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Has Open Source Jumped the Shark? 250

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the 100-yard-shark-hurdles dept.
AlexGr writes to tell us that Jeff Gould has a somewhat jaded look at the commercial push of Open Source and what that may be doing to the overall Open Source movement. "I've been a Linux fan for years, but lately I wonder if the drum beating from the big IT vendors in favor of open source hasn't finally slipped over the edge from sincere enthusiasm to meaningless — or in some cases downright hypocritical — sloganeering. The example that brought this gloomy thought to mind was a recent IBM press release touting a 'new open client solution' as an 'alternative to vendor lock-in'. Wow. Imagine that. An alternative to vendor lock-in."
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Has Open Source Jumped the Shark?

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  • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:39PM (#18930921) Homepage Journal
    IBM's talking about an "Open Client Solution" doesn't mean Open Source at all. It might mean Open Standards, it might just mean multi-platform. This one happens to use Linux, but it is clearly Linux hosting propreitary software.

    Lots of companies use Open Source to make a buck in some way, and some of them either mis-represent what is Open, or they don't get it at all. I saw an Oracle representative give a talk on "Free Software from Oracle" in Belfast last year. It turned out that he thought Free Software was software they don't charge for. Fortunately, Richard Stallman was out getting a massage, he gave his own talk an hour later. The audience tore the Oracle guy to shreds and insisted that he say "cost-less" instead of "Free" for the rest of the talk. IMO it was a pretty low moment for Oracle.

    But what does this have to do with the Open Source / Free Software community? Not too much. IBM and Oracle would say the same thing about "Data Mining" or "Self Healing" if that was the buzzword that would help them make a buck that day. It's just outsiders misrepresenting themselves. Yes, outsiders. Even if IBM participates in Open Source projects, selling Lotus is an outsider activity. The best thing you can do is point it out, but don't blame it on Open Source.

    His sympathy for Red Hat being "exploited" is wildly absurd and shows his failure to understand who made the software in Open Source products. Red Hat did not, for the most part, make the system they are selling. People like me did, and Red Hat did not pay us for it. And if you want to use that software in Debian or CentOS, that's fine with us.

    Overall, he doesn't show much of an understanding of how Open Source is paid for and where the innovation comes from.

    Bruce

  • by mhall119 (1035984) on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:40PM (#18930931) Homepage Journal
    So IBM announces that Lotus Notes is portable across OS platforms and the author somehow equates this to Open Source, by some twist in logic I can't even begin to understand.
  • by edittard (805475) on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:42PM (#18930969)
    I was into Open Source in the old days when they just played small gigs, before they sold out and went commercial. Seriously, TFA sounds like it's written by a whiny emo kid who's sulking because his favourite band aren't cool now that more than 3 people have heard of them.
  • Jumping the Shark (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CokeBear (16811) on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:44PM (#18931019) Journal
    Jumping the shark has jumped the shark.
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:47PM (#18931077) Homepage
    No longer is the common image one of a dirty geek coding away with some beer in their home after work. It's now a corporate sponsored coder in many cases. The populism has been defeated, which is a good thing. Populism usually fails to amount to anything because it expects the world to change for it, rather than for it to compromise with the world.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:48PM (#18931085)
    It might mean Open Standard...

    Ummm, that's what "open" meant for a decade before the term "open source". It's a bit unfair to complain that people haven't stopped using it. I realize that 14-year-old Linux kidz don't understand that, but you should.

    Fortunately, Richard Stallman was out getting a massage...

    Now, there's a terrifying mental image.

    The audience tore the Oracle guy to shreds and insisted that he say "cost-less" instead of "Free" for the rest of the talk.

    Stallman hasn't been made dictator yet, you know, not even in Cuba. We're still allowed to use "free" in its normal meaning.

  • by zyl0x (987342) on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:58PM (#18931279)
    "It turned out that he thought Free Software was software they don't charge for."

