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Open Source

Bruce Perens Answers Your Questions 52

Posted by samzenpus
from the listen-up dept.
A while ago you had the chance to ask Bruce Perens about how open source has changed in the past 15 years, what's happening now, and what's to come. Bruce has been busy traveling, but he's found some free time and sent in his answers. Read below to see what he has to say.
Where Is the Open Source Hardware?
by eldavojohn

Recently at Linux.conf.au 2012 you gave the keynote and you said: “Open source is the only credible producer of software and now hardware that isn’t bound to a single company’s economic interest,” Well, where is this open source hardware? Every time something comes up on Slashdot reported to be "open source hardware" there's a whole slew of comments about how it's not truly open source. Anything from "where are the schematics" all the way down to the verilog/VHDL compilers and place/route algorithms being closed source. I've seen a 3D printer but not much else that meets the most stringent requirements. So tell me, where is this seemingly mythical "open source hardware" that will now free me from a single company's economic interest?

Bruce: Actually, I didn't give a talk about “Open Source Hardware”. All of my speeches are about “Open Hardware” , and I say it that way for marketing reasons. One of my largest criticisms of the entire Free Software community is that we are “inward-facing”. Our communications are mostly targeted to each other rather than to the public we should be marketing to. And then we wonder why the general public aren't using our stuff, and why laws get passed that work against us. It's our own fault.

So, “Open Source Hardware” is marketed to people who already understand Open Source. That's limiting the audience. I try to do real marketing, take time to understand the person who is the target of the message, and I always try to be outward-facing. I joke that the inward-facing crowd might soon call it “Free/Libre Open Source Hardware” or FLOSHW. Ugh.

So, the problem we are having in getting Open Hardware that's really Open is actually diagnosed right in your question: we need it to be separate from any company's economic interest. Which means making it with a non-profit. The very best organization that I've seen for making Open Hardware is TAPR, which specializes in ham radio and ultra-precise frequency and time. Their most interesting current project is a complete software-defined radio transceiver for global-range communications.

TAPR does manufacturing runs successfully, and funds new designs, and have been doing this for decades although only more recently is it formally “Open Hardware”. TAPR decided at their annual meeting this year that they will use their TAPR Open Hardware License on the devices they fund – they previously had a non-commercial license option which is now deprecated.

So, I'd suggest TAPR as a model for organizations that would successfully produce Open Hardware. TAPR, however, caters to a specialist community. Can we do the same thing with a product meant to reach the general public?

Jumping to radio software for a moment, check out the Codec2 project, where we have an excellent codec for two-way radio that does telephone quality voice in 150 bytes per second (1200 Baud). We are replacing the proprietary codecs that, unfortunately, are in commercial products for radio hams and are the government-mandated standard for two-way radio for police, fire, etc.

In about a century of ham radio, this closed codec was the first time that we had a technology that we weren't allowed to understand and to build by ourselves. That had to change, and I'm glad to say we're successful. The first prototype of Free Software for international digital voice communications is working, I think we're close to getting it in the hands of the world's hams. It works with their their SSB radios, but uses half the bandwidth of SSB voice, with better quality and better range.

To put Codec2 in walkie talkies, I am obviously looking at Open Hardware. But I won't talk about that until I have working hardware to show.



Best Open Source hardware licenses?
by Alwin Henseler

On a related note: what are the best licenses for libre hardware designs, that:
1.) Allow linking smaller projects as part of larger ones, possibly with different licensing on those other parts. Think HDL re-implementations of various chips in FPGA based designs that consist of a number of them (and many other things like that). I've seen the GPL slapped on a few smaller projects that are meant to combine with other (differently licensed) parts, where in legal sense this wouldn't even be allowed as everything is linked in the same binary (FPGA programming file).
2.) Don't require an entire evening and/or a lawyer to read (especially for hobbyists). For this reason I personally like BSD style licenses, while at the same time I'm leaning towards (L)GPL when it comes to openness of a design. Appreciated would be a short intro on pro's/con's of specific licenses, and make / break issues why a hardware designer would pick one over the other.


Bruce: Hi Alwin,

You've touched on a few issues that I think we got wrong with Open Source, and that I hope we can do better with Open Hardware.

The first is that there are a ton of licenses, and that too many of us spend time figuring out how they interact. Imagine if all of the recommended licenses actually were compatible with each other, and there were so few that we could understand them all. You really can have that, and have a BSD-like license, a LGPL-like license, and a GPL-like license, each to address a different business requirement. About three licenses that work together would be optimal. I think I know which three would do it today, and am hoping to have the full recommendation out soon.

