Archive for April 21st, 2010
I have stated a few times that the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and its advocates don’t have a vision of the future that I find viable. I have read statements that the best custodians of FOSS are tiny consulting companies, and that Microsoft and Oracle should be barred from participating in FOSS. I don’t see how the software needs of the world can be met by tiny services companies, or how we can magically make the existing market players disappear. But I can’t complain about their vision without providing any vision of my own. So here it is.
I subscribe to the theory that a vision is a dream + a plan.
Twenty years from now, across the globe, every individual, business, organization, and government entity will have FOSS suitable for all their needs. That is not to say there there is no proprietary software any more – their certainly will be for the next 20 years – just that any and all normal requirements can be met with FOSS.
In this future the notion of intellectual property will still exist, as will software patents (unfortunately). In this future, any software or services company, of any size, whether local or global has the opportunity to participate in the FOSS realm.
We will reach this goal incrementally via an evolution of FOSS software, an evolution of the existing market players, and the creation of new market players.
1 – Establish Metrics
Here is my proposal for assessing the state of the dream. By country, we score each software domain in terms of how well FOSS provides suitable solutions that are:
- OSI approved.
- Compliant with all local regulations (accessibility, domain-specific legal requirements etc).
- Stable, usable, and documented.
- Available on multiple platforms (at least 2).
- Available from 3 separate projects (different code-bases), failing that 3 different distros.
Any software under an OSI license is eligible for inclusion – no matter the size of the project, or the business model of provider.
We also score the software with regards to how well it supports all the needs (including support, training, and professional services) of:
- Micro organizations (1-9 people)
- Small organizations (10-99 people)
- Medium organizations (100-250 people)
- Large organizations (> 250 people)
The domains assessed could be (I’m sure there are many more we can add):
Operating System and Middleware
1. Operating System (OS)
2. Database (RDBMS)
3. HTTP and Application Servers
4. Network Management and Monitoring
5. Enterprise service bus (ESB), message queue (MQ)
7. Instant messaging
9. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
10. Locally-compliant Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
11. Content Management Systems (CMS), knowledge base
12. Call center, case tracking
14. Online meeting and conferencing
15. Voice over IP (VoiP)
16. Collaboration – forums, wiki etc
17. Reporting, analysis and Business Intelligence (BI)
18. Online training
19. Financial, Budgeting and Planning, including public sector
21. Word processing
24. Graphics editors
25. Printing tools
26. Software and web tools (compilers, editors etc)
32. Retail, including Point of Sale
36. Travel and hospitality
37. Engineering, Manufacturing, Construction
Obviously, within each of these vertical domains there are multiple applications. Scoring here will be tricky.
39. The local availability of systems integrators that can implement FOSS stacks and solutions.
Scoring is done per country and per domain and is scored from 0 to 9. A score of 0 indicates there is no FOSS option for that domain and geography. A score of 9 indicates the existence of three different FOSS options that meet the needs of large organizations. We can color code by range, red=2 or less, yellow=3 to 6, green=7 or more
2 – Census
We need to find out how close we are to achieving the dream. Volunteer organizations and sponsoring organizations score each domain for a single country, providing notes about the FOSS packages assessed and any services options assessed. The results of the census are publicly available at all times. Academia and analysts could provide much of this data.
3 – Close Gaps
Based on the results of the census, sponsoring organizations provide resources and guidance to help close the gaps. Sponsoring organizations will have many different motivations:
- Wanting a larger local and global market for their services and support offerings.
- Wanting software that is more accessible.
- Wanting more FOSS options in their country or domain.
- Wanting to sell add-ons and extensions.
Or we just allow the natural progress of FOSS to gradually populate the GloMM in a natural – ‘Game of Life’ / Brownian motion – kind of a way.
4 – Repeat Steps 2 and 3
As time goes by and we repeat steps 2 and 3. The Matrix flushes out gradually, and becomes greener and greener.
