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 The False Economy of Proprietary Code

There have been many arguments being made against the open source community for its lack of controls and ownership. Many proponents of closed-source and proprietary software argue that they have spent millions of dollars developing software and therefore must be allowed to control the marketplace of ideas. Alas, poor souls, they fail to grasp the reality of the efficiency and economy of a greater power called free and open-source software.

The argument that so many are keen to make first is that the price of free software is nothing; that you cannot sell what is free source. Such is simply a prevarication as it was never the intent of the free software model to keep anyone from earning money. Instead, the idea was to keep the source code underlying the programs from being kept from the public. It allows code to be modified to fit within a unique environment. Instead of attempting to insure that one-size-fits-all (which we know does not always ring true) approach, the software can be customized for its environment.

 (Submitted by Chuck Talk Mon Dec 15, 2003 )

  Open-Source is an attempt to clarify the mission of free software and does address some people’s needs quite well. It is a slightly different train of thought, but one that is still allied in spirit with the community ideals. The two are not mutually exclusive ideations, though the philosophical leaders may differ in their interpretations of each other’s goals. The proponents of proprietary code also fear this model, for it does not deny the customer the right to take advantage of their own systems, or lock the customer into a predictable revenue stream to be harvested on an annual basis.

The actual fact is that free and open-source software can be sold. There is nothing to keep companies from doing so. The GNU General Public License does not keep you from selling the software at all. That was not ever the intention of the license, but there are those who are willing to try to obfuscate that fact by the misuse of the word free in its true meaning. The word free has always meant freedom of source or freedom of speech. The meaning has never been anything less, and has never meant that software cannot be sold.

What the purveyors of that false idea wish to obfuscate is that a freely developed codebase will change and disrupt the software marketplace. They do not understand how they can function in the new markets that are bound to arise. They have tied themselves to a traditional business model that is less efficient and less responsive than that which can develop under a new free and open-source software market. Change is the engine of fear, uncertainty and doubt for these proponents, and it is echoed within their editorial opinions expressing grave concerns over the viability of software libre.

The extremely litigious attacks to stall development of new ideas and different thought patterns are but the pulsing echoes of desperation. The colorization of those who have grasped the concept of the greater good as too liberal, too left, anti-capitalist or terrorists are merely arguments ad absurdum and argumentum ad ignorantiam.

To the proponents of those arguments, I have only this to say:

“Neutiquam erro et nihil curo de ista tua stulta superstitione.”

In other words, I am not lost or confused by their arguments and I have no wish to join their silly little cult. I find it interesting that the proponents of the absurd increase their volume whenever they feel that their personal fortunes are at risk. They fear the free market where quality matters. They fear a lack of revenue stream ownership. They fear the lack of lock-in and predictability. Mostly they just fear the unknown.

I cannot see any person who chooses to believe in freedom accepting the idea that fear is a justifiable position. Fear only serves a coward and cannot hope to serve free men and women. If fear were a reasonable response, then this nation would never have come into being. To those proponents of fear – you are advocating a losing proposition. You are advocating cowardice and the minimalization of intellectual curiosity and experimentation. It is a position that the inventive human mind cannot and will not accept. The idea that an inventive mind can be constrained in the pursuit of education and thought is but submissive and detrimental to the greater goal of building a peaceful world.

The proponents of the status quo would have you believe that because they pay many license fees along the way to delivering their software that it must be of somehow better quality is yet another of the ad nauseum arguments made to create anxiety. It is based upon the premise that if a company has paid for the licensing of software, then there is somehow a legal basis for that software. Yet, as we are seeing in ever increasing litigation, the true meaning of the favorite term of indemnification is often a great deal less than the promises given.

The cases of Microsoft’s losses in court wherein it has lost on several patent infringement cases prove that the limits of indemnification do not extend to developers based upon their use of proprietary code (as in the Timeline, Eolas, Burst and Eric Wilson cases). In fact, the SCO Group appear to have extended the absurdity and started a negative trend wherein companies are now going to being to prefer litigation to actual development.

Although the proponents of the idea that proprietary code is somehow lower cost and better quality do not wish to see the reality, the fact is that their software is often extremely encumbered with additional fees and royalties which have constrained their business to the point where the development of new features or ideas is bound to add undisclosed hidden new fees. Those fees are largely to blame for the price that the end-user and/or consumer pays, and the constrictions placed upon the software through onerous End-User License Agreements (EULAs) insures that the software cannot be easily customized to fit within the intended operating environment.

What this means is that closed-source and proprietary software is forced into a model of being “one size fits all.” This denies the reality of the way that people purchase and use products from the pedestrian to items of luxury. It denies the basic premise that an item that fits within an environment is one that can be tailored to suit the needs of the customer, not one where the customer is given a tent and told that it is a suit. We do not all buy the most fuel-efficient vehicles or buy the most expensive vehicles. We buy what befits our available capital, our intended purposes for use and the best value that we perceive for the price paid.

Software is much the same, no matter how much anyone cares to differentiate it as being somehow unique and beyond the pale of normal market influences. Software libre can be sold and customized because it does not rely upon external market agreements that hold back the development of usage scenarios. It does not seek to constrain the public into a lock-in of development. It does not seek to constrain the ability of companies into only delivering the same engine for the same vehicle. It is not a one-size-fits-all model. That simple fact is what makes it much more attractive than anything the proponents of FUD can arrange to disseminate throughout the markets.

I will try to set a simple analogy of the reality of markets by highlighting shoes. The ideas proposed by the proponents of proprietary-only code would have you believe that only they can deliver the best shoes to you. Their reasoning for this is because they have licensed shoe technology and have agreements in place with people who have manufactured the material to develop shoes, such as those who choose to make laces, eyelets, heels and coverings. They are therefore safe to deliver shoes (they say). However, you can only have one styles of shoe, and the shoes will come with the added burden of paying for those agreements they have in place.

On the software libre side of the fence, you have shoes manufacturers who can build you a custom shoe that fits your needs. They are working with the same suppliers but their costs are lower. In addition, they can deliver any style of shoe you want to fit any needs or purposes you may have. If you want an evening ware shoes, they can build that. If you want a sneaker, they can build that. If you need dress shoes, they can build that, and in any size, style or color you need, for any purpose you need. Better still, the shoes do not have to be serviced by the manufacturer, for the plans of the shoe are available to whoever is capable of servicing your shoes the best. That is a customer focused and responsive shoe builder, driven to deliver quality.

Now, I know that this is a simplification of the model of free and open-source software versus closed and proprietary code, but I feel it is necessary to try to explain it to you in reasonably clear and easy to understand terms. Most of the time the proprietary propagandists will favor the broad brush of labels such as anti-capitalist or terrorists to the truth of what I am saying. That truth is denied is a sure sign of their fear and insecurity. They simply fear honest competition that favors the customer for they have become comfortable in the wake of the customer lock-in they have enjoyed for so long. That lock-in is their idea of a free economy; it is an idea that is out-of-balance with reality and one that favors their control versus the customer’s needs.

The market must be set free and the future must be open if our technology is to advance. That much we know to be true, no matter what is said or written by those who seek to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt. No nation in a global economy can hope to maintain artificial barriers to the advancement of technology and societies. It is the act of an ostrich, burying one’s head in the sand of illogical reasoning. The economy of closed and proprietary source is but a short-lived stopgap measure designed to stall the truth, and is merely attempting to stop the oceans’ tide by the power of hysteria. It is an experiment doomed to ultimate failure.

That is my opinion, and you are free to disagree. As it is opinion though, it is free speech as protected under the First amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Now, just how is that un-American, bubba?


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