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Open Source Software:
  (slightly skeptical) Annotated Chronicle

1999 Q2

April May June 

June 1999

[June 27, 1999] Linux.com - Weekly Columns -- BELLUM LINUXUM - A Historic Parable

[June 26, 1999] Linux.com - Weekly Columns Andrew Leonard (aleonard@salon.com) the senior technology correspondent at Salon.com.

No question, Mandrake is pretty neat--proof once again at how fast the Linux community is moving. Basically, Mandrake is a souped-up Red Hat optimized for Pentium processors, with a really nice installation set up that allows users to seamlessly choose between the latest KDE and GNOME desktop releases, as well as other window managers. I was able to install it with lightning speed, though I'm not sure whether that's due to my own increasing comfort with Linux or to the cleverness of Mandrake's coders. (Such is the tragedy of falling in love with Linux--I'm becoming less and less able to relate to my former "stupid user" self.)

In general, judging from Mandrake, news from the Linux front would seem to be good--KDE 1.1.1 and GNOME 1.0.9 are both solid improvements. GNOME, in particular, is considerably less buggy. But as I twiddled around with Enlightenment's themes and kick ass screen savers, I began to wonder just what a development like Mandrake entails for the overall commercial viability of the open source business model.

Given the recent announcement of Red Hat's intent to go public, the question of commercial viability is more relevant than ever. Any newcomer to the free software world is likely to be perplexed at the fact that a vendor like CheapBytes can copy Red Hat Linux wholesale and sell it for whatever price it wants--and it's all perfectly legal. You naturally wonder how Red Hat can make a profit facing that kind of competition. The answer, to some extent, is that Red Hat has a name brand, and promises to back up its products with the kind of support services and documentation that are worth spending money for.

But what happens when a competitor comes along, like Linux-Mandrake, adds a little value here and a little value there to the basic Red Hat package--and, perhaps, also starts selling support services and providing documentation? Their expenses are likely to be much lower than Red Hat's--in effect they are using Red Hat as their own research lab. And after piggy-backing on all of Red Hat's hard work, they add a few deft twists of their own, and end up with a product that is more appealing.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing, at least certainly not for us end-users. This is why progress in the open source world is so breath-takingly fast to begin with. Everyone gets to benefit from everyone else's work. Onward!

But to be successful, commercially, in this kind of environment, is going to be very, very tricky. Competition will be fantastically intense, and profit margins are bound to be incredibly low. Red Hat's CEO, Bob Young, is frequently quoted as saying that Red Hat's goal is to "lower the value" of the operating system market. In other words, Red Hat has no plans to charge Microsoft-level prices for its operating system, but they'd be quite happy to force Microsoft to lower its prices.

Problem is, Mandrake could say the same thing about Red Hat--which, by the way, significantly raised the price-tag for Red Hat Linux with the 6.0 distribution. How many vendors of Linux--each piggy-backing on each other--will it take before the value of the operating system is effectively zero?

Perhaps this is why Red Hat's SEC filing makes such a big deal of its plans to become a Web portal for Linux--advertising, rather than software sales, may be the company's best bet for profit. But the portal competition is going to be just as intense as the software distribution race.

I love my Linux-Mandrake distribution--it's the flavor of the week for me. But I'll switch in a second if the open source grapevine starts hinting that another distribution has done a better job. And I don't think I'm alone. Why bother with brand name loyalty in the era of open source? The smart decision should be to go with whatever the community as a whole comes up with, piggy back upon piggy back. May the best distribution win!

Andrew Leonard (aleonard@salon.com) is the senior technology correspondent at Salon.com. He is working on a book about free software.

[June 26, 1999]  Microsoft and the Art of War v1.00

However, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that instead of slapping together a Linux distribution they could just as easily put out MS BSD. Think about the advantages for one moment. No so called "GPL Virus" to contaminate any of Microsoft's crown jewels, a strong developers base, binary compatibility with Linux, superior networking, and it can be modified internally without having to release any source code back. Besides, we all know that Microsoft loves to steal great ideas from Apple, right? I suspect that Microsoft would probably gravitate towards FreeBSD as it is currently the most optimized on the x86 platform.

Using a BSD variant would potentially create a schism in the free software community. The BSD camp would feel gratified that their code was being used by Microsoft, while the GPL camp would probably look on the whole event in horror. Perhaps later, Microsoft could strike back at Intel for their investments in Redhat with a Microsoft BSD for the Compaq Alpha. It's too difficult to say without knowing more about the internal relationship between Intel and Microsoft.

 

[June 21, 1999] Slashdot: GPL vs BSD -- analyzed in ../Social/copyright.shtml

 [June 18, 1999] CNET News.com - Wyse beefs up Linux-based network machine. Wyse managed to fit Linux into 8.5M of flash memory.  Terminal is essentially thin client computer and use modified Slackware version of Linux.

[June 17, 1999] Open Source Advocate Invited To Microsoft -- Eric Raymond has been invited to speak to a group at Microsoft Research.