Now, the bad news. Copyright doesn't really work for schematics the way it works for programs. If you look at the law in the U.S., which is 17 USC 102(b), it's pretty clear:

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

So, functional stuff is the domain of patent rather than copyright. I have had this online for a year or so at Hardware Isn't Generally Copyrightable in the hope that the community's expectations will be corrected.

Having read that, you might wonder why software is copyrightable at all. It turns out that only the expressive elements in software, which (in short) are parts that would be written differently by different programmers, rather than parts that are always required to function, are copyrightable. This was important in the recent Oracle v. Google case (where I played a minor role) and you can understand it better by reading about Computer Associates International, Inc. v. Altai, on Wikipedia.

So, our licenses tend to govern how we can distribute the plans to Open Hardware more than the hardware itself. For example, around 2007 a team applied the GPL to the Gray-Hoverman antenna, which was covered on Slashdot. While a lot of people felt that the GPL would prevent commercial manufacturing of the antenna, I think that anyone can manufacture and sell it as long as they don't redistribute the plans with it. So, our licenses are imperfect for hardware.

That said, let's concentrate on the parts of hardware that are copyrightable and apply licenses to them. There is some special protection for FPGA bitstreams in law, so we do have some copyrightable elements. At the moment, I recommend the TAPR Open Hardware License as a GPL-like license. There is also an Apache-like hardware license that I am considering.

There is a CERN Open Hardware License that I would like to use as a LGPL-like license, but I feel it needs modification before it is safe for the community to use, and thus I either recommend you not use it at present, or that you remove the following paragraph from it.

“6.5 Except as may be otherwise agreed with the Intergovernmental Organization, any dispute with respect to this License involving an Intergovernmental Organization shall, by virtue of the latter's Intergovernmental status, be settled by international arbitration. The arbitration proceedings shall be held at the place where the Intergovernmental Organization has its seat. The arbitral award shall be final and binding upon the parties, who hereby expressly agree to renounce any form of appeal or revision.”

As you can see, that paragraph creates a specially-protected class of users, organizations like CERN, who have their own special court where you, the creator of the design, would be at a severe disadvantage and would have to spend a ton of money just to get there and enforce your rights. No other Open Source license gives special rights to a particular class of users against the developers! This license doesn't comply with the Open Source Definition or the Open Hardware Definition as long as that particular paragraph is in place.

Nothing but that particular paragraph is a problem. If CERN removed it, the license would be acceptable.



Changes in licensing of open source projects
by TWX

At one point, my employer was considering open source software for a particular printing need. During their evaluation phase the producer of the software decided to close the source, and my employer got nervous and decided to back out of using the software. I assume that any version released under GPL is still perfectly valid to use even if later versions are no longer GPL, and that should anyone, be they my employer or anyone else, decide to fork the project from that last GPL-licensed release, they'd be free to do so, and that my employer's decision to no longer use the software was unnecessary. I expect that I'm not the first person to see this occur with a company getting cold feet because of a license change. Have you been involved in this before, and how have other organizations handled it when software they were using stopped being open source or changed licenses in newer releases?

Bruce: There are all sorts of perception problems in business. One of the most disturbing was when a major international bank told me that Linux was no longer gratis (free of charge) because Red Hat was charging per system. They somehow felt that they didn't have an option but to pay Red Hat.

And then there are the companies who feel that they are helping the community by paying for Red Hat or by joining the Linux Foundation. If you want to help Linux or Open Source, help a free software project directly. Red Hat exists for Red Hat's stockholders, and while the Linux Foundation is sometimes helpful, it represents large companies rather than the developer community, and only a fraction of its budget pays actual programmers.

Regarding the problem your company had, I've noticed that sometimes it's when a company decides to close source that the project really gets opened. LibreOffice is an excellent example. It is everything that OpenOffice should have been and never was allowed to be – and not because OpenOffice closed, but because there was a lack of trust that existed for a decade but finally became intolerable with the Oracle purchase. We really should have forked the project away from Sun years earlier.

Interestingly enough, the Oracle-and-IBM-supported “Apache OpenOffice” doesn't have the traction that LibreOffice has, and doesn't look like it's going to get it. There's enough strength in a real community to easily beat one with corporate support.

Yes, the GPL protects your rights forever. It doesn't terminate and it really doesn't matter if someone decides to close their source or not, the GPL code you have is always free. But your company might have had a problem if no viable fork of the project formed. Going it alone might have been no fun.



