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(slightly skeptical) Educational society promoting "Back to basics" movement against IT overcomplexity and  bastardization of classic Unix

Open Source Software:
  (slightly skeptical) Annotated Chronicle

1999 Q1

Jan Feb March 


March 1999

It is clear Europe is already well ahead of the United States in Open Source utilization, culture, and awareness. A disproportionate number of Open Source development efforts are based there. Businesses, universities, and individuals on the continent are committing to Open Source offerings in relative numbers far exceeding their American counterparts.

...The willingness of European business to embrace Open Source software has, at least on the surface, some plausible explanations. First and foremost, businesses in Europe are much more cost-conscious than their U.S. cousins. Xavier Cazin, a Chief Editor at O'Reilly Editions France, highlights the contrast. "Cost makes companies here look more closely at OSS arguments. A U.S. company will easily pay two hundred dollars for DNS service on NT, whereas a French company will be interested in learning that DNS has always been free on UNIX. Then, they will check whether it's really as good or better. U.S. companies often won't go that far, they'll pay to have it now."

European corporations are also much more wary of Microsoft dependency. Kalle Dalheimer, an author for O'Reilly Germany, says "Linux in Europe has a much higher position than reports I have heard in America. Scandinavia, Germany, and France are some of the main centers of Linux use. Some people say that this is because companies and the government want to avoid becoming too dependent on U.S. -- read Microsoft -- products."

But business' desire to minimize dependency, Dalheimer explains, is often overshadowed by technical pragmatics. "More and more [European] companies see that Linux is simply better than Windows and that they gain competitive advantage if their Linux mail servers work while their competitor's MS Mail Server has problems getting the mail through. Lots of European companies use Linux. These include IKEA, the Swedish furniture retailer; Deutsche Bahn, the German national railroad; Deutsche Post, the mail service; Daimler-Chrysler, and many others. Companies like banks and insurance companies also often use Linux without admitting it publicly. I know from friends who work [at such institutions] that the technicians are doing everything with Linux."

Cazin sees a similar trend, at least in France. "On servers, I do think Linux is replacing proprietary Unices at a very high rate, something I don't see for the U.S. For the rest, I think it's the same: in big companies, there is always a PC somewhere with Linux, more and more officially. In small companies that have a real computer department, chances are great that Linux is beginning to invade the company, replacing NT."

It is when one explores the role of Open Source in European higher education that the issues become distinctly less quantitative. Americans often perceive Europeans as highly politicized and philosophical. Whether that reputation is deserved or not, it's pretty clear that -- in the academy at least -- there are some pretty high-minded ideals in play. While academic tenure in the U.S. is increasingly a preamble to employment in the commercial sector, in Europe, state-run universities seem to prefer a little more distance from economic imperatives. Perhaps it is because they value (and fund) the Liberal Arts more vigorously. Perhaps it reflects government social welfare imperatives with which Europeans, for the most part, are clearly more comfortable than Americans. Maybe it's because the cult of wealth is less rampant than in the U.S.; certainly, higher rates of taxation make American-style amassments of personal wealth less plausible.

To be sure, at least some of the motivation to deploy OSS in European universities is cost-driven. But a large part must be attributed to cultural priorities. Cazin explains how the European perspective places higher education outside the orbit of rapidly-changing commercial technology markets. "OSS mostly originates in universities or public-funded organizations. What it means in Europe is that it is related to building the infra-structure of a society. Educators generally think that greedy, commercial algorithms are not optimal to this task. OSS and public organizations like universities share a common role in building what is considered at a given time the minimal base for individual members of society to build upon. Current trends that put infrastructure-building into the hands of short-term-thinkers are quite frightening to them. And the U.S. is considered the leader for this short-term ideology."

As computers become a daily necessity, Cazin asserts, the French philosophical perspective has led people to revolt. "Association of a price with a value is not mandatory here. The fact that something with a great value might have little or no cost is not troublesome. The more consensus there is that its role is essential (drinking, eating, health care, etc.), the less it should cost. People in general hate paying for something that is unavoidable. That's why French people didn't feel guilty in pirating Microsoft software for years, for example."