5 – Declare Victory
In my opinion FOSS has won when, and only when, the entire sheet (7000-8000 cells) is lit up in green. At this point the value of FOSS will be clear to everyone. Maybe attitudes towards intellectual property will change then. But we can’t expect them to change before we get close to this point.
As this gradual global evolution occurs, the existing market players will have to adapt to new market conditions. What they do, and how well they do it, is up to them – but they are welcome to participate. Just because Oracle is now the ultimate custodian of MySQL, does not mean that MySQL should not be listed as one of the FOSS databases. Microsoft, IBM, SAP, Oracle should be accepted into this evolution – whether they survive it is up to them and the global and local markets, not up to anything else.
Any organization that produces FOSS, or localizations, or documentation, or provides services or support for FOSS is deemed to be a friend of GloMM – no matter what their size, history, or business model.
So that’s my vision. I have a defined goal, a way of measuring progress, mechanisms for getting there, and ways for existing market players to participate. I claim it to be reasonable, rational, and viable.
I have no resources at my disposal to execute on any of this. Its just a vision. If only I had a dream + a plan + resources :-)
Steven Levy, who wrote ‘Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution’ twenty five years ago, has re-interviewed some of the original subjects from the book in a Wired article titled ‘Geek Power: Steven Levy Revisits Tech Titans, Hackers, Idealists‘
Its a long read, but worth it. Very interesting.
There are some illuminating quotes from Richard Stallman – twenty fives years ago he said:
I’m the last survivor of a dead culture. And I don’t really belong in the world anymore. And in some ways I feel I ought to be dead.
In terms of effect on the world, it’s very good that I’ve lived. And so I guess, if I could go back in time and prevent my birth, I wouldn’t do it. But I sure wish I hadn’t had so much pain.
To me, these statements are telling. Why does Stallman feel such pain? I can only think of two possible reasons. Either his ideas and ideals are so far ahead of their time that the world is not ready for them, or they don’t fit well with the world and never will.
His idea that software ‘cannot be owned’ makes no sense to me. The idea that, by sitting at home and writing code on my computer for my own purpose, I am somehow violating the rights of other people is absurd to me. He is denying me the right to my own ideas, and the ability to provide for my family.
Stallman is entitled to his beliefs, to communicate them, and to try to get them adopted. But I’m not surprised he feels pain trying to do this, personally I reject his beliefs. In my mind, I have fewer rights under his world view – I have no right to my own invention, I do not own any software I write, it must be released to the world. He is at least consistent in his beliefs, he feels the same way about music and movies and the companies that try to claim or exert ownership of what they create.
I do think the GPL license, conceptually, it a thing of elegance and beauty. Simple, concise, and powerful. I only have one problem with it – it is self-limiting. It limits usage to those who feel and think exactly one way. It also limits the ability of the established, mainstream market to participate.
It is the same with the Free Software Foundation. They don’t believe in intellectual property. I agree that the software patent system is badly flawed, but I still believe in ownership. But if you don’t comply 100% with their ideals, you are a bad guy. 90% is not good enough. There are no alliances based on common enemies. The FSF has no compelling, or viable, vision of the future that I can see. There is no plan. Just a skirmish war against a unbelieving world. Stallman even objects to the views and actions of Linux’s Linus Torvalds. Meanwhile the markets move on, alliances form, and invention continues. Everything evolves. The world evolves gradually. Unfortunately, Stallman’s views are more creationist – you cannot evolve to them, you will be shut out, berated, and branded as evil until you are 100% there.
Maybe at some time in the future Stallman’s views will prevail. Maybe the world will be a better place when that happens. I just don’t see it happening any time soon.
As can be seen from Levy’s article there is a divide between the hackers: those who view commerce as bad, and those who try to get their ideas adopted widely. Without commerce the world would be one big feudal system – the dark ages again. To reject commerce is to reject the world as it really is. That’s fine for an individual to do, it’s their choice, but to expect the rest of us to do us so in order to adopt or use their ideas is unrealistic.
When we look back in another 25 years at the effect the hackers have had on the world, who’s efforts will have had the biggest impact? The anti-commerce hackers, or the others?