A friend chided me yesterday for taking a strident, shrill (and often unfair) tone against a range of companies. Given the respect I have for him, his comments gave me pause, and pushed me to reconsider some of the views I've expressed in this blog.
I think it's time for a change. Not of my opinions - at least, not in all cases - but perhaps in how I express them. Given that it's Easter weekend, I suppose it's an appropriate time for rebirth and renewal.
With this in mind, though, I think it's also important to elucidate some of my biases/perspectives/opinions. I'm a person and a participant in the market. I'm sometimes wrong. Perhaps often.
The goal of this blog is not to be a neutral perspective on the industry. I'm not a journalist and don't pretend to be neutral. But you may care to know what is informing my diatribes:
- I don't believe the law should be used as a club. I am a lawyer. I went to law school. I think legal wrangling is the worst sort of competition.
Perhaps for this reason I take it personally when I see companies clubbing each other with lawsuits or the threat of lawsuits. You may have noticed that I'm generally a fan of Microsoft and its products, and its competition based on products. I despise its legal tactics, as well as those of SAP, Amazon, Oracle, etc. This isn't a bias I hold against any particular company. It's a bias I hold against a form of competitive posturing and jockeying.
Good things come from discussion. Bad things come from litigation. It's rare that litigation truly resolves anyone's problems.
- Some things that are legal in open source are not ethical. Remember: I'm talking about my ethics. You may believe 100% differently and still be an ethical person. We'd just disagree, and perhaps sharply, on actions arising from forking software, co-opting others' efforts, etc.
I harp on Oracle's 'Unbreakable Linux' move so much because in a deeply personal way I am offended by it. I have no financial stake in Red Hat, other than that I view it as the bellwhether open source company and so dearly want it to succeed. I view Oracle's move as parasitic, though legal. Is it wrong, as per the open source licenses in question? No.
But ask John Roberts (SugarCRM) how he felt about vTiger taking SugarCRM's code, or other open source companies who have had their code borrowed by competitors (I have one good friend that is going through it right now, though it hasn't been picked up by the press yet), etc. Or ask Oracle how it felt about TomorrowNow's alleged theft of its documentation.
These are all more (or less) legal, but they sharply cut against my ethics. You don't take the fruit of someone else's work without giving back. That's my belief, and it makes it hard for me to view the actions of these companies as "just business." I don't believe there are things you can do in business that you wouldn't do to your next-door neighbor. That's just not me - you don't turn off your ethics at the door of the office.
- There is no (customer) value in proprietary software. The US Constitution is clear that the reason for copyright/patent/etc. is to benefit creators of property, not users of property. I appreciate the reason: give creators a reasonable return on their investment.
But what if you don't need to lock-in (or lock-out) customers to make a healthy return on investment? At that point, in the interests of customers I think we have a duty to go with the model that helps customers, without hurting vendors. This is why I'm a fan of the GPL, or any business model built around any other open source license that provides the software for free (as in price and as in freedom) and charges for value provided to the customer, usually rendered in various forms of service.
It's not that I think Apache 2.0 or MPL 1.1 or EPL or...x are bad licenses. I think they're great. My problem is with the behavior that their licensors sometimes exhibit around them. Mike Milinkovich comes to the rescue of the EPL, but my problem isn't with the EPL or any other license. My problem is with building proprietary software - which benefits no one but the vendor - around open source software.
I therefore can't buy into the "Big Tent" argument that we should celebrate all the different business models in open source. I'm all for different ways of licensing software for customer benefits, but I'm not a fan of different ways to leverage open source to maintain the proprietary status quo.
I fundamentally believe, after years of working for "mixed source" companies, that a 100% open source model is the right one, both for vendors and, more importantly, for customers. This is why when Joel West critiques my Johnny-one-note adherence to the GPL, I have to respond, "It's not about the GPL. It's about licenses that inhibit a vendor's ability to descend to lowest-common denominator licensing."
In other words, I prefer the GPL because it makes it harder for me to succumb to license policies that hurt customers, simply because I panic and think there's no other way to make money than through proprietary software. This is why I don't like IBM's preference for BSD-style licensing. Not because such licensing is wrong, in the way Stallman might think it wrong, but because it enables IBM to continue to focus on proprietary lock-in rather than innovating business models that benefit the customer and IBM.
- I want open source to win. I think it's better: morally and in terms of efficiency. There are times where I don't care if a product is open or closed, but these are the exception. My strong bias is for openness, transparency, etc. If you've been reading this blog for a few years, you may recognize that I've swung further to the "freedom" side of the needle.
I used to get paid to evangelize Novell's "mixed source" message. I think I did so effectively and was a credit to the company. (Novell, btw, was fantastic to me - my negative opinions expressed here about the company are a result of lack of execution and the patent deal, not any bad experience while I was there. I expect a lot of the company as my alma mater, and I don't like to be disappointed.)
But I stopped believing the message six months into my stint there. A friend at a rival open source company once asked how I liked working for a "mongrel open source company." That stung, because it was true. That was probably the first time that I started to think that maybe it wasn't "just business." Maybe there were real reasons to be 100% open source.
Now that I'm experiencing 100% open source, it has been confirmed for me over and over again that this is a much better model. I love what I'm doing. It is a great feeling to compete in the open.
All of which was probably more than you cared to read. I apologize. I will be more positive in my posting from here on (please call me out if I fail to live up to this pledge), but understand why I can't sign up to give warm, fuzzy hugs to actions that I view as wrong.
Note: I think most people know these already, but just in case, here are the organizations with which I'm affiliated:
- Employer:Alfresco (open source ECM vendor), but I also really like Drupal and some of the other CMSes out there.
- Boards: OSI and the Open Source Business Conference
- Advisory Boards: MuleSource, SugarCRM, JasperSoft, Bungee Labs, Loopfuse, Intoto, RadView, Specifix.
- There are also companies with whom I have no formal relationship, but which I like quite a bit, including Zimbra, OpenBravo, CleverSafe, and others. With companies that I have involvement with or others, however, I try not to let my blog entries become advertisements.
- Arsenal. I am an Arsenal fanatic. Do not try talking to me rationally about Juventus, Manchester United, Barcelona (I have some patience for Barca), Real Madrid, etc. If you think I'm irrational on software, try talking football with me. :-)