Tim O’Reilly: Open source software
An archive, in reverse chronological order, of essays, interviews, and talks relating to open source software.
“It’s rare to hear Chinese philosophy quoted on stage at a software-development conference. But O’Reilly Media founder and CEO Tim O’Reilly invoked the words of Lao Tzu Wednesday morning during the opening keynotes at OSCON 2018 in hopes of convincing those in attendance—many of whom work for the big internet platform companies of our time—that the tech industry needs to return to the spirit of openness and collaboration that drove the early days of the open-source community before it is too late.”
Read the article here.
Measuring the Economic Impact of the Sharing Economy — March 2012. While at our Strata Conference, I stopped by +John Furrier’s Cube for an interview. We talked about a lot of things, but this is probably the first public airing of some ideas I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, namely how we can best measure the economic impact of what Lisa Gansky calls the sharing economy.
I start with a paper I read in the 70s, Steve Baer’s “Clothesline Paradox,” which pointed out that when people hang their clothes on the line rather than putting them in the dryer, that reduction in demand doesn’t go on our energy books as a credit to the renewables column, it just disappears from our accounting.
The same is true of open source software, or, for that matter, of most of the products of what +Clay Shirky calls “cognitive surplus.”
This discussion is important in many contexts. For example, when talking about SOPA/PIPA, the movie industry talked about economic impact while the internet industry talked about freedom. Yet it’s quite clear to me that there is a new economy of content that is quite possibly larger than the old one, but just not as well measured, because we measure value captured, not value created for users.
In other fields, we celebrate lower prices for consumers and expansion of demand, but here, paradoxically, we are ignoring it, as well as ignoring the many real economic transactions that do occur. I intend to pull together some people to change that.
Open Source and the Architecture of Participation — July 2011. In this interview, Chris Anderson, editor Wired magazine, Yves Behar, designer and founder of fuseproject, and I discuss open source, the maker movement, innovations in energy and health care, and sustainable design.
I make the point that systems need to have an architecture that allows people to participate which then enables people to create. The internet itself is an example. Innovations happen when people are doing what they love, when they are exploring a new medium. Motivation is another important factor. “We need to recognize how much participation is actually driven by a desire to learn. There is a hunger in people to create and not just to consume.” When asked about interesting trends in the maker movement, I pointed to the growing human-computer symbiosis driven by our devices which are constantly adding data to the “global brain in the cloud”. In energy and healthcare innovations, the effectiveness of feedback loops for changing behaviors was also discussed.
Open Source: Education as a Platform — January 2010. I discuss the University as an open source platform: What are the possibilities? "When choice is brought to the marketplace, exciting things can happen."
OpenBusiness: An Interview with Tim O'Reilly — April 2006. OpenBusiness spoke with me about the evolution of the web and Web 2.0. In this interview, I re-emphasize the most important points of Web 2.0, talks about the evolutionary relationship between open and free, and share my views on "bionic software."
Open Source Paradigm Shift — June 2004. This article is based on a talk that I first gave at Warburg-Pincus' annual technology conference in May of 2003. Since then, I have delivered versions of the talk more than 20 times, at locations ranging from the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, the UK Unix User's Group, Microsoft Research in the UK, IBM Hursley, British Telecom, Red Hat's internal "all-hands" meeting, and BEA's eWorld conference. I finally wrote it down as an article for an upcoming book on open source, Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, edited by J. Feller, B. Fitzgerald, S. Hissam, and K. R. Lakhani and to be published by MIT Press in 2005.
An Interview with PC Pro — July 2003. Part 1 of this interview with PC Pro is about some of the current issues facing the open source community: "My major concern is that open source developers haven't completely understood the implications of the 'Internet paradigm shift.'"
Software Licenses Don't Work — July 2003. An InfoWorld interview. "EBay will someday buy Oracle, open source licenses don't work, and the software market is about to change forever. These are three of the predictions that O'Reilly… had to offer in an interview conducted the week before his company's annual Open Source Convention."
The Open Source Paradigm Shift — (PDF - 3.3MB). June 2003. Here are the slides for the talk I gave in June 2003, with minor variations, at the Reboot conference in Copenhagen, Microsoft in the U.K., the U.K. Unix User Group, British Telecom, and the Linux Expo in Birmingham. A video of the Reboot presentation is online at www.reboot.dk/reboot6/video/ (48MB QuickTime). There's also a much shorter video (7 minutes, 20 seconds) of me exploring the same concepts in an interview with David Berlind of ZDNet at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Oregon (July 10, 2003).
The Architecture of Participation — An April 2003 blog of an email exchange with Adam Turoff about what distinguishes open source communities from most vendor-sponsored developer communities. Adam refers to the "cargo cult" aspect of many developer communities, while open source communities are more profoundly participatory.
In the end, open source and the right to fork is a way of restoring competition to a software industry that has, for the most part, become anti-competitive through industry consolidation and the accretion of power to a few large players whose interest in maintaining the status quo becomes greater than their appetite for potentially disruptive innovation. A company that does want innovation needs to take risks. Like a surfer riding a big wave, they don't rely on containment or tight control of the environment to maintain their position, but rather, an exquisite balance and an ability to respond to rapidly changing conditions. This kind of responsiveness is hard for a large company to achieve, but not impossible, especially in the presence of the kind of competition that open source brings back to the market.
