Businessweek to Linux: Dump the GPL So Business Can Embrace and Extend It

Sunday, August 15 2004 @ 03:39 PM EDT

Contributed by: PJ

A commentary in Businessweek suggests it would be "good for all concerned" if the icky GPL was done away with. The article, titled "The Big Fly in the Open Source Soup," ends like this:

"Bright as it is, the future of commercial open source might be considerably brighter if Linux and other programs went to a more commerce-friendly license with fewer complexities and ambiguities than the GPL. There's plenty of precedent. The BSD license, the Mozilla Foundation license used for browsers, and the Apache license all provide for free distribution of code and source code with fewer restrictions than the GPL. It will be tremendously controversial in the open-source community, where the GPL sometimes seems more like an object of religious veneration than a legal document, but it would be good for all concerned."

All? Good for all? What about the authors of the code?

They chose the GPL because they wanted to. And they are the copyright holders on the code. I believe I may speak for the authors of the code when I say that they would just like you to respect their intellectual property, to phrase it in terms you will understand.

Businesses think that if they threaten not to use Linux unless the GPL gets dropped, Linus will panic and comply. No, he won't.

Businesses, or at least the one or ones this commentary represents, are unable to understand that Linux was not written for them. They are free to use it, if they wish, but if they don't wish to, I personally don't care. Let them sink deeper and deeper into the quicksand of the Microsoft security swamp. By all means, stay right where you are, if you so desire.

But, he says, "Linux is burdened with too much intellectual-property uncertainty for many companies to embrace and develop it further." Oh? What is IBM? Chopped liver? This is an empty threat. There are plenty of companies raking in the dough from Linux already. If others choose not to unless the GPL is dropped, it's their funeral.

If Linux keeps the GPL, the threat is that proprietary companies won't embrace and extend Linux. Good. That is the whole idea. We prefer not to be embraced or extended if the GPL is not complied with, thank you very much. And the GPL was written most specifically to prevent "corporate takeovers", so to speak. Other companies with more vision are already making plenty of money from GPL code, and if you choose not to, suit yourself. I'm thinking maybe HP should be taking a more clear move toward Linux, if they wish to improve their bottom line when it comes to server sales.

If businesses wish to use Linux, they must play by the rules. GPL rules. And the rules include respecting the license that the authors have chosen to use.

The current theme of the attack on the GPL is that it is "ambiguous". It's been clear enough for the community for many years, and we haven't had to sue each other all over the map either. I don't think the problem some big businesses and their admirers have with the GPL is a lack of comprehension. They don't like the terms. Of course they prefer the BSD license, so they can take and give nothing back. Use it, by all means, if that is what you want. But if you want GPL code, and you do, you have to play fair. Is that ambiguous? I think not.

You have to admit, there is something comical in a commentary asking the authors to change their license. It is an indication to me that the "brute force" attempt by SCO, using the courts to try to make the GPL walk the plank, is now a flop and everyone knows it. So now they dangle "the big time" in front of the authors. *Now* will you change the license? No? What is with you people? It's like this: Linux is already in the big time and doesn't need any old-think businesses messing around with its license. Editorials, studies by the Yankee Group, millions on PR, and commentaries from here to Alaska won't change a thing. If the authors don't want to change the license, and they don't, there is no higher court to appeal to. It's a final no.

There is so much more in that article that is wrong, when it comes to the GPL and other things too (like SCO did not get the UNIX trademark, for example), which the author does not understand, but it's Sunday, and it's my day off.

Want to laugh? Check out this appropriate UserFriendly strip.

Here is a prediction about Linux from a journalist, David Coursey, who doesn't mind saying in public that "as an American" he is willing to pay extra for Windows if it means he doesn't have to move to Thailand, that in reference to Microsoft's new training-wheels version of Windows, Windows XP "Starter Edition", the cheap version it is now selling to any dopes it can find in the East. I gather this offering is limited in what it can do. So it's kind of like leaving your car overnight parked on a street in the Bronx, coming back in the morning to find the radio only plays one channel now, and the air conditioning is stripped out, the seat covers are gone, and the car only goes down hills now, not up, and selling it as a starter car. And some call Americans ugly. Anyway, here is Mr. Coursey's prediction:

"As for Linux, that operating system is making significant advances in countries where intellectual property isn't respected. By that I mean in places where poor people like to steal things invented by rich people. If you want to compete with this, then you have to price accordingly, as Microsoft seems to be doing in some overseas markets.

"As these economies develop, they will start creating intellectual property and will want to protect it, and the problem will resolve itself.

But Linux is changing the value equation. Microsoft has traditionally made its money selling operating systems and application suites. Linux takes the money out of the operating system and requires it to be made someplace else in the technology food chain, like in support, middleware and the applications that run atop the OS.

"The vendors who are big Linux supporters seem driven as much by the goal of not putting money into Microsoft's pocket as they are by any love of the Linux. I am expecting that, over time, various Linux releases will diverge as completely as Unix has in the past, leaving us with essentially proprietary, vendor-specific versions. So much for 'open' operating systems."

I guess his impartiality as a journalist makes it hard to figure out what he personally feels, huh? But as for his prediction that Linux will eventually follow the UNIX divergence path, I see that as a danger, because businessmen think like that. But if they try it, they will find the community will turn against them, and they will be left without strong community support. At the beginning, they may not care. They may think that the core of Linux is maybe just a small group doing most of the work, so what is the difference? They can go back to cathedral-style development and no one will be the wiser.

Trust me. We have eyes. We see. We will be the wiser. And you will eventually go out of business if you follow that path or you won't be a Linux company any more. Here's why: the FOSS community isn't dependent on business at all. It's the other way around. And if you are foolish and short-sighted enough to think you don't need community support, try it. You might wish to consider the short, sad history of Caldera first. They did not have strong community support back when they were a Linux company, because they disrespected the GPL and went as close to the edge as they possibly could. Maybe over the line, we are beginning to suspect. The smell was in the air, long before the proof. And they couldn't make it as a Linux company. It's a cautionary tale.

There is no business model involving Linux or GNU/Linux that disses the community. Get over it. Instead of ramming against the drawbridge wall, over and over, trying to force open the gates of the GPL castle, find a way to be invited in.

Of course, when you are a guest, you need to be well-behaved and not steal all the forks.

In the long run, despite having to adjust your thinking, which is always painful, I know, you'll find that is where the profit lies.