What has changed since 2001?
by i.r.id10t

Bruce - your interviews make up a large portion of the documentary "Revolution OS". If a second part were to be made starting now in 2012 or early 2013, what changes do you think would be highlighted?

Bruce: It's unfortunate that J.T.S. Moore's Revolution OS is as much the story of VA Linux Systems as it is about Open Source.

So, let's tell the story after the movie ends: people had no problem buying Linux hardware from HP and Dell, even though it wasn't their specialty. VA's sales didn't sustain its stock price, and the few people who had really large amounts of stock kept selling while the stock value fell, and fell, and fell. One or two folks became very rich while most lost. In the end the company was split up mostly for its web assets (including Slashdot), which have been no great performers.

So, in retrospect I think J.T.S. could have stuck to the community side and the film wouldn't be quite so dated today. But I don't know if VA was supporting the film then, and if that's the reason he made it partly about them.

I have a whole lot more hair in that film than I do now :-)



UserLinux vs. Android
by jbolden

Bruce, you were the founder of UserLinux which aimed to create binary compatibility for Linux, a simple VAR platform. Google with Android attempted something similar. How well do you believe Android fulfills the objectives you set out for UserLinux. And where they missed do you believe those misses were unavoidable given the changes in focus (desktop vs. handset) or something where a minor change of strategy could allow them to achieve those missed objectives?

Tablets/Phones
by zoward

Bruce, first off, thank you for everything you've done to advance the cause of FLOSS. My question: It's not hard to notice the shift in mass market computing away from the PC and toward the tablet and phone. While at its core Android runs the Linux kernel, it's hard for me to think of it with the same fondness that I have for my favorite FLOSS OS distributions. I can't just load up a new Linux distro on my Acer tablet, or in many cases even an updated version of Android, short of "jailbreaking" it. It's seems clear to me that such hardware is designed with the intent to replicate Apple's success with a vertical hardware/software stack. Given this (or perhaps not given this, if you disagree with my statements above), what do you think the future of open source will be in the tablet and phone world? Android? Meego? WebOS? Something else? Will it be open source programs in a not-quite-completely open OS like Android?

Bruce: If you just stand in an Apple store some time, you will notice the crowd of happy, enthusiastic people who are joyfully binding themselves to Apple's way of doing things. Those folks sincerely believe that their new tools give them freedom, too. The freedom to do things that would be more difficult or impossible otherwise. Similarly, one must acknowledge that the Kindle gives people freedom from those awkward stacks of paper at the same time we acknowledge the existing and potential abuses of the device.

The fact that normal folks are going with iPad and Kindle or a locked-down Android should not be lost on Free Software developers. We aren't meeting the needs of these folks well enough to even be given the chance to teach them about their electronic freedom. We must change, it makes zero sense to expect them to do so for us until we do.

I am conflicted about Android for the same reasons as user “zoward”, and I do have a strategic direction as requested by “jbolden” but it is not a minor one. I want to change the mission of our entire community to be more outward-facing and to have more sympathy for the common person rather than, as we do today, to make our software mostly for our own community to use. One reason that Android is successful is that we weren't making any alternative and never started any organization that could have gotten phones on carriers. Even Hildon/Maemo/Meego was mainly a Nokia-driven effort rather than a community one. Now, I think the Mozilla project might be able to do that with its feature-phone platform, we'll see.

On the one hand, you might say that Android is the fulfillment of getting Linux in the hands of real users. It's the Linux Desktop that never was, at least never was in the hands of normal people in any large number. I think that there are more Android phones activated daily than there are Ubuntu users.

On the other hand, the usual Android device brings users none of the benefits of Free Software. It's locked down, and unless you are lucky enough to be a target of the latest release of CyanogenMod, your device is probably stuck with the Android version is comes with forever. The rooting community for these devices are more like script kiddies than the Free Software developers I know. With a few exceptions there is nothing like real release management among them, and one has to search through boards for the latest software version for a phone. Some manufacturer's devices are pitifully easy to brick to the point that you need JTAG to recover, although if you build the device the way Google wants you to, that's less of a problem. Samsung, for one, doesn't do things in Google's way for no reason that I understand.

I bought an Android tablet from one of the few companies that respects your freedom. The hardware, though, is rather lacking for the price. Maybe they'll be able to catch up.

I don't really see any Android community that has succeeded in bringing freedom to a significant number of users. I am hoping that the Mozilla foundation will do better with their feature-phone platform.

I think there is room for more community work on making our systems, including GNOME and KDE, attractive to non-geeks and getting together a platform that really does give freedom to non-hackers in significant numbers. Right now, our tablet-oriented interfaces are mostly intolerable on the desktop, but I'm sure they'll improve.

