[LINK] GPL .. good or bad?

Kim Holburn kim at holburn.net
Sat May 2 19:35:26 AEST 2009

On 2009/Apr/30, at 1:40 PM, Tom Koltai wrote:
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: link-bounces at mailman1.anu.edu.au
>> [mailto:link-bounces at mailman1.anu.edu.au] On Behalf Of Kim Holburn
>> Sent: Thursday, 30 April 2009 7:34 PM
>> To: The Link Institute
>> Subject: Re: [LINK] GPL .. good or bad?
>> I think Eric Raymond is simply wrong in his article and Sam Varghese
>> pointed it out well:
>>> Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the last three years
>>> is fully aware that the global economy is shot to pieces. The
>>> problems started in America because people were sold dodgy
>> mortgages
>>> by hucksters masquerading as real estate brokers.
> Actually - No. Any economist will tell you that the problem is
> consumerism and the urge for the fast buck.
> Both in sales and in purchasing.
> The fast buck doesn't exist - but forced our industrial manufacturing
> company directors to search for ever cheaper labour forces to ensure  
> the
> higher margins.

Except for the trade part that is a good statement of the economic  
problem.  I watched a banker talking about how complex all the "new"  
instruments were and how no-one understood them.  What is to  
understand?  They knew they were getting something for nothing.  It  
was greed and the urge for the fast buck.  And the problems aren't  
going to go away until the toxic loan "insurance" has been rooted out  
and that's not happening.

> This moved the "put it together" and the "how to put it together"  
> trade
> offshore.
> This vicious loop has only been made possible with the lifting of  
> trade
> tariffs which is needed for "free trade".
> Uhuh!. Free Trade.
> Is that like GPL ?
> Yep - develop something and then someone else gets the booty.  
> (Usuially
> whoever drafted the "freetrade" agreement.) For this discussion read  
> Research Funding Project outline.

I agreed with you up to the free trade bit.  We don't have free  
trade.  Perhaps you mean globalisation.  Which means people in poor  
countries get paid what they think is a lot of money to do stuff for  
what big companies think is not much.  That looks like spreading  
wealth to poor countries to me.  Morally I can't see that as entirely  
bad.  Or perhaps it means we outsource our pollution to countries  
where pollution laws are not enforced (ever been to China?).  Not so  

Anyway, if the price of oil goes up a bit then all that transporting  
of goods around the globe is going to stop - so it's not "free" trade  
anyway, it's oil-transported trade.

>>> People often complain that the GPL hinders business because of its
>>> viral nature. But they fail to realise that what they term "viral"
>>> is just meant to, as the Australian Democrats put it, "keep the
>>> bastards honest."
> I have always been an advocate of GPL - to a point. At somewhere - it
> needs to be commercialised as best of current practice.
> Therefore a commercial distribution forks from the CVS and both
> developments hopefully continue.
> In this way the commercial developments are kept honest.
> And if they end up being a shill for a corporate "unacceptable"  
> platform
> - people will go back to the gpl version.
>> It is how scientists and mathematicians work, how science and maths
>> started and developed.  It is how most of scientific and
>> mathematical
>> knowledge is developed at our universities.
> It is how scientists and mathematicians used to work - before  
> government
> told them that they had to pay their own way.
> When Federal funding was withdrawn from our universities - corporate
> funding changed the GPL to licensing agreements.
>> It is a method
>> seriously
>> tried and tested over thousands of years.
> Yes - until about 1988 - when Governments told universitiers to pay  
> for
> themselves.

Well it'll be an interesting experiment.  None of that refutes my  
original statement.

>> It works in a lot of
>> different economic and political environments.  We know it works
>> because it got us where we are now.
> Well actually where are we now ? At the beginning of the article - I
> think the conclusion was that we are economically stuffed.

In the long view it's a blip.

You have to have a decent pool or tree of public domain knowledge to  
base any new idea or invention on.  Closed source invention, ideas or  
trade secrets do not contribute back to the tree and are effectively  
like parasitic growths.  If you get too many parasitic growths  the  
tree does not thrive.  (Sorry for the metaphorical).

> We export pretty much raw goods and import everything ready made.

Then we'll be well off as long as they keep making stuff and selling  
it to someone.  There's a huge internal market in China.

>> The current tendency towards locking ideas up using intellectual
>> property of various kinds is not only very, very new but unproven:
>> there is no proof that intellectual property rights have any
>> positive
>> effect on innovation and creativity and there is even
>> evidence of the
>> opposite.
> Agreed - but intelectual property rights return the investors and
> shareholders a dividend. Which is why the investors pay for the  
> research
> in the first place.
> I promise guys - when faced with a room full of chequebook owners -  
> the
> magic words to get the pens writing are:
> Our intellectual property consists of this unique........ And we filed
> the patent last Friday.
> Without the pens never write. I know - I have raised over 88 million
> dollars WITH intelectual property.
> I have raised only 160,000 WITHOUT IP.

It's a conundrum I agree.

Patents have their own baggage and part of it is that as our  
scientific and technological development is accelerating the length of  
time of patents has become counter-productive.  Also and more  
critically, patents over software are very problematical for a variety  
of reasons.  I have to agree with RMS about that.  I don't have so  
much of a problem with non-software patents.

The Sewing Machine war:
Henry Ford vs. Selden:

>> As for the economic models of open source, it is the GPL that allows
>> big companies like IBM to seriously fund open source
> Is this the same IBM that now has over 8000 patents ?
> GPL - my a****

And they are using a fair chunk of them to protect linux.

New software development models require new business models.

When I started in software development we religiously read "the  
Mythical Man Month"
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mythical_Man-Month>; Open Source  
software development gives that the lie.

>> development with
>> developers who get paid salaries for developing stuff.  IBM and many
>> others fund this work because they know that other people can't lock
>> away their work and they benefit from everyone else's work.
>> They are
>> adapting to OS models with new business models which are making OS
>> even more successful.
> Well yes - just enough GPL gets issued to keep the wheels of commerce
> turning.
> GPL release is a cost centre for IBM - finally calcualted to the
> farthing.

They're putting quite a lot of farthings into that barrel then.

>> It's possible to base proprietary work on GPL code.  I have a
>> marvellous device: a TomTom.  It runs linux, and it is rock
>> solid and
>> stable and TomTom publishes the source etc to comply with the
>> GPL but
>> the main navigation application and data are proprietary and
>> closed.
>> All legal and in compliance with the GPL.
> An example of a successful software marriage returning a dividend to
> shareholders and keeping the public happy.
> 50/50 solutions like the TomTom are rare - but preferred.
> Having donated considerably to GPL in the past, I consider I am
> qualified to postulate - only the very rich companies with chinese  
> walls
> can afford to fund gpl development successfully - but I assure you the
> occasional line of breakthrough gpl code mysteriously overnight  
> becomes
> patented proprietary code.
> In this way both parties are happy.
> The best becomes patented - whilst the almost best stays free.
> A nice compromise.

The TomTom issue is in part related to the licensing of the maps.   
When OS mapping data gets better and it will, there will be OS sat-nav  
devices.  And there is always google earth hovering in the  
background.  My daughter has a phone with a GPS and she uses google  
earth and can use her phone as a sat-nav when she needs, only ISP data  
costs and totally up-to-date maps.


Kim Holburn
IT Network & Security Consultant
Ph: +39 06 855 4294  M: +39 3494957443
mailto:kim at holburn.net  aim://kimholburn
skype://kholburn - PGP Public Key on request

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