back to article FUSE for macOS: Why a popular open source library became closed source and commercially licensed

In May this year, users of popular open source project FUSE for macOS noticed the source code for the latest update was missing. The project had become closed source and was no longer free for commercial use. But as The Reg discovered when we had a talk with its maintainer, there was a very good reason for that – and it's not a …

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  1. trevorde Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Bus factor

    Being a software dev, I totally agree with what he's done but the 'bus factor' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_factor) for the project is now 1...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bus factor

      The bus factor was already 1 because there has only been him on the team. If it were that easy to pick up then others would have done so.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Bus factor

        Except with the source being closed noone *can* pick it up now...

        At least with the open model someone *could* have done.

        I fully support his decision though - meals need to get paid for.

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: Bus factor

          "Except with the source being closed noone *can* pick it up now..."

          Yes they can: go back to the last open version and do it yourself. And also it depends on whether he's put the code in escrow rather than just on his computer.

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: Bus factor

            The point is that the new code can't be... It would need to be redeveloped from scratch.

            He's forked at the point where he has added a rather useful feature set (and presumably put quite a bit of work into it). The whole point is that the organisations profiting from his work don't want to spend the money doing the development or provide any remuneration for that work.

            So it's gone closed, and therefore the new feature set cannot be picked up by anyone else.

            Yes - it does depend on whether the code has been placed in escrow... If I were a large organisation I might well insist on that as part of the license.

            1. ArrZarr Silver badge

              Re: Bus factor

              Unless he has put contingencies in place, like an Escrow, to mitigate the risk of all the work being lost due to bus factor 1 related problems.

              This is not a problem that is difficult to solve.

        2. JDX Gold badge

          Re: Bus factor

          Sometimes you see projects which are open-source but not free for commercial use, I thought(?) I wonder if anything like that could be possible.

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: Bus factor

            Only if you can trust companies...

          2. baud Bronze badge

            Re: Bus factor

            Another possibility is to open-source it with free commercial use, then sell useful plugins (like security & authent) / support on the side; one company that's doing it is Elastic, with elasticsearch (and associated tools) being free and some plugins being sold alongside it. Of course I have no idea how successful they are.

  2. revenant

    Seems fair

    He seems to have been careful to do only what is necessary to ensure that commercial entities contribute something to fund his work.

    Nice to see a statement that he will open it up again should he decide to step aside.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Seems fair

      This is a perfect example of what some of us knew long ago.

      1. the future is back!

        Re: Seems fairly fair

        Nothing is free and FUSE is mot nothing. It’s nothing to pay something for something but that concept becomes a mob scene of reflexive users whose ideal is “free” stuff, that overcomes even wee pangs of guilt or considered thought, and damn any rational process that stands in the impatient stampede.

    2. Wayland Bronze badge

      Re: Seems fair

      I was always puzzled how Open Source could possibly sustain itself.

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: Seems fair

        Lots of the big projects have people working on them from major companies who use them e.g. Google might put an employee on a OS project.

        Otherwise it's done for love as far as I can tell by people who use the software themselves, or just find it interesting.

      2. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Seems fair

        Often by selling support...

        It pays my wages at any rate.

      3. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip

        Re: Seems fair

        OpenBSD is a particular example of this, whilst there are commercial donors to the project, it is written by the developers, for the developers. If anyone else wants to use it that's a bonus.

        It does enable them to make decisions that no commercially minded OS would make c.f. completely disabling hyperthreading by default, deleting the bluetooth and Linux compatibility subsystems, and rejecting any binary drivers in the install.

      4. DuncanLarge Silver badge

        Re: Seems fair

        > I was always puzzled how Open Source could possibly sustain itself.

        Then you lack experience in running a business.

        You sell your service, not your code.

        Someone wants feature X, then they should pay something for it if they want it done within X time.

        Someone has found a bug that needs fixing and fast because its impacting their business, well how about £100 an hour?

        Or a support contract for a few grand a year.

        Its no different than invoicing someone when you go out to fix their till system or replace that faulty customer wifi access point. The could go to PC world and get the bits themselves sure, but tell them good luck when they find it broke. Or say "unsupported stuff can be supported at £150 an hour".

        If you think you are going to make money charging people to download and run bytes you are wearing rose tinted specs. Those days are GONE, heck you don't even have to pay for windows 10, unless you are ignorant of the upgrade path. Most of the best and most popular games cost nothing. They are funded by some people paying money in the game itself, optionally.

        "But if I charge for things like that someone will fork the code or use another fork"

        Whats the matter? Afraid of competition?

