pure and only include GPL’ed software.In a small way,that would force
others to contribute back to the project because they wouldn’t get their
software distributed by the group unless it was GPL’ed.Others wanted
less stringent requirements that might include quasi-commercial pro-
jects that still came with their source code.There were some cool pro-
jects out there that weren’t protected by GPL,and it could be awfully
hard to pass up the chance to integrate them into a package.
Over time,one of the leaders of the Debian group,Bruce Perens,
came to create a definition of what was acceptable and what wasn’t.This
definition would be large enough to include the GNU General Public
License, the BSD-style licenses, , and a few others like MIT’s X
Consortium license and the Artistic license.The X-windows license
covers a graphical windowing interface that began at MIT and was also
freely distributed with BSD-like freedom.The Artistic license applies
to the Perl programming language,a tool that is frequently used to
transform files.The Debian meta-definition would embrace all of these.
The official definition of what was acceptable to Debian leaned toward
more freedom and fewer restrictions on the use of software.Of course,
that’s the only way that anyone could come up with a definition that
included both GNU and the much less restrictive BSD.But this was also
the intent of the open source group.Perens and Eric Raymond felt that
Stallman still sounded too quasi-communist for “conservative business-
men,”and they wanted the open source definition to avoid insisting upon
the sort of forced sharing that Stallman’s GNU virus provided.
Still, the definition borrowed heavily from Stallman’s concept of
GNU,and Perens credits him by saying that many of the Debian guide-
lines are derived from the GPL.An official open source license for a
product must provide the programmer with source code that is human-
readable.It can’t restrict what modifications are made to the software or
how it is sold or given away.
The definition glossed over the difference between BSD and GPU
by stating,“The license must allow modifications and derived works,
and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the
license of the original software.”
The definition proved to be the model for more commercial offerings
like the Netscape Public License.In 1998,Netscape started distributing
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the source code to its popular browser in hopes of collecting help from
the Internet and stopping Microsoft’s gradual erosion of its turf.The
license gave users wide opportunities to make changes and tinker with
the software,but it also allowed Netscape to use the changes internally
and refuse to share what they did with them.This special privilege
offended some users who didn’t like the imbalance,but it didn’t bother
many others who thought it was a reasonable compromise for a chance
to tinker with commercial code.Netscape,of course,returned some of
the favor by allowing people to keep their modifications private in much
the same way that the BSD-style license provided.
In June 1999,the Open Source Initiative revealed a startling fact.
They were close to failing in their attempts to register the term “open
source”as a trademark.The phrase was too common to be registered.
Instead,they backed away and offered to check out licenses and classify
them officially as “OSI Certified”if they met the terms of the OSI’s
definition of freedom.
Some reacted negatively. . Richard Stallman decided that he didn’t
like the word “open”as much as “free.”Open doesn’t capture the essence
of freedom. Ockman says,“I don’t think it’s very fair. For ages,he’s
always said that the term ‘free software’is problematic because people
think of ‘free beer’when they should be thinking of ‘free speech.’We
were attempting to solve that term.If the masses are confused,then
corporate America is confused even more.”
The debate has even produced more terms.Some people now use the
phrase “free source”to apply to the general conglomeration of the GPL
and the open source world.Using “free software”implies that someone
is aligned with Stallman’s Free Software Foundation. . Using “open
source”implies you’re aligned with the more business-friendly Open
Source Initiative.So “free source”and “open source”both work as a
compromise.Others tweak the meaning of free and refer to GPL pro-
tected software as “GNUFree.”
Naturally,all of this debate about freedom can reach comic propor-
tions.Programmers are almost better than lawyers at finding loopholes,
if only because they have to live with a program that crashes.
Lawyers just watch their clients go to jail.
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for instance,applies the GPL to everything coming out of the GNU
project except the license itself.That can’t be changed,although it can
be freely reproduced. Some argue that if it were changeable, people
would be able to insert and delete terms at will.Then they could apply
the changed GPL to the new version of the software and do what
they want.Stallman’s original intent would not be changed.The GPL
would still apply to all of the GNU software and its descendants,but it
wouldn’t be the same GPL.
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Computer programmers love Star War
.So it should be no surprise that
practically every single member of the free source community has,at one
time or another,rolled out the phrase,“Use the Source,Luke.”It does a
perfect job of capturing the mythical faith that the free source world places
in the ability to access the source code to a program.As everyone points
out,in the original version of Star War
,the rebel troops used the plans,th
,to the Death Star carried in R2D2 to look for weaknesses.
