[OSGeo-Discuss] "Free"

Tim Bowden tim.bowden at westnet.com.au
Wed Mar 7 04:08:06 PST 2007

This thread has really mutated but fwiw, here goes:

On Tue, 2007-03-06 at 09:47 -0700, Zachary L. Stauber wrote:
> Tim Bowden <tim.bowden at westnet.com.au> said:
> > Open source doesn't mean closed mind at all.  If you are referring to
> > the habit of FOSS purists being pedantic about what is FOSS and what is
> > not, then I think that's a good thing.  It's not uncommon for people
> > outside the FOSS development world to think that free as in beer is the
> > same as free as in speach.  For those of us who have experienced first
> > hand what the difference is, I think it's important to keep hammering
> > away at the perception they are the same. `The problem of course, is the
> > dual meaning of the word free, as has often been pointed out in the
> > past.
> > 
> > Don't get me wrong, I'm not proposing a "Stallman" approach here.  If
> > someone wants to use proprietary software, fine.  If someone wants to
> > offer proprietary software (free as in beer or otherwise), again no
> > problem.  You just won't get me jumping for joy about it.  It's not
> > about the quality of the software.  There is plenty of great software
> > and junk software in both the FOSS and proprietary development
> > ecosystems.  What I don't like, is handing the keys to my business to
> > the vendor of my mission critical software, which is what so often
> > happens when proprietary software is at the heart of a business.  If
> > being in that position makes me an "open source purist" then so be it,
> > but I don't see how my insistence that *I* use only open source can be
> > the heart of the problem for *someone else*.
> > 
> Well I think you're giving yourself too much credit.  This thread isn't about 
> whether or not *you* can limit yourself to open source, the open source 
> purists don't want to allow any prorprietary software at FOSS4G, and that 
> could be the heart of the problem for me.

If it was just me, then you'd be right, but the position I've outlined
is fairly common.  Maybe that's one reason why there are so many 'open
source purists' who have no interest in seeing proprietary[4] software
at FOSS4G.  And no, I don't consider it /limiting/ myself to FOSS.  I
consider it empowering myself with FOSS.  It's all about perspective.

When it comes to selecting material for the conference, I think there
needs to be discrimination between proprietary software and open source
software that allows us to inter-operate with proprietary software.  If
a vendor is offering to show us their own proprietary stack, then I can
get that from a dozen different trade shows or conferences.  Events
focused on proprietary software are dime a dozen (well actually, they
can be quite expensive, but you get what I mean).  Heck, if I'm serious,
I can call the vendor and they will be on my doorstep to demo it in
double quick time.  There is no real value proposition in OSGeo
providing showcase opportunities for proprietary stacks.  We would just
be another instance of what is already out there.

On the other hand, if we are seeing an open source solution to
interacting with a proprietary component, then bring it on.  The clue is
in the source code.  Do we get the source code (with OSI license) to the
software being demo'd?  If not, then it's just a sales job showing the
capabilities of the proprietary component, rather than being focused on
the capabilities of the open source component that provides
inter-operation.  For me, it's an important distinction.  If I'm looking
for a Geospatial FOSS conf, FOSS4G is it.  For me that is reason enough
to keep the focus on FOSS at FOSS4G.  I suspect it is also true for many
others, open source purists or not.

> > Yes, we do want open source commercialised.  I make my living of selling
> > open source solutions.  If that's not commercial open source, then I
> > don't know what is.
> I'm referring to the practice of commercializing an already existing piece of 
> open source software and making it proprietary, such as Khoros, or what used 
> to be Khoros.  Shame about that one, and it's incidents like that that have 
> me almost in the camp of open source purist myself, but it turns out to be 
> very rare. 

I'm not familiar with the Khoros situation, but there are only 4 cases
where this can happen;
1. The original developer(s) put it under an open source license
that /deliberately/ allows it.
2. The code in in the public domain for whatever reason.
3. The developer changes his mind about the preferred license for
whatever reason. It's not unheard of for a product to be open sourced as
a marketing tactic, only to pull the rug out from under it in favour of
a proprietary only update later on.  I can't recall any specific
examples off the top of my head, but I believe it has happened.
4. Someone purchases the copyrights to the code and releases it under a
different (proprietary) license.

To my mind, each of these possibilities if fine.  In each instance, we
still have the open sourced code (if it really was FOSS, which mostly
means an OSI certified license).  Sure, it may be a pain to see your
favourite app go proprietary, but you haven't lost anything you had
before.  If there are enough interested and suitably skilled users,
development of an open source fork can continue.  It's not so different
from an open source developer losing interest in his project that you
were using and leaving it to bit rot.

