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The 42 Flame

I originally intended to build this up slowly, over many posts. I should have known I wouldn’t find the time and patience to do this, either…

And when there was a thread at OSDev: What’s free? BSD vs. GPL, I found I had summarized many of my feelings in one single, if not that eloquent, post. The flame to answer the question of life, the universe, and everything. To bring it to a larger audience (and to get a new blog entry online), I copied it here.

I’ll probably extend some of what I say here in later posts, but for now, consider me on summer vacation. ;-)

Paxcoder wrote:

You say GPL wants us to “share-the-way-we-tell-you-to-or-don’t-distribute”, but I’m asking: what’s the problem in that kind of sharing?

I’ve got a problem with how the GPL folks took the software market, which had commercial software, shareware, freeware, public domain, and half a dozen other licensing shemes, and effectively turned it into a duopol: Either you are GPL, or you are evil - or at the very least a misled unbeliever that has to be evangelized.

I come from the Amiga community. During its heyday, some of the best software utilities I’ve ever used were shareware. Some crippled with a key to unlock the licensed-only functions, some uncrippled and relying on the honesty of the user to earn the programmer’s living. No-one had any problem with that. Some re-wrote the functionality and released it for free, and people could decide if the shareware was that much better that it was worth paying for.

Today, “not free” has become a stigma, and quite a large portion of the computer folks shun such software on principles. Now to each his own, but I really despise the mud-throwing going on when someone exercises his freedom and choses not to apply the GPL to his work.

“Make your software free and live off the support”, they say. BS, says I. I’m a software engineer, not a consultant, not technical help-desk staff. I don’t write my tools in a way that needs much support, and I write my documentation to be part of the product because that’s the way it should be done. Hey, the car is free, but I charge you 10k bucks for the key, he he. NOT.

Either your product is a basic building block of software. In that case, any legalese, no matter how well-intended, is a PITA. Or your product is a shining application that’s 80% there - do you want to get some money so you can spend your time improving it? Or do you like having to go to your 9-to-5 job paying the rent and having to improve it in your spare time better spent with your family and friends?

It doesn’t matter if that 9-to-5 job is related to your project (e.g., supporting MySQL installs for clients if you’re on the MySQL team), or completely unrelated: You spend that time working for a client, and not on your project. There might be synergies, there might be not, but in the end it’s not up to you. You’re still payed for labor, not for your creation.

In the beginning, people putting their code under some kind of free license - usually PD, or something akin to the BSD - wanted others to use their code, so that software would become better, and cheaper. Today, there’s a feeling that everybody not-GPL’ed is out to rip you off. And that’s coming from the country claiming that free markets are the solution to everything, because they enforce competition.

Well, the Linux camp is happily living in the GPL ecosphere. Microsoft has everything they want, and if not, they get it written by their code monkey hordes. The ones that get hurt, because they cannot use GPL’ed stuff without losing their business case and cannot buy all the commercial licenses and patents without going broke outright, are the small players, those who might have the great ideas but can’t get to the market because the GPL / commercial duopol has killed competition real well.

And it’s not only the GPL, there’s a number of other moves made into a similar direction that give the “big picture”. Do you think it’s by accident that the man-hours being poured into Linux hardware drivers don’t benefit any other operating system, because they play smoke and mirrors with the kernel ABI and keep drivers tightly integrated with the kernel proper? I remember the early 90’s, when talk about Linux made it through the Usenet like fire, and everyone - the Amiga users, the Apple users, the Acorn users - was so happy that there finally was someone making open hardware drivers for everyone, to level the playing field and let OS’s be judged by merits, and not by driver support?

Boy, but we were so screwed. Being from the Amiga camp, I can remember feeling worse disappointments, but not often…

Don’t tell me there wouldn’t be a need for the next Amiga, Apple, or Be. Don’t tell me software has much evolved in the last few years, once the plethora of competitors was boiled down to Windows and Linux, with MacOS sitting by the side not being able to make up its mind whether to continue being the alibi for Microsoft to point to in antitrust suits while boosting MS Office sales, or being the geek machine.

Then there’s the never-ending propaganda from the Church Of R.M.S., and the aggro you get whenever you dare to disagree with them.

All of that made it clear to me that I’d never release my software to the GPL. For me, it’s either free (as in, do what thou wilst, a.k.a. public domain / CC0), or mine (proprietary license), but none of this “it’s free, but only as we say” crap.

I once considered a “free, but not for inclusion in GPL’ed software” license, but then decided that would do the GPL too much of an honor. Scorn and contempt is best shown by disregard.

negix/the42flame.txt · Last modified: 2018/09/10 16:21 (external edit)