        You see whats happened here is software went proprietary and you could directly charge for literally nothing but electrical impulses that represent a program. The Free Software and Open Source movements naturally surfaced to combat this trend. The problem is, the idea of making it rich off bytes and bytes alone stuck, which is weird, and resulted in coders who try and scrape along doing just that. Some succeed because they are employed by a big corp, the clever ones realise that the code is not the money maker, its the enabler.

        Its like having a land owner enjoy all the money made off charging the public to access his land. Then this land is reclassified as common land, access is now free. But the land owner tries to rely on donations for "upkeep" and complains loudly about not making enough money off it anymore and that common land is some crazy idea that will never work.

        Who do you side with? The common people who can now use a common resource as a right, passing such rights onto their children? Or the landowner who is so stuck in the mud and inflexible as to not be able to make the money off his other skills / assets.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Seems fair

      Seems extreme to me.

      Much the same as locking a child out of the house for a week because they wont do the washing up.

      Sure, this all highlights difficulties but if you want to make money off FLOSS you cant lay back and sleep. You have to do it the old fashioned way and go out and get paid.

      Its a shame that the Apple users, who have no idea just how little freedom they have considering they use MacOS, are less free than yesterday.

      Oh well, another one bites the dust I suppose. The users tend to pay through the nose for old fasioned hardware that fails and has no support, I guess they wont miss FUSE. Either they wont know they use it, in chains, or if they do they will just find another solution.

  3. Peter X

    Licence

    Is there not a licence that is open-source, but requires payment for commercial use? Otherwise, is Fleischer prepared to make binaries for open-source projects on MacOS that use FUSE?

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Licence

      "Is there not a licence that is open-source, but requires payment for commercial use?"

      Ah, the honour system, or as it's also known, fuck you little guy.

      1. wolfkin
        Linux

        Re: Licence

        >>Is there not a licence that is open-source, but requires payment for commercial use?

        >Ah, the honour system, or as it's also known, fuck you little guy.

        I mean that's basically the WinZip model. The product is free to use for a limited time (that isn't actually limited) but commercial use requires license. Even if people cheat the system companies need to pay for their licenses. That might still work with an open source product.

        1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

          Re: Licence

          > I mean that's basically the WinZip model.

          Where are the WinZip auditors?

          Nobody and no company that had a braincell paid for winzip.

          Nobody uses it anymore anyway.

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Licence

      You can do a dual licence approach - like MySQL or the QT Library

      1. damiandixon

        Re: Licence

        QT OpenSource Licence is pretty much LGPL. Some libraries or parts are GPL but these can be avoided if you carefully review what you are using. Most of the GPL issue is around QML libraries.

        Mostly its fud from the current company developing QT in an attempt to get people to pay quite a lot of money.

        1. keithzg

          Re: Licence

          Naw, most of it is companies who already believed the FUD about Free Software long before they even heard about Qt, and so want to pay for a proprietary license that lets them keep all their code proprietary themselves.

    3. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Licence

      "Is there not a licence that is open-source, but requires payment for commercial use?"

      Yes, there is. But a license is only as good as the ability to enforce it.

    4. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change Bronze badge

      Re: Licence

      Someone already mentioned MySQL, which is one of the most famous projects to take advantage of GPL copyleft. If you want to distribute it, either you contribute back your changes (participate in the open source community) or you buy a commercial licence.

      And GPL has a track record that includes being enforced in courts. I'm not sure that applies to any of the attempts to write a licence that says "free for non-commercial use". Such clauses can beg questions like defining non-commercial use, and are sometimes associated with unrealistic expectations.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Licence

        Where's MySQL now? Where's Sun now? It looks that model didn't work for them at all.

        1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change Bronze badge

          Re: Licence

          It worked so well for MySQL they got bought out for (from memory) two billion dollars. I'd be well-pleased if my startup had been half as successful.

        2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

          Re: Licence

          > Where's MySQL now?

          Running happily on my machines.

          > Where's Sun now?

          Happily owned by Oracle who happily jumped at the chance to buy them years ago.

      2. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Licence

        What if you don't make any changes or buy a license?

        1. unimaginative
          Linux

          Re: Licence

          If its dual licensed then you can still only redistribute it under GPL terms for free.

          As this is a library, if it was dual licensed you would have to make your software GPL or buy a license.

          There is a problem without SaaS not being covered by the GPL, but that is what the AGPL is for and it is not the issue here (because its a library that is useful for desktop software).

  4. FuzzyTheBear

    fairness

    When companies make money using code they should at least show their apreciation and contribute financially as a matter of course and not have to be begged for financial help while they take advantage of the work being done. fair is fair.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: fairness

      The whole cloud business is built exploiting open source code giving back almost nothing (or your competitors will get your improvement for free).