    That's what the rest of the world thinks when they hear "free". Just because the OS community has a different meaning for it, doesn't mean the word's definition has been permanently changed. "Buy one get one free" doesn't mean the second one is promised to be hand-crafted by the community.
  • by McDutchie (151611) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:04PM (#18931367) Homepage

    Lots of companies use Open Source to make a buck in some way, and some of them either mis-represent what is Open, or they don't get it at all. I saw an Oracle representative give a talk on "Free Software from Oracle" in Belfast last year. It turned out that he thought Free Software was software they don't charge for.

    Um... in spite of Richard Stallman's rather pathetic attempt to redefine the English language, that is what the term "free software" actually means. You cannot legitimately criticize the Oracle representative for using the English language correctly.

  • Zero INITIAL cost (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:06PM (#18931389) Homepage Journal
    Old movies of the 60's and 70's used to portray a drug pusher giving someone a hypo of heroin with a 500-dollar bill wrapped around it. Shoot up and the money's yours, but the pusher will get it back soon enough, 'cause you'll be hooked.

    I think of a lot of zero-initial-cost proprietary software that way. If you're not going to pay for it, you'll pay for the limited set of stuff that it's compatible with. It's interesting how many corporations are addicts, and how their management isn't faulted for that.

    Thanks

    Bruce

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:07PM (#18931409)
    "The audience tore the Oracle guy to shreds and insisted that he say "cost-less" instead of "Free" for the rest of the talk. IMO it was a pretty low moment for Oracle."

    So, when 'The Free Software Association' starts talking free, we should be able to tear him a new one and force him to say "I Dictate The Terms To Which You Can Use This Of Which You Are Not Free To Agree Or Not To If You Decide To Use Even A Single Line Of Code".

    I'm sorry but not costing anything is closer to free than the GPL. I like the GPL and use software based around it quite a bit, but it is doing the organization a disservice to state that you are free using it. This freedom comes at a great cost to some.

    Open Source has jumped the shark because of folks like Stallman and not because of folks that are pragmatic about the idea like Torvalds. Everytime I hear from the former I throw up a little and think that using closed source software just isn't that bad. And then I hear from the latter and I realize how wrong I was. But the shark has been jumped because of the religious centered zealots in the crowd.
  • by Angostura (703910) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:08PM (#18931427)
    " It turned out that he thought Free Software was software they don't charge for. "

    Which is a perfectly valid meaning of the word "Free".

    I see your last paragraph starts with the word 'overall'. I've no idea why you bought up the topic of a one piece work garment in your post, but please don't do it again. It is confusing since one word can only ever have one meaning.
  • by postbigbang (761081) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:08PM (#18931437)
    Open source is just barely starting to mature. That commercial influences are in the mix is a happy thing. Coders will continue to do what they love, and for all of the reasons that have made OSS and collaborative development a good thing.

    Any coder-- any human for that matter-- can get burned out. Self-rejuvenation is a good thing and isn't limited to programming, development, and engineering. All of his diatribe points to frustration and stress. The basics haven't changed, but they have matured. Along the way, we get to shape this. He's seemingly feeling powerless against the Big Boys. That's natural, and the basics of doing code because you love it and want to contribute haven't changed. ANYBODY gets to use the code, subject to licensing-- little guys like me, and big guns like IBM and so on.
  • by LordNimon (85072) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:12PM (#18931501)
    It turned out that he thought Free Software was software they don't charge for.

    And he's right!

    If he had said "open source software", then you'd have a point. But he just said free software, which only means software that is provided without charge. Sorry Bruce, I normally agree with everything you say, but not this time. The open source community has no right to redefine common English words.
  • by Coryoth (254751) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:15PM (#18931551) Homepage Journal

    The audience tore the Oracle guy to shreds and insisted that he say "cost-less" instead of "Free" for the rest of the talk.

