GNU Business Network Definition comments

Georg C. F. Greve greve at
Mon Jun 19 10:19:52 UTC 2006

 || On Thu Jun  8 16:20:45 2006
 || shane at (Shane M. Coughlan) wrote: 

 smc> This approach ties Free Software into the company mission
 smc> statement rather than the company development model.

This seems to hint towards a fundamental misunderstanding that is
relatively common and was promoted by the "Open Source" attempts at
marketing Free Software, so is probably worth pointing out:

         Free Software is *not* a development model!

This is relatively obvious when taking a look at the Free Software
Definition, [1,2] which does not mention the development model, at
all. Whether something is Free Software is purely determined by the
freedom it gives to its users and developers, not how it is being
developed by them.

There are indeed various development models in the Free Software
universe, and the discussion about their advantages and disadvantages
is an ongoing struggle: Some people tend to prefer very closed,
tightly controlled models, some people tend to prefer very open,
collaborative models. Some people are in between or advocate a project
evolution that will switch between these two occasionally.

The latter is often mistakenly identified as being "Open Source", but
that is wrong by the very definition of that term -- because the Open
Source Definition also says nothing about development models. Maybe it
would be a more useful term if it were redefined to mean collaborative
and open development models, but right now it does not.

It is this fundamental misunderstanding that is at the base of
announcements you can see by many proprietary vendors who say they
will switch to what they call "Open Source development models",
meaning a more collaborative approach.

So while some development models may seem more effective, and some are
certainly more popular, ultimately the development model has nothing
to do with the question of Free Software.


I also understood the following to be based on this misunderstanding:

 smc> If we have confidence in our model - and if our model is truly
 smc> better - than I believe companies will find less reasons to
 smc> support proprietary applications with time.

And when assuming that "Free Software" and "proprietary software" are
two software development models that are potentially equally valuable,
and should compete on the grounds of technical issues, that statement
seems sensible.

But the development model is *not* the issue, freedom is.

And in this sense, proprietary and Free Software are not equals, as
one has a system-inherent drive towards dependency and monopolisation
in information technology, with resulting undue concentration of power
in the hands of a few that threatens democracy and human rights, while
the other supports freedom from such depedencies, and thus the
protection of democratic structures in a digital world, as well as
freedom of competition, diversity and sustainable local business.

Let me try to explain some of the thoughts behind the GBN Definition:

Because proprietary software is still the dominating paradigm in the
economic world, we wish to shift that paradigm towards freedom, for
the best of society.

This does not mean that those who currently hold their monopolies and
a very large part of this world's economic power necessarily agree
with our wanting to distribute this to a larger group of more
sustainable companies.

Indeed we know many of them disagree, and try everything to prevent
that shifting of paradigms -- including using their immense economic
power against Free Software, turning it into an uphill battle for Free
Software companies.

This is made harder by other companies who are using limited Free
Software activities to distract from their proprietary cash-cows, or
falsely advocating proprietary software under the label of Free

Both damage the market for genuine Free Software companies.

The idea of the GNU Business Network is to undo that damage, and to
provide a counterweight, while helping Free Software based business to
interconnect, and grow.

For this, we've been working very hard in trying to find a balance
between giving genuine Free Software companies the advantage they
deserve, while not turning away those who are on the way, but not
quite there yet -- transition takes time.

I wrote the GBN Definition in a collaborative effort with the FSFE
Team plus Richard Stallman, and we were specifically thinking of
companies such as IBM, who still have mostly proprietary undertakings,
but also an increasing amount of Free Software work. It was our
understanding then that they most likely could participate in the GBN,
and were indeed welcome to do so.

But we were aiming to find the balance between encouraging those Free
Software activities, while not wanting to endorse the proprietary
efforts, or giving them an undue advantage over other companies that
are already more fundamentally Free Software oriented.

I don't claim this balance is perfect as it was drafted right now, but
we have to be careful to not disadvantage existing genuine Free
Software companies for wanting to attract the more proprietary ones.


Georg C. F. Greve                                       <greve at>
Free Software Foundation Europe	                 (
Join the Fellowship and protect your freedom!     (
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