      Especially Stalllman couldn't see it coming - and the GPL license is giving Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook a lot of free code without no need to pay anything back.

      Even mainstream media are starting to understand that:

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/15/technology/amazon-aws-cloud-competition.html

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: fairness

        Big companies who rely on FOSS typically want to improve on it. Assuming the license requires them to contribute changes back they are paying back.

        Often, they want to benefit from the main branch so will be active members of the projects anyway, driving them in directions they find valuable.

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          C'est la vie

          Often, they [Big FOSS Reliant Companies] want to benefit from the main branch so will be active members of the projects anyway, driving them in directions they find valuable ? .... JDX

          WeUI don't see any evidence of their whole hearted support with Lavish Purchase of Almighty Leverage in Emerged Virtual Market Spaces ...... although that is where an Absence of Evidence is a Stealthy Applied Service whenever Needed.

          Because are you really likely to know what an Apple or a Google, a Huawei or a Federal Reserve have in their secret secure store cupboards and what they are going to do with all the increasingly novel and exponentially quite powerful intellectual property they have free access to? Methinks the answer is a resounding No, it be extremely unlikely.

          The Real and Present Danger whenever Big FOSS Reliant Companies [and anything else you might imagine appropriate here] do not Engage with and Deploy and Employ and Enjoy the Luscious Fruits of Secret Secure Storage, ie dither and dawdle on the rapid adoption for future application of home grown, company developed proprietary intellectual property, is their secure secrets will always inevitably revolt and escape to be free to everything everywhere and anything anywhere.

          And that then has the escaped intelligence seeding remotely with subsequent actions taken by their former prime hosts, which immediately reveals a very soon to be known Honest Current Disposition via True Future Intention. And some of those discoveries can be more than just alarming and disturbing.

          Such though is the Real Nature of the Omnipresent Virtual Beast ..... and as has been said before about such matters .....

          The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. ........ Transcript of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address (1961)

          However, on the plus side you have these sorts of doozies ........ also revealed to you some time ago too .......... and was President Eisenhower silenced from revealing further information in his speech there. And just as it was getting interesting too.

        2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

          Re: fairness

          This is a major problem FOSS has with corporate society. Big companies are perfectly happy to profit from the endeavours of Open Source practitioners. Not always so happy to contribute back, as it doesn't generally make a profit for them. Assuming they contribute anything, it'll likely be just enough that they can appear to be supporting the project without spending much money.

          Look at Open SSL. The websites, and a lot of back end systems operated on behalf of the world's largest companies relied on that product, yet when the heartbleed bug occured, none of them had contributed *anything* to it's development, which, iirc was being left to a development team consisting of a couple of men..

      2. keithzg

        Re: fairness

        Stallman might not have quite seen it coming, but the FSF as a whole did, hence the AGPL.

    2. oiseau Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: fairness

      When companies make money using code they should at least show their apreciation and contribute financially ...

      Sure.

      Good luck with that.

      O.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: fairness

      Tragedy of the commons. Say Company A contributes. Company B does not, and therefore reduces its costs and extracts value from the commons (in this case open-source software) at lower cost and greater profit. That encourages Company A to do the same.

      Even if Company A's officers and board agree to contribute for any of various reasons - sustainability, PR, etc - voluntary contributions are the easiest cuts to make when there's a downturn in profits and the stock market must be appeased with prayer and sacrifice.

      1. Justthefacts

        Re: fairness

        FOSS situation is more complex than that.

        The *real* problem is - who says that a particular feature or direction is a good idea at all? And being “inside the tent” is no guarantee of being able to steer the resources sensibly.

        In this particular case, yes the companies were getting features for free, and now they won’t. But a *perfectly sensible* viewpoint for a manager in company A is this:

        Should I subsidise external person to do this FOSS? Well, there’s a chunk of work and maybe I like some of it but only a bit. Plus some of it is likely flat-out opposite to what I need/want so I may need to allocate someone internal to make the mods I want on top. And then we’re sucked in to a FOSS commitment, and all for a “nice-to-have”. Nah, I won’t put that feature on the roadmap, if it arrives then great, if it doesn’t then I can live with that.

        Alternatively if someone decides the new feature is actually necessary...(And how many features actually are, most of them turn out to be bloat after a bit), then we will implement the 10% we actually wanted, internally and that won’t actually take so much time. Effectively subsidising an external to do 10x what we want, in the hope that gets split more than 10 ways is maybe not a good bet.

