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[P]
Non-gratis free software

By enterfornone in Technology
Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 10:42:10 AM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)
Software

Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. However many software companies are reluctant to free their sortware as it would destroy the income stream they gain from selling licences.

While many companies are successfully making money from free software, wouldn't it be better to give companies a way to sell licences while still gaining the benifits of free software such as modification and redistribution.


According to the Free Software Foundation, to be considered free software, software must meet the following conditions.

  • 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 neighbor (freedom 2).
  • 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 this.
Nothing here states that you must be able to obtain the software free of charge. So why not have a non-gratis licence for free software with conditions similar to the following.
  • You must obtain a licence from the original author. The author may charge you a fee for the licence.
  • You can obtain the source and modify the software.
  • You can redistribute the software as long as you collect a licence fee on behalf of the original author.
  • You can share your modifications with others who have obtained a licence from the original author, under the same conditions as this licence (you may charge a fee for this).
So as an example, I buy the latest copy of Microsoft Windows 2001 under this licence. I have the source, I can modify it however I want. Say I port it to PowerPC. I can now sell my port to others, however I need to redistribute the soure and anyone who wants to use my version has to purchase a licence for the original from Microsoft.

Someone obtains a copy of PowerPC Windows 2001 and makes an improvement, say better SMP suppport for duel processor Macs. They can sell this new version, but the end user needs to have a licence for the original, my PowerPC port and the SMP version.

This could get complicated with many authors requiring many licences. However it is made easier as the downstream vendor is able to collect licencing fees for upstream vendors. As well, there should be a facility to incoperate gratis changes into the system for small changes that the author does not want to sell.

This allows companies to take advantage of free software without having to give away their software gratis. It allows users to modify and improve their commercial software. And it meets all of the requirements for free software.

There are disadvantages, the main one being that with the source available it will be impossible to utilise any sort of copy prevention and you are relying on the end users honesty not to violate the licence. However since all current copy prevention schemes can be cracked, companies are already relying on end users honest, so this hardly changes anything.

Is this likely to happen any time soon. Probably not, as most end users feel they have no need for source code companies are unlikely to see the need to produce free software at all. However if enough users demand free software companies will have to follow suit. And if we allow them to sell their free software, they are more likely to want to be part of our community. This can only be a good thing for both sides.

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Poll
Non-gratis free software
o Is a great idea and will help companies embrace free software 32%
o Is a stupid idea that will never work 45%
o Is evil and will threaten free beer software 21%

Votes: 61
Results | Other Polls

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Non-gratis free software | 47 comments (34 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
Not free enough. (3.63 / 11) (#1)
by ksandstr on Sun Dec 31, 2000 at 07:13:01 PM EST

Sharing with your neighbour isn't sharing if you're forced to charge your neighbour for it. That's the main problem. Secondary problems would include "what about derived versions?" and lots of other nasty corporate stuff.

You sound awfully like ESR there by the way. "This allows companies to take advantage of free software without having to give away their software gratis." sounds a lot like "this allows companies to take advantage of the rainforest without having to think about the ecological effect".

Also, what happened to the "give the source under GPL/BSDL/XF86L, sell support" business model?

(sorry for the incoherence, I seem to be slightly inebriated...)



Fin.
Death (3.42 / 7) (#8)
by darthaya on Sun Dec 31, 2000 at 08:38:56 PM EST

Because "give the source under GPL/BSDL/XF86L, sell support" business model? " marks the death for a company. Tell me one company that succeeds in selling support instead of charging for the products. (Small company, please, because large companines can afford to give away some non-core source codes to jump on the OSS wagon.)

[ Parent ]
RE: Death (4.25 / 4) (#16)
by inspire on Sun Dec 31, 2000 at 10:32:23 PM EST

Sendmail, Inc. comes to mind.
--
What is the helix?
[ Parent ]
Well maybe. (2.66 / 3) (#22)
by ksandstr on Mon Jan 01, 2001 at 05:41:55 AM EST

Maybe it does, for a company that hasn't started out like that in the beginning.



Fin.
[ Parent ]
Microsoft (3.50 / 2) (#33)
by Refrag on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 11:49:03 AM EST

Microsoft sells support. They don't sell software. When you buy a copy of Office you get a certain number of support incidents with it. Because buying the "product" is marginally cheaper than buying support for smaller companies some will go out and buy new shrink-wrapped boxes to receive additional support incidents.

Refrag

Kuro5hin: ...and culture, from the trenches
[ Parent ]

Already exists? (2.60 / 5) (#4)
by enterfornone on Sun Dec 31, 2000 at 07:35:00 PM EST

This is a reply to maynard that is probaly better made topical. A number of companies sell software licences and supply source - however do they allow modifications to be redistributed under the same conditions as the original? Remember just having the source doesn't make something Open Source.