>  These days people are open sourcing commercial things more often 
> than the reverse.  Congratulations on building a commercial solution with 
> open source though, I think it's a model that should be promoted because 
> folks like you prove it works.
> > It is often necessary to integrate with *proprietary* software in many
> > different ways; Platforms, data formats, server apps, client apps etc.
> > The question is often asked, should open source support windows.  The
> > answers are as varied as the developers who write open source.
> > 
> > At one end, we have the ESR type approach- "No, we don't support Windows
> > — get a better operating system" [1] which does have merit.  If I'm
> > developing software to scratch a personal itch [2], why should *I* worry
> > about *your* operating system.  You've got the source code.  If you
> > really want it, go for it, so long as you respect the licence I choose. 
> > 
> Well a lot of developers did start on Windows.  Most commercial GIS software 
> is Windows-only or at least the full functionality of it exists only on 
> Windows, and we may want to integrate with it in order to increase the 
> functionality of both it and its partnered open source.  But it's not just 
> Windows.  Apple hardware and MacOS X is even more proprietary than Microsoft 
> has EVER been, and there are developers who use that as their primary 
> platform, like OSSIM.

Integrating with existing windows software doesn't always have much
bearing on what platform is best for FOSS developers to use.
Inter-operability is probably more about data formats and client-server
protocols than underlying platform.  As far as I can see developers will
generally choose the platform that best helps them solve the problem at
hand.  Sometimes that means Windows, but often not.

> > At the other end, we have the mozilla approach.  Firefox is targeted
> > first and foremost at windows, because it's the dominant platform.  The
> > problems it causes linux distributions are well known and only recently
> > addressed [3].  Which is the correct approach?  Probably no single
> > approach.  It all depends on the motivations of the developers, and
> > that's a wide open field.  I don't think you can say any one project
> > should or shouldn't support windows or any other relevant application.
> > 
> > In the end the decision by business to use open source or proprietary is
> > a value decision.  How well do the different options solve the business
> > problem at hand.  That's not a clear cut issue either.  If a business is
> > windows centric, then the value proposition of using open source for one
> > application may be very different for another business that is used to
> > open source.  The cost will be higher if there are no open source skills
> > in house; think about installation (./configure, make, make install is a
> > shock for windows admins), legal issues (licensing is a big one and
> > takes a while to get your head around if you haven't seen an OSI license
> > before), bug reporting, support etc.  It's all a bit different from what
> > many are used to.  If you want to push open source in a proprietary
> > centric environment, you have to show the value proposition in respect
> > to the business problem.  Yes, having open source apps running on
> > windows may make it easier in some cases and it is an issue that gets a
> > regular run in open source circles, but it is not always the correct
> > answer.
> > 
> No, it's definitely not always the answer.  In the case of GRASS, for 
> example, it's probably easier to learn Linux than to learn Cygwin or try to 
> make the Windows native install work at this point, unless you're mandated by 
> company policy to have only Windows machines (for upkeep purposes, or 
> whatever).  We did finally get one Linux box, but the web server is 
> Windows/IIS and there's just nothing we can do about it, but would you rather 
> us try to make MS4W and OracleXE work on that or give up on open source and 
> go ArcIMS, cursing the name of the OS community for ignoring us?

If the developers of an open source tool are willing and able to make
windows versions, well and good, but I don't think cursing the name of
the OS community when they 'ignore you' is a good idea (*Note: I'm using
'you' in the general sense, not you personally*).  For starters, they
are giving you something for nothing.  There is nothing that creates an
obligation on them to even listen to you, let alone provide a solution
to your problem.  If they do, There's a few possible reasons [5]:

A, they have the same or similar problem, and see merit in helping you
in order to better understand and solve their own problem.

B, they are very generous.

C, they are hoping to sell consulting services (or other related
proprietary tools) to you.

D, they are doing it for fun and amusement (hobby?).

E, they want to demonstrate their skills to the wider world.

F, they want to build their reputation and position in the FOSS

Whatever the developers motivation, you have got something for nothing.
If you want to take that piece of open source software and apply it to
your business problem, well and good.  If the value proposition of using
open source is improved because there happens to be a version that runs
on your platform of choice, even better, but it's just a matter of
degree.  The underlying problem is still to show the value proposition
of using open source (or any other technology for that matter).  If you
can't convince the powers that be to use open source, either the value
proposition just isn't there, or you have failed to demonstrate it.

It is often the case that making a tool cross platform will limit what
can be done.  Are all the libraries available on all platforms?  Are
there skilled developers available for more than one platform? Does one
platform offer functionality that is too hard to duplicate on another
platform?  Cross platform development tools?  The list goes on.  If the
project is big enough, these become solvable problems, but in many cases
this is not so.  Expecting that any one platform should be routinely
considered (ie, not ignored) is nonsensical, even if it is the dominant

Well, that's turned into quite a rant, but for what it's worth, it's my
$0.02 contribution to the debate.

> > Regards,
> > Tim Bowden
> > 
> > [1] http://gpsd.berlios.de 
> > [2] http://gpsd.berlios.de/history.html
> > [3] http://www.linux.com/article.pl?sid=06/12/08/1655211
> > 

[4] Pedantic Note: By rights, all open source except public domain code
is proprietary by its correct meaning (as in ownership), but I'll go
along with the common usage here of meaning not freely re-distributable
and modifiable.

[5] ESR's cathederal and bazaar essay gives an interesting perspective
on this: http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/

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