T-shirts,and reading Eric Raymond’s essay “The Cathedral and the
Bazaar”in the hopes of glomming on to a great idea.The suits have
given up their usual quid pro quo:be a good nerd,keep the code run-
ning,and we’ll let you wear a T-shirt in your basement office.Now they
want to try to move in and live the life,too.If Eric Raymond were sell-
ing Kool-Aid,they would be fighting to drink it.
The talk is serious,and it’s affecting many of the old-line companies
as well.Netscape started the game by releasing the source code to a
development version of their browser in March of 1998.Apple and Sun
followed and began giving away the source code to part of their OS.Of
course,Apple got part of the core of their OS from the open source
world,but that’s sort of beside the point.They’re still sharing some of
their new,Apple-only code.Some,not all.But that’s a lot more than
they shared before.Sun is even sharing the source code to their Java
system.If you sign the right papers or click the right buttons,you can
download the code right now.Its license is more restrictive,but they’re
joining the club,getting religion,and hopping on the bandwagon.
Most of the true devotees are nervous about all of this attention.The
free software world was easy to understand when it was just late-night
hackfests and endless railing against AT&T and UNIX.It was simple
when it was just messing around with grungy code that did way cool
things.It was a great,he-man,Windoze-hating clubhouse back then.
Well,the truth is that some of the free software world is going to go
off to college,graduate with a business degree,and turn respectable.
Eric Allman,for instance,is trying to build a commercial version of his
popular free package Sendmail.The free version will still be free,but
you can get a nicer interface and some cooler features for managing
accounts if you buy in.If things work out,some of the folks with the
free version will want all of the extra features he’s tacking on and they’ll
pay him.No one knows what this will do to the long-term development
of Sendmail,of course.Will he only make new improvements in the
proprietary code? Will other folks stop contributing to the project
because they see a company involved? There’s some evidence that
Allman’s not the same guy who hung around the pizza joint.When I
contacted him for an interview,he passed me along to his public rela-
tions expert,who wrote back wanting to “make sure this is a profitable
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way to spend Eric’s time.”For all we know,Eric may have even been
wearing a suit when he hired a corporate PR team.
Some of the other free software folks are going to get married.The
Apache group has leveraged its success with small server organizations
into connections with the best companies selling high-powered prod-
ucts.IBM is now a firm supporter of Apache,and they run it on many
of their systems. . Brian Behlendorf still schedules his own appoint-
ments,jokes often,and speaks freely about his vision for Apache,but
he’s as serious as any married man with several kids to support.It’s not
just about serving up a few web pages filled with song lyrics or Star War
trivia.People are using Apache for business—serious business.There
can still be fun,but Apache needs to be even more certain that they’re
not screwing up.
And of course there are thousands of free software projects that are
going to get left behind hanging out at the same old pizza joint.There
were always going to be thousands left behind.People get excited about
new projects,better protocols, and neater code all the time.The old
code just sort of withers away.Occasionally someone rediscovers it,but
it is usually just forgotten and superseded.But this natural evolution
wasn’t painful until the successful projects started ending up on the cov-
ers of magazines and generating million-dollar deals with venture capi-
talists.People will always be wondering why their project isn’t as big as
There will also be thousands of almost great projects that just sail on
being almost great.All of the distributions come with lots of programs
that do some neat things.But there’s no way that the spotlight can be
bright enough to cover them all.There will be only one Torvalds and
everyone is just going to be happy that he’s so gracious when he reminds
the adoring press that most of the work was done by thousands of other
Most of the teen movies don’t bother trying to figure out what hap-
pens after that last fateful summer.It’s just better to end the movie with
a dramatic race or stage show that crystallizes all the unity and passion
that built up among this group during their formative years.They sing,
they dance,they win the big game,they go to the prom,and then cam-
eras love to freeze the moment at the end of the film.The free software
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movement,on the other hand,is just too important and powerful to
stop this book on a climactic note.It would be fun to just pause the
book at the moment in time when Linus Torvalds and Bob Young were
all over the magazines.Their big show was a success,but the real ques-
tion is what will happen when some folks go to school,some folks get
married,and some folks are left behind.
To some extent,the influx of money and corporations is old news.
Very old news.Richard Stallman faced the same problem in the 1980s
when he realized that he needed to find a way to live without a univer-
sity paycheck.He came up with the clever notion that the software and
the source must always be free,but that anyone could charge whatever
the market would bear for the copies.The Free Software Foundation
itself continues to fund much of its development by creating and selling
both CD-ROMs and printed manuals.
This decision to welcome money into the fold didn’t wreck free soft-
ware.If anything,it made it possible for companies like Red Hat to
emerge and sell easier-to-use versions of the free software.The compa-
nies competed to put out the best distributions and didn’t use copyright
and other intellectual property laws to constrain each other.This helped
attract more good programmers to the realm because most folks would
rather spend their time writing code than juggling drivers on their
machine.Good distributions like Red Hat,Slackware,Debian,FreeBSD,
and SuSE made it possible for everyone to get their machinesup and
There’s no reason why the latest push into the mainstream is going
to be any different.Sure,Red Hat is charging more and creating better
packages,but most of the distribution is still governed by the GPL.