    Stallman hasn't been made dictator yet, you know, not even in Cuba. We're still allowed to use "free" in its normal meaning.
    Sure, but it seemed pretty clear that the conference in question was a Free software conference, and while you are allowed to use free in its normal sense there, you can expect to get heckled for it. If I go to a math conference promising a talk on "Group Theory" and then start talking about the behaviour of mobs of people, well, I can expect some flak for that. That doesn't mean mathematicians control the meaning of "group", but it does reflect the fact that you should really have a clue about your audience and what they mean by key words -- just as the Oracle guy should have done.
  • by Foofoobar (318279) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:18PM (#18931599)
    Well for the preachers of the virtues of open source, yes. It has jumped the shark in a sense but also no it has not because every now aand then a new group of apps come along that make even us jump up and pay attention again.

    And keep in mind (and I know I'm about to get flaming causes I can feel the heat), we are still a minority when it comes to people outside of IT. Those people still have never even heard of open source, have no idea what it is or what ir means and don't even know that they are already using it and what the benefits are.

    However, due to the fact that even politicians in several states now are calling for open voting machines, open document formats and other open processes and formats, it seems that they are beginning to get it and for them, it hasn't even begun to jump the shark. In their world, Fonzy just got his first leather jacket.
  • by JonJ (907502) <jon.jahren@gmail.com> on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:18PM (#18931603)
    So, when you think of free speech, you only think of cost?
  • by Dhalka226 (559740) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:19PM (#18931613)

    "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

    -- George Bernard Shaw

  • by Coryoth (254751) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:23PM (#18931673) Homepage Journal

    Um... in spite of Richard Stallman's rather pathetic attempt to redefine the English language, that is what the term "free software" actually means. You cannot legitimately criticize the Oracle representative for using the English language correctly.
    Given what Bruce was saying, I think it was implicit that this was a Free Software conference (Stallman was there, giving a speech, and the audience knew, and cared deeply, about the distinction between Free and free). Under those circumstances I think you can very legitmately criticise the Oracle guy. If I go to an Oracle conference and spend my time talking about Delphi (that's where the oracle [wikipedia.org] was after all) and Pythia, and the latest archaeological findings, I think I can reasonably expect to get criticised, despite the that I am using the English language meaning of oracle correctly. Have a little awareness of your audience, and the context in which you are speaking...
  • by DaleGlass (1068434) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:24PM (#18931683) Homepage
    So what do you call the "free as in freedom" software in English, then?

    Languages like Spanish and Russian have different words for "freedom" and "it doesn't cost money", but English seems to be lacking in that respect.
  • by anomaly (15035) <tom.cooper3@gm a i l . com> on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:25PM (#18931705)
    Bruce,
    With all due respect, it seems to me that all software costs. Your distinction about initial costs would directly apply to F/OSS too.

    I used to work for a company where vendors were excited to say "used by company XYZ" or they wanted us to assess whether the product was worthwhile for enterprise deployment. Even assessing the compatibility of those tools costs something - our time ain't free, even if the vendor asks for no money!

    You also mention "the limited set of stuff that it's compatible with" My experience with F/OSS as a whole is that it tends to be compatible only with the one use case that represents the itch the author needed to scratch. Of course, it is possible to take the source and scratch my own itch - if I want to invest the labor to customize a hack to solve my problem, but many times it's less time and hassle to pay for the packaged work.

    There was a time when I thought "who would pay for a TV show on iTunes?" I found myself in the middle of a "part one of two" episode, and didn't see part two on the program guide in the near future. I started to think about illegitimate P2P downloads, and then realized that for a mere $2 I could save myself the time and hassle of downloading for "free" (copyright violations aside.) My time and my integrity were well worth $2, and that's been my experience with software, too. Many times the "fit and finish" of commercial code is worth much more than the actual dollar cost to me.

    All software costs. Sometimes F/OSS costs more, sometimes less. Sometimes commercial software is a better deal than F/OSS. There's room in the ecosystem for lots of business models.