This is part of being outward-facing. If we are not making products for people outside of our community, we're really just playing with ourselves. That's strong, but the mission – of having a real platform with freedom and real people using it – is super-important.



Favorite hack
by vlm

Kick back and tell the tale of your favorite hack. For example, Linus had a good one in his interview. You define hack, and favorite. Hardware, software, legal, moral, ethical, financial whatever. Something you did, or something you saw someone else do. As long as its your story. The only requirement of the story is that it be a good story.

Bruce: My favorite hack is a social one. One day, right here on Slashdot, I announced “Open Source” to the world. We were standing on the shoulders of Richard Stallman, but Richard was poorly suited to empathize with normal people - rather than us hackers – and thus evangelize to them. A policy document that I had created for the Debian project 8 months earlier became the manifesto of the Open Source movement and the definition of Open Source licensing, and has remained that way to this day.

I was just another programmer, out of millions of programmers, sending out a manifesto on the then baby Internet. Six months after the announcement of Open Source there was a Microsoft press conference in which Craig Mundie was asked by a reporter if Microsoft would Open Source Windows NT. Mundie answered that Open Source wasn't just source code, that it was about licensing intellectual property in ways that conflicted with Microsoft's model. Mundie had read my manifesto and was explaining it to the press. That's my favorite hack.

While revolutions eat their leaders, I seem to have survived. As has Richard.



What's out of scope?
by Lev13than

Almost anything you can do or use today has an open source option. You have open source options for everything from your operating system [linux.org] to your chat app [blueimp.net]. You can read open source textbooks, cookbooks [wikibooks.org] and encyclopedias [wikipedia.org]. You can even build an open source airplane [makerplane.org] or brew your own free beer [freebeer.org] (free beer as in free speech, not free beer as in free beer). Given all these options, what part(s) of your life would you be unwilling to open source? Your children's education? Vaccines? A pacemaker? If so, what would your test be for deciding that a closed-source option is the only choice?

Bruce: I defer to Karen Sandler on the topic of pacemakers. If you haven't read her story, do so.

A lot of the life-and-property-critical things you mention would be better if the world could look over the shoulder of their developers the way we do with Open Source developers. Devices aren't safe until they're disclosed and safe. What we've found about medical devices is that their code standards are often horribly low and that they still are based on the idea of security-by-obscurity rather than any real security. Only having many eyes – even though those eyes can't contribute modifications directly – will solve that problem.

In the name of safety, I would like to see disclosure of the code of Google's self-driving automobiles. They don't have to Open Source it, but trade secret is wrong for life-and-property-critical devices that are operating autonomously around us. I think this is a mission that our community should get behind. Let's give Google a nudge on this!

You mentioned cookbooks. For reasons already discussed about hardware above, recipes aren't copyrightable. The photos, the commentary, and the compilation (the organization of all of the recipes into a book) are copyrightable. So, with the proprietary cookbook recipes you have more rights than you might have known.

That MakerPlane's not for real yet, and the RepRap never came close to making other RepRaps so completely as a couple of goldfish can produce more fish. I have been a critic of hype in the community, and at least in the RepRap case I think my criticism helped to get it cleaned up.

So, what's not right for Open Source? I helped to make feature films at Pixar and have an IMDB credit on two of them. While you can create stories in an Open Source paradigm, the best of them seem to be made in the conventional one. I believe that films should be playable on any device and should not be encumbered with DRM. I don't see a problem with an artist being paid for each copy of a film or music.

I put the question of entertainment being different from tools before John Sullivan, the new executive director of the Free Software Foundation, in front of an audience at the Libre Software World Conference a few weeks ago in Santiago de Compostela. John thought the issue of whether entertainment must be free was off-message for the Free Software Foundation. I think it may still be a personal issue for Richard Stallman, but it doesn't appear to clearly be FSF policy.

I don't believe we need the full freedom that we desire in our tools for something that is merely entertainment. But I do think there is a set of freedoms that is important for entertainment: the freedom to move them in place and time and play them on any device, the freedom to convert them in format, the freedom to preserve them as part of history, the freedom to report, caricature and criticize.

For life-and-property critical devices, it may be necessary for someone to stand between any Open Source community and the users, and make sure that the version the users get is free of any chance of malicious, incorrect, or naïve additions. The Debian OpenSSL Key Bug of several years ago is the classic example of a naïve addition. It is worthwhile for some devices to be guarded from that sort of problem, and for the result to be paid for per copy. But this does not mean that there can not be an Open Source community developing experimental versions of the same thing, and (through filters) contributing to the protected one.



