FOSSed Notes

The FOSSed conference was certainly very interesting and although the heat was almost unbearable, the sleeping and presentation rooms un-air-conditioned at least the event fed us well (a little too well as I note by budda belly this morning) and we got to talk with some very interesting people with a different take on Ubuntu and FOSS.

First of all there are plenty of people using Ubuntu, both strait up and as a basis for educational distributions. But almost everyone at this conference was using an Apple Mac, it’s something a lot of schools have invested in. I maintain that the bastards are going to be Apple in this and upper-middle class residential markets.

One sys-admin was explaining to me how their school is ditching Ubuntu in favour of Apple Macs because he (as a sysadmin) is not paid enough to do his job properly and just doesn’t want any more work to deal with. Of course far be it from me to suggest that doing a job at all is worth doing right, but I can’t imagine how a fleet of rented Apple Macs could be easier to manage even on a larger scale. I chalk this one up to professional folly and lack of imagination.

There were plenty of positive thinkers too, lots of people really wanted to learn some of the available programs in depth so they could go off and teach other people. this is great and it’s certainly something we should be doing more of. I know Inkscape has really good how-tos and guides available to download in manual format.

In the end though we got to talk a lot about all the challenges, politics, dumb decisions and rotten thinking that goes on in education. There was certainly a lot to complain about, most of the time it didn’t seem like it was malicious, just that old problem of pushing incompetent people further up stack into management instead of firing them. Of course I also remember being told: “No one likes being their own boss, because suddenly it’s hard to tell yourself just what a dumb boss you really are to yourself”

Your thoughts?

A Few good Altruists

I was reading a section in my New Scientist last night which made me smile with the conclusions.

It was a minute interview with author of “The Art of Meditation”, Matthieu Ricard and the subject was at first the science of meditation and the studies showing greater self control, focus and compassion in people who have trained to meditate. But it’s the last part I want to quote:

At the conference in Zurich in April, will be some bold economists who can demonstrate that altruists are able to influence global markets. In the past, such studies were often refuted by sceptical financial analysts. However, someone like Ernst Fehr, the famous Swiss economist, will show that if altruists make the rules and it is in the interests of selfish people to cooperate, then society can function in a more cooperative way.

Of course we in the FLOSS community will be familiar with this kind of relationship. With altruistic people setting the rules, people like Stallman and others who sacrifice for their principles of social progress, and then those that use those altruistic rules as selfish mechanisms, people like Torvalds. (although I’m stretching that point a bit, they’re both fairly altruistic in and selfish in their own way)

Perhaps this is what makes FOSS so progressive, that it is invented by those who want to see people (not themselves) have freedom, better software, more computer power etc and it’s then the selfish people that run with it.

Your thoughts?

Red vs Blue is not Purple

There is something that really gets up my nose, it’s not people who love and support proprietary software, it’s not idealogical capitalists, it’s not even the religious far right; it’s people who avoid conflict.

What do I mean by this? Well first lets separate out conflict from a flaming row. An emotional display of bickering, personal attacks and inflammatory chest beating is not what I mean when I say conflict. What I mean is the dialectic philosophy that there are ideas and by extension ideals which naturally fall into conflict with other ideas.

The reason why people who avoid conflict get up my nose so much is simply because they refuse to address problems, they supplement working out ideas and rigorous peer review with the adult to child like arguments: “because I said so” or “because it is”.

The old story is of course of a brother and sister who are fighting, the brother likes the colour blue and the sister likes the colour red. So there they sit arguing with each other:

“Red is the colour of roses and I like roses.”
“But it’s also the colour of warnings and blood, but blue is cool.”
“But blue is so boring, it’s not exciting at all…”
And so it continued.

Later after this exchange had gone on for a few minutes their mother appeared, she’d been half listening in as she prepared their dinner. “Look dinner’s ready, why don’t you both compromise, if you like blue and you like red, why don’t you both like purple instead?”. At which point the children just scoff at the suggestion and continue to argue.

