back to article Open source's new mission: To boldly go where no software has gone before

Bruce Perens is unhappy. He sees the spirit and potency of FOSS decaying into obsolescence as the big guns learn to game the system and users don't see the point. Bruce Perens What comes after open source? Bruce Perens is working on it READ MORE He should know. Perens co-authored the Open Source Definition document, laying …

  1. elsergiovolador Silver badge


    Another article about Open Source failing to mention the other side of the Open Source coin. Exploitation and fostering of inequality.

    It's quite telling which side the Open Source promoters are where they don't mention any form of fair compensation to all gullible developers who contributed to it, so that big corporations can make billions off of their work without spending a penny on R&D.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Exploitation

      It's also not mentioning that this situation has been coming for years (accelerated perhaps by Perens highlighting it some years ago in his opinion piece about GR Security), and that there's been little attempt to pre-empt the situation.

      It is possible to do to RedHat what they're doing to their customers. Stop distributing the kernel source code to RedHat / IBM or their staff. It'd take a lot of organisation and some big changes in how certain GPL OSS projects are run (they'd be a lot less open-to-the-public), but it could be done.

      Just standing still, letting this happen, is asking for worse situations to develop. For example, IBM buys Ubuntu. That, pretty much, would mean IBM effectively owns the Linux kernel (at least, the one that everyone is using). That is the situation that is coming, and should be prepared for.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Exploitation

      Here we go again, the same lies that do net take reality in account.

      First: Free Software and Open Source Software does not mean it's free. Their is difference business models to earn money for the work you done. Yes, a lot of people choose to not ask for money. It's their choice and not a problem.

      Second: Free Software and Open Source Software are common goods. Not a private private lucrative property. The humanity can use it, share it, modify it. Without the obligation to pay a rent to an owner in exchange for having rights. This doesn't prevent the people who work to be paid, their exist different business model for that: But you are paid for the work done, not for the privilege to own a means of production.

      Third: Because Free Software and Open Source Software are common goods and immaterial, they are already available to everyone. When a third party sell a product or a service that use a Free Software and Open Source Software, people doesn't the third party for it but for what has been added.

      The narrative you write here does not reflect the reality and are usually used to promote the privatisation of the common goods that are Free Software and Open Source Software. A bourgeois propaganda that "being paid for the privilege of owning a means production" is a "fair compensation". And don't respecting bourgeois privileges is "exploitation".

      1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

        Re: Exploitation

        While you are correct, I think you've missed the point : Big companies can, and do, take without giving anything back.

        Red Hat have gone down the GR Security route - they will give you the source for anything (GPL) you've bought from them, and you do have the freedom to pass that on to others. But if you exercise that freedom, they'll cancel your contracts for support updates. So without actually removing your right to pass on FOSS to others, they've put in place contractual terms that mean no business customer can do that.

        And cloud operators can make massive use of FOSS, but just not distribute any software. If they don't distribute the software, they don't have to release the source for it either.

        And most end users these days don't care and/or don't understand. Most Android users don't know or care that there's GPL code running behind the scenes, they just care that they can turn it on and get to TwitFaceborg (massive over simplification, but the idea should be clear). And meanwhile, Google further and further winds in control through contractual blackmail of phone manufacturers - basically if a manufacturer wants to ship something most users recognise as an Android phone, then the manufacturer has to install loads of proprietary (and privacy intruding) Google proprietary stuff, the FOSS elements won't cut it except for the minority of tech users disproportionately represented here on ElReg.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Exploitation

          > While you are correct, I think you've missed the point : Big companies can, and do, take without giving anything back.

          This point is non pertinent:

          - With a common goods, every one can use it without without the obligation to pay a rant to the tool owner

          - Their is business models to earn money and pay people who do the work

          It is not necessary and not good thing to privatise the means of production. "Big companies" are just a diversion.

          With Red Hat: You can still use your freedoms and go see a concurrent.

          The cloud operators are like hardware vendor: They sell you something to run a software.

          You still have business models to earn money for your work.

          Before the cloud, you could already see the cheapest host service and run FOSS on it. And FOSS makers could still have clients and money because people who contact them was interested by their services. It's still the case.

          And if they don't distribute softwares but only run it: You have the AGPL

          The problem with Android is a problem of proprietary software, not FOSS. It just demonstrate that we need more FOSS.

          And the argument of "people don't care" is irrelevant: Today we have a lot of thing that, in the past, "people don't care" for. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have doing it.

          1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

            Re: Exploitation

            With Red Hat: You can still use your freedoms

            Except that you can't - at least not more than once, and not if you want to carry on using RH software in your business.

            The RH model, copied from GR Security, is that if you exercise your freedoms, then they will terminate your support contract. So you will not get any more updates and the ability to share or not becomes moot since they won't let you have any more. As a business, your auditors will flag up if you run unsupported software, and beyond small business, you'll find things get very hard very quickly - a lot of larger businesses you may want to do business with will pick up such an issue when doing their due diligence in the supply chain and drop you from their supplier list.

    3. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: Exploitation

      Sadly, while the principles of Open Source are good (I use it myself, and even contribute to some projects where I can, even if that contribution is cash to the project), there are those who will take advantage. I suspect plenty of large companies have proudly boasted they are open source advocates and actively contribute to their projects. Then you analyse their contribution and despite using the project extensively in their systems, they've changed one single thing in one source file.