Does SaaS change everything?
by Anonymous Coward

Now that most interesting new software is delivered to us over the web or via other network protocols, does this marginalize the contributions of open source and free software? For example Google, Amazon, and Facebook all have had some involvement with open source software as both users and contributors, but for the most part their technology stacks above the OS level (Linux) are under lock and key.

Bruce: Google, Amazon, Facebook all acknowledge a simple economic fact. There is no point in having your own programmers write anything that is not a customer-visible business differentiator for your company if you can get it from the Open Source community. A “business differentiator” in this case means something that makes your company look better than a competitor, to the customer directly. Too much “glue code”, and “infrastructure” is written by organizations that have no real need to do so if they would adopt Open Source. The message that is driving them to do so is the huge stack of cash being made by the companies that do use us.

We are, ironically, seeing a revolution in proprietary software that we created. We enabled these companies to work better with our Free Software, while we didn't, even when we used GPL, compel them to share everything.

Some time ago Free Software evangelists recognized that SaaS breaks the GPL. The Affero GPL was created to handle the Googles of the world. I participated in the very first internal FSF meeting on this issue, which must be more than a decade ago.

There is no economic or technical issue that prevents us from serving Free Software to people. Our community can do better against these companies than we are at present. The story's not over.



Usability in open source software?
by Jim Hall

Bruce, I'm doing a study of usability in open source software - how user interfaces can be designed in Free / open source programs so the program is easy to use by real people. So my question is twofold: What Free / open source program really got it right with usability? What qualities make for good usability in Free / open source software?

Bruce: Although I evangelize the issue of building our software for people outside of our community, I am no expert in usability at all. So, what that means is that there is room for others to evangelize best practices. I'd like to learn. I'll gladly pass your message along, if you build a compelling case.

If I had to guess, I'd say that Mozilla has more expertise in this than many Free Software projects. I have been running the GNOME 3 desktop in Debian Sid for a month or so, and I am not sure GNOME 3 is quite there yet. Keep it up, folks!



Can the Open Source community work smarter?
by WaywardGeek

The days of open collaboration between Linux developers has been hampered by binary incompatibility, and high hurdles to share software on popular software platforms like Debian and Fedora, and Gnome/GTK. We've seen hard feelings and fractures between groups like Ubuntu and Gnome, and lot's of unhappy users. Are the days of freely sharing software on lists essentially in the past, or is there some way to once again pump life into that creative engine? Can we work smarter?

Bruce: I think there are enough of us to staff conflicting forks. It is interesting that most of the conflicts you mention are between user-facing organizations. The lack of binary compatibility is unnecessary, and IMO is mostly driven by commercial distributions for their own economic interest.

I'm going to give you a solution for this that some will find offensive. Sorry, but it's what I believe. Don't help Red Hat. Don't help Ubuntu. Only help community projects and non-profits. Unfortunately, Red Hat and Ubuntu aren't really taking the community where we need to be. We thought they would, but they didn't get us sufficient users, and didn't get us the users we need for the most part, and the negative effects they have (like isolating us from our own users, and being public representatives in their own interest instead of the community's) aren't worth the rest. We need to work on other ways of getting to users that aren't Ubuntu and Red Hat.



Impending death of GPL
by fatphil

What is your reaction to the frequent stories in various media about people migrating away from the GPL and using less restrictive licenses, complete with predictions that the GPL will eventually become irrelevant? Do you believe that there's any truth to that - do you believe that the GPL is intrinsically moribund, or do you dismiss such stories as simply being partisan shiller

Bruce: I think it's 100% B.S. And it appears to me that it's driven by Black Duck and it really is time that someone called them upon it. I think the stories get them publicity, and maybe they are appealing to a prospective customer base who are indeed nervous about the GPL. But the trend they portray isn't a real one.

Of course, business has nothing to fear from the GPL if they will invest in proper due diligence. Bradley Kuhn of the Software Freedom Conservancy, the entity that brings most GPL enforcement action, notes that the companies he goes after are the ones who are “going 100 miles an hour in a crosswalk”. That means a total failure of due diligence. I have seen Bradley waive enforcement against a company once they showed good intention in working to resolve compliance issues. He wanted to spend his time going after the more flagrant ones.

People use licenses for economic purposes, although they might not always think of it that way. Web platforms, because they are all about combining scripts, use the gift-style licenses instead of the sharing-with-rules ones. Black Duck takes this to be some sort of trend against further use of the GPL. The actual trend is that there are more and larger web platforms.