The problem isn’t the attempt at solving the conflict, the problem is the naive assumption that problems can be fixed by picking what ever apparently looks like the middle ground. This is what people do when they look at the Free Software and Proprietary Software ideals, they say things like “Ah well as long as people have a choice, what does it matter” and “So long as the program does what you need it to do.” whilst not understanding that they are completely missing the point of the conflict and get no points for avoiding the problem.

I believe the more mature argue a great deal and accept conflict as a part of working things out. Going inside and out of every argument, looking at every possible compromise and what is trying to be achieved by these ideals. Even looking at the way the world is, how we think it should be and conflict about how to get it closer to our ideal. These conflicts are not bad, only the form and skill with which the participants handle them are and I know Jeff S. could probably run you off a list of instances where I’ve handled conflict badly, unskilled, letting emotion and pride get in the way of a decent argument, we’re all human.

Then consider the people who I would love to have a decent conversation with about FLOSS are people like Cory Doctorow or Benjamin Mako Hill. It certainly wouldn’t be Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds, the former because he’s a narrow focus idealog and the latter because he rejects the notion of conflicting ideals being a useful topic of conversation. This is why for me I would not see progress, new ideas, new approaches coming from either of these two luminaries of the FLOSS landscape, perhaps because they’re gotten old and weary of conflict.

That’s the other thing to consider, you don’t have to shove an argument down someone’s throat if they are weary of the conflict. Either because they’re engaged in poor arguments in the past or because they’ve hit upon their one true faith and have no need to discuss it further. Perhaps it’s worth leaving these people alone, after all we do want progress from our conflict.

Dialectics says that the new ideas generated from conflicts and other ideas may not even be obvious, or make any sense unless you’ve gone through the process of working out the conflict. This is why bringing someone into an argument late in the game normally mandates that the arguments have to be hashed over again and again, although if your response is to just say “Well we’ve talked about this before” then your pretty much guaranteed to have someone who doesn’t understand why you’ve come to a certain conclusion and is a great way to make sour non-contributors.

Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts, in regards to FLOSS communities or general the philosophy of social ideas, memes etc.

Note: If these feels familiar to you, it’s probably because I’ve written about this before, but I’m still fleshing out all the ideas.

Making Money with FOSS Part 3

Greetings everyone interested in FOSS economics, ok so this week NickFox has written another great blog entry with some arguments against and for my last blog entry about making money with FOSS.

fund-development-logoAnd now for my reply, as requested, to continue this interesting debate (your interest may vary), so lets get stuck in:

This is indeed true. The community itself and it’s development of software has no use for software it cannot touch. However, that said, closed source software does have its uses.

I wouldn’t deny that proprietary software has it’s uses, to the individual. It’s easy to see how it’s useful for the immediate task. What it doesn’t have though is a future. The cost to the community of maintaining compatibility, of supporting these closed offerings is not zero. Very often the companies who put these things out do not bare those costs and instead it’s the community serving the community that pays the integration price.

My point is that we must be careful, account for all costs.

I also think there will require a bridge between the two business models, a stop gap if you will. That stop gap is in-fact the FOSS community semi-adopting and supporting closed source applications.

Mr Fox may be right that supporting some commercial apps will make us more attractive in the immediate short term, but in the long haul it will discourage users from investing in and developers from making compatible or comparative software.

For instance, if flash for linux was not available, the community would have already have developed gnash to a much more advanced state. We’d have a much better flash experience than most other platforms and it’s likely that the gnash project would be a more serious competitor on mobile and alternative platforms. We might also have seen faster progress and pressure on the svg standard.

Now I’d never stop any one person from taking advantage of these proprietary offerings to improve their own experiences. But I would encourage them to also think of them as stop gap measures and proceed with investing time and money into the free software alternatives. This is more of the “Use but Pay for Future Freedom” model, rather than the OSS’s “Doesn’t matter so long as it works” and the FSF’s “It must be Free Software or you can’t use it”.

