Mitch: OSS has grown up -- it's no longer just one thing. People are taking the idea in different directions: MySQL is a for-profit, OSS company that gives away 99.9% of its product. Their customers modify the technology and don't necessarily distribute the source, and pay millions for that privelege. And of course there's OSAF, a non-profit that's doing something complimentary to biz, investing in core development that people can build commercial apps atop of. We're the nonprofit piece of what will become a larger ecology.
Tim: Ecology is the best way to think about this. Don't focus on licensing -- that misses the point. OSS is about technqiues for building an architecture for collaboratively building apps, including the technique of disclosing your code. But there are lots of open-source-like Internet Era activities, like the WWW's "view source," which made it easy for anyone to copy any neat feature. It makes it easy for people to join the party, which is the heart of OSS.
The Internet is changing the way we think about software. What would it mean for Amazon or Google -- both built on OSS technology -- to release their code? The value of Amazon and Google is the giant data-center, not the software. By allowing public participation in the service, through their API, they've created an architecture of participation that is at the heart of the OSS story. It's not about free versus proprietary -- it's about how inclusive you are.
Google leveraged the participation of everyone who linked.
Mitch: It's interesting that Google's got a closely guarded secret sauce.
Tim: Yeah, they're proprietary, and so is MySQL. Everyone needs to draw the line somewhere, figure out what to keep and what to share. That's the big challenge. If it's too open, you loose your revenue, if it's too closed, you lose the community.
We've got an obligation to recycle: many products go down in the marketplace, and they have use, still. We've donated hundreds of books to the Creative Commons that were out of print that someone might have a use for.
Mitch: Remember General Magic? The property rights in that code are being dedicated to the public domain, to be incorporated in Chandler, a deal brokered by Andy Herzfeld.
Tim: Andy did that with Eazel's code, too.
Mitch: Computers are just as frustrating today as they were 25 years ago, even for geeks. Dan Gillmor just discovered an new OS X WiFi bug, if someone creates an ad-hoc WiFi network with the same name as the infrastructure network, OS X can't tell the difference. This is a moral issue -- people deserve better when they use computers.
Our code will not only be open -- it will be a good user-experience. It's like writing a novel in public, we post a chapter, people critique it and we go back and fix.
Tim: Software vendors tell me that they can't release their code because they don't control the rights to it. We've created a world where strengthened copyright actually keeps useful technology from being enjoyed by the public. It's like SImson Garfinkel's article about Lotus Improv, a useful product that can't be used because it's not available for sale anymore. It's like the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a warehouse full of all the valuable IP, locked up forever. IP lawyers will pay some day.
Mitch: One company tried to put a clause in their shrinkwrap license that would enjoin you from writing a negative review of their software. The reflexive graspiness of business to assert total control shouldn't reflect the future -- we need nuance and balance. Hollywood wants people to get approval to ship devices that can play its movies.
Tim: Moral rules ultimately derive from pragmatism: the greatest good for the greatest number is a good idea.