Thanks for the great questions, folks! It was fun to answer them.
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Bruce Perens Answers Your Questions

Comments Filter:
  • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:19PM (#41881573) Journal

    “Free/Libre Open Source Hardware” or FLOSHW.

    Hey, that's a good acronym. I'm going to name my new Intel competitor that. Everyone will buy it!

  • >> business has nothing to fear from the GPL if they will invest in proper due diligence

    Um...that's a BIG part of the problem. Proper due diligence usually means "run it by the lawyers" which is usually the most expensive and time-consuming thing you can possibly do, plus it comes with a risk of attracting top level management attention and pissing off your entire managerial chain.

    >> people migrating away from the GPL and using less restrictive licenses

    This have been true for years. The only o

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:43PM (#41882019) Homepage Journal
      I train engineers in companies to perform the due diligence themselves in partnership with legal but with the engineers doing most of the work. But I can't help your company if bringing the use of Open Source to management's attention would be a problem. Many companies these days have accepted the reality that they entirely depend on Open Source for their operations.

      Apache licensing is good if you want other companies to use your stuff and don't care if they contribute back their modifications or not. In general you can feel OK about using it if you've been paid for the work. In general, I apply GPL to work I have not been paid for. I also run some dual-licensiing business that would not work at all wiithout the GPL. From that perspective, GPL is more business-friendly rather than less. It separates the folks who want to pay by sharing code from the foks who want to pay with money. More sharing, more payment, fewer people who just take and return nothing.

    • The only open source code I work with these days has an Apache, BSD, public domain, or similar license, because I usually want businesses to use my code too.

      Businesses need to do proper due diligence when using this code, too. There's nothing specific about the GPL that requires more due diligence.

      The primary difficulty in either case is making sure the code actually is usable under that license, and that no one has contributed code from another source (taking it from work, for example).

    • Um...that's a BIG part of the problem.

      No it isn't.

      Proper due diligence usually means "run it by the lawyers" which is usually the most expensive and time-consuming thing you can possibly do, plus it comes with a risk of attracting top level management attention and pissing off your entire managerial chain.

      So, you are advocating that businesses use no software except BSD license or equivalent. Including no proprietary software? Or do you advocat that business not do due dilligence with proprietary licenses?

    • by vlm (69642)

      I usually want businesses to use my code

      Now wait a second here. What is there in the GPL that prevents a business from using GPL'd code? Nothing. Not by places that never redistribute GPL code containing software, not by places that redistribute GPL code as long as they follow some ridiculously simple social rules.

      You need to be very specific when talking about licensing stuff. No replacing specific verbs with just "doin something"

      I've made fat stacks of cash off businesses using GPLed code perfectly legally and following the very simple lice

  • "I want to change the mission of our entire community to be more outward-facing and to have more sympathy for the common person rather than, as we do today, to make our software mostly for our own community to use."

    This is a great goal, but how do you achieve it? Once I create something to work for myself (ie, other programmers), it's sometimes hard to feel motivated to make it better so others can use it.

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:54PM (#41882219) Homepage Journal

      Well, just think about what the future will be if we all go on the way you are right now. We will remain a separate community from most computer users. Most hardware will be locked-down into operating systems you don't like, and your options to run Free Software will diminish. We'll get more law like DMCA that restricts what we can do with Free Software. Software patents will be more of a problem, because we won't have any user sympathy to help us in beating them.

      So, I think you will be paid back for helping those folks in that they will help Free Software. It may be that you can't develop the empathy, but I hope others will.

      Thanks

      Bruce

    • This is a difficult question. Trying to get people to say thank you and express positive thoughts is far more difficult than getting a complaint or negative response. People generally don't see those things that don't cause them problems, until a problem does occur. I don't know how to change this, aside from asking people if there is anything wrong to asking what people like about the software/service/whatever in addition to what can be improved. At least that way more people start seeing that as an option

      • I have several times sent emails thanking developers and small publishers for free tools and tutorials they have shared.

        This is a great idea.

  • Wow, he was harsh on Ubuntu and Redhat:

    I'm going to give you a solution for this that some will find offensive. Sorry, but it's what I believe. Don't help Red Hat. Don't help Ubuntu. Only help community projects and non-profits. Unfortunately, Red Hat and Ubuntu aren't really taking the community where we need to be. We thought they would, but they didn't get us sufficient users, and didn't get us the users we need for the most part, and the negative effects they have (like isolating us from our own users, and being public representatives in their own interest instead of the community's) aren't worth the rest. We need to work on other ways of getting to users that aren't Ubuntu and Red Hat.