But the ultimate reason Europeans are more open to OSS may have more to do with social ideals than anything else. In comparison to the U.S., Europe enjoys a distinctly more socialist political climate, an emphasis on communitarian values, and an awareness of the problems that can result when too much faith is invested in commercial markets and Adam Smith's invisible hand. In the European outlook, working at little or no pay in the interest of the public good is a high calling. In a society offering more and sturdier social safety-nets for its citizens, the price of answering such a calling need not be homelessness. In a culture where many non-commercial endeavors -- in literature, politics, the performing arts -- can bring the highest social esteem, Open Source just feels right - because it reflects values embedded in the larger society.

Many might argue that American's fevered enthusiasm for the marketplace has created a cultural blind spot for the possibilities of Open Source. After all, turning one's back on the market is -- especially in the current soaring U.S. economic climate -- a heresy. Yet, amazingly, that's what the Open Sourcers have done. On the face of it, this must strike the majority of Americans -- caught up in a feeding frenzy of economic self-enrichment -- as fatuously perverse.

But it may be the most brilliant instinct of the times. If this proves to be true, Europe's communitarian reflexes may well play as a strength, while U.S. commercial prejudices and predispositions may cause America to take a back-seat, if not miss the bus entirely. Only time will tell

Will Rogers uttered the immortal saying: "I'm not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." Rogers' line could be spoken by members of the Unix community--users and vendors alike. Historically, the fragmentation of Unix has always been viewed as a liability, but the truth is, it is a strength and always has been.Unix has been threatened with unification almost as long as it has been in existence. Dredging up some ancient history, Sun and AT&T tried; the Open Software Foundation (now the Open Group) tried; Novell tried. Even now, IBM, Intel, SCO and Sequent are hard at work on the Monterey project, which will converge multiple versions of the OS on Intel's 64-bit Merced processor. But that endeavor leaves out so many other Unixes, such as Solaris and HP-UX, not to mention Linux, that you can rest assured there will be plenty of Unix versions to choose from for years to come

We'll never know if Unix might have done better as a single, unified version. But we do know that it has done remarkably well in scores of different versions. Any Unix historian has to conclude that unification is not all it's cracked up to be.

...One thing these users don't expect is that Linux will unify the Unix market. It'll be one more Unix-based alternative, just as Monterey will be...

Microsoft may believe that the Unix community is hopelessly Balkanized; that it will forever be vulnerable to a unified, inexpensive operating environment such as NT. But Will Rogers wasn't about to become a Republican, and Unix loyalists aren't going to defect, either. Not to NT, anyway.

February 1999

Community Open Source license from Sun

Two major figures backing the open source programming model parted ways this week as programmer Bruce Perens resigned from the board of the Open Source Initiative, a group established by Perens and open source evangelist Eric Raymond.

In open source development, any programmer can get access to the "source code"--the original programming instructions of a piece of software. With more traditional proprietary methods, a company keeps the original source code under tight wraps.

The open source movement provided much of the muscle behind the Linux operating system, which has been gaining much momentum of late, but the collective programming model is much broader. Other open source projects include the Perl scripting language in widespread use to create customized Web pages, the Apache Web page server, and the Sendmail email software.

As open source has grown in prominence and power, big-name computer companies have recognized it. IBM, for example, distributes and supports the Apache Web server. Sun Microsystems opened up its Java "write once, run anywhere" source code in a step that brings its software closer to the open source model.

Microsoft employees noted the power of open source software compared to Microsoft's methods in the Halloween memos. And Netscape decided to release the source code of its Web browser.

But with this growth has come philosophical differences.

The technology discussion site Slashdot reported the schism between Raymond and Perens yesterday, and hundreds posted their own, often adamant opinions on the subject.

Both Perens and Raymond have strong credentials in the open source arena; Perens is the primary author of the Open Source Definition and wrote parts of the Debian distribution of Linux. Raymond was the programmer behind much of the Fetchmail software and is the author of the influential paper "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," contrasting open source with proprietary development.

But the two now are at odds as an old debate resurfaced.

"One of the unfortunate things about open source is that it overshadowed the Free Software Foundation's efforts," Perens wrote this week. "The Open Source Definition is entirely compatible with the Free Software Foundation's goals, and a schism between the two groups should never have been allowed to develop. I objected to that schism, but was not able to get the two parties together."

In response, Raymond told Slashdot that Perens resigned from the Open Source Initiative after a "dustup" in which Perens described Tim O'Reilly (an open source advocate and the head of book publisher O'Reilly and Associates) as "one of the leading parasites [sic] of the free software community."

"Though no formal motion has yet been passed, it seems likely that OSI will shortly replace Bruce and add two more directors in an effort to broaden its base of representation in the open-source community," Raymond said.