As users, if we don’t value freedom then we loose it. But conversely if we don’t value functionality, then we loose people. A balance is needed, the communication of the importance of Free Software ideals with some of the practicalism of OSS, a balanced approach that sees the short term satisfied without the long term forgotten to complacence.

there is no real competition in the market for Microsoft.

Microsoft are a monopoly, this is not a problem for the community alone to solve, but it is also a problem for competition commissions and legal systems around the world to not let Microsoft get away with it’s licensing arrangements with OEMs. Fairness won’t come about until either we in the FreeDesktop world have something 50x better or monopoly regulators start doing their jobs.

what reason does a development company have to try to change to the open source business model when they are targeting the largest audience possible?

FOSS is not just about making things available on a FreeDesktop like Ubuntu. It’s about choosing to respect your users, even if it means that some of those users will port it to Ubuntu for you. If they are FOSS, then they don’t need to really concern themselves with any of the small players, and can focus on windows all they like. FreeDesktops will take advantage of what they need to.

Proprietary software on Ubuntu will still require investment, but this time it’s static and not very future proof. It’s functional now perhaps, but it’s not secure, it’s not efficient and it’s not very stable. It’s easy to see how skype could drop it’s “Linux” support like a lead balloon and leave us powerless to stop them.

Finally, the point is while the closed source business, due to lack of competition among other things will not make the change to open source, I believe if the FOSS community were to build the bridge, they would use it.

As well as convincing users of the usefulness of using FreeDesktops, we must at the same time be able to convince them of the necessity of demanding FOSS licenses from their software providers. Just like users are already demanding organic and other valuable, non mass produced ideals. The time is right for Linux and the time is right to communicate to users, the general public, that what they buy matters.

Businesses will follow, so long as we have a way for users to buy something from a FOSS marketplace.

I also would like to respond to Simon who commented on my last entry:

Your model assumes that users know what they want and while that may sometimes be true, most of the time it is not. There is a big difference between what users THINK they want, and what they ACTUALLY want. You can see that in many forms in FOSS, for example, there are users wanting option A to be added to program Z, when what they actually want is a better application behavior (and that option A is not really necessary).

That’s very true, users have to not only be able to ask for what they think they want, but they have to trust producers that communicate why they think that’s a bad idea. There needs to be a trusting relationship and to some degree users will have to be convinced to invest in pure R&D. Purely idealistic because users aren’t that future proof when it comes to spending money.

Perhaps some kind of governmental or organisational research fund? or some website which developers and project managers can get together to get users interested in further development? I’m confident these problems can be solved if people really push in that direction.

All of this is my opinion, I would appreciate everyone’s thoughts on this subject below in comments or on your own blogs.

The Software Cooperative

I had the very good pleasure today of meeting with Joe Golden of the old Green Mountain Linux company up in Vermont. He expressed to me a strong desire to help people get in touch with Free and Open Source ideals and importantly get people to recognise the community efforts that go into making all this great software.

So I had a bit of a think, some of my in-laws up there took me to the local farmers market. It’s a great market if you’ve never been to Burlington town center, lots of fresh produce, cider, wine, bread, excellent stuff.

Well they’re involved with the Diggers Mirth farming cooperative where they all get involved and all get to share the rewards for their hard work. The food is even sold in the local supermarket.

So since people obviously value food cooperatives, why not explain the software that we write in those terms?

To experiment a bit and see what kind of results this could turn up, I’ve drafted a simple, alpha quality leaflet which could be used at markets such as these as well as other places such as libraries or whole food type supermarkets:

Flyer Image

Update: I’ve updated it to version 2.1, to fix a whole bunch of issues reported in my comments section.

Update: Download svg on deviantArt, click image for link through. also licence terms are specified.

Really Making Money with FOSS

So many people have attempted to describe, explore and probe the economic workings of the Free and Open Source Software business. Recently Nick Fox has given us his thoughts on what this means.

And this is my critical article explaining why he is wrong, sorry Nick got to be critical. The first half of the article is fairly correct as far as I know. so I’m just going to skip to the bad parts:

Commercial software being generally closed source is a necessary evil.

