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Re: [Gnu-arch-users] Re: in-tree pristines fatally wounded (merge-fest e

From: Tom Lord
Subject: Re: [Gnu-arch-users] Re: in-tree pristines fatally wounded (merge-fest etc)
Date: Wed, 3 Dec 2003 08:55:55 -0800 (PST)

    > From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <address@hidden>

    >     Tom> I double dog dare them.  If I'm going down -- I'm taking some
    >     Tom> others with me.

    > Release under the GPL, which explicitly permits commercial use,
    > and then promise a sordid shitstorm if you don't get
    > compensation when somebody takes you at your word?  Tsk, tsk.

You hypothesized what I think would be a pretty absurd and unlikely
occurence: a vendor going out of its way to snub the community process
that produced a piece of software that they then want to
commercialize.  It happens in small examples but isn't more exception
than rule?

I don't think there's a ghost of a chance they'd behave quite that
way.  As a rule, the various vendors bend over backwards to at least
_try_ both to support and respectfully engage with the larger
community.  I may have my particular criticisms of how they go about
that effort -- but let's not make the mistake of overlooking that that
effort is very real.

So, yeah, I agree that my "double dog dare" is completely over the top
-- but you're question was along the lines of "what happens if a
vendor takes this knob that they've carefully set at `3' and turns it
up to `12'.  I'd hope, whether it's me or anyone else, that they get a
rather deafening feedback of people shouting "Hey, that's not

It seems to me that the larger community and the vendors are in a kind
of symbiotic relationship these days.  And everyone knows that,
community, vendors, and customers.  And for the most part, each tries
to "make that work in good ways".  That relationship has been
developing for years -- it's relatively important to everyone involved
-- if you ask what happens if it completely breaks down, yes, a
"shitstorm" seems about right to me.

Don't get me wrong.  I know it's not all sweetness and light.  There
have (have there not?) been instances of companies not exactly
"playing nice" with the projects they use (independently of strict
adherence to the licenses).  And there are projects, debian comes to
mind, whose content is really more of a potential threat to _some_
current vendor business models than a graceful complement of them --
if not "a threat to" then at least just "disengaged from".  But on the
whole, people are at least _trying_ to make a productive relationship

And also don't get me wrong about business use of arch.  If forced to
guess, my guess is that "commercialization" will continue to proceed
as it has been for a long time: shops picking it up for internal use;
small consulting businesses picking it up to provide for their
clients; etc.  When that feeds-back revenue to the project I'm
certainly quite happy but I think we'd both agree that one of the
great strengths of free software is that there's no obligation for
that feedback -- no gratuitous "royalty payments" to add friction to
the deployment.  It's only when you start hypothesizing serious
windfalls or a major investment by a relatively large business that I
think we need to start looking at what is or is not "honorable", not
to mention what is simply "wise".

    >     Tom> On the other hand ... if any of them do that in an honorable
    >     Tom> way -- well, I'm game.  Let's hear the deal.

    > You know what the deal that would be offered is.  As heard from Ulrich
    > "They Don't Pay Me To Be glibc Maintainer" Drepper: 1/4 promotional
    > presentations outlined by the marketing department, 1/2 developing
    > features and bug fixes demanded by the marketing department, 1/4 in
    > meetings, and 1/4 working on whatever you think is needed.[1]

    > Is that honorable?

Honorable or Smart?   There's a difference.

Honorable in Intent or Honorable in Effect?   There's a difference

I can't really answer about that specific case, though, not knowing
where Ulrich's interests, judgments, skills, and so forth lie;  not
knowing all that much about how the GNU libc project works and how or
why people contribute labor to it, etc.

Is it an exploitative project under undo influence of any of the
vendors?  Is the job description indicative of wasting the time of a
hacker who'd rather be hacking (code)?  it it hanging up more valuable
innovation?  or is Ulrich having a blast, the non-contractual
evolution of the library proceeding for its own good reasons, and the
technology moving in great directions?  I don't think the details you
cite give any clue to the answers (other than, well, there he is doing
that and with seemingly good humor describing it in a public
presentation -- he wasn't wearing leg irons, was he?  did he try to
slip anyone in the audience a wadded up piece of paper scrawled with
"Help!" in his own blood?  were his mysteriously silent "handlers"
always at his side except during the talk where he was seen to cast
nervous glances in their direction as he forced a smile?).

All I know is that there should be more work on the libc-alternative,
libhackerlab.  GNU libc is _so_ 1980s :-b

    > Footnotes: 
    > [1]  I don't know if I believe him, but that is what he said, so it's
    > a plausible offer.  No, he didn't start drinking beer until hours
    > after he said that.  Yes, I heard it in the original English, as well
    > as in the Japanese translation (which was hysterically true to the
    > original, by the way).

    > Yes, I'm aware of the addition issue.  Interpretation is an
    > exercise for the reader.

My first guess would be pretty banal: outside of "price is no object
life-critical-shops" most organizations I've ever seen tend to
overcommit _everyone_; lots of little stuff falls away and never gets
done; and the net effect is a constant, fine-tuned, highly-distributed
evaluation of priorities.

If, on the other hand, it indicates an organizational culture that
encourages people to do lots of unpaid work to maintain or advance
their workplace status -- well, yeah, that'd be a serious bug and, in
some places, quite illegal.

"Honorable" is a funny word to bring up in a business context.  People
don't often enough get rewarded in business for being "honorable" (too
often the opposite) and, anyway, while an SEC filing has a pretty
objective meaning what the heck does "honorable" mean, anyway?   Can
we get that Socrates guy back here to lead the discussion?  Nobody's
heard from him since he went on that drinking binge.

Regardless, I think that contemplation and application of concepts
like honor, justice, good, and quality to the operations of business
are important -- as they are in all aspects of life.

It might be possible to become _too_ concerned about those concepts in
business -- concerned to the point of dysfunction -- but I think that
as a society we are so far from that state of dysfunction as to make
it not worth worrying about that failure mode.

GPL is a funny instrument: it grants freedoms that undermine
traditional contractual constructs.  And free software is a funny
technology in the sense that you drop it into the ocean and it washes
up back on your shore with 5 bug fixes, 10 new features, and a
translation of the manual into Japanese.

In that productive yet non-contractual environment, is it possible for
people to develop civil norms that link those freedoms to
responsibilities?   Is it possible to recognize and react to those
responsibilities in ways that makes their performance or neglect
consequential?   Is it possible to engage in a wide spread
conversation about the nature of those responsibilities as they relate
to the healthy functioning of the free software community?   Not
merely possible:  my opinion is that those things are essential.

And what's good for the goose is good for the gander: what happens if,
by some miracle, suddenly _I_ get a windfall from arch?  I think that
in that case, at the very least, I have to start examining what
responsibilities to the community that gives rise to.

In short, you described what would be an example of the "doomsday
scenario" for an emerging community structure that, so far, people are
(imperfectly and only "mostly") trying to steer as far away from that
scenario as possible.  So, yeah, if the emerging norms were
egregiously attacked?  "All hell breaking loose" seems like a pretty
principled reply.


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