      I think this can backfire though. I remember the OpenSSL fiasco a few years ago. IIRC, OpenSSL was in use on a lot of corporate webstores, sites, and internal system, but was hacked because maybe 2 people were updating it. Open Source is good, but if developers feel they aren't getting much back for their effort, they may walk away.

      1. Jhon Smith

        Re: Exploitation

        Using a common goods instead of paying a rent to those who have the privilege to own the tool is not taking advantage. Unless you see the private ownership of the means of production as sacred.

        And a software is immaterial. You can do copies and use it without damaging or destroying it. It's not a problem that someone use it.

        If people want money for their work, their is multiple business models available. The problem with OpenSSL is not the absence of rent and absence of private ownership of the means of production. If they need money, they could have put in practice one of the business models.

        1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

          Re: Exploitation

          I think you are missing the problem.

          Back when FOSS rose up, the basic principle was along the lines of many people contributing what they were able, in order to create a pool of common goods.

          An analogy that comes to mind is a load of allotment owners : they grow fruit and veg for their own benefit, but realise that if they all share, they will all be the better off for it (e.g. I grow more beans than I can eat, and get fed up of beans; but if I share with others, they get some beans, but I get some carrots, potatoes, cabbages, whatever). I know it's a bit strained since giving away a bag of beans means that I have less beans - it's only an illustration. The golden rule is that if everyone shares, then we are all better off.

          But then some business person moves in, and realises that people will give him fruit and veg for nothing - which he can take into town and sell. But he's getting away with doing no work of his own, and not growing anything to share with the others. He's freeloading off the others. Clearly that's not tenable long term, which leads to the question of - what do we do about it in the FOSS world ?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Exploitation

            I think you are doing a wrong comparison.

            You compare material and immaterial objects. And it's not a detail: If you share a material object, you have less. If you share an immaterial object, you have more.

            And if someone sell something: It's not the immaterial and common goods who is sell, because anyone can have it, but what was added. Like hosting the software, or distributing it, etc.

            And it's not free-loading of the others, unless it's not a common goods but a private property.

            And all this do not block you to sell your work on the software, or a work done with the software, to pay the people who have do the work on the software.

            All your arguments here are irrelevant.

            The FOSS is tenable.

            1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

              Re: Exploitation

              Pity reading isn't your strong point ! I specifically made the point that sharing beans is not the same as sharing copies of code. But the analogy stands (to a point) in demonstrating in "non-tech" friendly language what the issue is.

  2. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

    Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

    Again, this is a GPL oriented viewpoint, not a BSD one, but I've banged that drum too many times so..

    'Users don't understand the freedoms FOSS gives, and developers don't understand users'

    This is simply untrue. Both understand well enough but they just don't care.

    For the most part users just want to get on with their life, they do not want to contribute back to the ecosystem, and they don't want to pay money towards it if they can help it. If it cost money, there's commercial closed source software for that. Expecting everyone to buy into your ethos is definitely a case of wanting to have and eat your cake.

    Developers also want to get on with their life where that's largely defined as solving the problem for themselves. OpenBSD is probably the epitome of this : it's written by the developers, for the developers, and the fact it's popular elsewhere is a nice bonus.

    Polishing the software to truly fit the needs of the end user is a thankless task, and most importantly stops developers from doing what they actually want to do : solve interesting problems, create new code, receive thanks, and in some cases a job that pays money.

    Polished open source software would have a magnificent installer, a great interface, all the functions would work, it'd correctly interoperate with almost all window managers/compositors, and be properly cross platform. New functions would not be added until the existing ones were working and stable. Product direction would not be driven by large commercial companies, smaller developers and platforms would be catered for. Ooh look, a flying pig.

    Having said that, it's impressive what is available even given the disadvantages. I'm currently trying to use FreeBSD as my main platform to move away from Windows, including for gaming. This has involved :

    Having to switch binary packages from quarterly to head because 32 bit wine 8 was only unbroken on 23rd December, and the new package hasn't been built yet for quarterly. This is in the handbook, but it's non obvious, and also not a particularly good default from the point of view to impact to users

    Setting a mildly opaque environment variable to prevent old OpenGL games (Quake 2) from exploding with shock at what's provided by a modern OpenGL system (although I don't think it would do that under real Windows : that's on my todo list to check)

    Having to make a number of config changes and udev rules so an XBox360 controller is recognised and usable by non root users, and then hopefully works in Wine.

    Probably other issues, where certain quite modern 3D games are abending with opaque error messages.

    All of this is incredibly user hostile. There are various third party configuration programs I'll be using to provide a leg up, but in an ideal world none of this would be necessary.

    Given all that, however, it actually works for free, in a number of cases, without any paid for components being required.

    1. LionelB Silver badge

      Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

      I don't entirely disagree, but

      > Polished open source software would have a magnificent installer, a great interface, all the functions would work, it'd correctly interoperate with almost all window managers/compositors, and be properly cross platform. New functions would not be added until the existing ones were working and stable ... Ooh look, a flying pig.

      Sure, but you might say exactly the same of closed-source software. Setting the bar a wee bit high maybe?

      1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

        Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

        You do have a point, but yes that's the ideal for closed source software and that (supposedly) lives or dies on providing for the user's needs.

        The problem is perfect open source software needs to provide everything closed source software does *and* maintain the ideals of open source software.

        This presents the question that if (as you say) the bar is a bit high for that, then perhaps helping the end user is not in fact the end game, there is a sizeable degree of give and take in return for receiving software gratis, which is the situation at the moment.

        1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

          Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

          You make several good points but I disagree with this one.

          Commercial software makes no attempt to "provide the user's needs". On the contrary, it just mandates requirements for a particular system & configuration which the corporation will support and provides something which may or may not have much relationship to the user's needs. Often conflicting with the requirements specified for other software the user needs to run. And no attempt to make it work (or even, in some cases, let it try to work) on other configurations.

          The FOSS I write, and the changes I make to other FOSS, are mostly about working round some issue or constraint. With commercial software there is no chance to do that - just take it or leave it.

          1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

            Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

            Whilst it could easily be argued some software has moved from being user centric to business income centric (especially on mobile) that's not the whole story and it's a hobby horse I'm going to avoid riding today.

            Commercial software in general absolutely attempts to provide for the users' needs, at the same time as providing a sizeable return. This is complicated by issues such as captive markets, install base, and interoperating with other products, but it fundamentally has to provide the functionality on some level otherwise it doesn't sell!

            I've bought and contributed to both open source and commercial software, but if my intent was to create commercial software I absolutely would restrict the number of supported configurations. This is basic business, both so that the customer can be assured of a reliable product on a known configuration, and also to prevent support and development costs bleeding the business dry.

            Much of my recent career is based exactly on providing for customers needs, and then dealing with subsequent technical debt - short term gain for longer term pain. Nevertheless at the time some customised products were released it was to match the customer's needs as precisely as possible for (in general) a very good price for the functionality offered.

            This is specifically customised software, various customers are now in the state where their software does not interoperate with newer software or has limitations that don't exist in a more modern product. This isn't because we don't care[1] - it's because we can't make enough money at it! There are options for the customer to move to but it involves a loss of functionality for a more standardised product, a higher cost the customer may be unwilling to pay, or both. As you will know all this has a cost, and if we're doing our job properly we won't sell product we can't make a noticeable profit on. Within the bounds of what the product can do and what the customer is willing to pay, we absolutely do care.

            Even with mass market software it often simply isn't true there is no flexibility - it's just there is usually no profit in supporting the missing functionality. Windows for instance has a large number of shims to support poorly written or abandoned software that still has a large install base or are required by a customer providing a large amount of income, because without this compatibility it wouldn't sell or would create huge support costs.

            It's not always different in the open source world, but lack of functionality can often be due to either the thing you want to support not being popular enough, or it generating insufficient income or other benefit.

            [1] I'm sure some people would say 'well, just make less profit' and 'never accrue technical debt'. If only, it'd make my life a lot easier. However this is a capitalist business out to make money!

            1. Snake Silver badge

              Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

              100% agree. I would be a logical fallacy to believe that commercial software, in some form or fashion, fails to deliver solutions to end user's requirements because the law of the free market dictates otherwise: a commercial product that fails to be suitable for purpose will not last long against competition, who can easily identity and take advantage of this failure.

              The problem with FOSS is that, by definition, there is no such commercial competitive pressure, to either evolve or even adapt to end user's needs. A lot of FOSS software is written to either solve a problem for the developer(s) or create a package to fill a perceived requirement for others. But that doesn't mean that the solutions must be polished to the glossy sheen many end users now expect; sometimes, good enough is "good enough". But ends users will not accept (too many) rough edges just to join the FOSS belief system; when PC's became 'appliances' 2 decades ago, being sold alongside dishwashers and microwave ovens in big box stores, the tolerance of "acceptable performance" expectations climbed up with it. Nobody expects you to be a Master mechanic in order to be allowed to drive your car, and almost nobody today expects to be told that they need to code in C and know terminal commands before they are allowed to use a computer.

              1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

                Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

                a commercial product that fails to be suitable for purpose will not last long against competition, who can easily identity and take advantage of this failure

                Except where you've had decades to illegally manipulate the market to the point where only another very massive organisation stands any chance at all, and in any case you've created such a tangled mess of undocumented, proprietary, and "security key restricted" interfaces that it's actually technically very hard to do - and if they try, you can bleed them dry through the courts. Why else would business run on the MS monoculture - it sure as heck isn't because it's user friendly and bug free ?

            2. Denarius Silver badge

              Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

              >> Commercial software in general absolutely attempts to provide for the users' needs

              Have you tried to use SAP ????

              1. Alumoi Silver badge

                Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

                Have you tried to use Windows?

            3. nijam Silver badge

              Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

              > Commercial software in general absolutely attempts to provide for the users' needs

              Only if by "user" you mean the intersection of the set of PHBs and the set of procurement executuves. The skills of "commercial software" suppliers lies primarily in exploiting the weaknesses of that subset.

      2. Bebu Silver badge

        Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

        《Ooh look, a flying pig.》

        《Sure, but you might say exactly the same of closed-source software. Setting the bar a wee bit high maybe?》

        Closed source more akin to a flying elephant very poorly disguised pretending to be a (super)zeppelin but I imagine, equally, a lucky tracer round having the same tragic results.

        Both involve substantial gas bags but if the two only the Graf's engineering can admired.

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

      There is a FreeBSD variant that is good at gaming, it is called PlayStation OS. The BSD license means Sony can keep that non-free. Whether that is a good thing is something the BSD and GNU camps have been arguing about since 30+ years ago/

      1. fg_swe Bronze badge

        Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

        Arent there tons of other BSD Unix based commercial appliances out there ? Firewalls, file servers, routers,...

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

      I think the GPL vs BSD argument is a distraction. In practice a Linux distro will include stuff with a wide variety of licences including GPLs 2 & 3 as well as BSD and others. From the point of the typical end user this makes no difference at all. The restrictions of GPL only apply to those distributing modified versions and they are not typical end users.

