Sun “Chief Open Source Officer” on “Open Source”

Posted on June 28, 2006

I hesitate to write on this subject, I know Simon personally and like him, he’s a good guy. But we have some differing opinions on the topics of open source philosophy. Here are three write-ups reguarding his recent talk at the Open Source Business Confrence in London:

First things first. If you want to talk about open code and development, the Open Source Business Confrence isn’t the place. Instead of concern about freedom, collaboration, and innovation you find a single motive: Money. I attended the OSBC in San Francisco last year and never have I been so revolted by people in my whole life. I not talking upset, outright rage to the point of wanting to scream “WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE”. They take something good and pure and pervert it to turn a buck.

But looking at Simon’s press around the event. The Software Market 3.0 story plays into the rest. To a large degree I can agree with him on that point, and was a heavy advocate of such things about 10 years ago. My big beef was that, as a sysadmin and enterprise enthusiast, I wasn’t able to obtain software that might be of use to me or an organization I was working with because of insane costs; if I could get access to it, evaluate it, deploy it, and then decide how to proceed I could be a much more effective and happy d00d. This is now largely the case today. Download Oracle 10g R2 at no cost, use, play, decide. On my Sun Blade 1000 at home I’ve got Informix, DB2, Ingres, Sybase, and Oracle all running for evaluation, and didn’t drop a dime. Thats a good thing, because now rather than recommend what I once worked on, I can objectively evaluate a variety of options and go with whats best.

Simon says that open source is “directed self-interest, synchronised self-interest”. This seems to illustrate clearly the schism between “Open Source” and free software. Talks like these make me very uninterested in “Open Source”. I don’t contribute to projects because of self-interest, I don’t write software because of self-interest, I do it because I like it and I want to help people. “Self-interest” in the context that Simon’s using it, especially within a speech that compares Open Source to capitalism, is about the efficient and equitable exchange of goods.

On one level, this open source self-interest thing plays into the Software 3.0 model. Except for one little thing… “source”. Take Splunk for instance. Spunk is not an open source product, although its free. To often people ask for open but really just want free (as in beer). Splunk is exploting that fact and it seems to be working. This is, in effect, inevitable. People want value, and when an option comes along that provides value and costs nothing (next to nothing) its pretty hard to compete with. But that doesn’t address the source, and the source is whats being slowly pushed out of “Open Source”.

In particular, there are two things that realy cut into me..

Open source gives you a way to “hire” developers without actually hiring them. Not because you don’t want to hire them, but because you can’t hire them, because they don’t want to work for you (or whatever). You leverage the self-interested motives of these developers by tapping into their development projects.

Tell that to the developers who can’t devote their full time to projects because cheap ass bastards want to leech but don’t want to support them. And…

Synchronized self-interest. Related to the above, open source doesn’t work because it’s selfless and loving. It works because it’s an increasingly efficient free market. The genius of open source is that it is “connected capitalism” (as Simon said).

Maybe it doesn’t work for you because its selfless and loving, but thats what I’m all about. That line really just makes me want to say “fuck it all”, move to Tahoe and live in a shack. I’m not your bitch. Maybe IBM understands me better.

When I contribute to a project its because I enjoy it and like to help, not because I get something from it. I’ve never made a penny from a project that I’ve worked on. In fact, in all my years, outside of my employment, I’ve only been paid for the Oracle book that SAGE published, and some people have graciously donated gear to me to whom I’m eternally greatful. Perhaps I have a diffrent view, but this is all about people, not organizations. I didn’t write Toasterview so that some mega-bank didn’t have to shell out for OpenView, I wrote it because the admin working for that mega-bank had cheap ass management that wouldn’t give him what he needed, and I wanted to make that guys life a little easier. I don’t write docs because I think i’m gonna gain, I write it because I want to give to my fellow admins and developers something that I didn’t have.

Perhaps his full speech was better than the snippets we’re getting the ZDnet report. I mean, one might expect that an open source conference like OSBC would get into the spirit of things and release the presentations, keynotes at least, to the community… but no. Make the transcripts available under Creative Commons? Nah.

Reguarding how this relates to Sun… we’ll have to wait and see. I view Simon’s comments as his own and not that of Sun. To be totally honest, I only listen to one person at Sun, that being Jonathan Schwatz. I don’t see enough credability within the rest of the organization to place a lot of trust in. At Sun there are some of the smartest minds in the industry, there is a leader I trust, but everyone in the middle is up for debate.

… I just hate hearing things like this because it makes me feel like a tool. Its easy to fly around the world and talk talk talk, but I rarely see respect for those who do do do.

Follow Up:

Bruce Perens chimes in on Slashdot with the following:

“I think what Simon is saying is Open Source needs to fit Sun better. But of course, the problem is that Sun doesn’t fit Open Source well. Sun’s forte’ has always been systems programming, not hardware, and in their heyday they charged 70% margins for their hardware and could pay for all of the systems programming they wanted to do. No longer. Computers are commodities and Sun has to function in a commodity market that doesn’t even like it when Sun differentiates through systems programming, because the customers don’t want to be locked in by Sun’s differentiation. On top of that, Open Source has driven systems programming into a commodity and thus killed whatever differentiation was working for Sun.

I don’t see how Sun is going to survive this. My fear is that on the way down they’ll become the next SCO, because they have been talking the way Caldera did on its way down. ”

I don’t agree with Bruce at all, but apparently I’m not the only one bugged by the reports of the speech.