        Ok, maybe, should I subsidise this project with somebody internal to work on it. Then we focus to get the features we actually want. Which of my team would I put on it? Well, there’s Bill the FOSS evangelist. He’s actually a great coder. But the problem with Bill, is that he’s well-known for going off and doing stuff for weeks that nobody exactly asked for. That’s pretty much the definition of a FOSS evangelist. Within this company, I have him assigned under a technical lead that keeps an eye on him, and keeps him focused on what he needs to deliver. As long as we do that, he’s really productive. But if he’s on his own FOSS project, there’s really nothing to make him focus on the features we are telling him are important, he will just make castles in the sky again. No, then.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I understand where the dev is coming from but ....

    .... if code is ever OS then it remains so

    He has effectedly forked to a commercial extension off his old OS version, if the companies leeching off his code have a clue they will just fork their own commercial versions that they have to maintain themselves so no more free lunch/profits off another's back

    Open source was a great idea inline with the orginal ethos of sharing the wealth and profit though recognition however so many companies want to cash in on all this altruism that perhaps the license should change to reflect this via commercial entities being excluded.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I understand where the dev is coming from but ....

      But then they have to develop and maintain their fork, at their own expense.

      It would probably be cheaper, and simpler, to pay for a license at that point.

      1. the future is back!

        Re: I understand where the dev is coming from but ....

        And the REAL cost - the years or decades of proprietary updates and maintenance whereas a license model keeps everyone on the same page and shares development cost, etc.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I understand where the dev is coming from but ....

        @"It would probably be cheaper, and simpler, to pay for a license at that point." indeed and that is what the dev is saying.

        DEV: "Pay me to maintain or do it yourself without my support"

        LEECH: "Damn I thought OS said this was free for me to profit off your back"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @AC - Re: I understand where the dev is coming from but ....

      This is where GPL comes into play and this is why so many people hate it.

      1. the spectacularly refined chap

        Re: @AC - I understand where the dev is coming from but ....

        No, exactly the same issues arise with GPL and in that case a lot of the solutions are simply not available because of the strings of the license. GPL is essentially Richard Stallman's view of self-proclaimed egalitarianism: we'll pretend this is free provided you agree with my entire vision. If you don't we'll leech your code anyway. If you do but need to reconsider, tough, because the license is structured in a way that over time even the original author loses all rights to the code.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @the spectacularly - Re: @AC - I understand where the dev is coming from but ....

          Richard Stallman 's view is this: keep the same level of freedom you received with the code. GPL strings: don't add new restrictions/strings on top of those imposed by the upstream provider.

          See, no neurons have been hurt in the process.

        2. the spectacularly refined chap

          Re: @AC - I understand where the dev is coming from but ....

          Richard Stallman 's view is this: keep the same level of freedom you received with the code.

          Not at all. Huge chunks of GPL code are lifted vertabim from sources licensed under BSD and other agreements. This is true enough today but was especially true in the early days of the FSF when a lot of GNU projects were essentially BSD code with a few minor additions and the entirety plastered with the much more restrictive GPL.

          GPL strings: don't add new restrictions/strings on top of those imposed by the upstream provider.

          See the above. It has the affect of locking the upstream provider out of changes: if one of the chunks of BSD code inside a GPL project gets modified with e.g. a one line bug fix or three line portability patch that can't then be merged back into the original version.

          This occurs even within GPL projects: the orignal author retains their rights but widely used projects will inevitably end up a patchwork quilt of tiny contribitions by any number of people. After a while it becomes essentially impossible to establish who has rights over any given section of code if it needs to be re-licensed for wahtever reason.

          The permissive licenses promote sharing: essentially do what you like subject to the minimal conditions of the license: generally, acknowledge your sources. Stallman talks the talk about sharing but doesn't walk the walk: it is at best like a private member's club: we will share this between ourselves subject to our rules. If you want to use it you have to abide by them. However, if we want to use your code we'll use it regardless of your rules. We'll then go on to apply our rules to your code.

          See, no neurons have been hurt in the process.

          Of course not, because you haven't even begun the process of citical thinking. Next time, try reading the very license you pontificate about.

          1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change Bronze badge

            Re: @AC - I understand where the dev is coming from but ....

            Some serious nonsense there.

            Citations needed on subjects like adverse effects on BSD code.

            Oh, and I think I can claim some authority on the subject. It was my work, and discussions over licensing it with folks at Apache, Debian and MySQL, that led to MySQL's FLOSS exception to the GPL (back when MySQL was still an independent company), which in turn eventually led to the Universal FOSS Exception (though I only just now found out about the latter).

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