This assumes proprietary software is the only model for profitable commercial software. It is not. It also assumes that FOSS can’t possibly be commercial, a big mistake and a common myth. You can take a copy of a GPL licensed program and sell (that’s right, for money) the software to someone. So long as you don’t remove the recipients freedoms and they get to redistribute, that may sound like it crushes your commercial opportunities and it does sort of, but I’ll get to that.


However creating software as a business requires a level of production protection that is not usually accepted in the Linux circles. Compiled and protected sources are a bad thing for software freedom and progress, however they are good for free market business.

This part floored me. The idea that proprietary software could be in any way free market is so absurd that I can’t understand how this idea has come about. The nature of the free market is that goods or services will be priced very close to the costs of replication and distribution when supply is above demand, software had infinite supply and will always be above demand.

The costs of software replication and distribution are very close to zero. So in a free market, all software is free of cost by order of the invisible hand. What is NOT free of cost is the creative production. But because the creative industries can not yet find a secure way of funding their production; they have gotten government regulation (copyright) to warp the nature of the free market to create temporary monopolies on distribution instead. Shifting costs around. And if you’ve been following your economics, a monopoly will tend to price things at the very maximum a customer is willing to pay, not the minimum it’s economically sustainable to charge (as in the free market).

The separation of first creation and replication of copies, I think is important to understanding the nature of these economic processes. Writing software is creative production, copying software is replication production, they are not the same thing.

So, what we have here is an industry that is not only removing user and developer freedoms, but it’s doing it at the expense of the free market too. On the other hand, FOSS is free market, it doesn’t claim to have created an economic rewards system to drive the cost of one economic activity into another one. It’s goal is to create a social and legal framework for collaboration. The software production is priced accordingly through commission or (more normally) through the needs of the user’s time and the distribution is priced very close to zero.

The incentive to make money inside the Linux community will help to break the cycle. When businesses find there is money to be made by producing Linux based applications for busness users, it will help bring Linux to more desktops. While I very highly advocate the Free and Open Source movement, I am suggesting that closed source software for sale does have it’s place, and in fact may help bring Linux to more desktops.

I recommend watching this video on motivation first:

As we’ve already discussed, there is money to be made from FOSS, it’s just you have to follow the economic landscape. You can’t go begging on government to bail you out of your unprofitable software distribution business with anti-free market copyright laws. You have to make your money from the development of software, not the distribution of it. This shift in thought needs to accompany the shift to FOSS, because without it FOSS will be uneconomic in the old mindsets.

Closed, proprietary software has no place in a rational, enlightened, scientific and honest economic world. It is NOT a necessary evil, it is a plain misunderstanding of economic mechanics. An attempt to create rents on distribution instead of maintaining the economic costs of production. It’s is not good, useful or progressive and the longer we hold onto some of these mythologies the longer it’s going to take to drag our industry out of the dark ages.

My own thoughts are that in order to fund software production properly, we need to have ways of getting money from users who want software to be made or changed, to programmers who want to earn money writing software. It’s not an easy task.

Understanding FOSS, Now with Extra Freedom

I was thinking about a recent post by Benjamin Mako Hill where he puts the case for stronger communication of the principles of Free Software as the reason and driver for adoption and community participation, and that the Open Source technicalities are just how we go about achieving these social-political ideals.

hatI realised that the guide I had written a few months ago to communicate effectively the mechanics and rationales of the Free and Open Source community was defective and lacking in any coverage of the principles at stake. I feel it’s important to not only discuss the merits and soundness of the method but also the very reason for seeking alternative software production and distribution methods in the first place.

So with that in mind, I’ve attempted to rectify the short fall and re-draft the guide. It is now at revision 23 with an extra page and some other edits. I ask the community to kindly lend me it’s critical eye once more and to look over this revision. I need to make sure it’s a good draft to present to people who know nothing about what we do, how we do it and most importantly, why we bother to do it at all:

Download PDF here

Download SVGs here

Update: Thanks to Popey, Denotes and Alvin, I’ve published revision 25.