Whenever people complain that Red Hat costs too much,Bob Young
just points people to the companies that rip off his CDs and charge
only $2 or $3 per copy.The GPL keeps many people from straying too
far from the ideal.
The source is also still available.Sure,the corporate suits can come
in, cut deals, issue press releases,raise venture capital,and do some
IPOs, but that doesn’t change the fact that the source code is now
widely distributed.Wasn’t that the goal of Stallman’s revolution? Didn’t
he want to be able to get at the guts of software and fix it? The source is
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now more omnipresent than ever.The corporations are practically beg-
ging folks to download it and send in bug fixes.
Of course,access to the source was only half of Stallman’s battle.A
cynic might growl that the corporations seem to be begging folks to do
their research,testing,and development work for them.They’re looking
for free beers.Stallman wanted freedom to do whatever he wanted with
the source and many of the companies aren’t ready to throw away all of
Apple sells its brand,and it was careful not to open up the source
code to its classic desktop interface.They kept that locked away.Most
of the source code that Apple released is from its next version of the
operating system, , Mac OS X,which came from the folks at NeXT
when Apple acquired that company.Where did that code come from?
Large portions came from the various free versions of BSD like
NetBSD or Mach.It’s easy to be generous when you only wrote a frac-
tion of the code.
Ernest Prabhakar,the project manager for Apple’s first open source
effort known as Darwin,describes the tack he took to get Apple’s man-
agement to embrace this small core version of the BSD operating sys-
tem tuned to the Macintosh hardware platform.
“The first catalysts were the universities.There were a lot of universi-
ties like MIT and University of Michigan that had some specialized
network infrastructure needs,”he said.
“We realized that the pieces they’re most interested in are the most
commoditized.There wasn’t really any proprietary technology added
that we had to worry about them copying.There are people who know
them better than we do like the BSD community.We started making
the case,if we really want to partner with the universities we should just
open the source code and release it as a complete BSD-style operating
“We wanted people to use this in classes,really embed it in the whole
educational process without constraining teaching to fit some corporate
Of course,Prabhakar suggests that there is some self-interest as well.
Apple wants to be a full partner with the BSD community.It wants the
code it shares to mingle and cross-pollinate with the code from the
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BSD trees.In the long run,Apple’s Darwin and the BSDs will grow
closer together. In an ideal world, both groups will flourish as they
avoid duplicating each other’s efforts.
Prabhakar says,“This reduces our reintegration costs.The ability to take
the standard version of FreeBSD and dump it into our OS was a big win.
Prior to doing the open source,we had done a small scale of givebacks.”
This view is echoed by other companies.IBM is a great hardware com-
pany and an even greater service company that’s never had much luck sell-
ing software,at least in the same way that Microsoft sells software.Their
2 never got far off the ground.They’ve sold plenty of software to com-
panies by bundling it with handholding and long-term service,but they’ve
never had great success in the shrink-wrapped software business.Open
source gives them the opportunity to cut software development costs and
concentrate on providing service and hardware.They get free develop-
ment help from everyone and the customers get more flexibility.
Sun’s Community Source License is also not without some self-
interest.The company would like to make sure that Java continues to be
“Write Once,Run Anywhere,”and that means carefully controlling the
APIs and the code to make sure no idiosyncrasies or other glitches
emerge.People and companies that want to be part of the community
must abide by Sun’s fairly generous,but not complete,gift to the world.
The company’s web page points out the restriction Sun places on its
source code fairly clearly.“Modified source code cannot be distributed
without the express written permission of Sun”and “Binary programs
built using modified Java 2 SDK source code may not be distributed,
internally or externally,without meeting the compatibility and royalty
requirements described in the License Agreement.”
While some see this clause as a pair of manacles,Bill Joy explains that
the Community Source License is closer to our definition of a real com-
munity.“It’s a community in a stronger sense,”he told an audience at
Stanford.“If you make improvements,you can own them.”After you
negotiate a license with Sun,you can sell them.Joy also points out that
Sun’s license does require some of the GNU-like sharing by requiring
everyone to report bugs.
Some customers may like a dictator demanding complete obeisance
to Sun’s definition of Java,but some users are chaffing a bit.The free-
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dom to look at the code isn’t enough.They want the freedom to add
their own features that are best tuned to their own needs,a process that
may start to Balkanize the realm by creating more and more slightly dif-
ferent versions of Java.Sun clearly worries that the benefits of all this
tuning aren’t worth living through the cacophony of having thousands
of slightly different versions.Releasing the source code allows all of the
users to see more information about the structure of Sun’s Java and
helps them work off the same page.This is still a great use of the source
code,but it isn’t as free as the use imagined by Stallman.
