What I think about FOSS
I like free open source software and I admire people that write it and drive the big successful FOSS projects. FOSS is cool. It is even noble. It’s pretty spiffy that some developers chose to spend time writing software then give it away free – with source code. I’ve done this in my own very tiny way here on this blog.
Some FOSS software is very good – Linux, Apache, MySQL, Mozilla are all things I have used and find technically pretty groovy. For quite a while I used FireFox as my primary browser. Its fast and I like how it handles tabs and downloading.
I think many software developers like to give software and source code away for free. It seems to be part of our nature – or at least for many of us. We like it when people find our stuff useful. For the most part, its cool when other people leverage our code. But this isn’t always true.
I know lots of other developers (and non developers) at Microsoft feel this way. They often say similar things. This is a common topic of conversation at lunch, or over beers
If I could make a great living writing FOSS I probably would. If I’m ever lucky enough to be independently wealthy, I probably will – when I’m not riding around on my big boat in the Bahamas.
Internally at Microsoft, we have a culture very similar to the public FOSS culture. this is especially true within each of the major business units. For example, in Windows, everyone can see all the code. Teams often share code – either at the source level or by publishing it in DLL’s or libraries. There is lots of internal discussion about code, coding, bug fixing and related topics. team’s often have cross team code reviews. Anyone can file bugs on anything. We have a global bug tracking system.
We even have an internal version of CodePlex that is accessible to everyone in Microsoft – its quite popular and there is a lot of cool stuff there. A lot of this is internal stuff that wouldn’t really be interesting to anyone else (like internal bug management tools, or project management tools). But some of this makes it to CodePlex.
None of this isn’t rocket science – its pretty mundane stuff. I’m sure the culture at Google, Apple, IBM and Oracle are similar. The point is that while its hard for outsiders to see – I don’t think there is much difference culturally between Microsoft developers and FOSS developers.
I believe that you will see Microsoft and even the Windows org, publish more free open source things over time. There are lots of good reasons to do so. I’m a big proponent of publishing my next big team project as free and open source. This idea has a lot of traction.
But there are differences. The most obvious two are that we think its fine to sell software. We also think its fine that we don’t provide the source code to our bread and butter products.
Hey, I think its fine – noble even – if a person, group or company wants to write software, give it away for free and publish the source code under an Open License.
But the problem is the idea that all software should be free and open source and that software which isn’t free is somehow bad. This is Richard Stallman’s position and that of many other FOSS advocates. For example, the Free Software Foundation claim that Windows-7, OSX, and the iPhone are somehow threats to people’s freedom. Really? That is simply stupid.
What’s busted about this ideology is that they believe others are somehow evil, or sinful if they do not hew to the FSF ideals. Don’t believe me? Just read their web pages.
Note, i think its great if people want to make their software free. I don’t begrudge them the liberty to do this for a second. The problem lies in the idea that anyone who disagrees with this, or doesn’t provide their software as ‘free’ is somehow bad or not supporting the freedom of others.
This is just busted. Its a freaking free country – this is true from a libertarian, conservative, liberal, Democratic, Republican, or Tea party perspective. Everyone has liberties.
Free Software folks are at liberty to write software and make it free. Microsoft is at liberty to write software, sell it and keep the source to ourselves. So is any other corporation or individual. Don’t like it – bummer for you. Move to another country. Or get the laws changed – just don’t bitch about it.
The issue here is that RMS and others are confusing freedom with liberty. What is freedom to them isn’t freedom to me. I want to write software, sell it, make a good or even great living and keep the source to most things to myself. Its fully right and proper that I’m at liberty to do this. Same for Microsoft.
Its awesome, right, proper, good and noble when the FSF and RMS defends their own liberty, and the liberty of others to write free software. Its good to stand up for the rights of others.
But, it is not ‘freedom’ when a person or organization wants to restrict the liberty of someone else. This is exactly what RMS advocates – that all software should be free. If he had it is way, all people would be forced to make their software free – That is exactly what RMS advocates. This is un-American; it is not libertarian. This attitude is simply selfish.
RMS and the FSF is great at wrapping the selfish notions in the language of political freedom and liberty – but make no mistake about it. The are simply being selfish in many of their attitudes.
Remember, I fully support the right of people to write and publish free open source software. Its cool, its noble, its admirable.
But, it is immoral, snide, selfish and contrary to the ideals of American liberty to suggest that others that want to sell proprietary software are somehow bad, or sinful.
To you Mr. Richard M. Stallman and to like minded individuals, I say this: do not let your ideals of freedom tread on the liberties of others – that is not freedom – it is tyranny.
In America, yours and anyone else’s ability to to give people your definition of freedom is unimpeded in any way The Free Software Community is at full liberty to do so. The path is actually very simple; write great software that 100’s of millions of people across the world want to use.
If you cannot do that then tough noogies. Don’t lean on a poor ideology, demonizing language, and the desire to restrict the liberties of others just to suit your own selfishness and make up for your own shortcomings.
RMS and friends – you have the ultimate commercial weapon – you are giving your stuff away for free.
Put up or shut up; get off your ass and write great software – that is they way you win.