Pro-competition, not Anti-business

I started to respond to David Richards (the CEO of CentricCRM) comment to the thread I started last week, but that thread has generated a number of sub-threads which I think are better addressed separately. (You can be the judge as to whether this thread separation is a good idea or not.) Thus, I gave a partial response there, and here’s really my full response.


First, let me thank you for stepping forward into this discussion.

Second, let me applaud you for choosing the OSL as a license for your Team Elements software. I sincerely hope that you find that to be a successful choice, and I sincerely believe that over time, you will see the dividends that the open source model affords (as compared to a proprietary model).

Third, I appreciate your appeal to the history of the Bill of Rights in your argument. I like a well-constructed (or at least well-referenced) argument! And the OSI will be ramping up discussions (which will be kicked off at OSCON) on how we can better be the self-governing, representative body we always intended to be. If you come to OSCON, I’d welcome your participation in that meeting.

But finally, let me say that I do not accept the proposition that “because we cannot fit our business to the model stipulated by the open source definition, we will arbitrarily ignore the stipulations of that definition while retaining the power and promise of the conepts it embodies.” It would be like a member of the executive branch of the US government declaring themselves to be free from oversight, free from accountability, or free even from the law, because they believe such oversight, such accountability, and such laws are an inconvenience to their policy and in conflict with their personal interpretation of their sworn sovereign duties. At the risk of not giving a fuller elaboration here, I will instead create a new blog posting as to why I think that all of the conditions of the OSD, not just a convenient few, are essential to the notion of what is open source, and perhaps we can carry on our discussion of this more specific topic there.

I believe that the principles embodied by the open source definition are sound and necessary to afford the benefits I myself have witnessed for hundreds of projects, hundreds of companies, and many thousands of customers, especially the benefit of unexpected benefits. If you believe that somebody else can do the job better than you can (as I did when it came to writing compilers), then reciprocal licenses like the GPL and the OSL ensure that at the very least you are not deprived of the benefits that downstream developers can provide. At that point, you can compare three scenarios:

  1. The product is all I can make it, with no external help, other than Other People’s Money
  2. The product is what I, and others, can make it, each serving their self-interest
  3. The product is what I can make it, with the help of others who agree to place my interests ahead of their own

You have said, with both your license and your argument, that you are more comfortable competing in a world where people agree never to compete with you using your software. The open source community experience is that competition is a good thing, and that by living the mantra “the one with the best code wins”, we do, over time, all win. As engineers, the founders of the OSI saw value in codifying the rules that made this new development model so successful, and since we saw that permitting commercial exploitation was very much central to many early commercial successes, we codified that througout the OSD, particularly OSD #6. In particular, we believe that just because a conventional venture capitalist with a mandate to “invest in open source companies” does not understand how the open source model works, and just because your paycheck now depends on you sharing that non-understanding, doesn’t mean we should change our codes or change our advocacy about what open source really is. History is full of events based on decisions to either see reality as it was and adjust accordingly or to attempt to bring reality into conformancy with orthodoxy.

One huge difference between the free software movement and the open source movement is that the FSF began with orthodoxy that proved remarkably successful as both a development model and a comemrcial model. The OSI began much later with a whole bunch of evidence and tried to discern the rules that explained that evidence. The FSF may have got the orthodoxy wrong, and the OSI may have got the interpretation wrong, but we both agree that prohibition of commercial use without special permission is antithetical to both positions. As an aside, it is astonishing to me that the mainstream press gets it completely backward in that they endlessly report as if profit and commercial success is antitheical to either free or open source software. But I digress. The main point is that the casual hybridization of proprietary models and open source (or free software) models is as sensible as the proverbial screen door on a submarine, or my brother’s facetious invention: the cordless parachute.

Time will tell. I hope that your experiment with Team Elements is a successful one, like IBM’s experiment with proved to be (to name one of many bold experiments). It is my opinion that after 5+ years, Microsoft’s Shared Source initiative has achieved nothing like what we have achieved in the open source community, and not because they are Microsoft. It is because their asymmetrical bargain is not sufficiently attractive to a community that has better offers available. Does Intel Capital have deep enough pockets to ride out this difference? I don’t know. But I don’t think that borrowing a term from our community to apply to something our community doesn’t accept is good for you or for us. I’d prefer you coin a term like “Centric Source” and define it however you like.