    Respectfully,
    Anomaly

  • by Brad_sk (919670) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:26PM (#18931717)
    Dude...clearly IBM it trying to make some bucks from the work "OPEN" here...C'mon its not any twisted logic.
  • by Frequency Domain (601421) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:30PM (#18931779)
    I disagree that Stallman has attempted to redefine the English language. He himself noted the ambiguity of the word "free", and clarified his intent with the (in)famous quote "Free as in freedom, not as in beer."
  • by Coryoth (254751) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:40PM (#18931945) Homepage Journal

    First, maybe that was obvious to you from the initial post but it wasn't to me.
    Because most run of the mill software conferences you attend have audiences filled with people who are apparently religious about the distinction between Free and free? And they have Stallman in attendance as a speaker? Come now, it wasn't that hard to read between the lines and figure out the context. I think it was more a case of your own prejudices resulting in a kneejerk reaction without bothering to actually read and consider what was said.
  • by iabervon (1971) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:53PM (#18932139) Homepage Journal
    Nonsense. People worldwide know about the meaning of "free" as "acting without compulsion". It's just that they tend not to expect people to be providing software that acts without compulsion, unconstrained by the desires of the user or anybody else. The problem with "free software" as a term is that, with the correct meaning of "free" and the standard compositional grammar, it means something like SkyNet, not something like Linux. It is supposed to be interpreted by analogy to "free speech", but that's an idiom, which was fixed by the phrase "freedom of speech" being well-known and actually making sense (people have "freedom of speech", which means the people, not the speech, are free, and are free in the sense that "freedom" goes exclusively with). If OSS users were commonly said to have "freedom of software", maybe "free software" would be interpretable, but as it is, there's only one grammatical reading that makes any sense, and that reading is not what's intended.
  • by multisync (218450) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:05PM (#18932305) Journal

    he just said free software, which only means software that is provided without charge. Sorry Bruce, I normally agree with everything you say, but not this time. The open source community has no right to redefine common English words.


    Funny, when I look up the meaning of the word "free," I see many definitions:

          1. Not imprisoned or enslaved; being at liberty.
          2. Not controlled by obligation or the will of another: felt free to go.
          3.
                      1. Having political independence: "America . . . is the freest and wealthiest nation in the world" (Rudolph W. Giuliani).
                      2. Governed by consent and possessing or granting civil liberties: a free citizenry.
                      3. Not subject to arbitrary interference by a government: a free press.
          4.
                      1. Not affected or restricted by a given condition or circumstance: a healthy animal, free of disease; free from need.
                      2. Not subject to a given condition; exempt: income that is free of all taxes.
          5. Not subject to external restraint: "Comment is free but facts are sacred" (Charles Prestwich Scott).
          6. Not literal or exact: a free translation.
          7.
                      1. Costing nothing; gratuitous: a free meal.
                      2. Publicly supported: free education.
          8.
                      1. Not occupied or used: a free locker.
                      2. Not taken up by scheduled activities: free time between classes.
          9. Unobstructed; clear: a free lane.
        10. Unguarded in expression or manner; open; frank.
        11. Taking undue liberties; forward or overfamiliar.
        12. Liberal or lavish: tourists who are free with their money.
        13. Given, made, or done of one's own accord; voluntary or spontaneous: a free act of the will; free choices.
        14. Chemistry & Physics.
                      1. Unconstrained; unconfined: free expansion.
                      2. Not fixed in position; capable of relatively unrestricted motion: a free electron.
                      3. Not chemically bound in a molecule: free oxygen.
                      4. Involving no collisions or interactions: a free path.
                      5. Empty: a free space.
                      6. Unoccupied: a free energy level.
        15. Nautical. Favorable: a free wind.
        16. Not bound, fastened, or attached: the free end of a chain.
        17. Linguistics.
                      1. Being a form, especially a morpheme, that can stand as an independent word, such as boat or bring.
                      2. Being a vowel in an open syllable, as the o in go.

    So I guess context is important.