I also avoided using the term Open Source because the OSD does require software be distributed free of charge. And because I prefer the term free software since the emphasis should be on the freedoms you gain not just the fact that you get some code.

--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.

Depends on the company, but sometimes yes (3.80 / 5) (#5)
by maynard on Sun Dec 31, 2000 at 07:46:17 PM EST

While most software houses don't provide provisions for redistribution of source sold to enterprise customers, I've seen some that allow open exchange for additional modules to a core product. AVS is one such company, they sell an old product, AVS-5 -- a scientific 3D modeling system, which has a huge module base written by customers. They provide an open forum for the exchange of these modules as well as (I believe still) ftp space.

Many of these companies which sell source licenses actually expect the customer to tailor the product to their local site. These kinds of systems are along the lines of warehouse management, point of sale, medical records tracking, etc -- enterprise EDS type stuff. In this case, while source if often provided, it's usually not expected that customers would want or need to trade modifications. Though there's usually direct access to engineers at the software house to get modifications indirectly accepted into the source tree.

Cheers,
--Maynard

PS: you Brits need to learn how to spell proper English!

*cough!*

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]

False statement WRT OS Definition (none / 0) (#34)
by kmself on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 02:33:50 PM EST

the OSD does require software be distributed free of charge.

Wrong.

Open Source Definition clause 1 (emphasis added):

Free Redistribution: The license may not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license may not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.

The OSD specifically allows sale of free software. It doesn't allow restrictions on redistribution, including royalties, for third-party redistribution.

You do not understand your subject.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Example of the death of a OSS company (2.66 / 6) (#9)
by darthaya on Sun Dec 31, 2000 at 08:48:04 PM EST

Let's say company "A" is a small company who has a key flagship product "Xa" that does amazing things with network. It tries to be OSS, so it released its source code. It didn't get much attention from the OSS developers because Xa is only useful if used under a enterprise environment. But one year later, Cisco found out the market A is in is really profitable. So they sponsored/invested in a small company "B", and company "B" studied "A"'s product from its source code, understood the organization and critical part of the product, and then wrote something "Xb" better. At the meantime, because A didn't have any large capitals flowing in, though they were still working on a new version, Xa's new version did not have an obvious advantage against Xb. They lost a significant market share.

You know what is going to happen later.

I'm sorry.... (5.00 / 4) (#27)
by kmself on Mon Jan 01, 2001 at 09:27:45 PM EST

There's a point to this?

Free software isn't a guarantee of:

  • Business success.
  • Software quality.
  • System security.
  • Product adoption.
  • Intelligent management.
  • Competition elimination.

In a market in which free and non-free products compete, there's likely to be an advantage on the free software products, and an emergence of a successful (or possibly several, in a sufficiently rich space) projects based on a free software market. If anything, competition in the free software space is going to be as critical if not more so than in the so-called commercial marketspace.

Any given free software project has a likelihood of failure. However, within a problem space, there's a likelihood of one or more free software successes, quite possibly over proprietary alternatives.

That is the free software advantage.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Success? (1.50 / 2) (#45)
by darthaya on Sat Jan 06, 2001 at 11:56:23 AM EST

What is your point?

I was talking about the financial success of a OSS company and you are talking about totally different things.

I dont disagree with the fact that a lot of free softwares are successful. But if you make an Emacs inc, I bet it is not even going to get ventual capitals.

[ Parent ]

Business model (none / 0) (#46)
by kmself on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 06:59:30 PM EST

Not fully orthogonal. My point is that free software is more likely a more successful methodology than a closed, proprietary, development model. Arguing that a small, poorly capitalized, resource-thin company is going to compete unfavorably with a much larger, much better funded, and appropriately focused company is an issue of business decisions, not of development methodology.

Under the free software model, what's to keep company A from adopting B's forked (or novel) code and running with it? FS is a different development model, and requires a correspondingly different business mindset to go with it.

I'll get back to you on the funding in 6-9 months.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Derivative works (4.33 / 9) (#10)
by kmself on Sun Dec 31, 2000 at 09:02:59 PM EST

At what point does the initial author's interest in the work stop? What happens in a third-generation derivative of the original work? If the obligation to the author fades with generations, the fix for the freeloader is it knock off the required number of derivative generations, then produce an unencumbered release.

The other angle is: what is the obligation of someone who's combining works of multiple upstream authors? Is there some pro-rata argument for allocating licensing revenues, does the license share get split equally among all authors (gee: MakeMoneyFast -- insert one line of code into a popular codebase), or is it apportioned by linecount (impossibly complex administration).

While RMS has argued the ideology of free software in book-length tracts, John Gillmore has captured the pragmatic essence in six words:

Reducing the transaction costs of co-operation.

