BT et C

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


I'm trying to stay even-tempered about it -- to wait just a bit before declaring the Age of Aquarius has arrived and whatnot. But I'm also just really damn excited. Forgive me.

Why would IBM just up and about-face on the usual way of licensing IP? Some possibilities:

1. They're communists. A little far-fetched, but if the smartest guy in the world thinks so, you gotta listen, don't you?
2. Kicking Microsoft when They're down?
3. (My favorite possibility) This company, the largest patent-holder in the world, gets it. After 10 years of contemplating what can happen on a worldwide, omnipresent internet, they've realized something that is both unexpected and wonderful:

People build software.

All you really have to do is get out of their way, and people will build software. Of course you can and should pay them when they're building software just for you. But the old mentality is fading -- this notion that you put money in one end of a programmer and software comes out the other end.

The time is fast approaching when people will need to choose sides. I never liked the idea that F/OSS was a war, or a rebellion against the dark side, or whatever. But this week has demonstrated that there are two radically different assessments of the open-source phenomenon, and it's just not going to be possible for both to hold true. My description of them, of course, is biased since I've picked one.

1) F/OSS results when an enormous distributed community solves their particular problems and makes the solutions available for others to use and improve. Companies that realize this can and will profit immensely from the realization.
2) F/OSS is unconstitutional, cancerous, and a deadly threat to the tech industry, as represented by the current patenting regime. Companies that do not realize this are in danger of being sued by patent-holders.

#2 sounds harsh, but those words come from high-level execs at companies holding that view.


  • " put money in one end of a programmer and software comes out the other end."

    spot on. though the evolving notion is very similar, it is, as you say, wonderfully more free. I would state it this way:

    " put money in one end of __________ and software comes out the other end."

    the diminishment of patents really just means that the blank no longer exclusively belongs to programmers or programming firms. it now belongs to hardware companies, high-school kids, the customer programmers you mention, and any other entity on the 'net.

    this huge increase in free competition in the blank lowers costs and prices of software drastically. but the basic laws of econ tell us that something must be going in, IBM sells hardware, Jimmy's parents make cheese, and programmers work for businesses. The great thing about the OS approach is that completely frees the method by which the contributors are re-imbursed. Microsoft just can't figure out how it happens, so they assume it's evil. I used to do the same thing.

    BUT, there was something IBM did here that shows Microsoft and the like they are most assuredly NOT communists, and Microsoft knows it and that's why they're crapping themselves.

    "I.B.M. will continue to hold the 500 patents. But it has pledged to seek no royalties from and to place no restrictions on companies, groups or individuals who use them in open-source projects, as defined by the Open Source Initiative..."

    Essentially, IBM is, as you say, picking their side. And just as you say, they stand to reap the huge benefits from the market.

    It amounts to a dual-license strategy on a grand scale. There is nothing to say that other proprietary software firms cannot still buy a license to these same patents that are given to the OS community, and I bet indeed that is happening.

    But also note that IBM is not fully into the philosophical model, which is what M$ likely deems the 'communist' aspect. IBM has NOT surrendered ownership of the IP, they have NOT done an 'about-face on the usual WAY of licensing IP.' they have done an about-face on the RECIPIENT OF licensed IP.

    And I'm all for it. I think the dual-license is the current flagship OS strategy and a great step towards the ultimate realization of greatly diminished IP laws. Namely, the abolishment of software patent laws, and the simultaneous reform and empowerment of copyright laws.

    (Note: you're link on item 2 didn't work?)

    By Blogger luke, at 7:33 AM  

  • I was thinking about this some more, and wanted to revise my revision of the new notion...

    it is, as you say, no longer "you put money in one end of a programmer and software comes out the other end." and it's not, as I said, "you put money in one end of ____ and software comes out the other end." but most accurately, it's completely free:

    "____ puts money in ____ and software comes out ____"

    as far as businesses are concerned, they only care about "software comes out". we, as programmers, are responsible for filling in the blanks.

    I just had to leave the term money in there, because
    those of us that can fill in those blanks, will have the money. those of us that can't, won't.

    By Blogger luke, at 11:52 AM  

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