Meyer's essay is long-winded, ill-constructed, deliberately
inflammatory, largely irrelevant, and based on false premises.
Unfortunately, most of the critics have failed to note this last failing.
First, a useful resource in countering FUD such
as Meyer's is a list of common logical fallacies. Atheism Web:
Logic & Fallacies is one of the best on the web (however else
you might feel about God).
Others have noted the ad hominem attacks, the irrelevant tangents,
the broad brush generalizations, the selective and out-of-context
quotations (essential anecdotal evidence), and general insulting manner
of Meyer's essay. I won't revisit them except by way of acknowledgement.
You'll find Meyer is an master of virtually every form of logical fallacy
in existence, from ad hoc to tu quoque.
The false premise of Meyer's article is that "free" means "without
cost", rather than "without restriction" :
Is available from at least one source without
payment (which does not preclude other sources from offering it for
payment, for example to people who want a distribution on CD rather than
downloaded, or require commercial support).
This is not a requirement of any of the common public licenses: GNU
[L]GPL, BSD, MIT, MozPL, IBMPL, ApplePL, or Artistic. Limiting discussion
to the GNU [L]GPL, the restriction is merely that third-party distribution
of a covered work cannot be restricted. There is no obligation to make
binary or source form generally available, only to make source available
to those to whom binary is distributed . Rather than prohibition,
there is a specific allowance for both charging for the service of
distributing software, and for the provision of warranties (beyond those
of the [L]GPL itself). Nor are other commercial activities proscribed.
For the verbosity of Meyer's essay and the extent of his quotations,
he's managed to omit the following short, yet complete, definition
of freedom used by Richard M. Stallman, the Free Software Foundation,
and the GNU Project :
``Free software'' is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand
the concept, you should think of ``free speech'', not ``free beer.''
``Free software'' refers to the users' freedom to run, copy,
distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely,
it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs
(freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour
- The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements
to the public, so that the whole community benefits.
(freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for
The straw man of "free means no cost" is propagated throughout Meyer's
- "3. THE ECONOMICS OF FREE SOFTWARE The term "free software"
(with the earlier definition, implying availability at no cost)"
- "the idea that a low reproduction cost should imply a free product
has no rational basis"
- "commercial software being the most horrible thing on earth and
a denial of everyone's right to freedom." [KMS]: most free
software advocates distinguish between "commercial" and
"proprietary". "Free" and "commercial" are not mutually
The fallacy is confounded by using it to label all vendors of software
as antithetical to the principles of free software: "anyone else who
'denies users their rightful freedom' (i.e. sells software) is just
as satanic". Meyer has, by this point, divorced himself completely
from reality. His straw man is complete, and much of the rest of the
essay is completely irrelevant rant accusing free software proponents
of opposing any right to sell software. This simply is not true.
By matter of cleanup, there are a few odds and ends of Meyer's essay
which haven't been addressed in treatments I've seen.
Meyer's commentary on the difficulty of launching a new free software
project approaches on interesting. The simple fact is that launching an
enterprise, free software or otherwise, is a difficult undertaking.
Over 50% of business startups fail in 5 years, likewise, most software
initiatives, free, proprietary, or in-house, are also doomed. The
difference with free software is twofold:
- By reducing frictions between developers in different
organizations, development can both incorporate a large base, and
tap into the resources of several organizations. Several of the
financing models -- hobby, corporate, state, and academic
sponsorship, are possible. Proprietary development is much less
flexible in this regard.
- Failed free software projects leave code relics which other
projects are free to use, assuming compatible licensing terms.
Elsewhere, Meyer notes the "dismal failure of Microsoft's
competitors". If anything, this argues for both the overwhelming bias
toward monopolization within the software industry, and the desperate
need for a better way. With over 7,000 independent software firms in
the United States, the overwhelming majority of them are either barely-
or un- profitable. The bulk of profits and sales are concentrated in
the top dozen or so firms. This is a tremendous imbalance. None of the
critics of free software have argued that it has a greater proclivity
for such monopolization and concentration of power, and the bromide of
software as a profitable business is exposed as a lottery in which a
a few lucky, or dare I say, unethical, firms succeed. This view of the
software market is largely supported by University of California,
Berkeley professors Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian in their seminal book Information Rules.