    I think Bruce has a vision for the future, where we need to go, but he didn't really make clear how we should go about getting there.

    • I am mostly evangelizing about the need at this point. There are some communities that actually look at what users want and try to make it. Mozilla might be the best we have right now. Mostly we need more of them, doing different things.
      • That all depends on the user of course.

        There is very much a need to keep Linux as the expert, hacker friendly system that it has always been. Hackers are the core users, and without them, it will go nowhere at all.

        This is why I like Arch, for instance. I find it much simpler and easier to use than other distros.

      • by vlm (69642)

        doing different things.

        There's many groups of users. No reason to focus on just on noobs, or just tablet users, or just ... well just anything.

        That's an annoying general trait that I've seen over 20 years of free software use.. the only group that "deserves" ease of use is noobs. Well, no, not really. Also everyone is not going to be a noob forever. Probably we'll have "ease of use for noobs" as a community accomplishment right about the time the last noob disappears.

        All software does not have to be noob compatible. Doesn't

        • There's a difference between newbie-dumb and having a low barrier-of-entry, low learning-curve, and yet having depth for those who wish to learn how to use it.

          I was surprised by how much was configurable in GNOME3 although that seems to be its main criticism. Gnome-shell seems to be easy to extend and there are a lot of extensions already. But not all of the knobs are there, and there are some obvious ease-of-use problems that effect everyone. They'll get past that.

  • by epine (68316) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:15PM (#41884841)

    Excellent responses, especially about open hardware.

    I came to the same conclusion about Ubuntu myself. I only hear rumours about how they participate with upstream behind the scenes. You can't always judge these things by the intensity of wailing. Everyone thinks their cause is the right cause.

    What I could see about Canonical with my own eyes is how they approach communication with their user base, and from this one can draw fairly reliable conclusions about the nature of the beast. Their decision to adopt Unity was bold and disruptive and in no small measure pushed upon them by the decisions of others (here's looking at you, Gnome). It was pretty obvious to any thinking person that the early editions of Unity were an unmitigated disaster for the dual-monitor, multidesk-wielding power user.

    Did Canonical warn me about running the upgrade from a version of Ubuntu well suited and tuned to my needs (10.10) to a version that would have set me back to the tablet-chiseled stone age? No. Not in any channel. There was no communication, there was no transition plan.

    I would have been happy to read an open letter from Shuttleworth suggesting that "a few of our power users might wish to hole out in another distribution until we bridge the chasm with our new approach". I'm mature. I realize they don't have infinite resources, and sometimes you make bold decisions or wither on the vine. It would have been inconvenient, but soon forgiven.

    I'm not the least bit mature about pressing "upgrade" only to discover that the direction was decisively "down" and like Buttercup at the bottom of the gully, it's hell to pay to scramble back to where you were moments before.

    Any kind of decent outward-facing logic within the community would have arranged for Unity to come out immediately *after* an LTS release, with a plan to have a usable multihead desktop by the release of the next LTS edition. I found the communication from Canonical appalling over this transition. And it's exactly symptomatic of what Perens is saying: they serve their own interests most of all. Ultimately they care more about "share" than "community". These overlap, but it's not as much as a win-win for the rest of the open source community as we wished to think five years ago.

    It's extremely disappointing, because good communication doesn't need to cost much.

    The problem, though, is that it's no panacea on the other side of the fence. Debian suffered a crisis of leading up to the Sarge release which culminated in a release delay of thirty-five months. (It's not even like the highway that helpful advises "No gas station next 200 miles".) It should have been called Debian Sperm. A sperm whale will gestate for up to 19 months. No, that doesn't work. A female sperm whale could almost pump out a pair of pups over the same time span.

    I was following the internal Debian politics peripherally. I recall a bit part of the problem as a rapid desire not to favour the x86 architecture over any other architecture. Prudence would have pumped out an x86 midterm release (Sag) to at least keep the LAMP stack consistent with the right www millennium. Developing on top of backports or testing is not desirable in a startup company with critical release dates. More than once, backports turned a 70 hour week into an 80 hour week. There's a top ten entry on How to Win Friends and Influence People.

    This is a flip-side story where a necessary long-term consensus holds hostage a subgroup of your strongest proponents. And for what reason?

    I wonder sometimes if it might not have been a bad thing for Debian to be out of the front-line spotlight for five years. It's a community built around putting purity first, users second. In the long run, purity might be the best thing for users. One needs to recognize, though, that the churn associated with the early pursuit of purity can be one of the worst user experiences of all. I wish it had been better managed.