...Raymond is well-known for his outspoken views, and has sometimes clashed with others in the open source community. He said he is not worried about any sort of backlash from his Microsoft appearance. 

...Another sign of Microsoft's interest in open source comes from user statistics released Monday by Linux.com. Microsoft was the leading corporate visitor to the site in the first two weeks after it opened last month, with 15,000 visits from Microsoft servers. 

[June 14, 1999] Open Source® ... not now, never was By Evan Leibovitch, ZDNet -- the infamous attempt to trademark the term "Open Source" in the United States  has peacefully died in March 1999. So Eric Raymond does not have any open source trademark, that he wished so intensely ;-)

[June 13, 1999] Slashdot: On Red Hat Bashing... by Miguel de Icaza. miguel@nuclecu.unam.mx

So far, Red Hat is the only major visible commercial distribution that distributes all of their development under a free license (LGPL or GPL for their new work, or under the proper compatible license for packages they do not maintain). And they also manage to make money during this process.

Now, making money by giving away your intelectual property is a hard problem. Some people have just given up. Various distributions include proprietary code in their distribution to add a value to their product. The result is of course, a non-free product: you as an end user are forbidden from making copies of it entirely, you might not even get the source code in some cases, and you are definetly forbidden from making changes and redistributing modified versions of it. It comes to mind, the proprietary graphical install programs being shipped these days.

...Many distributions chose to ship the non-free KDE/Qt combo as part of their systems, as it gave them a competitive advantage on the market. Concerns about a free system came in second place. Red Hat instead of going for the easy money, actually devoted a growing team of programmers to help build a completely free desktop: I am sure they lost sales while preparing for this free system to be built, and I am sure it costed them money to pay their GNOME programmers.

Still, Red Hat stood up for the free software community. To them it was more important to have a full open source desktop than making a quick sell. Given that the Qt toolkit will soon be released with an open-source license this is not an issue anymore. I am presenting this exclusively as an historical data point.

 

See also: Slashdot: Red Hat Growing Pains

[June12, 1999] A software pirate speaks out    -- pirates and a kind of independent reviewers of software ;-)

What most of these organizations fail to understand is the fact that we wouldn't have purchased those extremely overpriced applications in the first place, therefore their estimations of profit loss are grossly over-exaggerated.

...Most of us are strictly copying these files to fulfill our curiosity, as well as gain status among our software pirate friends by bringing it to them so that they might fulfill their curiosity. We only want to know ahead of time, what is being held in store for us when we HAVE the money to buy, or HAVE the opportunity to influence a software purchase decision with the company we work for.

Many of us copy this software to add to a vast collection of applications for no other reason other than the sheer excitement of it all. It ought to be looked upon under the same lines as those that collect rare stamps. Why are many stamps held in high regard? Because of the difficulty in acquiring them. In the same way, software pirates collect these hard to acquire applications as somewhat of a digital trophy.

Most pirates don't use those copied applications for business or money generating purposes. Those that do, ARE the ones that are causing these software developers to loose money. Although many pirates that do borrow these applications for money generating purposes, do so, so that they can generate the necessary funds to make a software purchase.

In many ways, the industry ought to look upon us as somewhat of a precious asset. You see those of us that have the opportunity to preview a piece of software before its publicly released get to compare other competing products at the same time. It is common practice among pirates to recommend to others "the superior" of all the products they reviewed.

A successful business person will openly admit to the fact that word of mouth advertising is the best advertising resource of its kind. Because it is common practice among pirates to promote superior products in this fashion, and because most often pirates hold high ranking influential positions within a company, positions which allow them to recommend a specific software products based upon that word of mouth advertising, this serves as one of the last remaining impartial software review methods available today.

In a world when media outlets are often the benefactors of large sums of money from software developers who demand "a positive review" thus stifling innovation from those developers who may not be as powerful. A pirates word of mouth advertising ought to be looked upon as the last remaining unbiased influence that can put a truly innovative product on top.

[June 11, 1999] osOpinion

The concept of open source software implies that the idea of open source code is more important then the product itself. Open source computing is the developer centered approach to free software. The average user does not care that they can modify source code if the need arises. There is a lot of free software with closed source code that users will use just as easily as open source.

[June 10, 1999] osOpinion: -- Vengeance: How IBM is coordinating a full frontal assault on Microsoft  by: "Mark Radulovich"

[June 9, 1999] The Problem With Bounty 

If you've seen recent offerings for free documentation from the FSF, the volunteer-based Free Software Bizarre, or the recently opened CoSource and SourceXChange corporate ventures, you know what I'm talking about... 

...The bounty model encourages people to hide their work from one another. One "Code Hunter" gets all the reward, whereas 2 or more have to split it. So the "many eyes to see bugs, many brains to see design problems" approach is defeated. 

...One of the chief reasons that free software is as good as it actually is, is that the developers work almost exclusively on things which they enjoy doing, taking the time to do each step of the process the right way, and under the auspices of making the program intrinsically better. Merely being told to do something because it will reward you, that works, but it produces mediocre results. 