Your proposal fails miserably at this aim.

Moreover, the GNU GPL allows for sale of free software and services based upon it. What it doesn't allow is restriction of recipients' rights to do the same.

Ultimately, this function is intrinsic to free software, and the same mechanism will tend to drive software costs down to the marginal cost of production and distribution. The same mechanisms are in effect in the proprietary market, mediated only by anti-piracy measures and the reality that most sufficiently complex software is really sold as services (ongoing support and development), not shrinkwrap.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.

compromises (2.25 / 4) (#24)
by enterfornone on Mon Jan 01, 2001 at 01:01:24 PM EST

Just because someone can come up with a clever one liner doesn't make it so. Free software has never been about "transaction costs" (that sounds more like he was talking about open source), it is about having the freedom to modify and redistribute software.

All licences bar public domain restrict your freedom to some degree. Copylefts such as the GPL place restrictions so you cannot turn free software into non-free software. It's a compromise.

Others think that it is a good compromise to obtain software gratis but without source.

My proposal is a compromise too, you have to pay for the software, once you have done that you are free to modify it and redistribute it among people who have also bought licences. For something like Windows where there is a large userbase this restriction would hardly matter.

The licence wouldn't restrict redistribution as long as you ensure that everyone upstream gets their cut. It's a restriction in the same way that "you can only redistribute if you supply source" is a restriction.

Obviously there are flaws to the idea, such as having to pay the full licence cost to use only part of the code, but there are flaws to all licencing scemes.



--
efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
Gated Communities, Metcalfe Effects (5.00 / 4) (#29)
by kmself on Mon Jan 01, 2001 at 11:07:22 PM EST

Just because someone can come up with a clever one liner doesn't make it so. Free software has never been about "transaction costs" (that sounds more like he was talking about open source), it is about having the freedom to modify and redistribute software.

Something tells me you've no idea who John Gillmore is. Visit his site, then come back here.

The short version: John was one of the first employees at Sun. He's gone on to found the EFF and Cygnus, one of the first free software companies (well before the idea was popular). I ran across John's quote after coining one of my own: free software licensing is a bulldozer -- it levels barriers. I prefer John's, it's shorter and to the point.

And if you've no idea what I'm talking about, sit down with a corporate legal team some time and discuss licensing arrangements that are necessary in arranging for any sort of software cross-licensing. The GNU GPL is an efficiency tool of proportions that stagger.

Again, though RMS tends to couch his arguments in terms of freedoms, and I sincerely believe that this is his basis for promoting free software, the ends are largely identical. If you haven't heard the story of the Printer Richard Couldn't Fix, go find it. It's web lore. Also part of the recent Public Interest show linked yesterday at GNU/Linux Today.

I've asked RMS whether he supports free software because it's good (pragmatic ends) or because it's free. His answer: "Because it's free". I differ slightly on this, however our intent and means merge -- free software is the way to produce good, high-quality, usable, ubiquitous software.

All licences bar public domain restrict your freedom to some degree. Copylefts such as the GPL place restrictions so you cannot turn free software into non-free software. It's a compromise.

Everything's a compromise. Period. Different licenses (or lack thereof) are tools to accomplish ends. For the end of producing quality, usable, software, I believe a copyleft-like license is far superior to your suggestion. The question isn't "how do I avoid compromise", it's "how do I maximize benefit". Read on.

Others think that it is a good compromise to obtain software gratis but without source.

No. Very sort-sighted, IMVAO.

My proposal is a compromise too, you have to pay for the software, once you have done that you are free to modify it and redistribute it among people who have also bought licences. For something like Windows where there is a large userbase this restriction would hardly matter.

The problem, as I said above, is in derivative works. You're partitioning your potential user and developer pool by each licensee pool. These are intersecting, not union, sets -- "OR", not "AND". For a body of works licensed under a given authority, the system would work relatively well. However, for a collection of works licensed by separate authorities, the intersection of licensees collectively able to collaborate diminishes with the number of licensors.

Say works A, B, and C, licensed under terms you specify. The collective user/developer base is the intersection of licensees of these three groups: L(A) || L(B) || L(C). If each product has, say, 20% marketshare (reasonably respectable), uniformly distributed, the collective development pool is 0.8% of the population (20% raised to the third power).

By contrast, the potential developer/user community of a toolset based on the union of L(A) && L(B) && L(C) is 60% of the population (you're chasing the inverse problem: what percentage of the population is excluded -- this is 80% raised to the third power).

The functional outcome is actually far worse than that. If the value of a network is equal to the square of its nodes (Metcalfe's Law, see also Jakob Nielsen's UseIT article), then a network of 60% of all nodes is 5,625 times more valuable than one consisting of 0.8% of nodes. This is a simplistic model, and the accuracy is probably not to four significant digits, but I'd warrant that saying free software provides several thousand times the value of proprietary software is ballpark accurate.

