Thursday Aug 30, 2007

Free software and the Blade Runner strategy

Now that I am part of the services team, I've been thinking more about free and open source software, and about intellectual property in general. Clearly, one place where free software has the potential to help people is in the Third World, the developing countries where increased access to software and the Internet is a vital component of the effort to lift whole societies out of poverty. Ironically, experience seems to show that free software has not had the impact that it should have in the Third World, and the reason is that there is another low-cost alternative: pirated copies of Windows and Microsoft Office. 

My son in Shanghai told me about going to a black market technology bazaar right out of Blade Runner or Neuromancer, where hundreds of tiny shops were busily constructing whitebox desktops, and happily loading them with bootleg Windows. A similar black market exists in Mexico City, and I'd be willing to bet that one exists in most countries outside of the First World.

Piracy is obviously wrong, but it's also clear that failing to enforce intellectual property laws is a workable development strategy often pursued by countries to spur economic growth. When Taiwan was struggling to develop, it refused to sign international copyright conventions, making it possible for students to buy pirated technical books very cheaply. Back in the day, my brother brought me a bootleg technical manual from Taiwan that cost maybe a tenth of what it would have cost in the US at that time. As it grew richer, and sought to join the World Trade Organization, Taiwan brought its intellectual property laws into line with the First World. Perhaps enforcing copyright is a sign of a country's increasing economic maturity. Morality is for those who can afford it.

This suggests that free software may actually play a greater role when a country rises a bit above complete poverty, and starts to crack down on piracy in order to enjoy the benefits of more trade with the First World. At that point, free software will have more of a price advantage over the outrageous monopoly pricing imposed by First World software companies operating in the Third World.

Wednesday Jun 13, 2007

Linus Torvalds on Solaris

Wow! Linus talking positively about Solaris, and about Jonathan, too! This is way cool.

Here's the link to the article on CNET. 

Update: now that I've seen the source, Linus's remarks weren't all positive. But I choose to focus on the nice parts, and apparently Jonathan does, too.

Sunday Jun 03, 2007

Free and Open Source License Comparison

You can use this chart to compare the major attributes of the most popular Free and Open Source Software licenses. I have been researching the major licenses, and it's hard to keep the differences between them straight, at least for me, so I prepared this chart that you may find useful. Those of you who know about this subject, please feel free to offer comments. I will revise the chart from time to time in the light of what I learn from you.


Project-based File-based Permissive

Licenses: GPL 2 LGPL 2.1 MPL 1.1 CDDL 1.0 CPL 1.0 ECLIPSE 1.0 APACHE 2.0 NEW BSD MIT
You may:

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Link to other programs under at least some circumstances without creating a derived work

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
As an original author, specify that the same license version be used for future releases, rather than allowing them to use new license versions


If you distribute you are required to:

Make source code available
Yes Yes Yes Yes

Display copyright notice
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Provide copy of license
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Mark changes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Disclaim warranty
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Disclaim liability
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
License modified files within the work under the same terms (“weak copyleft”)
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

License larger derived works under the same terms (“strong copyleft”)
Yes Yes

Indemnify earlier contributors when you offer a warranty of your own

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Grant licenses for all relevant patents you own

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

If you distribute you are prohibited to:

Assert patent claims against the work
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Assert patent claims against contributors' other software


Use the names of original authors or contributors in advertising without permission

Yes Yes
Distribute if doing so would be subject to a third-party license
Yes Yes Unless you disclose

Distribute if doing so would conflict with law or regulation
Yes Yes Unless you disclose


GPL 2: GNU General Public License, Version 2
Disclaimer: This chart is designed to provide information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is to be understood that the author is not engaged in rendering legal or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a professional person should be sought. This chart is in no way intended to convey the official position of Sun Microsystems with regard to any software license.
LGPL 2.1: GNU Lesser General Public License, Version 2.1
MPL 1.1: Mozilla Public License, Version 1.1
CDDL 1.0: Common Development and Distribution License, Version 1.0
CPL 1.0: Common Public License, Version 1.0
ECLIPSE 1.0: Eclipse Public License, Version 1.0
APACHE 2.0: Apache License, Version 2.0
NEW BSD: The BSD License, 1999 version
MIT: The MIT License

Update 6 June 2007: In response to the kind comment from Mads I have removed the "specify the same license version" clause as an attribute of the Apache License. I am beginning to think that Apache should really be classified as a Permissive license.

Monday Apr 02, 2007

Cool new blog

My friend Tony Vigna has now added Blogger to his existing titles of  Technical Guru, Blues Guitarist, Raconteur, Philosopher, and One of the Good Guys. You can check his new blog out here.  How often do you see a blog that combines Athenian philosophy with modern economic theory? Definitely a must-read!




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