    In Bruce's example, the context was a conference organized by FSF Europe and the talk was on ""Free Software from Oracle." Which definition of "fee" do you think attendees of such a conference might consider relevant?
  • by syntaxglitch (889367) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:09PM (#18932371)

    Stallman hasn't been made dictator yet, you know, not even in Cuba. We're still allowed to use "free" in its normal meaning.

    Speak for yourself. Some of us, who perhaps regard freedom as more significant than money, would consider Stallman's definition to in fact be the "normal" meaning.

    Has there always been this many anti-RMS trolls on /.?

  • Re: Cuba Libra (Score:3, Insightful)

    by value_added (719364) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:32PM (#18932697)
    Um... in spite of Richard Stallman's rather pathetic attempt to redefine the English language, that is what the term "free software" actually means. You cannot legitimately criticize the Oracle representative for using the English language correctly.

    It's always amuses to read posts from people who bandy about terms carelessly while invoking the phrase "the English language".

    Allow me to put on my pedant hat for a moment. If you're looking to understand a word, you'll have to go a bit farther than picking up a random dictionary and start quoting from it. You'll have first to learn or at least be aware of its etymology before weighing traditional usage against more recent usage against a possibly more specialised usage. Then, of course, you'll have to consider its connotations. If you've done all that, you're now ready to consider the context in which it was said or written, and if you're honest with yourself (and others), the context in which you're willing to interpret it.

    Sounds complicated? Life generally is.

    Pop quiz. Which of the following suggests or implies that the word "free" means "without price".

    a) Free at last.
    b) She's free.
    c) My dog was free.
    d) Free download.
    e) I'm free today.
    f) Free to use freely.
    g) None of the above.
    h) All of the above.

    If you picked (h), you'd be right. And wrong. That's true even if you parsed the word "price" correctly. Put another way, I know what I mean. Do you?

    Richard Stallman understands that the choice of words often defines the terms of a discussion. Irrespective of your feelings towards things of a political nature, his actions are perfectly justified. And "correct".
  • Um... in spite of Richard Stallman's rather pathetic attempt to redefine the English language, that is what the term "free software" actually means.
    The meaning of the word "free" as Stallman likes to use it has existed long before Stallman was even born. He's using the language as it currently exists, not redefining it.
  • by maxwell demon (590494) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:56PM (#18933031) Journal

    So, when you think of free speech, you only think of cost?

    Of course: If the cost of saying something is the danger of getting in jail, then that speech is obviously not free.
  • by Hairy1 (180056) on Monday April 30, 2007 @04:59PM (#18933071) Homepage
    Say you go shopping, and in the local store there is a stand of tomatoes and a sign saying "Free Tomatoes". Inanimate objects cannot be free in the "not detained" sence. Therefore the only definition of free that makes sence is without cost. If you see a movie and a man is released from prison, and he says "thank god I'm free", it doesn't mean others can purchase him without cost, it means he is no longer detained.

    The point I'm making is that the distiction between the definitions is made on the basis of whether the object concerned is a person capable of free will, or an inanimate object. This is the common case I believe. I have never seen any confusion in people using the term free, as the context defines meaning.

    Now however we have "free software", which is inanimate, in that it does not have free will. It has no intent, no capacity to decide for itself. Perhaps someday software might achieve this, but right now we are talking about operating systems and word processors. If you walk into a software store and there is a sign saying "free software" the average joe would expect it to be without cost. They are not expecting it to be "free as in freedom" because its not; inanimate objects cannot be "free as in freedom".

    The problem with Stallman's term is that it isn't the software which is free, but the developer. The GPL gives freedom not to software, but to people, and personanally that is far more compelling. So perhaps what we should be saying is "Open Source Software == Free Developers". Stallman is indeed a hero, but because he valued the importance of freedom of expression for developers, not the freedom of the software, which of course cannot exercise any freedom.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2007 @05:03PM (#18933127)

    So, when you think of free speech, you only think of cost?
    Did you clarify 'free software' as 'free speech', or did you just say 'free'? The key word here is context. There are many ways software can be free (price, ideals, rights of the end user and rights of future end users of derived software, etc). The FSF simply chooses to define it's own ideals as the de-facto term for 'free software', which is absurd and bound to cause confusion.

