open source was much more than a way for teenagers to experiment
with communism while they were living on their parents’dime. He
wanted the open source world to be a smoothly running,suave machine
that gracefully welcomed Apple into its fold.Now his buddy Bruce
Perens was effectively aping Lloyd Bentsen’s famous putdown of Dan
Quayle:“I’ve known open source;I’ve worked with open source;and
Eric,this license isn’t open source.”His whole announcement was sup-
posed to unroll with the clockwork precision of great corporate PR,and
now someone had lobbed a grenade.
Raymond fired back a terse e-mail that said, , “If you ever again
behave like that kind of disruptive asshole in public,insult me, and
jeopardize the interests of our entire tribe,I’ll take it just as personally—
and I will find a way to make you regret it.Watch your step.”
This note rattled Perens,so he started sending copies around the
Net.Then he got serious and called the police.Officially,he was publi-
cizing the disagreement to preserve his health because Raymond is
quite vocal about his support for the second amendment.Therefore the
phrase “Watch your step”should be taken as a veiled threat of violence.
Perens defended his decision to call the police and told me afterward,
“When I don’t like something,I write about it.Well,gee,maybe Eric
was threatening to just write about me.In the signature at the bottom
of the page was a Thomas Jefferson quote,which claimed the pistol was
the best form of exercise.The next day,Perens decided that he was over-
reacting a bit and posted a new note: : “Eric says he only meant to
threaten me with ‘defamation of character,’not with any kind of vio-
lence.Thus,I think I’ll just let this issue drop now.”
When I asked him about the matter several months later after tem-
pers had cooled, Raymond said that the disagreement began several
months before the Apple event when Perens and Raymond clashed over
whether the book publisher O’Reilly should be allowed to use the term
“open source”in the name of their conference.“He was
not the initiative itself but a critical supporter,”says Raymond.
“Sometime back I had to accept Bruce’s resignation from the OSI
because he was flaming public allies on a mailing list.If you’re going to
go public,you can’t run your mouth like a rabid attack dog.When the
APSL [Apple Public Source License] came along,he convinced people
FreeForAll/139-276/repro 4/24/00 9:31 AM Page 163
that everybody should go mug Eric and the OSI,”Raymond said.It
caused more grief.
Perens,for his part,said,“I was disappointed in Eric because certainly
open source is about freedom of speech.He should be able to tolerate a
dissenting voice.The entire argument was about my not deferringto his
leadership.He felt that my dissent was damaging.The actual result was
that Apple took my criticism seriously and took all of the suggestions.”
Raymond is still critical.He says,“Apple was more diplomatic to
Bruce in public than they should have been.The truth is that his med-
dling got the people inside Apple who were pushing open source into
considerable political trouble,and they considered him a disruptive ass-
hole.Their bosses wanted to know,quite reasonably,why Apple should
bother trying to do an open source license if all it meant was that they’d
be attacked by every flake case with an agenda.By undermining OSI’s
status as trusted representatives of the whole community,Bruce nearly
scuttled the whole process.”
For now, the two work apart. Perens says he’ll make up with
Raymond,but doesn’t see it happening too soon.Raymond is happy to
focus on the future of open source and write more analysis of the move-
ment.They’ve been separated,and the tempers are cool.
Giving away software seems like an entirely altruistic act.Writing
code is hard work,and simply casting it onto the net with no restric-
tions is a pretty nice gift outright,especially if the code took months or
years to write.This image of selflessness is so strong that many people
assume that the free software world is inhabited by saints who are con-
stantly doing nice things for each other.It seems like a big love-in.
But love is more than a many splendored thing.It’s a strange com-
modity that binds us together emotionally in ways that run deeper than
placid pools reflecting starry eyes.After the flush of infatuation,strong
love lasts if and only if it answers everyone’s needs.The hippie culture
of free love lasted only a few years,but the institution of marriage con-
tinues to live on despite the battle scars and wounds that are almost
mortal.Half may fail,but half succeed.
The free software community also flourishes by creating a strong,tran-
scendent version of love and binding it with a legal document that sets out
the rules of the compact.Stallman wrote his first copyleft virus more than
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15 years before this book began,and the movement is just beginning to
gain real strength.The free software world isn’t just a groovy love nest,it’s
a good example of how strong fences,freedom,and mutual respect can
build strong relationships.