    Proposed solution: Be l

  • Not this again. "Bruce: My favorite hack is a social one. One day, right here on Slashdot, I announced âoeOpen Sourceâ to the world. We were standing on the shoulders of Richard Stallman, but Richard was poorly suited to empathize with normal people - rather than us hackers â" and thus evangelize to them." You did no such thing [hyperlogos.org], and you don't even claim to have invented the term as early as the first citation located so far. Your accomplishments are significant enough that you shouldn't have

    • Hi "drinkypoo".

      You've been on this horse for years now, and maybe you have a handful of friends who care about it but nobody else does.

      I have told you before that I don't claim to have invented the term "open source". This was used before to refer to a form international intelligence gathering, and on a few rare occassions to refer to source code being available. What I did was announce the "Open Source" that we now think of when we hear those words. And I made the rules that apply to that form of "Open Source" most of a year before we thought to call it that.

      And nothing that you can do will change that, so go ahead and publicize your silly argument. I don't care, and nor does anyone of consequence that I know of.

      • by godrik (1287354)

        Indeed, nobody cares :)
        It appears clear to me that the term was used here and there to mean multiple things. You came and put an official definition stamped by people that matters (OSI and FSF).

        The industry have been trying to redefine it as "code is available for reading purposes" which pushed Stallman to emphasize that availability is not enough and which he calls FLOSS.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          The industry have been trying to redefine it as "code is available for reading purposes"

          Wrong, that's what the OSI has been doing. Open Source means "code is available for reading purposes" and it meant that before there was an "Open Source Initiative" which is why "Free Software" is different from "Open Source". The meaning was probably taken directly from the meaning used in the intelligence community. People like Bruce Perens have claimed repeatedly to have invented the term, then every time they do and they're called on it, they claim that's not what they're doing. Luckily, they do not hav

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        I have told you before that I don't claim to have invented the term "open source".

        Yes, but you are a liar. That's because you commonly say things like "I announced open source to the world" which is a lie. You did no such thing. You announced the open source initiative, but we already had open source software, so you could not announce it. It worries me that you are willing to lie to achieve your ends, which seem mostly to be making yourself important and denigrating Free Software, because you seem to frequently act as an expert in legal cases. Given that you are commonly acting in bad f

        • Martin, whatever problems you have, I did not make them. This is a nutcase crusade, and you're just making yourself a nutcase by pursuing it.

  • Thank you Bruce for contributing to Open Source/Open Hardware/WhatEverYouLikeToCallIt. Your contributions are valuable and your vision enlightening!

  • So, what's not right for Open Source? I helped to make feature films at Pixar and have an IMDB credit on two of them. While you can create stories in an Open Source paradigm, the best of them seem to be made in the conventional one. I believe that films should be playable on any device and should not be encumbered with DRM. I don't see a problem with an artist being paid for each copy of a film or music.

    Bruce, I'm wondering if you didn't really state this the way you meant, because it comes across as prett

    • Well, sure, stories often use tried-and-tested formulae. Which would be a problem if we had story patents. But I thought this was the best answer to the question, and it was one I had discussed just weeks before at a Free Software conference.

      I don't particularly like that we sometimes get identified with a "darker element". So, I sometimes bring that up just to make it clear that the people who redistribute feature films illegaly, and the people who do nasty things to servers on the internet, are not us.

  • I couldn't have hoped for a more direct answer to my question! It was insinuated in the question, but in case it wasn't picked up, that's my view too.

    "And it appears to me that it's driven by Black Duck and it really is time that someone called them upon it."

    I like to think that there are many posters on slashdot who do call them on it when the dead horse gets trundled out again, and I presume people on other fairly-technically-sophisticated and mostly-unbiased fora (if there are any) do too. However, just
  • Missed the question submission thanks to work travel, but would have brought up something that is an ever-growing fear of mine: That the biggest threat to our rights cannot be defeated with clever code and honest marketing, but constant, unrelenting political maneuvering.

    If you look around, what shuts out individual rights is achieved through Capitol Hill. Not just in an election year either ;-)

    When forming Open Source Matters (and thereafter Joomla) I was grateful to Eben Moglen and crew at the SFLC [softwarefreedom.org] and th

  • Bruce, it seems you may have misinterpreted Black Duck’s position. Our data – about the GPL or otherwise – is just that: data. We do not espouse any opinions about the data reported; rather, we simply provide the information which, in this case, indicates that the continuing diversity in license choices people are making is based on the specific needs of their organizations. We’d be happy to speak with you about this (and any other data points) any time – please don’t

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