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Friday, January 07, 2005

Open-Source is not necessarily Free

"Open-source software is required to have its source code freely available; end-users have the right to modify and redistribute the software, as well as the right to package and sell the software." This is the formal definition. When you dig deeper you find that the common perception of open-source and no cost, "free" software gets kind of blurry.
"Despite apparent similarities, open-source software is distinct from free software. The Free Software Foundation's (FSF) free software definition is more restrictive than the Open Source Definition; as a consequence of this, free software is open source, but open-source software may or may not be free."
Now granted a large majority of open-source is indeed free but the fact that some isn't I'm sure is slightly alarming to the socialists among us. Here again is the real point, people talk about how great open-source is and pander it's ideology. When in reality all anyone truly cares about is one of two things:

1. It is Free Software
2. It is Anti-Commercialism/Capitalism, in other words - Anti-Microsoft

Programming is not an easy quick task that many are willing to do for free. I'm sure some nieve idealists would if they had some other way to live. The fact of the matter is the best open-source projects are money makers and/or are backed by large corporations who have talented programmers and engineers on the payroll. Some of the most popular and well developed open-source projects such as OpenOffice and the Mozilla Project which inclues the Firefox web browser and the Thunderbird Email Client are funded by Sun Microsystems which for various reasons has legitimate issues with Microsoft. This is one reason these projects exist as open-source and are in such a highly finished competitive state. They compete directly with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Outlook and Office line of software.

The big picture becomes even clearer when you look at the most successful open-source Linux distribution Red Hat. Their business model is of selling software with support packages for the server market. The key word here is they are "selling" open-source software. Idealists and Socialist fail to grasp the concept that you need money to live. In this respect you start to see why certain open-source advocates are quick to separate themselves from the public perception that open-source is free software. They instead focus on the ability of open-source to be easily modified and redistributed. Fair enough but this is far from commonplace.

I'm sure if you talk to enough open-source advocates they will all admit to using this feature of being able to modify the software. Now in reality how significant the personal modifications are as opposed to the large majority that wait for the handful of actual open-source developers to release their latest build seems more likely. In which case you get back to the fact that the majority uses open-source for one of the two reasons I mentioned above. In which case you have hypocrisy.

Open-source appears to be free when it is convenient. Right now it is very convenient. Microsoft is the big bad guy on the block and marketing the free alternative plays to the idealists. If all open-source software was truly free then you could do anything with it, including sell it as your own. Try selling Red Hat's Server software as your own, that's what I thought. I honestly don't care what any open-source advocate tries to say to change what they think the public's perception of open-source is. The general public considers open-source software as free, no cost software. Very little if any attempt is made by the open-source community to change this perception. If anything it is the driving force behind its success. This is almost as bad as the misleading perception that open-source is this huge public development community. Tell that to the closed group of paid programmers and engineers on Sun and IBM's open-source development teams.

I don't necessarily dislike or have a problem with open-source, rather I am very cynical about the economics behind it and the misleading public perception of it. Can open-source truly be free? In certain situations I believe it can but as a whole, economics has a way of bringing reality to even the most idealistic of us all.


Zain said...

I'd like to point out a couple things that you may have overlooked.

The Free Software Foundation supports the GNU GPL License. By adhering to this license, the developer must either include the source or make it easily available for any binaries he/she produces.

In addition, the GPL allows the client, the person who downloads the source, to redistribute or sell the binaries with the source for any price he/she chooses.

This effectively makes the market value of the program absolutely nothing. The first person who buys it will begin redistributing it for free, and who would pay money for the software when its legally available for free?

Non-GPL licenses are, obviously, exempt from this. However, any work derived from the GPL-licensed Linux has to be also GPL-licensed. Just thought I'd point this out.

On a different note, I like your writings. I've been planning on putting up a similar editorial/analysis site for quite a while. Would you guys (all of you) be interested in moving over? I could set up a WordPress system which would give all the same features as Blogger. Of course, I'll be writing some articles on there too.

Let me know if you're interested and we can talk a bit more about it. I'm sure you've outgrown your Blogger roots and would like your own domain.

You can contact me however you like:
AIM: ZigZagZain
Y!: boingyzain
MSN: boingyzain@hotmail.com
Email: zain [at] losthamster [dot] com

Brito said...

By the way, you do know that you can get the free version of RHEL with WhiteBox Linux, and CentOs. They are both the exact same code base with the redhat logos removed. These are the community supported editions. When you buy from RedHat you buy it for the support that they provide.

Andrew said...

You still can not get "Red Hat" Linux for free.

Brito said...

The point is you are getting red hat linux for free (ie the code they contributed). What you are not getting for free are the redhat logos (which are their own trademarks etc...) and the support. Now you don't get the actual compiled version from RedHat for free, you have access to all of their source code from their CVS tree. If you want that to be a working system you have to compile all of that yourself, but thats just part of the "open source thing". WhiteBox and CentOs do all of the compiling for you, plus add their own logos to get around the "no use of redhat logos" issue.

Andrew said...

I understand what you are saying but my point is you do not get exactly "Red Hat" Linux.

Brito said...

I wanted to clarify that last comment as I was wrong about something. *YOU* can get the redhat linux for free, and keep all the redhat logos and trademarks etc. on your system. YOU just can't take that version you have compiled and distribute it to other people without removing the other stuff.

So in effect if you really wanted RHEL linux from RedHat then you can compile it all on your own machine install it and be on your merry way.

If what you are saying is that you can't get RHEL from redhat and the support that comes when you buy it then I completely understand and that is correct. But, no one ever said the point of OpenSource was to always be free, there are tons of companies that are betting their lives on the fact that they can make some money off of it. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Some of these companies have more selfish reasons then others though, but thats just the way the world works haha.

Brito said...

More elaboration, I read your artcile last night and was very tired, I just re-read it to make sure I was making sense.

I see what you are saying, "the perception that open source is 100% free as in Beer and free as in freedom." It depends on what the license says, most of the time it just works in the situation where if you want to distribute open source software, your only obligation is that when you sell or give someone a binary copy, they also get a copy of the source that they too can modify and redistribute. There are those that try and say its always 100% free, but they are misinformed, and most likely not involved in the development effort at all. Thats a problem with humanity though, some people think they have a through enough understanding of something and dispell information like its the word of god.

Only time will tell if the business models built on open source or hybird opensource/support can truly work. It's more like a waiting game at this point.

Andrew said...

Where can you get Red Hat Enterprise Edition for free?

The article was about the public perception Open-Source is free, no-cost software. I honestly hate the Free as in beer phrase. Because beer isn't free!!!

Brito said...

Haha, I totally understand your hate for that comment, I just used it because that is how it was always described to me. I just think of it like this, its free as in beer if your friend gives you the beer. Just like the software is free, if the community gives it to you. Now that beer was not free for your friend (he had to buy it), and the code wasn't free for they community (they had to spend time coding it). But it was still free for you.

Anyway heres the redhat ftp server: RHEL directory. RedHat packages everything as RPM's so if you want to actually see the code you have to download it and extract it etc... No one said they had to make it easy for you, but there are tons of guides out there, just google it, for compiling your own from that code.

Andrew said...

Can you resell "Red Hat" Linux? No and that was my whole point.

Brito said...

Well, I'm going to get extremely technical with reguards to the definition of open source.

Yes, you can sell RHEL with respect to the code and modifications that redhat has released under the GPL. People base tons of Linux "distrobutions" on redhat.

No, you can not sell Redhat's logos, *BUT* the logos and trademarks are NOT opensource software, they are trademarks of RedHat. Just like you can't throw Microsoft's logos on something and call it Microsoft Windows.

The way I understand it is that if your a compnay and you make a product you stand behind that product. But if Bob comes along and wants to resell your product, well you can't stand behind Bob's product, because you don't know what he has done to it. This is why Redhat will let you modify and redistribute thier code, but you can't take their logos and call it redhat linux. They don't want to take the blame if you make a bad product.

The way I see it, since Open Source only talks about code, and not documentation, support, logos etc... then Yes, you can do whatever you want with that redhat code so long as it is not called Redhat's own product.

The logos etc... who care's they are only logos, make your own , then you can have your own distro that is just like RHEL but you can call it Bob's Linux. Now, if anyone would buy that is another story.

Brito said...

You keep going back to the "Can you sell exactly RHEL the way that redhat does."

I agree with you no you can not. You can only sell it for the cost of materials and shipping, no profit.

But the way I read your article it was talking about RedHat in reguards to OpenSource software. My point is that the source for RedHat is FREE and that you can sell that (as long as you give the source away with the binary too).

If you want exactly redhat with their logos and you want to sell that, then no its not free. But I have not seen anyone profess to say that. I just don't see the thinking with that, I mean your not allowed to take anyone's software with their own things and call if your own, thats just stealing. That is not what opensource software is.

Andrew said...

This is the whole point, that you can not resell true "Red Hat" Linux. Red Hat does though, I mean sure they are saying it is a service package but come on.

Brito said...

I just think that it is no different from regular software or anything else for that matter. You can't just take something from redhat, call it redhat and sell it to everyone else. Just like you can't take something form Microsoft, call it Microsoft and sell it like its from Microsoft. It's illigal and you will most likely be sued by both companies. It's just the way "names or trademarks" or whatever work.

I haven't ever seen someone say that they can sell RedHat Linux as their own and still call it RedHat Linux.

In this mode of thinking heres how I view it. Zain above said that since the code is GPL and everyone can sell it, the market value of linux is zero. What redhat can then only "offer" to sell you is a) their name (carries at least some weight in the enterprise) and b) their support contracts.

Sure they money they get is going to support the programmers and everyone else that works for them. But the effect is that code that redhat helps develop is free and available to all.

Any company that wants to could download RHEL and install it on all their servers, the problem with that is when something breaks the company wants someone to turn to or someone to blame. If they didn't buy the software/support from redhat they are SOL.

In a perfect economy, any company can roll their own RHEL and sell their own "cheaper" support contracts with it. And I do believe there are some that do this now. But in reality a company does want that "Brand Name" and the peice of mind that comes with buying it from RedHat and not some fly-by-night little company.

So in reality the only thing they can sell is the support. The value of the code is zero. I understand that your saying, "really we know what that money is going to," pay all those dev's and execs and all. But thats what a bussiness is for. They make their money on the contracts, and thats how the company was made. I don't think they every said were here to just give stuff away. They wanted to find a way to capitalize on something free. The only way they could do that was to sell something along with it. Support or Insurance.

You can think of it like this too. Microsoft does not sell software. The software is free, you have to pay for a license from Microsoft to use that software. Sure you can't redistrubute that software or make any of it available to anyone else, but read that eula, the software and media are free. It's that damn license that is so expensive.

Brito said...

I just thought of another analogy, though I don't know if this one is as good. People really do like brand names. If you go in a store and see some generic store brand or some offical brand name brand, most people will spring for the brand name item becuase it is somehow better.

People "buy" that somehow better brand name in addition to the product they are getting even if it is more expensive.

That is what redhat is selling, their name and support, and that is what companies want.

Microsoft does it too, as do all companies. They sell thier software, and then extended support contracts. No one thinks MS is going to go under any time soon, so they are okay with paying extra to be sure that they can support their systems for quite some time.

Andrew said...

Exactly and part of my point. Open-Source needs to be redefined as code modification allowed or something. The word free really should not be used because it is misleading.

Brito said...

Heres the thing, there are so many definitions of Open Source that it can drive you mad. What I reguard as the true definition is the OSI definition, the reason I choose this definiton is because it is genereally accepted as "true open source." The OSI "validates" certain licenses as OSI compatable because those licenses agree with the open source philosophy, so GPL, BSD, Mozilla etc...