Aside: I think I'm getting my probabilities and combinatorials right here, but would appreciate any bone-headedness being pointed out to me here -- this is largely the crux of my argument.

The licence wouldn't restrict redistribution as long as you ensure that everyone upstream gets their cut. It's a restriction in the same way that "you can only redistribute if you supply source" is a restriction.

Not, becuase it's a restriction which drastically reduces the opportunities for collaboration. You do the math ;-)

Obviously there are flaws to the idea, such as having to pay the full licence cost to use only part of the code, but there are flaws to all licencing scemes.

The suggestion you've made has been proposed elsewhere. It's called "gated community" development. While it's been tossed around some, particularly by Sun, but also Tim O'Reilly (O'Reilly publishing) and Brian Behlendorf (Collab.net), it hasn't been discussed extensively. Bruce Perens has criticized the concept. This is actually the first time I've taken the time to do the math, and I have to admit even I'm somewhat shocked by the results. I believe the models intended by Collab and others are less restrictive than what you've suggested, but numbers seem to rule against it.

I've noticed a number of convergent trends in free software, Metcalfe effects, as I call them, are among them. I've created my own typography of what I think leads to the success of free software, and I think if you reflect on the points, you'll understand why I don't think any sort of "half-open" model will be truly successful in the long term.

The factors:

  1. Development methodology: Cathedral & the Bazaar. Many eyes, comprehensive code review, massively parallel debugging.
  2. A software architecture: Modular code. This both reduces complexity, and increases access to code by allowing single developers to "wrap their head" around a specific component without getting bogged down in interactions effects with other portions of the system.
  3. A legal framework: free software licensing. You can ensure code will be available for use, modification, and distribution.
  4. An economic model: There is a rational economic justification for engaging in free software. I'm inclined to believe it's a cost-avoidance rather than profit-seeking model, but there's work to be done here.
  5. Cheap or free transmission and distribution: The Internet. Note that several proposals exist which could greatly impact this component.
  6. Open standards: Linux emerged on the dual foundations of the Unix/Posix standard and the GNU Project's utilities and development environment. While free software can be used to promote standards, it also to a large extent relies on them.

Gated communities attack the first and third items on this list, and obstruct the fourth and fifth. I don't believe this is long-term sustainable. Again, for short term, to bootstrap initial development, it may work. Long term, it's going to lose pace next to equivalent, fully free, efforts.

And, despite my disagreements with your views, I appreciate the discussion. Yes, there is still a problem in identifying a compelling direct economic model for free software. I did think initially that the concept was a perfect match for a large services-and-hardware company, such as IBM, and this has largely been vindicated through IBM's wholehearted adoption of GNU/Linux and free software models. Rather beyond my dreams, I might add.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Metcalfe's Law leads to grotesque overestimates (4.25 / 4) (#31)
by streetlawyer on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 06:54:50 AM EST

If the value of a network is equal to the square of its nodes (Metcalfe's Law, see also Jakob Nielsen's UseIT article), then a network of 60% of all nodes is 5,625 times more valuable than one consisting of 0.8% of nodes. This is a simplistic model, and the accuracy is probably not to four significant digits, but I'd warrant that saying free software provides several thousand times the value of proprietary software is ballpark accurate.

The value of a network is only equal to the square of its nodes if you assume that all nodes, and all connections between nodes, are of equal value. This is, for most real-world networks and very certainly for software development, not true. And we also need to consider DeLong's Law, which points out that in any real-world network, the most valuable connections will be made first. I'd guess that the simple application of Metcalfe's Law might work up to around 15% of nodes, but after that, I don't think you could cvount on it to give answers valid to an order of magnitude, let alone significant digits.

And the whole thing needs to be reality-checked anyway. If this law worked, free software would indeed provide "thousands of times the value". But Linux isn't even one thousand times as good as commercial Unix. In many senses, it's worse. Apache might, on a good day, be considered to be twice as good as IIS. The numbers don't add up. No real-world application (and certainly not Linux or fetchmail) has given any particularly good evidence that debugging is massively parallelisable.

One has to consider that the "gated community" model is pretty much exactly that which led to the development of commercial Unix, which has many faults, but very few that aren't shared by most free software.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Development dynamics (none / 0) (#36)
by kmself on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 04:58:14 PM EST

The value of a network is only equal to the square of its nodes if you assume that all nodes, and all connections between nodes, are of equal value. This is, for most real-world networks and very certainly for software development, not true. And we also need to consider DeLong's Law, which points out that in any real-world network, the most valuable connections will be made first. I'd guess that the simple application of Metcalfe's Law might work up to around 15% of nodes, but after that, I don't think you could count on it to give answers valid to an order of magnitude, let alone significant digits.