Alan Baratz,the former president of Sun’s Java division,says that
their Community Source License has been a large success.Sure,some
folks would like the ability to take the code and fork off their own ver-
sions as they might be able to do with software protected by a BSD- or
GNU-style license,but Java developers really want the assurance that
it’s all compatible.As many said,“Microsoft wanted to fork Java so it
could destroy it.”
Baratz said, , “We now have forty thousand community source
licensees.The developers and the systems builders and the users all
want the branded Java technology.They want to know that all of the
apps are going to be there.That’s the number-one reason that develop-
ers are writing to the platform.”Their more restrictive license may not
make Stallman and other free software devotees happy,but at least Java
will run everywhere.
Maybe in this case,the quality and strength of the unity Sun brings
to the marketplace is more important than the complete freedom to do
whatever you want.There are already several Java clones available,like
Kaffe.They were created without the help of Sun, , so their creators
aren’t bound by Sun’s licenses.But they also go out of their way to avoid
splitting with Sun.Tim Wilkinson,the CEO of Transvirtual,the cre-
ators of Kaffe,says that he plans to continue to make Kaffe 100 percent
Java compatible without paying royalties or abiding by the Community
Source License.If his project or other similar ones continue to thrive
and grow,then people will know that the freedom of open source can be
as important as blind allegiance to Sun.
These corporate efforts are largely welcomed by the open source world,
but the welcome does not come with open arms or a great deal of warmth.
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Source code with some restrictions is generally better than no source at all,
but there is still a great deal of suspicion.Theo de Raadt,the leader of the
OpenBSD project,says,“Is that free? We will not look at Apple source
code because we’ll have contaminated ourselves.”De Raadt is probably
overreacting,but he may have reason to worry.AT&T’s USL tied up the
BSD project for more than a year with a lawsuit that it eventually lost.
Who knows what Apple could do to the folks at OpenBSD if there were
a some debate over whether some code should be constrained by the
Apple license? It’s just easier for everyone at OpenBSD to avoid looking
at the Apple code so they can be sure that the Apple license won’t give
some lawyers a toehold on OpenBSD’s code base.
Richard Stallman says,“Sun wants to be thought of as having joined
our club,without paying the dues or complying with the public service
requirements.They want the users to settle for the fragments of free-
dom Sun will let them have.”
He continues,“Sun has intentionally rejected the free software com-
munity by using a license that is much too restrictive.You are not allowed to
redistribute modified versions of Sun’s Java software.It is not free software.”
The corporations could also sow discord and grief by creating two dif-
ferent classes:the haves and the have-nots.The people who work at the
company and draw a salary would get paid for working on the software
while others would get a cheery grin and some thanks.Everyone’s code
would still be free,but some of the contributors might get much more
than others.In the past,everyone was just hanging out on the Net and
adding their contributions because it was fun.
This split is already growing.Red Hat software employs some of the
major Linux contributors like Alan Cox.They get a salary while the rest
of the contributors get nothing.Sun,Apple,and IBM employees get
salaries,but folks who work on Apache or the open versions of BSD get
nothing but the opportunity to hack cool code.
One employee from Microsoft,who spoke on background,predicted
complete and utter disaster.“Those folks are going to see the guys from
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Red Hat driving around in the Porsches and they’re just going to quit
writing code.Why help someone else get rich?”he said.I pointed out
that jealousy wasn’t just a problem for free software projects. . Didn’t
many contract employees from Microsoft gather together and sue to
receive stock options? Weren’t they locked out,too?
Still,he raises an interesting point.Getting people to join together
for the sake of a group is easy to do when no one is getting rich.What
will happen when more money starts pouring into some folks’pockets?
Will people defect? Will they stop contributing?
Naysayers are quick to point to experiments like Netscape’s Mozilla
project,which distributed the source code to the next generation of its
browser.The project received plenty of hype because it was the first big
open source project created by a major company.They set up their own
website and built serious tools for keeping track of bugs.Still,the pro-
ject has not generated any great browser that would allow it to be
deemed a success.At this writing,about 15 months after the release,
they’re still circulating better and better beta versions,but none are as
complete or feature-rich as the regular version of Netscape, , which
The naysayers like to point out that Netscape never really got much
outside help on the Mozilla project.Many of the project’s core group
were Netscape employees and most of the work was done by Netscape
employees.There were some shining examples like Jim Clark (no rela-
tion to the founder of Netscape with the same name),who contributed
an entire XML parser to the project.David Baron began hacking and
testing the Mozilla code when he was a freshman at Harvard. . But
beyond that,there was no great groundswell of enthusiasm.The masses
didn’t rise up and write hundreds of thousands of lines of code and save
But it’s just as easy to cast the project as a success.Mozilla was the first
big corporate-sponsored project.Nothing came before it,so it isn’t possi-
ble to compare it with anything.It is both the best and the worst example.
The civilian devotees could just as well be said to have broken the world
At this writing,version M13 of Mozilla looks very impressive.It’s getting quite close to
the proprietary version of Netscape.
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