    Take the GPL. As a user, you no longer have the freedom to use that code in your proprietary application that you distribute, even if you distribute the source to that specific component. In essence, you lose the freedom to license your code the way you want. Now it has to be compatible with the GPL to use that module you happen to include with your project, no matter how insignificant it may be. Does this restriction protect other freedoms? Sure, but it's still a freedom you do not have. Thusly, without context, you could claim that GPL'ed software is not 'free'. There are many other restrictions inside the GPL that I could also cite as examples.

    The only way to release truly 'free as in every sense of the word' software would be to release it as a work of the public domain. In other words, to have no licensing restrictions. Those restrictions, no matter what idealism inspired them, no matter how subtle, take away freedoms, and thusly, senses of the term 'free' when provided without context.

    I'm not personally for or against GPL'ed software. I'm for developer's rights to make informed choices on how they want to license their own code. And I'm definitely for calling things what they are at face value. We would all be a lot better off to create a more descriptive term for GPL'ed and such software. Any takers on the term? :)
  • I don't know if that's entirely true. Free can also be read as meaning something along the lines of "unconstrained." In fact, a simple trip to dictionary.com reveals a plethora of definitions for free that can quite grammatically mean more or less precisely what is intended by "free software" in this sense. For example:

    12. given without consideration of a return or reward: a free offer of legal advice.
    21. not subject to special regulations, restrictions, duties, etc.: The ship was given free passage.
    23. that may be used by or is open to all: a free market.

    It would seem to me that many perfectly ordinary definitions of "free" convey precisely what is meant in this case.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2007 @07:07PM (#18934603)

    There, fixed it for you.

    Maybe you feel like it is a good idea to let anyone have their own Virginia Tech massacres whenever they wake up on the wrongs side.
    ... and now you're equating public domain source code to mass, pre-meditated murder? When all I was doing was pointing out that the term "free", with no qualifiers, is ambiguous at best? Why am I not surprised by this response?

    If, however, you'll reread my post, you'll see that I'm not advocating any viewpoints. Not about which software license is best, nor about which ideology reigns supreme, nor even about effective gun control laws.

    If the GPL-covered module is so insignificant, you could probably have written something equivalent yourself in ten minutes. Or maybe it isn't that insignificant...
    And yet another short sighted and typical response, also completely irrelevent to my original post. I would be very interested to hear in what way this statement affects the point I was originally making. My example was hypothetical -- to point out factual information. Ergo, the GPL both grants and takes away certain freedoms. Again, the reasoning for this is irrelevent and does not change what constitutes the terms 'free' nor 'freedom'.

    Yes, in a real situation, your response is perfectly valid, and indeed the most logical course of action. If you don't agree to the terms of a license, then don't use that product.

    I suggest picking up a book on philosophy, as you clearly have no understanding of how to debate without interjecting your own biased personal feelings and viewpoints into the discussion.

    And one last time in case you missed it: I am not against GPL software. If you choose that license, wonderful! It's your code, and you should have the right to choose whatever license suits your needs. My point was, and is, "don't call it free software", at least without qualifying what you mean by 'free'. That's it. Anything else you take away from my post is simply yourself choosing to read between lines that are not there.

    I won't even indulge you with a rebuttal against your comparison of public domain software to mass homicide.
  • by YouHaveSnail (202852) on Monday April 30, 2007 @09:22PM (#18935853)
    Given the contributions that IBM has made to Linux and other open source projects and the fine work that IBM and its lawyers are currently doing to reduce SCO to a small pile of quivering ectoplasm, I hardly think that IBM needs to be held up as an example of a corporation that lacks serious commitment to open source software.

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