The "failure" of the GNU project to produce an operating system, and
"ethics of acknowledgement" are simply ridiculous. GNU encompasses free
software -- while the current kernel of choice emerged outside the FSF,
the GNU project certainly laid the foundations. If not Linux, then the
Hurd, one of the BSDs, or another free OS, likely Unix based, would
almost certainly have emerged in the early 1990s as the Internet grew
and personal computer power increased. I view Linux as a historical
As for copycatting, sadly I have to admit that free software
can't even take credit for this invention. Imitation, as flattery,
predates GNU by millennia, and has certainly been practiced in the
"commercial" world, be it industrial design or proprietary software.
Witness Lotus 123, Quattro Pro, and Excel; the Alto, Macintosh, and
MS Windows; WordStar, WordPerfect, AmiPro, and MS Word;.... Or Linux
itself: a free copy (Linux) of a proprietary product (Unix) extended
in a University environment (UC Berkeley and MIT) based on commercial
work (AT&T) evolving from after-hours tinkering (Ritchie and Thompson)
from a commercial consortium (Multics) extending an academic project
(various precursors). The lists are long.
Regarding disclaimer of warrantee. This attempts to paint free
software and proprietary licenses with the same brush. It handily
neglects to acknowledge that most EULAs entail far greater waivers of
personal rights, and the trend through laws such as UCITA to extend this
power further. The "Product F" vs. "Product P" comparison is simply
yet another straw man, hypothesizing high-quality proprietary software
in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary.
In discussing software quality, Meyer treats free and proprietary
(what he calls "commercial") software as static entities. In a
departure from the Stallman camp, which accepts free software as
superior on its own merits , I see it as a better method for
constructing software .
Open-source projects, however, attempt to ship out minimally
working prototypes at the earliest possible time. By doing this
they begin to receive feedback on their features and designs very
early in the overall development process. It is this prototype-based
feedback cycle that distinguishes open source methods from a simple
code-and-fix cycle. Indeed, open source is more accurately described
as an unusually rapid and iterative form of Barry Boehm's famous
spiral model of software development....all going on within loops
that might take as little as hours to complete. It is this highly
iterative process that lies behind much of the reliability of open
source, because each new fix can be vigorously rechecked in the
subsequent loops of the microspiral.
Even Microsoft realized this :
to understand how to compete against OSS, we
must target a process rather than a company
...it's the free software process, rather than static free software
projects, that the old guard are up against. It's also this dynamic
process aspect of free software, and the resulting code quality, which
justifies freedom for software where we wouldn't call for similar terms
to be applied to books, music CDs, and real property such as cars,
radios, and real estate.
 AKA "free beer" vs. "free speech". While copylefts such as the GNU
GPL and LGPL do impose certain restrictions, these are of a form that
other, more significant restrictions, cannot be practiced. I liken
them to rules of conduct at a public park or other "common" ground,
which ensure that many can partake of benefits, without despoiling the
resource for others. Restrictions imposed by copylefts are largely
bars against imposition of additional restrictions. This point is often
misunderstood by critics of copyleft-style licenses.
 Though if binary forms are generally distributed, source must be
as well. However, this requirement can be met by means other than, say,
a web-based download site, see GNU GPL (3)(a)(b)(c).
 From What is Free Software, http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html.
 Personal conversation, Richard Stallman. Q: "Do you support free
software because it leads to better products or because it is free?" A:
"Because it is free".
 See: "Response: Open-Source Methods: Peering Through the Clutter",
Terry Bollinger, Russell Nelson, Stephen Turnbull, and Karsten Self,
IEEE Software, July/August 1999 http://www.computer.org/software/so1999/s4toc.htm.
Copy available on request.
 The Halloween
Documents, of course. VinodV, author.
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.