The empirical evidence tends to support this view. Roy T. Fielding, UCLA professor and apache team member, has published his research in the paper "A Case Study Of Open Source Software Development", (ACM membership or payment required -- will try to find an accessible link). His conclusions are that within the Apache development community, the core team has consisted over the years of about 15 people, with about six active at any one time. Another 400 people have contributed code at some point or another. A total of 3,060 people submitted bug reports. Clearly, development effort is rather concentrated among this base. But even within these parameters, over 85% of code submitted comes from the top 15 developers. Clearly, all nodes in the Apache development network are not equal.

Thanks also for the pointer to DeLong's Law, I wasn't familiar with it, though its significance is clear.

And the whole thing needs to be reality-checked anyway. If this law worked, free software would indeed provide "thousands of times the value". But GNU/Linux isn't even one thousand times as good as commercial Unix. In many senses, it's worse. Apache might, on a good day, be considered to be twice as good as IIS. The numbers don't add up. No real-world application (and certainly not GNU/Linux or fetchmail) has given any particularly good evidence that debugging is massively parallelisable.

There are, however, a few problems with your analysis.

First: a network's value is equal to some constant k times the square of its nodes, where k is the typical value (again, stats primer -- need to check whether or not mean is a valid predictor). As a network grows in nodes, one can expect the value of k to change.

Second: but this isn't our problem. We're not talking about a growing network of developers, but of a partitioning of an existing network. So the issue isn't one of adding lower-value nodes, but of divving up a set of existing nodes of (reasonably) fixed value.

Third: you're measuring the worth of the wrong output, with your GNU/Linux v. proprietary [1] Unix example. The network I'm referring to is a developer network, and its valuation, not the valuation of any one output of this network. While GNU/Linux may or may not be a match for proprietary Unix in any one application -- say, running an E10K Starfire server from Sun -- it offers a breadth of application which no single proprietary Unix can match.

I don't see Solaris positioned for the embedded or handheld markets, and it barely competes with GNU/Linux on x86 hardware. Similarly, GNU/Linux is favorable for clustering applications in large part because of the software cost factor, above and beyond technical flexibility which allowed projects such as Mosix and Beowulf to proceed in the first place.

You might also ask whether or not you'd prefer, say, Sun's set of userland utilities over GNU tools, the Sun C compiler over gcc, or CDE over GNOME, KDE, or WindowMaker. Beyond the OS kernel itself, the quality, richness, and diversity of GNU/Linux as a whole is far greater than that of proprietary Unix, in my experience (SunOS, Solaris, HPUX, Irix, and others). Sun, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard make good high-end servers and decent specialized workstations, but on a price-performance and flexibility perspective, GNU/Linux wins, particularly on low-end commodity hardware, and in the embedded space. Moreover, by providing a uniform environment over a broad range of hardware and HW configurations -- embedded, handheld, portable, PC, small sever, cluster, large server -- GNU/Linux offers a rich and diverse application deployment environment. The total value isn't merely the kernel, but (to borrow a word from myself), the gestalt: kernel, OS, development tools, userland, free software applications, proprietary apps, hardware platforms, configurations....

This is actually an old idea born again -- IBM's OS/360 project of the 1960s (and Mythical Man Month fame) was the first time a range of disparate hardware was unified under a single operating system. In this sense, IBM's adoption of GNU/Linux is a return to a very successful strategy from its past.

Fourth: Parallel debugging has two aspects. Under the "all bugs are shallow" model, you're simply increasing the probability that someone will both see anomalous behavior, and use the source to narrow down possible sources, or even provide a fix (or hints to same). Under the "most bugs are shallow, some are deep" (which I tend to subscribe to), you get the above, plus the ability for tiger teams of detailed code auditors to independently review sources. Within the GNU/Linux and *BSD communities, there are at least two such efforts I'm aware of. One is a code audit sponsored by Red Hat, the other is the OpenBSD development effort, which is proactively secure. Evidence from BugTraq, from papers such as Fuzz Revisited, and others, suggests that bug and security flaw identification and resolution rates are higher for free than proprietary projects. Incidence, now that's another question. ;-)

Fifth: As mentioned above, you've mis-applied DeLong's law to a network partitioning, not growth, phenomenon. The question then becomes: what is the nature of this partitioning? The scheme proposed by enterfornone applies an arbitrary, externally imposed, set of partitions on an existing network. While there may be some selection toward higher quality nodes (users of software will tend to be those who've legitimately acquired it, have familiarity, and will be inclined and qualified to contribute to its development), the same cannot be said about the beneficial aspect of partitioning across multiple user subsets. Even with a degree of self-selection, you're still applying a heavily arbitrary partition to the network, which, as previously described, tends strongly to reduce the real size, and Metcalfe value, of the development community. Other "gated community" partitions may not be as drastic, but I believe the ultimate, long term, effects are similar.

