Life continues

Life continues

The noise about Ubuntu Linux has increased over the last couple of days, much of it critical. I have been aware that the Open Source militants have for a long time had a down on it and Canonical for bundling proprietary software with the distro (coadecs and now graphic card drivers) and they have taken some odd diversions in their path to today ( Amazon Search Bar, I am talking about you), but it has a a commitment to a usable free desktop and server operating system and it’s not owned by a proprietary software company and is not a competitive weapon in the systems market, unlike say Red Hat who “own” Fedora, RHEL and Centos. The industrialisation of Red Hat was funded by IBM as a competitive weapon against Solaris and HP/UX and who now own it and offer it as their O/S of choice for their Intel servers.  At a meeting I attended, Richard Stallman expressed his tests as: does it do surveillance, doe it have restrictions (against the four freedoms) and does it have backdoors and documents his then use of GNewSense, a Debian derivative. He also argued, correctly, that one can’t know if the software is free of these defects unless one can read the code. I wonder how many of these Linux distributions meet these tests today?

My review of the meeting might be worth having another look at, unlike some of what I write, it has aged well. …

Another look at free software

I read this, “‘Software is meant to be free …” at Hackernoon and found it disappointingly lightweight. It talks of Stallman, thus the four freedoms and the GNU project and mentions Eric Raymond in passing as the man who coined the phrase Open Source rather than the author of the Cathedral & the Bazaar and Homesteading the Noosphere. He doesn’t mention Stallman’s attack on the concept/phrase of Open Source since he considered it a diminishing of the four freedoms. It’s weak on the evolution of copyleft; it doesn’t mention for instance, Laurence Lessig and the Creative Commons. Clary also fails to mention Torvalds, the man most associated with Linux, the prime example of Open Source Software, although the EU Commission discovered that the largest contributor to the open source code base was Sun Microsystems.

It is particularly weak in its view of how and why the proprietary software behemoths adopted Open Source. They did so primarily in areas where they were weak in market share and profitability and where their competitors were the inverse. IBM’s massive investment in Linux, much of it through its OEM agreement with Red Hat was designed to kill Sun MIcrosystem’s Solaris; it is arguable that they succeeded, although both I and Eric Raymond think it’s more complex than that, as provoked by him, I argue here.

Our understanding of the economics and sociology has moved on since then. Anne Barron in her 2013 paper, Free Software Production as Critical Social Practice which I should really re-read looks at both and earlier in the previous decade Simon Phipps articulated new sources of value and new contexts for open source software, both how free software created scarce markets, and that open source governance models equally created and constrained the value of its free product. I was lucky to be able to present his theories once or twice and I reported on one such presentation on this blog 10 years ago.

These papers and theories are somewhat aged certainly when one considers the speed of technology development but its possible that even older theories such as Marx’s Fragment on the Machine and more recent developments in conceiving of immaterial labour, and the enigma of software’s role in the means of production are all part of the questions that need to be answered to understand the economic role and governance of software.

It’s not that software wants to be free … it’s just looking like no matter what theories of price you adhere to, free is the right price.


See also Free, the right price for software and maybe Monopoly and prices, both by me on this blog, written in 2009 exploring the micro/meso-economic classical welfare theories as to why software should be free. …

Modelling power

I have finally posted my long planned piece, on the way Bioware adopted a permissive licence for their AD&D games at the turn of the century. In doing so they enabled a fan community to create content which increased the value of the game to all its customers and also the demand in volume for the game binaries, and the period over which it was used.

I had planned a Part II having come across Ludovico Prattico’s academic paper, Governance of Open Source Software Foundations: Who Holds the Power? which in the abstract he states,

The research reported in this article attempts to discover who holds the power in open source software foundations through the analysis of governance documents. Artificial neural network analysis is used to analyse the content of the bylaws of six open source foundations (Apache, Eclipse, GNOME, Plone, Python, and SPI) for the purpose of identifying power structures.

I was interested if his techniques could be applied to the Bioware licence and see what one might learn, by comparing the output with Prattico’s findings. He had looked at six open source licences so it would be interesting to see how the formal outputs compared. Prattico used additional documents beyond the licence and used the tool Catpac II, which sadly is not free. (I wonder of Carat II will do instead; I hope not because I was/am looking for something better than a bag of words.)

I also wondered if it could be used for analysing, describing other power relationships, such as national constitutions, or the Labour Party’s rules. The latter would be needed in text form which is not easy to find. …

Not so open, a Bioware take on open source

This article represents some thoughts on how copy-left and permissive licences create value. It uses the story of Bioware and it’s use of the D&D™ and Forgotten Realms™ games & mythos as an example. There are two recent news items that make this current: that the community repository for Neverwinter Nights has just shut, and that Wizards of the Coast have just released Dungeons & Dragons V5 rules as a free to use .pdf, a small but significant step to a freemium business model. The story shows how an initially traditional author-publisher business model, leveraged a pre-made community, grew it and latterly enabled it. The point of this story is the way in which community and value grew, becoming significant author contributors and the way in which Bioware responded and learnt although some might say not as quickly or as generously as they might.  …

Policy for Labour on the Digital Economy

Policy for Labour on the Digital Economy

The Labour Party’s proposed policy programme only mentions the digital economy once, and this is to promise more speed, everywhere it can go. There are two internal pressure group style swarms/groups/initiatives looking to do better.  The first is launched by the front bench incubated if not commissioned by the impressive Chi Onawaruh MP, currently shadow spokesperson for the Cabinet Office. This has it’s home at this site, Chi publicised the initiative at in an article at Labour List called How can we make Digital Government work better for everyone?. A great deal of thought has been undertaken in launching this initiative. The second initiative is @LabourDigital,  …

What will the Cloud do?

I was pointed at the Eucalyptus project, an open-source software infrastructure for implementing “cloud computing” on clusters, by a colleague and decided I needed to check out Amazon first. Several colleagues have given me this advice but have the University really written an open source grid platform conforming to Amazon’s EC2 APIs. if so, it’s a fascinating example of the speed of commoditisation. …

Laptop Diaries XIII, Open Solaris

I went to Sun’s Lintlithgow Enterprise Business Centre launch last week, and I saw a demo’d copy of an opensolaris VM which looked really cool, and then a colleague, Jingesh Shah, published a blog about an open source ERP package, called “openbravo” running on Open Solaris. This has to be done. I got Open Solaris running in a VM. …

Green and Open, here to stay

I attended a meeting of Sun’s European public policy team, where we discussed a number of things, including Sun’s critical public policy initiatives, open source and green computing. At the time, I posted two blog articles on my sun/oracle blog, and this is an omnibus version of those postings, created in July 2016 and back dated.  …

MMORPG, making them massive

On my return from Hong Kong, I wrote a piece on Virtual Worlds, customising Open Source (or more accurately partially permissive) licences and a note on welfare economics and free software, originally published on my sun/oracle blog. I have republished it here as at the original date in July 2016. I have repaired (or deleted) the links, particularly for Project Wonderland, which I am pleased to see survived. The article starts by reflecting on Sun’s Project Darkstar, which was designed as a MMORPG platform. …