A Little Heresy Now And Then ... - InformationWeek

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3/25/2009
12:03 PM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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A Little Heresy Now And Then ...

" ... is relished by even the wisest men." (I'm paraphrasing.) Meaning it helps from time to time to dissent, albeit thoughtfully and with eyes wide open, from the status quo. In today's example, it's Eric S. Raymond -- one of the key figures in the open source / free software world -- talking about why the GPL might have outlived its usefulness. You heard right.

" ... is relished by even the wisest men." (I'm paraphrasing.) Meaning it helps from time to time to dissent, albeit thoughtfully and with eyes wide open, from the status quo. In today's example, it's Eric S. Raymond -- one of the key figures in the open source / free software world -- talking about why the GPL might have outlived its usefulness. You heard right.

The Long Island Linux Users Group (LILUG) recently invited Raymond to speak there, wherein he delivered a talk that embodied two premises. Premise one:

What is the point of being famous and respected if you can't speak heresy about your own movement. What is the point?

In other words, dissent and skepticism about the very substance of what you're doing is vital. Especially now that the open source software movement has given rise to the business of open source software, where the development methodology went from being something done for idealistic reasons to something done for eminently practical and sensible ones. Not changing your line of thinking to match that seems foolish. But if there's one thing I've learned about anything labeled a "movement", it's that they seem particularly resistant to, well, moving -- especially when they have to do the moving.

Premise two:

... if the market punished people for taking open source closed, then why do our licenses need to punish people for taking open source closed? That is why I don't think you really need GPL or a reciprocal licenses anymore. It is attempting to prevent the behavior that the market punishes anyway.

Eric's premise is pretty sound on the face of it: in a world where open source programming is growing by leaps and bounds (sounds like the start of a movie trailer, doesn't it? "In a world where..."), proprietary software creators are getting the short end of the stick. Therefore, why make things difficult for ourselves as well?

What tipped me off, I confess, were the words "behavior the market punishes anyway". After the last year or so, I have little faith in the power of markets to punish, reward or "correct" themselves with Adam Smith-ian detachment. This includes marketplaces that aren't financial, too -- in fact, the situation may be worse in such cases, because there's that much less incentive to create any kind of oversight.

But does that mean the whole idea of ditching the GPL (or any other particular license) is unsound? No -- for all we know, someone else may come up with another arrangement that's even better, or develop an argument that no one else has foreseen. Just because Eric may not be on the mark here doesn't mean that his dissent has no value. In fact, it may be one of the most valuable things he has to give the open source community -- apart from lots of lines of code.


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