The important thing to realize is that free software people aren’t any
closer to being saints than the folks in the proprietary software compa-
nies.They’re just as given to emotion,greed,and the lust for power.It’s
just that the free software rules tend to restrain their worst instincts and
prevent them from acting upon them.
The rules are often quite necessary. E-mail and the news services
give people the ability to vent their anger quickly.Many of the pro-
grammers are very proficient writers,so they can tear each other apart
with verbal scalpels.The free source world is cut up into hundreds if not
thousands of political camps and many dislike each other immensely.
One group begged with me not to ask them questions about another
group because just hearing someone’s name brought up terrible memo-
ries of pain and discord.
Despite these quick-raging arguments, despite the powerful dis-
agreements,despite the personal animosities,the principles of the pub-
lic licenses keep everything running smoothly.The people are just as
human as the rats running around in the maze of the proprietary soft-
ware business,but the license keeps them in line.
The various public licenses counter human behavior in two key ways.
First,they encourage debate by making everyone a principal in the pro-
ject.Everyone has a right to read,change,and of course make com-
ments about the software.Making everything available opens the doors
for discussion,and discussion usually leads to arguments.
But when the arguments come to blows,as they often do,the second
effect of free source licenses kicks in and moderates the fallout by treat-
ing everyone equally.If Bob and John don’t like each other,then there’s
still nothing they can do to stop each other from working on the pro-
ject.The code is freely available to all and shutting off the distribution
to your enemy just isn’t allowed.You can’t shut out anyone,even some-
one you hate.
Anyone familiar with corporate politics should immediately see the
difference.Keeping rivals in the dark is just standard practice in a cor-
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poration.Information is a powerful commodity,and folks competing
for the same budget will use it to the best of their ability.Bosses often
move to keep their workers locked away from other groups to keep
some control over the flow of information.
Retribution is also common in the corporate world.Many managers
quickly develop enemies in the ranks,and the groups constantly spend
time sabotaging projects.Requests will be answered quickly or slowly
depending on who makes them.Work will be done or put off depending
on which division is asking for it to be done.Managers will often com-
plain that their job is keeping their underlings from killing each other and
then turn around and start battling the other managers at their level.
The people in the free source world aren’t any nicer than the people in
the corporate cubicle farms,but their powers of secrecy and retribution are
severely limited.The GNU General Public License requires that anyone
who makes changes to a program and then releases the program must also
release the source code to the world. No shutting off your enemies
This effect could be called a number of different things.It isn’t much
different from the mutual disarmament treaties signed by nations.
Athletic teams strive for this sort of pure focus when they hire referees
to make the tough calls and keep everyone playing by the same rules.
The government sometimes tries to enforce some discipline in the free
market through regulation.
Now,compare this disarmament with a story about the poor folks
who stayed behind at the Hotmail website after Microsoft bought
them.It’s really just one of a million stories about corporate politics.
The workers at Hotmail went from being supreme lords of their
Hotmail domain to soldiers in the Microsoft army.Their decisions
needed to further Microsoft’s relentless growth in wealth,not the good
of the Hotmail site.This probably didn’t really bother the Hotmail peo-
ple as much as the fact that the people at Microsoft couldn’t decide
what they wanted from Hotmail.
Robert X. Cringely described the situation in an article in PBS
,and he quoted one Hotmail worker as saying,“They send a new
top-level group down to see us every week,yet it really means nothing.
The plan is constantly changing.Today Hotmail is primarily a way of
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shoveling new users into the MSN portal.We had for a short time a
feature called Centerpoint for communicating directly with our users,
but that was killed as a possible competitor with the MSN portal.No
new features could be added because the Outlook Express team saw us
as competition and sabotaged everything.”
Cringely explained the corporate friction and gridlock this way:
“What Hotmail learned is that at Microsoft almost anyone can say ‘no,’
but hardly anyone can say ‘yes.’ ’ The way it specifically works at
Microsoft is that everyone says ‘no’to anyone below them on the orga-
nizational structure or on the same level,and ‘yes’to anyone above.
Since the vertical lines of authority are narrow this means people tend
to agree only with their bosses and their boss’s boss and try to kick and
gouge everyone else.”
The free software world,of course,removes these barriers. If the
Hotmail folks had joined the Linux team instead of Microsoft,they
would be free to do whatever they wanted with their website even if it
annoyed Linus Torvalds, , Richard Stallman, and the pope. . They
wouldn’t be rich,but there’s always a price.