The free source realm has been pushing the parallels for some time
now.When AT&T unveiled their round logo with an offset dimple,most
free source people began to snicker.The company that began the free soft-
ware revolution by pushing its intellectual property rights and annoying
Richard Stallman had chosen a logo that looked just like the Death Star.
Everyone said,“Imperialist minds think alike.”Some even wondered and
hoped that George Lucas would sue AT&T for some sort of look-and-
feel,trademark infringement.Those who use the legal intimidation light
saber should die by the legal intimidation light saber.
Of course,the free source folks knew that only their loose coalition of
rebels spread out around the galaxy would be a strong match for the
Empire.The Source was information,and information was power.The
Source was also about freedom,one of the best and most consistent reser-
voirs of revolutionary inspiration around.The rebels might not have teams
of lawyers in imperial star cruisers,but they hoped to use the Source to
knit together a strong,effective,and more powerful resistance.
The myth of open access to free source code is a powerful one that has
made true believers out of many in the community.The source code is a
list of instructions for the computer written out in a programming lan-
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guage that is understandable by humans.Once the compilers converted
the source code into the string of bits known as the binary or object code,
only computers (and some very talented humans) could understand the
instructions.I’ve known several people who could read 8080 binary code
by eye,but they’re a bit different from the general population.
When companies tried to keep their hard work and research secret by
locking up the source code,they built a barrier between the users and their
developers.The programmers would work behind secret walls to write the
source code.After compilers turned the Source into something that com-
puters could read,the Source would be locked up again.The purchasers
would only get the binary code because that’s all the companies thought
the consumers needed.The source code needed to be kept secret because
someone might steal the ideas inside and create their own version.
Stallman saw this secrecy as a great crime.Computer users should be
able to share the source code so they can share ways to make it better.
This trade should lead to more information-trading in a great feedback
loop.Some folks even used the word “bloom”to describe the explosion
of interest and cross-feedback.They’re using the word the way biolo-
gists use it to describe the way algae can just burst into existence,over-
whelming a region of the ocean.Clever insights,brilliant bug fixes,and
wonderful new features just appear out of nowhere as human curiosity
is amplified by human generosity in a grand explosion of intellectual
synergy.The only thing missing from the picture is a bunch of furry
Ewoks dancing around a campfire.
Eric Raymond,a man who is sort of the armchair philosopher of the
open source world,did a great job of summarizing the phenomenon
Linux does have many marketing opportunities.Torvalds chose a penguin named Tux
as the mascot,and several companies actually manufacture and sell stuffed penguins to
the Linux realm.The BSD world has embraced a cute demon,a visual pun on the fact
that BSD UNIX uses the word “daemon”to refer to some of the faceless background
programs in the OS.
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and creating this myth in his essay “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.”
Raymond is an earnest programmer who spent some time working on
projects like Stallman’s GNU Emacs.He saw the advantages of open
source development early,perhaps because he’s a hard-core libertarian.
Government solutions are cumbersome. Empowering individuals by
not restraining them is great.Raymond comes off as a bit more extreme
than other libertarians,in part because he doesn’t hesitate to defend the
second amendment of the U.S. Constitution as much as the first.
Raymond is not ashamed to support widespread gun ownership as a
way to further empower the individual.He dislikes the National Rifle
Association because they’re too willing to compromise away rights that
he feels are absolute.
Some people like to call him the Margaret Mead of the free source
world because he spent some time studying and characterizing the cul-
ture in much the same way that Mead did when she wrote C
a.This can be a subtle jab because Margaret Mead is not
really the same intellectual angel she was long ago.Derek Freeman and
other anthropologists raise serious questions about Mead’s ability to see
without bias.Mead was a big fan of free love,and many contend it was
no accident that she found wonderful tales of unchecked sexuality in
Samoa.Freeman revisited Samoa and found it was not the guilt-free
land of libertine pleasures that Mead described in her book.He docu-
mented many examples of sexual restraint and shame that Mead appar-
ently missed in her search for a paradise.