The first two rules really sum it up:

1. Free Redistribution

The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.

Rationale: By constraining the license to require free redistribution, we eliminate the temptation to throw away many long-term gains in order to make a few short-term sales dollars. If we didn't do this, there would be lots of pressure for cooperators to defect.

2. Source Code

The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form. Where some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost–preferably, downloading via the Internet without charge. The source code must be the preferred form in which a programmer would modify the program. Deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed. Intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.
According to that, for software to be Open Source, it must be freely redistributable. Now I don't think that means you can't charge for the original work, but once you charge one person, the person who purchased it can release the software onto the internet for free download. So there is really no way to charge people for it, or it wouldn't be open source.

Some people use the very restrictive definition and reguard open source as just that, you can see the source code, but you can not touch it. Much like Microsofts shared source initiative. You can see how windows works, but you can't change it. That is not the same thing, and it is not true open source.

Brito said...

What it really comes down to is how you choose to license your software. If you choose OSI compatable licenses, then your software is free as in no cost.

If you choose some other license that is "open source", (you can see the code) then who knows what the person might choose to do. But if the code is not freely redistrobutable then it is not open source, it is not free as in I can do what I want.

What the public has gotten used to, is the fact that people compile this free code and package it up all nice. That is where the misconception lies. But the root of all of that is the original source code was free.

BigWhale said...

You, like many other people, failed to grasp the 'Free as in Speech, not Free as in Beer' concept.

You think it's all about money, but it is not. It's about sofware being free, freedom is the term, not 'free of charge'.

Andrew said...

Last I checked Beer is not free. That common used analogy is flawed and does help anyone understand the concept any better. These sort of communication problems plague the opensource community. The article is very clear in that alot of people have the misconception that all Opensource software is free, no-cost software. The concept of opensource is well understood.

Continuous Life said...

The difficult part about open source software is that there are many ways to write the same program. Someone can steal your program without stealing your code, and thats the risk open source programmers run. Companies such as Sun Microsystems are at an advantage, because they have the money and legal might to challenge someone who has "stolen" their intellectual property. The Linux community has a similar leverage, but of a different kind. Linux has been around for such a long time and has such a name that nobody could ever plainly call it their own except for Linus Torvalds, who also "copied" the pricey Unix operating system kernel. The thing is...the code he wrote was all his own...nothing was taken from unix, but anyone who uses linux knows it IS for all points and purposes, a Unix OS. If memory serves me correctly, the SCO had/has beef with Linus even to this day over his "Copying".

As a long time linux user, i've dealt with enough open source software to know thats its not the corporations all the time. Most of the time its just some guys with some free time and a good idea they would like to share. Not everyone's greedy. Also, I'd rather know what the program is doing...how its doing it and why its doing it. Having an applications source code is invaluable for troubleshooting (and customization =) )

Open Source/Free software obviously has a strong draw to it. For Example:
If you use your computer mostly just for internet browsing and e-mail (which 90% or so of the computer using population do) then why pay $199 for Windows when Mandrake or RedHat linux can do it for free.
Why spend $450 on Adobe Photoshop when GiMP does the same for free.

Why make Adobe and Microsoft richer and yourselves poorer when there are free alternatives out there?

Just a thought...

Andrew said...

Gaming, Driver and Hardware Support. No Cedega is not a solution, Windows and Directx is.

Brito said...

Drew you missed the point of both their posts:

when people say "Free as in Speech, not Free as in Beer". The part about beer is not the economic cost of beer, everything has an economic cost associated with it. They are talking about free as in I gave you a beer. Sure its not free for me, but it was for you. Thats all.

Second, when Continuous Life said: "If you use your computer mostly just for internet browsing and e-mail (which 90% or so of the computer using population do) then why pay".

Your response of " Gaming, Driver and Hardware Support." does not make sense.

If you need those things, then your not the group of people who only use their computer for the above mentioned tasks.