Free stuff vs. free stuff

3 minutes read

Of course my letter to Aiden is prompting some opposition.  It may be worth noting that a very large proportion of the code that I write ends up being public and there's more stuff brewing as we speak. There is little need to educate me about giving. I am an educator. Sharing insight and therefore sharing manifestations of that insight in form of source code is my mission and part of my business. But this is not the business my clients are in and neither is it the business of most of the thousands of developers I am honored to speak for at conferences each year. Their business is about being paid for writing software. If they weren't paid, I wouldn't be paid. My job description is to figure out fundamental stuff and use my natural "understand very complex things thoroughly and rapidly" skill that I was luckily blessed with, so that I can explain those things to them and they can focus on solving customer problems. My free stuff helps my customers and is also playing a marketing role for me an my company. Our free stuff is a calculated investment. We can and do attach a number to it. dasBlog is a freebie for others but represents a significant investment that's worth several tens of thousands of Euros. It's not free, at all.

We support a project that brings us some indirect value. However, we do not in any way force any code republishing requirements upon the folks who'd like to reuse our code (we have a strict "no GPL" policy; our code is BSD licensed). We don't depend on a community of volunteers to turn dasBlog into a dominant blogging tool that we can benefit from by commerically supporting it. We believe that if we wanted to benefit from the software directly, we would have to rearchitect and rebuild it (or at least restrict ourselves to newtelligence contributions) and then sell it as a fully supported commercial product. My personal sense of respect and fairness tells me that I will not and should not exploit the others guys that have contributed to the free version of dasBlog. It's their hobby and their work is their work. I think a company like Red Hat, which is a public company (which did yield a significant "going public benefit" to their founders) and is profiting from the work of countless unpaid volunteers and enthusiasts, is a very clever, but deeply unethical entity.

I do believe in giving and I do believe that there is value for the community at large in sharing insight through source code. But we don't share the view that software is free or should be free. Someone pays for it. We have an investment in software that is free for others to use, MySQL has, HP has, IBM has, Sun has and - believe it or not - even Microsoft has. We do that as part of a well thought out and well understood business strategy.

I understand open source. I do open source. I do so because I am aware of what it can and can not do for a company. I think I have a pretty good understanding on what's going on in this business. If it becomes the norm that the people providing outsourcing, system administration, hardware, and consulting make orders of magnitudes more money than the creative force, the software engineers and architects who are envisioning and building the foundation for this industry, something is stinking. And it stinks a lot already.

Also, if you say that I am confusing "free software" and "open source". I am not. "Open" is the political argumentation line, "free" is the economic argumentation line of the same thing. If this sort of confusion exists for mostly everyone and one of the most often repeated line in OSS arguments is "you don't understand the difference", then that's caused by the simple fact that these terms are simply two angles of looking at the same story. The OSS "eco-system" only functions because both is true. 

Matthew, selfish is not the one who wants to get a tangible reward for his work. Selfish is the one who denies that reward.

Updated:

Leave a Comment