Raymond looked at open source development and found what he
wanted to find:the wonderful efficiency of unregulated markets.Sure,
some folks loved to label Richard Stallman a communist,a description
that has always annoyed Stallman.Raymond looked a bit deeper and
saw that the basis of the free software movement’s success was the free-
dom that gave each user the complete power to change and improve
their software.Just as Sigmund Freud found sex at the root of every-
thing and Carl Jung uncovered a battle of animus and anima,the liber-
tarian found freedom.
Raymond’s essay was one of the first to try to explain why free source
efforts can succeed and even prosper without the financial incentives of
a standard money-based software company.One of the biggest reasons
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he cited was that a programmer could “scratch an itch”that bothered
him.That is,a programmer might grow annoyed by a piece of software
that limited his choices or had an annoying glitch.Instead of cursing
the darkness in the brain cavity of the corporate programmer who cre-
ated the problem,the free source hacker was able to use the Source to
try to find the bug.
Itch-scratching can be instrumental in solving many problems.Some
bugs in software are quite hard to identify and duplicate.They only
occur in strange situations,like when the printer is out of paper and the
modem is overloaded by a long file that is coming over the Internet.
Then,and only then,the two buffers may fill to the brim,bump into
each other,and crash the computer.The rest of the time,the program
floats along happily,encountering no problems.
These types of bugs are notoriously hard for corporate testing envi-
ronments to discover and characterize.The companies try to be diligent
by hiring several young programmers and placing them in a room with
a computer.The team beats on the software all day long and develops a
healthy animosity toward the programming team that has to fix the
problems they discover.They can nab many simple bugs,but what hap-
pens if they don’t have a printer hooked up to their machine? What
happens if they aren’t constantly printing out things the way some
office users are? The weird bug goes unnoticed and probably unfixed.
The corporate development model tries to solve this limitation by
shipping hundreds, thousands, , and often hundreds of thousands of
copies to ambitious users they called “beta testers.”Others called them
“suckers”or “free volunteers”because once they finish helping develop
the software,they get to pay for it.Microsoft even charges some users
for the pleasure of being beta testers.Many of the users are pragmatic.
They often have no choice but to participate in the scheme because
they often base their businesses on some of the software shipped by
these companies.If it didn’t work,they would be out of a job.
While this broad distribution of beta copies is much more likely to
find someone who is printing and overloading a modem at the same
time,it doesn’t give the user the tools to help find the problem.Their
only choice is to write an e-mail message to the company saying “I was
printing yesterday and your software crashed.”That isn’t very helpful
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for the engineer, , and it’s no surprise that many of these reports are
either ignored or unsolved.
Raymond pointed out that the free source world can do a great job
with these nasty bugs.He characterized this with the phrase,“Given
enough eyeballs, , all bugs are shallow,” which he characterized as
“Linus’s Law.”That is,eventually some programmer would start print-
ing and using the Internet at the same time.After the system crashed a
few times,some programmer would care enough about the problem to
dig into the free source,poke around,and spot the problem.Eventually
somebody would come along with the time and the energy and the
commitment to diagnose the problem.Raymond named this “Linus’s
Law”after Linus Torvalds.Raymond is a great admirer of Torvalds and
thinks that Torvalds’s true genius was organizing an army to work on
Linux.The coding itself was a distant second.
Of course,waiting for a user to find the bugs depended on there being
someone with enough time and commitment.Most users aren’t talented
programmers,and most have day jobs.Raymond and the rest of the free
source community acknowledge this limitation,but point out that the
right person often comes along if the bug occurs often enough to be a real
problem.If the bug is serious enough,a nonprogrammer may even hire a
programmer to poke into the source code.
Waiting for the bug and the programmer to find each other is like
waiting for Arthur to find the sword in the stone.But Raymond and the
rest of the free source community have even turned this limitation on its
head and touted it as an advantage.Relying on users to scratch itches
means that problems only get addressed if they have real constituencies
with a big enough population to generate the one true believer with
enough time on his hands.It’s sort of a free market in people’s time for
fixing bugs.If the demand is there,the solution will be created.It’s Say’s
Law recast for software development:“the supply of bugs creates the
talent for fixes.”
Corporate development,on the other hand,has long been obsessed
with adding more and more features to programs to give people enough
reason to buy the upgrade.Managers have long known that it’s better to
put more time into adding more doohickeys and widgets to a program
than into fixing its bugs.That’s why Microsoft Word can do so many
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Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested