When the KDE project was started, a decision was
taken to use the Trolltech QT libraries for
technical reasons. The problem that many in the
community had with this though, was that these
libraries were licensed under a licence scheme that
gave the libraries away to Free software developers,
but charged for them to companies selling software.
This meant that at any time they could withdraw the
free licence and render the KDE project dead.
Miguel de Icaza led the charge to fix this.
Gnome was originally (Rebel Code - Glyn Moody)
formed as a way of placing pressure on the KDE team
to work under a free licence. Of all of the Gnome
project's goals to date, this can be considered to
be their most successful. First, Trolltech formed
the KDE Free QT Foundation to guarantee the
availability of QT for current and future free
projects. Later, they went one step further and
released QT under the GNU GPL. This solved the
problem that Gnome was set up to deal with.
However, by this time Gnome was quite far along
the development road, and a decision was made to
pursue the project. Flame-wars continually erupt
about which of these projects has the better
technical and usability solution, but I really don't
care about that for the purposes of this paper.
Fast forward to 3 December 2001. Ximian announce
Evolution 1.0. This is the mail client that will
bring mass acceptance to the GNU/Linux desktop. As a
project, it is a fantastic example of what can be
achieved by using the collaborative development
model under the GNU GPL.
On the same day Ximian announce a project that
will offer interoperability with Microsoft Exchange
2000. This will be a plug-in for Evolution that will
allow people to use the e-mail, calendar, address
books and task-lists on a Microsoft Exchange server.
This will be a closed source, proprietary product
that we will not have the source to, and will have
to trust that Ximian stays in business in order to
From everything I have read and from everything I
believe, this goes against what the Free Software
Foundation have stood for from day one! The Free
Software Foundation and the GNU licence were formed
to give us our freedom. Merely allowing us to
interoperate with non-free products allows the
manufacturers of these products to subvert the
software and tie users further to their standard.
The fact that we can't see the code means that if
Microsoft change the communication protocol between
the client and the server (and they have done this
in the past, see the Kerberos debacle), we have to
wait for Ximian to catch up. The fact that we don't
have freedom with regards to the code means that we
can't use that code-base as a stepping stone to
replacing Microsoft Exchange. If we were able to see
the code, we would know how Microsoft clients
communicate with an Exchange server. This would
allow us to build a server to replace the
functionality of the Microsoft Exchange server that
could be dropped into existing organisations. Ximian
have taken these opportunities from us.
Miguel de Icaza wasn't satisfied with a licence
that allowed users to see and modify the code, but
didn't guarantee its freedom. Now his company is
releasing closed source, non-free products where we
not only don't have any freedom, but can't even see
the code! This seems like a step back to me. I
understand that Ximian are a company, but they are a
company founded by a man who once had the loftiest
So now what? I don't have the answer in this
case. I still can't see a way for the bulk of Free
software companies to generate a sustainable income.
I've pondered that for many long hours and decided
to hope that people such as Bob Young of RedHat can
come up with better ideas than me. I do know that the answer
is not to get into a position of trust and power on
the back of championing the cause of Freedom in
software for everyone, and then abusing that
position of power to sell closed source, non-free
I, personally would happily pay for the plug-in if I was going to use it.
I have spent as much money as I can afford buying
both GNU/Linux products and literature to enable the
community and the companies therein to thrive. I
guess Ximian have decided that they just can't trust
the people who put them where they are. This is a
sad time for me. This is a sad time for anyone who
believed in the changes that we would see from the
rise of Free Software companies.