Using the word “love”is a bit dangerous because the word manages
to include the head-over-heels infatuation of teenagers and the affec-
tion people feel for a new car or a restaurant’s food.The love that’s
embodied by the GPL,on the other hand,isn’t anywhere near as much
fun and it isn’t particularly noteworthy.It just encompasses the mutual
responsibility and respect that mature folks occasionally feel for each
other.It’s St.Paul’s version of unconditional,everlasting love,not the
pangs of desire that kept St.Augustine up late in his youth.
Anyone who has spent time in the trenches in a corporate cubicle farm
knows how wasteful the battles between groups and divisions can be.
While the competition can sometimes produce healthy rivalries,it often
just promotes discord.Any veteran of these wars should see the immedi-
ate value of disarmament treaties like the GPL.They permit healthy rival-
ries to continue while preventing secrecy and selfishness from erupting.
The free source movement may not have money to move mountains,but
it does have this love.
This love also has a more traditional effect on the hackers who create the
free source code.They do it because they love what they’re doing.Many of
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the people in the free source movement are motivated by writing great soft-
ware,and they judge their success by the recognition they get from equally
talented peers.A “nice job”from the right person—like Richard Stallman,
Alan Cox,or Linus Torvalds—can be worth more than $100,000 for some
folks.It’s a strange way to keep score,but for most of the programmers in
the free source world it’s more of a challenge than money.Any schmoe in
Silicon Valley can make a couple of million dollars,but only a few select
folks can rewrite the network interface code of the Linux kernel to improve
the throughput of the Apache server by 20 percent.
Keeping score by counting the number of people who dig your work
is a strange system,but one that offers the same incentives as business.
A good store doesn’t insult people who could be repeat customers.A
good free software project doesn’t insult people who have a choice of
which package to use.A good businessman makes it easy for people to
get to the store,park,and make a purchase.A good free software pro-
ject makes it simple for people to download the code,compile it,modify
it,understand it,and use it.
There’s even some research to support the notion that rewards can
diminish the creativity of people.Stallman likes to circulate a 1987 arti-
cle from the B
that describes a number of different scientific
experiments that show how people who get paid are less creative than
those who produce things from their love of the art.The studies evalu-
ated the success of poets,artists,and teachers who did their job for the
fun of it and compared it with those who were rewarded for their
efforts.In many cases,these were short-bounded exercises that could be
evaluated fairly easily.
One scientist,Theresa Amabile,told the Gl
that her work “defi-
nitely refutes the notion that creativity can be operantly conditioned.”
That is,you can’t turn it on by just pouring some money on it.Many
free software folks point out that this is why the free source movement
is just as likely to succeed as a massively funded corporate juggernaut.
Many people don’t need scientists to tell them that you can’t throw
money at many problems and expect them to go away.This is a hard
lesson that managers and businesses learn quickly. . But this doesn’t
mean that the lack of money means that the free source movement will
beat the thousands of shackled programmers in their corporate rabbit
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hutches.These studies just measured “creativity”and found that the
unpaid folks were more “creative.”That’s not necessarily a compliment.
In fact,the word is often used as a euphemism for “strange,”“weird,”or
just plain “bad.”It’s more often a measure of just how different some-
thing is instead of how good it is.Would you rather eat at the house of a
creative chef or a good chef?
This love of creativity can be a problem for the free source world.
Most people don’t want to use a creative spreadsheet to do their
accounting—it could get them in trouble with the SEC or the IRS.
They want a solid team player for many of their jobs,not a way cool cre-
The free source world is often seen as too artistic and temperamental
to undertake the long,arduous task of creating good,solid software that
solves the jobs of banks,pharmacies,airlines,and everyone else.Many
of these tasks are both mind-numbingly boring and difficult to do.
While they just involve adding a few numbers and matching up some
data,the tasks have to be done right or airplanes will crash.The free
source world can’t rely on love or creativity to motivate people to take
on these tasks.The only solution might be money.
Of course, it’s important to recognize that even seemingly boring
jobs can have very creative solutions.Stallman’s GNU Emacs is a fasci-
nating and over-the-top,creative solution to the simple job of manipu-
lating text.Word processors and text editors might not be that exciting
anymore,but finding creative ways to accomplish the task is still possible.
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