      I do agree to quite an extent with the polish aspect. My thinking about this goes back the Chapter 1 of TMMM and Brooks' discussion of what is and isn't a product explained in this diagram this diagram Some development teams are content to stay in the top left corner but others do indeed produce a product. Those would include LibreOffice and various browsers and email clients. Add to that short list the tools you'd find in, say KDE - Dolphin (file management), Okular (PDF viewer), Kate/KWrite (simple text editor), Gwenview (image viewer), digiKam (image collection management) etc. - and you'll satisfy a lot of users and I'd rate all those as products. I don't think their developers can have considered raising them to that level as a thankless task, nor as one that doesn't involve solving interesting problems.

      You also have to remember that there is not a single user audience to be pleased. Kate and vi, for example, are aimed at very different user demands for text editors (and even nvi and vim set out to meet somewhat different sets of expectations). The Kate user will undoubtedly find the vi experience stark and the vi user will find Kate bloated but both are nevertheless right for their respective users.

      AFAICS your real gripes were with Wine and that is one I'd marked off as a project rather a product long ago; your comments suggest it still is although I think it has to be conceded that trying to recreate Microsoft's tar pit without getting caught in it will never be easy.

      1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

        Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

        It isn't a distraction because the ethos is different : whilst BSD people would like contributions to the community and source it's a nice to have, rather than a central plank of GPL like licences.

        I agree that vi and Kate (which I'm unfamiliar with, but can see it's the KDE editor) are different and that it's important to satisfy your target user, not everyone. Nevertheless it's difficult to argue that various mass market software (say the early releases of Libre/Open office before they improved it) were in general not right for the average user unless the average user actually enjoyed writing only a letter and being careful which fonts and layout they used so the software didn't crash.

        The reason I used wine was partly because I've recently used it, and also because it's an illustration of what's required to satisfy users that don't know much.

        Updating binary packages to fix i386 wine : that's an organisation, policy, and testing issue more than a technical problem. It's not a wine issue.

        Quake 2 : wine architectural issue I'm suspecting - it should *just work* with no fiddling. If that means automatically shims like Windows has, so be it.

        XBox controller : Partly a 'FreeBSD isn't really aimed at being a great desktop or gaming platform' and partly insufficient resource to make it easy for end users. Maybe GhostBSD, which explicitly is a desktop distribution, is better..

        Modern game crashing : unequivocally a wine issue. Debugging issues is a huge pain.

        I think trying to weasel out of responsibilities with 'well, it's a project, not a product' is terribly convenient

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

          The BSD license doesn't necessarily mean less code gets given back.

          I've used the OpenCV (BSD licensed computer vision lib) in a few commercial products where I wouldn't have been able to use GPL, and even LGPL would have been a fight with legal.

          I've also contributed code to it, personally and 'on company time'. But if it wasn't BSD we would have been forced to just write our own just concentrating on reinventing the bits of the wheel we needed ad that would have been locked away inside company

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Only for a specific type of open source, and only from a certain viewpoint

          "I think trying to weasel out of responsibilities with 'well, it's a project, not a product' is terribly convenient"

          My classification into products and projects is simply an observation of what's out there. If you want an every-day workable FOSS system for web browsing, writing books or whatever it exists with S/W with the polish that entitles it to be regarded as much a product as an equivalent that's not free in either sense of the word.

          If you want something that provides the Windows platform that might be regarded as a product (and I know there'll be substantial disagreement that it can be so regarded) then you have to go with what Microsoft provides under their terms. Nobody said FOSS has to provide you with that.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "but that the flow of data must be discoverable to the originator of that data. Where's it coming from? Where's it going?"

    Increasingly FOSS software's USP should be that the answer to the latter question can be "Nowhere, you can keep it local".

    1. n8chz

      Cloud computing is useful, if nothing else to be able to sync your calendar and contacts between devices. There is nothing about cloud computing that goes against free software principles, but for those of us who insist on a nonproprietary toolchain, it presents considerable challenges. I use a Baïkal server for calendar and contacts, and the lengths to which Samsung has gone to make its low-end phones CalDAV incompatible is very impressive.

      1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

        Have you looked at DavX ?

        Although that suffers from manufacturers' insistence that the user should have the power to decide what's right for them (regarding battery life vs functionality) and apparently it suffers from being "killed" to save battery power on many phones.

        My bigger bugbear is vendors (looking at you MS), who go out of their way to not work with anything but their own services. I run my own server for contacts and calendars - but can I get my wife's Win 10 laptop to connect to it ? CIF ! It would be so nice if I could get her phone and laptop to share one set of information, but MS have an inflexible approach that means it doesn't work - at least, without me nuking part of my config and re-creating it.

  4. Andy 73 Silver badge

    What but not why...

    As is common for technical discussions, this tends towards the what "we" want to happen ("data flows must be freely visible") and not why.

    There's a belief that if only we describe this clearly enough, users will start to care. Why should they? The vast majority of people who go on the internet do so to perform a task "I want to buy a gift for my Mum", not with some deep concern over how it happens. Ideally it should happen with an absolute minimum of fuss and intervention - and there is absolutely no reason for an end user to want to see the complex mechanisms required to make that happen. The best technology being invisible.

    The counter argument is often "ah but security" - nope, the average user being able to see code does not improve security, the average number of professional eyes on a given open source project is barely above the one who originally wrote it, and above all if your goal is security (in the legal safety sense) then a vague ability to inspect code is the least robust and practical method to deliver it possible.

    FOSS absolutely serves a purpose, but this is not it. It also (as another poster raised and promptly got downvoted for) can be wildly abused as a mechanism for denying the reward for work done.

    If, instead of the what, we consider the why (which might reasonably include "we want to enable and positively encourage the free creation of new and better technology for the public good"), then a lot of the gatekeeping, semantic discussion and entirely technically focussed discussions can be seen as either tangential or even antagonistic to the goals. Unfortunately then the hidden politics behind many FOSS debates quickly manifests - the point being not the why, but an attempt to dictate how other people should behave.

    1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

      Re: What but not why...

      the point being not the why, but an attempt to dictate how other people should behave

      That is true for all Internet discussions - neither more or less relevant for software than for any other topic (model trains, home baking, legal systems, human rights, etc). Nothing to do with FOSS.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: an attempt to dictate how other people should behave.

      Perhaps it is only me, but I get dictated to far more by Microsoft - as a result of those who insist I must use their software, than I ever have by anything FOSS.

      1. Andy 73 Silver badge

        Re: an attempt to dictate how other people should behave.

        I guess you've never been on the receiving end of a long rant of why the key IP for your business should be open sourced, or had users refuse to work with you because they can't see a copy of your internal code. Or users start a project to clone your product simply because you won't give it to them for free.

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: What but not why...

      "It also (as another poster raised and promptly got downvoted for) can be wildly abused as a mechanism for denying the reward for work done."

      They got downvotes because it's not abuse. It's specifically written into the license the person doing the work chose. If I write some code and say you can use it for free, and you can make money from using it, then maybe I should have tried to charge you in the first place. There's a reasonable chance you wouldn't have used my code in that case, but if I choose to give you the right to use it for free, then I should expect that you get to use it for free. There are a lot of options for making software which cannot be used in commercial situations without payment. If you don't choose any of those methods, and you specifically choose one that does allow it, it is not abuse when people do what you said they could.

      1. Andy 73 Silver badge

        Re: What but not why...

        I was more thinking of the people who happily tell you "I won't buy this unless you open source it" - there are quite a few who believe they have the right to free software, and in the process devalue the work that others do.

        Being told "you can make your money offering support/with ads" is the coding equivalent of "I'll pay you with exposure" for the art world.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: What but not why...

          And, like the art world, it's completely acceptable. I can tell someone that I won't pay for their art but I will happily show it to people. If they don't like that, and they have good reason not to, then they shouldn't give me any of their art. If someone refuses to pay the price you think is deserved, then don't give them your product. If everyone isn't willing to pay what you want, then you may have to reconsider what you'll charge or how you'll do it, but that doesn't mean you just do whatever anyone asks for.

          1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

            Re: What but not why...

            It's not completely acceptable. It may possibly be good business for you, but it's morally repugnant.

            If you offer below the going rate for something, the person should have some idea of the value and choose whether to accept your terms or not, even if you're not offering a fair price.

            On the other hand if the usual definition of 'paying for in exposure' is used, which isn't a genuine conviction that it may in fact lead to extra business, but instead means 'I've got your stuff for free, I don't care what it brings you, pass the margaritas' whilst simultaneously spinning a yarn that It Will Be Awesome, Honest Dude it should never be seen as acceptable behaviour.

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: What but not why...

              As the buyer of the art, I decide how much value I think the art has. As the seller of the art, you decide how much value you think you are getting from my proposal. That means that if I offer you £50, you consider such things as whether you want payment in pounds and whether 50 is enough of them, and if I offer you exposure, you consider what kind of exposure you'll actually get and how likely that is to result in a benefit to you. You might ask such questions as whether I'm going to display it, and when and where that will be, and for how long, and lots of other questions. Then you put a value on that and decide whether it's worth it.

              The same applies to me saying that I'll buy your product if you make it open source. You have to decide how much it's worth to you to keep this closed source, how much you'll lose by making it open source, and see if what I'm offering bridges that gap. If you decide it doesn't, you either negotiate with me for better terms or you decline my offer and find something else. That I offered you terms you don't like is neither abuse nor should it be unacceptable. It shouldn't be unacceptable because the other party is making exactly the same calculations: they decide how much they're willing to pay for something and try to factor in any other options, for example how much value they would expect to gain from having access to the code they purchased. You may find yourself facing an offer like "I'll pay you £50k if you make this open source", and it may well be composed of a "I would pay £2k for the product as is, I would pay £15k if I had a guarantee of support, and I would pay £50k for the ability to support it myself and distribute changes in case the writer disappears". All of those numbers may be too low for you, but they have not violated your rights or the bounds of propriety by suggesting them.

              1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

                Re: What but not why...

                I see your viewpoint, but most definitely no, it's not that ideal and it's usually predatory in the case of exposure.

                If a product is created or obtained for a tenner, has a market value of 150 quid, but you offer them fifty then it's undervaluing the product but at least the seller (should) know they're getting forty quid of profit, and at some point will wise up and realise they could have obtained 140 quid profit.

                Paying 'in exposure' is frequently covered by creatives of many types, plus other industries, usually because it is rubbish. In some cases exposure is worth it, and is also a reason for products sold below market rates, but all too often it's a predatory relationship where the person offering 'exposure' knows perfectly well the value gained by the 'seller' will be at or close to zero. There is a distinct difference between offering a profit that is minimal but manageable, against a non existent profit that is generally sold as a larger advantage than it is.

                If 'exposure' was so fantastic, there would be many glowing testimonials, instead of the reality that it's generally more experienced creators warning less experienced ones not to touch 'exposure' with a barge pole if they actually want to eat.

                1. doublelayer Silver badge

                  Re: What but not why...

                  Which is why I have said, here and in multiple preceding comments, that it would make a lot of sense not to accept a deal which is only for exposure. However, it doesn't mean that someone offering it is abusing them, because they have the freedom to reject the offer, propose a different one, or find someone else.

                  A lot of this is also based on the concept of a going rate, as if there's some fair value of an artwork. In both software and art, this is not the case. A piece of software might be invaluably precious to one company that really needs that functionality and worthless to most others. I have written some of that. Similarly, an artwork is valued based on subjective estimations of quality, what they expect others to think of it, and whether they think it would look nice next to the other artworks they already have. If we removed all possibility of someone trying to get the artwork on the cheap and everyone actually said the maximum amount of money they'd be willing to pay to acquire it, they would still have a lot of variation and some people would offer really small numbers because they don't like the artwork very much or don't see much value in it. Those people are not abusing the artist by offering below a fair value. They are just customers the artist doesn't want to sell to.

              2. Andy 73 Silver badge

                Re: What but not why...

                The Karens of the IT world use exactly this argument - they get to decide what the value is, not the person who has put months or even years of effort into a project.

                That would be fair in a world where software and hardware is fairly priced, but given that the large corporations give software away for free (you're the product, remember?), and factories produce hardware at hyper-scaled prices, most people's idea of what a "fair price" turns out to be completely ridiculous.

                And this is the point. Open source started as a way to take the control away from the large corporations. But the large corporations (a) now use open source extensively to massively reduce their costs and (b) manipulate the price of the open market using scale and reach. It is extraordinarily difficult to compete in that market, because the true cost of developing new technology is simply invisible to most end users. That's why we see useful stuff coming out of Kickstarters and other funding services, rather than GitHub.

                As a grizzly old techie, there is a load of useful software and hardware that I'd love to build, and have more than enough technical experience to do so - but whilst I have to pay a mortgage it ain't gonna happen because the combination of open source, corporate manipulation and self entitled jerks means that I would be penniless if I did so. Sure, students and hobbyists contribute to projects, but the reality is that 'open technology' is being severely curtailed by people who simply don't understand the economic stranglehold we're in.

                But yeah, go ahead and tell me what my project is worth.

                1. doublelayer Silver badge

                  Re: What but not why...

                  "The Karens of the IT world use exactly this argument - they get to decide what the value is, not the person who has put months or even years of effort into a project."

                  That is not what I am saying. I am saying that everyone, big company or individual, programmer or buyer, decides what they think the value is. They then suggest some terms to the person they're negotiating with, and if their values are wildly divergent, a sale doesn't happen. If I'm selling licenses to my product and I think the appropriate price for a license is £5k per user per month, you are not being unfair to me by telling me that you don't see any more than £500. I may reduce my price because I want your business, but with a difference like that, the chances are high that I will simply tell you that your price is not acceptable for me, but you are free to come back if you fail to find something at the price you want. Nobody is forcing people to accept lower prices. As disappointing as it might be to find that people are not willing to pay you the value you expect, they have not violated you by not valuing your work as highly as you do. If they offer you something insultingly small, then don't hesitate to tell them you'll find another buyer.

  5. pben

    Old Visions, New Means

    Maybe it is time to revisit the original underlying vision of the Xanadu Project, The large scale pattern processing underlying "AI" could be structured to support the mechanics of implementing that vision. But who, these days, would implement such a disruption...

    1. ibgibDOTspace

      Re: Old Visions, New Means

      Ah, interesting comment. I had never heard of that, but it is similar to the project I've also been working on for decades and only recently is close. The hard part is how do you actually _implement_ his vision of course. It turns out that you can do so by focusing on time as your domain, similar to a version control system like git but working at the semantic level and not just files & folders. The damn tricky part is how do you implement a git-like protocol more generically, because it's a monumentally more difficult thing. In git and other vcs's, you have the convenience of a root folder (the repo itself) and then you hide all the complexity out-of-band in management of those repos. But if you get the addressing schema right (an even more abstract mechanism than say, IPFS's multi-hash algorithm), you can actually feasibly _address_ all of those seemingly different domains of documents, identities, spaces, etc. **Simplifying** this content addressing and focusing on the time domain is the only path that enables this, and it looks like he was a bit premature on his implementation details.

      As an aside, Tim Berners-Lee has a more recent candidate build on "SOLID Pods" that is much more like the Xanadu project than his original html + www implementation. IMO though he still failed to grasp that time was the first-class citizen he was missing, and take it FWIW but this turns it into a neat spacetime construct (which was extremely surprising to me when I came upon the idea).

      For anyone interested in this protocol, which also unifies the issues in this article with some of the comments, such as granular remuneration, sovereignty, open data (and genuinely open ai) on top of open source, and much more. My ibgib protocol is hosted on both GitLab and GitHub. I'm using different repos across the two services, but you can see the very latest on the GibLab ibgib/ibgib repo where I'm currently implementing a git replacement (I should hopefully be dogfooding an MVP within a month or two). You can also see a terribly slow angular, offline-first SPA prototype at ibgib dot space.

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "the user-focused, data-centric ecosystem we so badly need"

    The ecosystem we are living in has been defined by companies. Users that are not employees do not have much influence on it, they are not organized and don't have the time to care. Users that are employees follow the diktat of their management, which doesn't care one bit about user-centric. Management is management-centric, employees just need to learn the wierd, illogical steps to give them that shiny graphic at the end of the month.

  7. Czrly

    We need safe-harbour for communities of humans: developers and users.

    Open Source software exists either to serve a need or curiosity, either of an individual person or concern or of a community of them. That need or the satisfaction of that curiosity is its sole "mission" and purpose and suffices – no more is required.

    However, the Open Source movement – as a philosophy – does have a mission and, as is highlighted by Bruce Perens and this article, that mission deserves new consideration in today's climate of LLMs, where former bastions have been acquired by hostile corporations. That movement's mission has nothing to do with data or software or drawing arbitrary, semantic lines between those two. It has nothing to do with usability or portability or anything technical.

    The Open Source movement's concern must focus on protecting the communities that bring the needs and curiosities and gather together – or venture forth as individuals – to build whatever the hell piques their interest or whatever the hell they require.

    It must focus on protecting the knowledge and the artefacts from those communities such that they and those that come after may build upon each other's work as Open Source always has done and, without which, Open Source simply could not exist – we wouldn't have any compiler to compile it, any libraries to link it to or an Operating System to run it if it did!

    The requirements are crystal clear: what is needed, today, is a return to searchability of knowledge and code and safe harbour for code-bases – i.e. never GitHub, again! We need new places to communicate instead of black-holes like Slack, Reddit and Discord which are not to be trusted and already have strictly finite time-to-live on what's previously written, there. We need improvements to the safety and security of our supply chains: NPM and Cargo and PyPI and the like.

    The Open Source movement needs to defend itself from the parasitic predators that pervert the good-faith contributions to build for-profit products. These parasites are invariably "anthropomorphised equity" and they suck the blood of living, thriving organisms nurtured by bleeding and breathing people in order to make their own lines go up – that is the antithesis of "Open Source" AND of "community"! It needs to enable its communities to build what they want to build or need to have – serving users and doing whatever one does with "data" is inevitable and will happen in a more or less successful way, as it always has.

    Post-script: I think that GitHub is a good case study. It was once a bastion of the Open Source world and, even today, serves to host the vast, vast majority of Open Source projects – both code and issue trackers, discussions, C.I., wikis and documentation. But, in fact, GitHub is largely a cornerstone of the problem and the reason this debate is interesting in 2024. Before Microsoft weaponized GitHub, all Open Source projects were ruled by a LICENSE and that LICENSE was invariably to be served and stored with the sources. On GitHub, the LICENSE is there but the LICENSE no longer makes everyone equal. Instead, Microsoft have become the pigs in the farm house: they are more equal than others, even though they technically hold only the LICENSE that everyone who fetches the code receives.

    Any project that is on GitHub hands to Microsoft perfect visibility not only into every revision of their code-base but also into every single interaction of every other user, developer or viewer of that code and that interaction data is probably far more valuable and far more threatening to the communities about which I'm ranting lyrically, today. Not only that: every fork of every code-base extenuates this problem.

    Hosting on GitHub is easy but I wonder if it is not fuelling the machine that will ultimately crush any hope for the future of Open Source as a movement of humans.

    1. Czrly

      Re: We need safe-harbour for communities of humans: developers and users.

      EDIT: Obviously, I'm all in favour of building for-profit software and products based on Open Source components but only in good faith and in compliance with the license – that's not what I'm disparaging in my post.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: We need safe-harbour for communities of humans: developers and users.

        Perhaps "in the spirit of the license" - I'm sure that evil corp RedHat strictly speaking "complies" with the license

    2. fg_swe Bronze badge

      So ?

      Run your own server. Either at DSL modem or at Hetzner for 5 euros per month.

      Stop using the gold plated WallSt. cages.

  8. steelpillow Silver badge

    New directions

    I do agree that the old paradigms are wearing thin and change is in the air.

    One aspect I'd highlight is the capitalist vs. community tension which underlies not only software licensing but other small things like capitalism vs. socialism. In the case of the software, it's embodied in the licensing. Now that F/LOSS has been on the global stage for a few decades, it won't be long before left-wing minded governments begin to see the benefits of contributing to it rather than merely being forced to use it where the pay-for stuff is so crap it's unsaleable even to bureaucrats. Now, that really WOULD be a social revolution!

    1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

      Re: New directions

      it won't be long before left-wing minded governments begin to see the benefits of contributing to it rather than merely being forced to use it where the pay-for stuff is so crap it's unsaleable even to bureaucrats

      Except that I don't think it will.

      Even at governmental scale, there isn't any willpower to break the de-facto grip of MS on IT. It's been tried, with mixed success - usually it's found that trying to navigate the quagmire of undocumented and deliberately opaque interfaces between components is "too costly", plus MS will come along and offer them a deal they can't refuse. Meanwhile MS keep stirring the pot a bit more and adding more and more "sort of, looks good enough" stuff that's already tied together with enough gaffer tape to make it look like it's an integrated system.

      At home I use LibreOffice. At work we're deeply entrenched in the OfficeMicrosoft 3654 walled garden and I have to use that. It's not hard to see that while LibreOffice is a very good piece of software, there's a lot of components, functionality, and "integration" missing that means it's not really a viable replacement for Word, Excel, etc. You'd have to be really well funded, and have a real desire, to create something that could replace part of MS's ecosystem - and even then you'd be constrained by MS's file formats and interfaces which they are effectively (now they've coerced so many onto the subscription model) free to change whenever they like if they think you are close to interoperability. If you think that's far fetched, look at the lengths they went to in subverting the national & international standardisation bodies when they were in danger of being forced by governments to support open document formats !