...The other motivation for writing free software which has been identified in a number of cases is the "scratch an itch" motivation -- i.e. a technically skilled user/programmer fixing something they have to use every day which doesn't quite work the way they like, and they're both picky enough to care and good enough to fix it properly. This element is entirely ignored by the bounty model.

...Programming, creative writing, music -- all these are in principle accessible and enjoyable to anyone and everyone.  But the fact is that the very best programmers who characterize the free software everyone's salivating over are dozens, perhaps hundreds of times more productive, insightful, clever, and just plain in sync with the machines they work on than the "dime a dozen" people. Most of these shining stars that companies want to pick out of the free software community already know how to get contracts...


 

May 1999


April 1999



Etc

Society

Groupthink : Two Party System as Polyarchy : Corruption of Regulators : Bureaucracies : Understanding Micromanagers and Control Freaks : Toxic Managers :   Harvard Mafia : Diplomatic Communication : Surviving a Bad Performance Review : Insufficient Retirement Funds as Immanent Problem of Neoliberal Regime : PseudoScience : Who Rules America : Neoliberalism  : The Iron Law of Oligarchy : Libertarian Philosophy

Quotes

War and Peace : Skeptical Finance : John Kenneth Galbraith :Talleyrand : Oscar Wilde : Otto Von Bismarck : Keynes : George Carlin : Skeptics : Propaganda  : SE quotes : Language Design and Programming Quotes : Random IT-related quotesSomerset Maugham : Marcus Aurelius : Kurt Vonnegut : Eric Hoffer : Winston Churchill : Napoleon Bonaparte : Ambrose BierceBernard Shaw : Mark Twain Quotes

Bulletin:

Vol 25, No.12 (December, 2013) Rational Fools vs. Efficient Crooks The efficient markets hypothesis : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2013 : Unemployment Bulletin, 2010 :  Vol 23, No.10 (October, 2011) An observation about corporate security departments : Slightly Skeptical Euromaydan Chronicles, June 2014 : Greenspan legacy bulletin, 2008 : Vol 25, No.10 (October, 2013) Cryptolocker Trojan (Win32/Crilock.A) : Vol 25, No.08 (August, 2013) Cloud providers as intelligence collection hubs : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : Inequality Bulletin, 2009 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Copyleft Problems Bulletin, 2004 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Energy Bulletin, 2010 : Malware Protection Bulletin, 2010 : Vol 26, No.1 (January, 2013) Object-Oriented Cult : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2011 : Vol 23, No.11 (November, 2011) Softpanorama classification of sysadmin horror stories : Vol 25, No.05 (May, 2013) Corporate bullshit as a communication method  : Vol 25, No.06 (June, 2013) A Note on the Relationship of Brooks Law and Conway Law

History:

Fifty glorious years (1950-2000): the triumph of the US computer engineering : Donald Knuth : TAoCP and its Influence of Computer Science : Richard Stallman : Linus Torvalds  : Larry Wall  : John K. Ousterhout : CTSS : Multix OS Unix History : Unix shell history : VI editor : History of pipes concept : Solaris : MS DOSProgramming Languages History : PL/1 : Simula 67 : C : History of GCC developmentScripting Languages : Perl history   : OS History : Mail : DNS : SSH : CPU Instruction Sets : SPARC systems 1987-2006 : Norton Commander : Norton Utilities : Norton Ghost : Frontpage history : Malware Defense History : GNU Screen : OSS early history

Classic books:

The Peter Principle : Parkinson Law : 1984 : The Mythical Man-MonthHow to Solve It by George Polya : The Art of Computer Programming : The Elements of Programming Style : The Unix Hater’s Handbook : The Jargon file : The True Believer : Programming Pearls : The Good Soldier Svejk : The Power Elite

Most popular humor pages:

Manifest of the Softpanorama IT Slacker Society : Ten Commandments of the IT Slackers Society : Computer Humor Collection : BSD Logo Story : The Cuckoo's Egg : IT Slang : C++ Humor : ARE YOU A BBS ADDICT? : The Perl Purity Test : Object oriented programmers of all nations : Financial Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : The Most Comprehensive Collection of Editor-related Humor : Programming Language Humor : Goldman Sachs related humor : Greenspan humor : C Humor : Scripting Humor : Real Programmers Humor : Web Humor : GPL-related Humor : OFM Humor : Politically Incorrect Humor : IDS Humor : "Linux Sucks" Humor : Russian Musical Humor : Best Russian Programmer Humor : Microsoft plans to buy Catholic Church : Richard Stallman Related Humor : Admin Humor : Perl-related Humor : Linus Torvalds Related humor : PseudoScience Related Humor : Networking Humor : Shell Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2012 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2013 : Java Humor : Software Engineering Humor : Sun Solaris Related Humor : Education Humor : IBM Humor : Assembler-related Humor : VIM Humor : Computer Viruses Humor : Bright tomorrow is rescheduled to a day after tomorrow : Classic Computer Humor

The Last but not Least Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand ~Archibald Putt. Ph.D


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Last updated: March 12, 2019