It's been said (by Tim O'Reilly, link posted above) that the GPL may itself be a form of a gated community, selecting against those who don't agree with the terms of the GPL. However this is an internally imposed restriction -- on the part of an individual developer. There's no external authority preventing the developer from changing his or her mind down the road.

The power of the GPLd partition is that it doesn't arbitrarily exclude participation. High-value nodes, er, developers, are welcome to contributed without bias. Which leads to the next point:

One has to consider that the "gated community" model is pretty much exactly that which led to the development of commercial Unix, which has many faults, but very few that aren't shared by most free software.

Unix development actually is an argument in favor of open, not gated, development. During the period of maximum growth of Unix systems development -- the 1970s and early 1980s -- the OS competed with development processes which were far more closed: OS/360, VMS, and the fledgling DOS and Apple systems. Though Unix code wasn't fully open, in the sense we think of today, it was eminently practical for Joe Random Grad Student at UC Berkeley, MIT, and other leading technical universities, to get their hands on, muck around in, and extend, the system source.

And this was were many of the best minds gathered -- partly because they could, partly because they liked the freedom. Today, the historic Unix development model is no longer the least inhibiting one available (cf: Minix, Plan 9, Solaris academic licensing), instead, this is offered by GNU/Linux and the *BSDs. Concomitantly, OS systems development effort has become strongly focused on the hobby project of a Finnish grad student. The comparison of the gated model to Unix's history fails to capture this key point. In many ways, free software has replaced the "think tank" or technical incubator of the past.

Notes:
[1] Note the distinction between "commercial" (GNU/Linux is a commercial product) and "proprietary". Pedantic, but relevant.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

thanks, v interesting (none / 0) (#39)
by streetlawyer on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 02:43:23 AM EST

You're quite right about "commercial" versus "proprietary"; I was groping for the correct word given that the development of most of the privately owned Unixes wasn't "proprietary" in the pejorative sense in which Stallman and Raymond occasionally use it. A few comments:

On your first point, shurely if K can change as the network grows, it isn't helpful to think of it as a constant? I think that the best we can do is to say that the value of a network is some positive function of the number of its nodes. In the general case to which people try to apply Metcalfe's Law, I'd be pretty reluctant even to say that the value is a monotone increasing function of the value of nodes -- Gnutella has shown us pretty comprehensively that there can be nodes which subtract value from the network, and I worry that the "Right to Fork" doesn't imply that there can be value-subtracting nodes in software development too. But I'm pretty happy with a monotone function as a first approximation, particularly as I don't think that commercial licensing would do anything about them.

If we assume a monotone function, your point about partition versus expansion goes through. But I think I might take issue with a couple of your other assumptions:

I don't think that it's true that a GPL-like restriction doesn't partition the network. Legally, it doesn't explicitly (indeed, explicitly doesn't?) prevent anyone from joining the network. However, economically, it does. Lots of people are happier with a business model under which they own a piece of intellectual property, and can manage it as if it were a piece of physical plant, than under any of the slightly flaky suggestions in Eric Raymond's writings. To adapt one of my favourite slashdot sigs, a lot of people are happier being Adolph Coors than being the guy who supports his product with late night taxi rides. NB; I think both of us have better things to do than discuss Raymond's business plan ideas. The point is not so much whether people are right or wrong not to get involved in free software; so long as they think that they don't want to, they won't participate in GPL projects and the network is partitioned. The only licence model which does not partition the network in some way is the public domain style (although, of course, it allows others to adopt licences which do partition).

So, the way I read the original enterfornone proposal is that a restricted licensing model would either encourage more people to produce semi-free software than would produce gratis software, or that it would encourage the same people to produce more semi-free software than they would have produced fully free software. The first case could be modelled as changing the network by cutting off some nodes and adding some new nodes; the second by reducing the size of the network and increasing the value of some of the remaining nodes. In either case, the effect on the network's value is ambiguous.

I'm not sure that the suggested license model is coherent; particularly I don't see the sense in basing it on an attenuated GPL rather than an attenuated proprietary licence. But I don't think one can make straightforward arguments based on network effects (I'm an economist by profession, and have cause to be suspicious of network arguments).