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: New directions

        Which is precisely why it would need an ideologically-sensitive guvmint to make a good-enough libre solution work and treat m$ as a plug-in client for those who have yet to transition: "let's not design our networking and user accesses around that bloated capitalist AD - it the Internet doesn't then nor should we" kind of thinking. LibreOffice has been around long enough to have "good-enough" functionality for most purposes. Offer decent support contracts and you'd be surprised who is banging on your door alongside IBM/RedHat and Canonical.

        1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

          Re: New directions

          Unfortunately, LibreOffice is far from "good enough for most purposes". True it's good enough for many, but if your business has use cases where it isn't then you don't want to be running two sets of software. There's a reason for all the bloat causing features in the likes of Word and Excel - it's because there are people with a need for them. And yes, I wince every time another "FFS this should be in a database" Excel workbook comes across my screen - my idea of efficiency isn't manually comparing different views of common data (because different teams need a different dataset in a different format) when it could have been build as multiple databases complete with referential checks etc. It's not like databases haven't been around for some time - hand up who remembers Omnis ? 4th Dimension ? Filemaker ? (you may detect an Apple biased selection there)

        2. fg_swe Bronze badge


          You will find that Mr Maduro is a corrupt man who likes to be bribed when he makes the decision to buy your software.

          Corruption thrives in tyrannies.

    2. fg_swe Bronze badge

      Yay, Socialism

      It would certainly work better NEXT TIME.

      It failed for machines,velectronics and even food producion, but will win on software !

      Irony off.

      Socialism is for the lazies, the criminals and the dumb. They can then steal from the others until the last hard working man got the signal and joins the first group. Then starvation starts. See Venezuela.

  9. HuBo
    IT Angle

    Jesus Christ!

    GG Allin would be another, quite provocative, former youthfully angry rebel, but he did pass away 30.5 years ago. Joey Ramone also, 22 years ago. Henry Rollins, Nina Hagen, and Jello Biafra, are all still hanging in there though, along with Johnny Rotten.

    What gets me are the Rolling Stones. They can still stand up, walk, and play music, despite their age of approx 80yo (good for them). But, as many have energetically sung (eg. Rose Tattoo in "One of the Boys") part of the rock'n'roll attitude is "I die young, from livin' fast" ... maybe some of those folks were living a bit more slowly than it appeared from the outside.

    (notes: 1- The title of this post refers to GG Allin; 2- The icon indicates that this post has no IT content, in case you wondered; I'd use a banjo icon if it was available!)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What does a Good FOSS Citizen look like

    What do people think of what Codeweavers does with fully free WINE and commercially support Crossover?

    1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      Re: What does a Good FOSS Citizen look like

      Fine by me - more of it please! I'd consider Crossover but seeing as I'm being awkward and using FreeBSD, they haven't officially supported it for a long time.

      Paying for product is one sure way to start growing support for non Windows software.

      WINE in particular is a moving target. There's too many knobs to twiddle, and a degree of tension between the core Wine team (who are generally trying to provide an accurate replication of Windows) and offshoots such as Proton where the emphasis is getting games running, possibly at the expense of strict compatibility in all scenarios.

      It's understandable that many people are using Wine to target games (although there's far more Linux games than there used to be), and specific very widely used applications, but less popular ones can sometimes suffer a little.

      It's also potentially a problem/opportunity that what Wine delivers isn't really 'Windows'. It's a set of bare APIs and a very small number of programs. By default it doesn't feature all the support programs/settings, runtimes, fonts, and so on that would be expected in a standard Windows installation. Crossover can/could by default provide something that's functionally close to a Windows installation.

  11. danielfgom

    Dev work should be either paid or free

    In my opinion if you're a FOSS Developer you should adopt one of two possible scenarios:

    1. You have a full time, paid job somewhere and all your FOSS dev work you do in your spare time for the love of it and to have something in the world that you've made which other people benefit from. In other words, you do it out of the kindness of your heart and because you enjoy it and get satisfaction out of it. But it isn't paying you. There are many apps, libraries, distros etc that fall into this category.

    2. You either work for or create a company that sells a software product which is FOSS but behind a paywall or have active corporate donors. You earn a living from that and it's your full time work. Accept that some people might buy and pass the software onto others, as is allowed under GPL, or even fork it, but your company provides enough innovation, value and support that the majority of your users would gladly pay for it. For example Red Hat, Ubuntu etc. Blender is a good example of a FOSS company with Corporate and public sponsors who keep it going and a large vibrant community behind it. That would be the ideal IMO - you make FOSS and get paid. It is possible to do but you really need to make an excellent product. Distro's are another example of this, for example Linux Mint, who get good donations to be able to keep doing the work they love. They had their own vision of how a distro should be, and there are enough people who share that opinion who are willing to support it.

    I do agree that the average, and especially new, Linux desktop users are not educated about FOSS and the freedoms it affords them. They just see Linux as an alternative to Windows and are happy often, to use both, not realising that GNU Linux exists as an antithesis to Windows/proprietary software. Somehow these people need to be educated otherwise eventually the FOSS Principles will disappear and if that happens there is nothing stopping GNU Linux becoming proprietary.....

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like