software if they so choose.
If we have confidence in our model - and if our model is truly better -
than I believe companies will find less reasons to support proprietary
applications with time. Even if they don't, I do not think we should
lock ourselves into a competition with proprietary companies. It is far
more productive to keep pushing our work outward and to keep giving
people access to technology and the means to alter/improve it.
This does not mean that companies who place Free Software at the heart
of their mission should not be rewarded. I believe they should be
recognised and given a great deal of credit. However, I believe more
pragmatism is called for in the basic GNU Business Network Definition
principles. Special recognition for pure Free Software businesses might
Shane Martin Coughlan
e: shane at shaneland.co.uk
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