The point about Linux vs. commercial/proprietary Unix is well made and I'll try to avoid making that comparison in future.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

O'Reilly link (none / 0) (#35)
by kmself on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 04:12:58 PM EST

Sorry, busted link. The story is here: "Gated Source" Communities?.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

GPL (2.62 / 8) (#13)
by simmons75 on Sun Dec 31, 2000 at 09:58:34 PM EST

The GPL specifically allows you to charge for distribution, although IIRC you have to allow free access. It's not quite what you have in mind (if I understand you correctly) but it'd mean that, for people who don't want to download boatloads of source/binaries, you could charge, say, $50US for a boxed set.
poot!
So there.

Not quite accurate (4.66 / 3) (#28)
by kmself on Mon Jan 01, 2001 at 09:43:10 PM EST

You don't have to provide free access. Rather:

  • You have to provide access to source to those who've received non-source forms of a work.
  • You cannot charge (other than a nominal copying charge, if any) for this service.
  • You cannot restrict downstream modifications and redistribution.

It's possible to work "secretly" on GNU software -- there's no "bugfix" requirement as in other source-distributed licenses (see for example Apple and the SCSL license from Sun). If your downstream recipients volunteer not to redistribute, you're legit, however you cannot compell them to do so.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

That's not free software. (3.81 / 11) (#18)
by Andreas Bombe on Sun Dec 31, 2000 at 10:58:50 PM EST

The license scheme you made up doesn't have a lot to do with free software anymore. It restricts who you can share with and severely restricts distribution.

Where do these restrictions come into play? For one, you can't put stuff up for download, post patches or discuss it openly, since part of the source code might flow out into the public this way. This means closed discussion with high entry costs (anyone wishing to participate would have to pay the fee).

Usage would have to be restricted. Otherwise, a company could pay the fee once and install binaries on their 3000 workstations.

What about updates?

The biggest problem would be that it would be impossible to let work and source be exchanged between different projects. What if I wrote a mostly unrelated program but took some small code snippets from five different open commercial programs? I'd have to collect five license fees for a single license of my own program. That will be expensive. Very expensive.

Pay for execution, not copies (2.00 / 1) (#42)
by Paul Johnson on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 08:36:28 AM EST

t restricts who you can share with and severely restricts distribution.

Not necessarily. The licenses could be for using the software. I can see a scheme in which copies can be distributed and modified freely, but if you actually use the software to do something (i.e. gain value from it) then you have to pay the author(s).

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

That's supposed to be better? (5.00 / 1) (#43)
by Andreas Bombe on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 07:22:00 PM EST

Not necessarily. The licenses could be for using the software. I can see a scheme in which copies can be distributed and modified freely, but if you actually use the software to do something (i.e. gain value from it) then you have to pay the author(s).

Erk, that's even worse. How do you track usage? Good, if it's a program to produce something (e.g. pictures) you can think about taxing every published product. What about internal use for those packages, and what about software that does not generate publicly accessible content (accounting software, desktop environments, operating systems, mp3 players, ...)?

Oh well, I can see a way in which this would work: application service providers, with remote execution.

But the problem about the amount of money to collect persists. A program that integrates parts of 5 other programs has to collect 6 fees. An inverted pyramid with the user pinned under the sharp end.

Forget that, it's not even near free software. And any free software programmer would be best advised to avoid any contact with such contaminated source code because they'd be surely sued for damages if they ever again program anything in a very wide sense similar.

[ Parent ]

No problem (2.00 / 1) (#44)
by Paul Johnson on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 02:47:18 AM EST

How do you track usage?

The same way we already do: the honour system combined with occasional very public hanging of malefactors.

Think about it. Copying, say, MS Office is trivial for anyone with a CD-writer, yet MS still makes huge amounts of money. Game players already form informal networks to copy games, but the game software market is perfectly healthy. It seems that enough people can be persuaded to Do The Right Thing to make money. Making the source of these products available would not change this.

But the problem about the amount of money to collect persists. A program that integrates parts of 5 other programs has to collect 6 fees.

Doesn't seem to be a problem in the commercial software world. Just collect one fee, and come to some agreement with the authors of the 5 others.

Forget that, it's not even near free software.

Free as in speech, but not as in beer.

And any free software programmer would be best advised to avoid any contact with such contaminated source code because they'd be surely sued for damages if they ever again program anything in a very wide sense similar.

Do you have any evidence at all to support this assertion? We're talking about copyrights, not trade secrets (where such knowledge is a problem). Just because I've read a Barbara Cartland novel doesn't prevent me writing my own Boy-Meets-Girl novel. Ditto for software: the fact that I've read someone elses source doesn't prevent me from writing something similar, just as long as I don't actually copy it verbatim.

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

YAFSD (Yet Another Free Software Discussion) (2.33 / 6) (#23)
by RangerBob on Mon Jan 01, 2001 at 12:49:21 PM EST

For one, while I might primarily use open source software and my job requires that all my code be readily available, I disagree with the FSF. Stallman and his zealots keep screaming about freedom of choice, yet that never seems to include someone's freedom to choose commercial/non release source code software. Freedom of choice also includes the freedom to not release code and to charge for the software, yet those who do it are always chastised. My personal view is that I'm really tired of seeing these discussions all the time.