Despite these philosophical debates, the open source effort moves on. "I'm an open-source developer. Yet, I couldn't care less if Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond disagree over wording of a license," one developer told CNET "I think it's important to keep in mind that these people do not represent the free/open source software community at all. They try to do their part, but their part hasn't lately included writing code, and that is what it's all about."

The ups and downs of open source
Netscape surprised the programming world when it set up Mozilla to shepherd the open source development of its Web browser in 1998.

But the company acknowledges the risks of that move. In its February 18 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company describes a long series of potential pitfalls of trying to harness the open source effort.

Among the risks: few developers may contribute; what they contribute may not be changes in the right direction; competitors may try to incorporate new Netscape features; and new code may infringe on the proprietary rights of third parties.

In addition, "the free source code may lead to a proliferation of incompatible or competitive products, potentially creating brand and market confusion," Netscape said.

That problem is known as "code forking," in which programmers take a piece of software down two or more different paths. Without efforts to bring the changes back under one roof, software can split into different and incompatible versions.

Last year, the Linux Standards Association set up shop on the Web, calling for standards for the operating system so business users wouldn't have to worry about incompatibilities between different flavors of Linux.

The association, led by Linux Online's Michael McLagan, disappeared from the Web in October 1998. The Linux Standards Base, however, which predated the Linux Standards Association, still exists.

...The essence of the Microsoft model is the radical concept of what McKinsey consultants call “The Law of Increasing Returns.” In the Microsoft model, that means harnessing the collective genius of thousands of developers at ISVs and MSPs to add value on top of a Microsoft OS. The principal difference is that Microsoft does not openly license the source code of Windows NT/9x/CE et al. Instead, Microsoft offers the vast majority of developers only a controlled peek at the OS via the publication of APIs and SPIs.

The real issue is whether APIs and SPIs are enough. If Microsoft, or any company for that matter, were to create a serious business model in which an OS was widely opened up all the way down to the kernel, what would be the effects on quality, reliability, and ease of use? If not Microsoft, could such a company challenge the Redmond behemoth for a serious piece of desktop or IT glass-house real estate?

The immediate impediment to answering that question is the lack of a serious business approach by the current crop of open-source evangelists. There are outrageous claims and counter claims on both sides of the argument. Is software written in a bazaar inherently better than software written in a cathedral? I don’t know, but how about software that just works?

...Worse yet, the crunchy-granola crowd would hi-jack the open-source movement and turn it into the free-software movement. That’s fine and dandy for dusty academics living on NSF grants, but Ayn Rand would never approve of such munificence. If the open-source movement is to prove itself, it will need to produce a commercially viable product. Declaring the K Desktop Environment (KDE) apostate because it contains some proprietary code from a Norwegian company is beyond belief.

I have been one of these skeptics. I have worried that these "click-wrap" deals would open the door for companies to slip one by consumers. And I have criticized attempts by lobbyists to quickly write a new legal code (called the UCC 2b) to validate click-wrap agreements.

But the Net continues to surprise lawyers like me. We think, "How could a consumer ever really enforce the terms of such an agreement." But the Internet shows us how. For less money than big-firm lawyers charge in an hour, a Web campaign can be born. And in less time than it takes to get to trial, that campaign can mature into something big. Thousands of people can come together to insist that the promisor do what was promised. And in the end, I suspect, the promisor, or its agents, will.

This is the best of the Net. It is the best of bottom-up governance, although of course, in the end, it is governance that relies on law — contract law. And it is the best of contract law, for it affirms the basic equality that a contract represents. When, Oliver Twist-like, Geoffrey Bennett says, "Please, sir, may I have the refund," and when Wizard of Oz-like, Toshiba blasts, "What? What refund?" contract law, Jimmy Stewart-like, responds, "Just do what you promised, however powerful you might be." This is a new phase for law, however old it might be in the law of the Net.

Return of BSD


January 1999

[Jan 14, 1999] Linux Today: Linuxbox offers FREE hosting to the GNU/OSS development community

From the Linuxbox Web site:

"Linuxbox is proud to offer FREE hosting to the GNU/OSS development community! As an ongoing effort to raise awareness of Linux and other Open Source projects that we have been using to create our business, we're offering free stuff in return! All of our services are available to you at no charge, and the only restriction is you actually have to be developing something."



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


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


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


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

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