I also disagree that just because you release the source code that people will magically take it and make it perfect and bugfree. No matter what anyone says, the majority of users simply use it because it's free and readily available. Yeah, some projects have a lot of developers. But look at projects like KDevelop. They're hurting for help while having the premier KDE development environment. Not all of the other projects have the thousands of eyes looking for bugs either.

Freedom & Freedom (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by Andreas Bombe on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 07:52:19 PM EST

Stallman and his zealots keep screaming about freedom of choice, yet that never seems to include someone's freedom to choose commercial/non release source code software. Freedom of choice also includes the freedom to not release code and to charge for the software, yet those who do it are always chastised.

RMS doesn't talk about freedom to distribute your own programs. That's a given currently (as long as software patents don't kill everything). He wants about equal freedom for all, the same freedom for programmers, distributors and users and keep those freedoms throughout the lifetime of that piece of code.

What you want is freedom to hold back freedoms for the receivers of your product and complain about RMS not liking you. That's like shouting "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!" because you don't have the freedom to go out, put someone in chains and use him as your household slave. If you can't do what you want there is no freedom, is there?

Yes, the GPL restricts you from some actions, but only enough to assure the next guy to come along has the same freedoms you have received.

[ Parent ]

Wrong Assumptions (3.83 / 6) (#25)
by Brandybuck on Mon Jan 01, 2001 at 01:31:22 PM EST

You made a couple of bad assuptions. Probably because you're paying to much attention to what the FSF says and not enough to the other side. There's stuff they aren't calling your attention to...

You posit the following requirement for non-gratis free software: "You must obtain a licence from the original author". Such a requirement would instantly invalidate the "free" status of the software. The third definition of the FSF is the freedom to redistribute the software. You have changed this freedom into a restriction by demanding distributors collect a fee. This is a big no-no.

What the FSF isn't telling you is that non-gratis Free Software is impossible. You can only sell your software to the First customer or those unaware of its Free status. All subsequent sales are not for the software. In the case of Redhat (for example), they do a good business selling shrink wrap, manuals, and installation support. They're also very good at soliciting voluntary donations. But they are not selling software.

problem with redhat.. (1.00 / 5) (#26)
by rebelcool on Mon Jan 01, 2001 at 03:12:02 PM EST

is that you can get all that off the internet. Which is why their stock has tanked, because investors realize the flaw of trying to make money from something you cannot legally make money from.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Redhat et al (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by Brandybuck on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 05:24:18 PM EST

The same applies to all other Free Software. The original developer does not have to post it on the internet, but he cannot prevent anyone else from doing the same. There are ways to make money off of Free Software, but you can't do it selling your software product. You have to sell something else, like service, support, proprietary addons, contract development, etc. Or beg for donations. Redhat is not alone in this. They just spent the most "branding" gratis software.

[ Parent ]
why this isnt free software (3.50 / 4) (#32)
by daevt on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 08:07:03 AM EST

what you are discribing is the GPL with some kinda NDA attached to it. if you must receive permission from the author to modify or even use (e.g. pay money) the soft ware, it is no longer free. i would pay good money to see a response from RMS on this simple because hed probably hunt you down and kill you for your freedom[0,2.3] requiring the transfer of funds. by requiring fees to pass along software, you are restricting the freedom of the the user.
yo
Price and GPL (4.00 / 1) (#40)
by perle on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 07:10:31 AM EST

There is nothing in the GPL saying that you can't charge for binaries. One approach could be to charge $10,000,000 for the binary and then the ones who buy it may be reluctant to in turn redistribute either the source code or binaries.

It's risky business as there's no guarantee that people won't redistribute your program but at least it's free software.

(And of course, you might not get ten megabucks for it ;)

See my essay on Liberal Source Software (3.00 / 1) (#41)
by Paul Johnson on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 08:29:57 AM EST

I wrote an essay on exactly these lines a few years ago. Also see Asynchrony, who are trying to build a business along similar lines.

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.

MEGO (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by kmself on Tue Jan 16, 2001 at 05:34:18 PM EST

Your essay runs roughly 16 pages without giving a clear, initial, description of what it hopes to describe. The old maxim holds: tell 'em what you're gonna tell'em, tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em what you told 'em. Intro. Body. Summary.

Provide a 1-3 paragraph focus/abstract/introduction, a similar capsualization at the end. I might read it. I dont' need a backgrounder on capitalism and the proprietary SW market.

--
Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Non-gratis free software | 47 comments (34 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
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