Successful FSBs — My September 2002 contribution to a raging discussion on the Free Software Business mailing list, about why businesses that are not "pure" free software businesses need to be considered when asking the question, "what are the characteristics of a successful FSB?" Also see this earlier posting that explores whether O'Reilly could be considered a free software business.
I've always liked to point out that humans like to think in terms of boundaries, but that natural events tend more to gradients surrounding an increasingly dense core. Where is the edge of the earth's gravity? I suppose, in practice, you can define a pragmatic edge, but it's always changing, just like the shoreline between land and sea
I think it's more interesting to ask the question "What business practices associated with free software are the most successful?" rather than defining a business as an "fsb" depending on whether or not it meets some litmus test. My guess is that very few, if any, successful businesses will be rigid FSBs by the hardline definition of this group. Every single example I can think of has a mix of free and proprietary in its business model. I just don't think that drawing a bright line makes a lot of sense.
The Strange Case of the Disappearing Open Source Vendors — My summer 2002 reflections on the fact that there are fewer open source software vendors these days. Reflections about the use of the GPL by government agencies, and Microsoft's lobbying on the subject.
Customer lock-in, not the GPL, is the real enemy of business.
Open Source and the Obligation to Recycle — My December 2001 article explaining why we were open sourcing our Motif books once we'd decided not to continue publishing new editions. Includes a link and quotes from Simson Garfinkel's wonderful 1999 Boston Globe column lamenting the fact that Lotus Improv was lost to the world once Lotus stopped selling it.
I'd like to urge every company whose products are "obsolete" to consider making them available under an open source license, or putting them in the public domain. While many of these contributions may go unnoticed and unused, they will enrich the soil of our collective commons.
What's Next for Linux and Open Source? — An article that appeared in the October 2001 issue of Linux Magazine. It suggests why open source advocates need to look beyond Linux to new applications like bioinformatics, why software patents will prove a greater challenge in years ahead, why XML-based web services are leading us towards an "internet operating system", and why that new application framework will change the way we need to think about open source, focusing on standards and interoperability as well as source access. The latter part repeats a big chunk of my weblog entry referenced below under the title "Open Source Needs Leadership?"
At a summit of open source leaders convened at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in July, I asked everyone what they thought was the most significant work of open source development in the past year. None of them came up with the answer I was looking for, yet all of them agreed once I proposed it: The work of James Kent, who wrote the gene assembler that allowed the Human Genome Project to finish its work three days before the private effort by Celera Genomics—thus ensuring the gene sequence remains in the public domain.
Perhaps I seem to be jumping track from open source to interoperability. However, I'm convinced the two are inextricably linked, because open architectures, like those of Unix/Linux and the Internet, are what make bottom-up open source technology development possible. Well-designed open source projects have what you might call an architecture of participation, one in which the protocols between participating programs are well defined, so that the individual programs can work together despite being developed independently. Contrast this with the code "commingling" that judges have found so troubling in the Microsoft antitrust case.
The Internet as it now exists has laid down the fundamental rules of such an interoperable system. One key element of the Internet approach was first articulated in 1980 by Jon Postel in RFC 761, TCP, and repeated and expanded in RFC 1122, Requirements of Internet Hosts. It is known as the "robustness principle" — "be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others."
Open Source Needs Leadership? — My August 6, 2001 response to Jay Greenspan's WebMonkey article calling for stronger leadership in the open source community in response to .NET. My answer: interoperable architectures allow bottom-up communities to evolve powerful software solutions without central leadership.
While I agree that the development of a next-generation Internet operating system is just about the biggest challenge facing open source today, I am not convinced that the open source and free software communities need a single unified strategy like Microsoft's .NET. Far from it. I'm convinced that the existing open source strategy, to encourage bottom-up competing solutions to real-world problems, connected by an Internet-style architecture that allows those independent solutions to interoperate, both with each other and with proprietary offerings from the likes of Microsoft and AOL, is the way to go.
My Definition of Freedom Zero — July 2001. A weblog entry expanding on a remark I made during the Q&A after the Mundie keynote, this piece ended stirring up a bit of controversy, earning conflicting responses from both Richard Stallman (with Brad Kuhn) and Eric Raymond. Slashdot picked up on this exchange again in November, and I wrote some additional followup then, including a number of give and take conversations with readers.
I love the concept of "Freedom Zero", which sounds to me like it ought to be the absolute foundation on which all the other freedoms are based. But at the risk of sounding like "warmed over Ayn Rand", I don't think Richard got Freedom 0 right. There's an even more fundamental freedom that underlies the work of both free software advocates and the most proprietary of software developers, as well as anyone else engaged in creative work. And that is the freedom to offer your work to the world on the terms that you choose, and for the recipients to accept or reject those terms.
Tim O'Reilly on Microsoft's Participation in the Open Source Convention — June 2001. Why I invited Craig Mundie to talk about Shared Source at OScon, and what I hope to achieve there. An interview with Bruce Stewart of oreilly.com.
For years, I have wanted to convince Microsoft that they should be supportive of open source, and I think that they will eventually get the idea, just as lumber companies are gradually learning that planting new forests makes better business sense than clear-cutting and moving on.
Making Programs Like Water: Free and Transparent — Katie Hafner's June 13, 2001 NY Times interview with me about open source. (Registration Required)
Internet service providers are a multibillion-dollar industry that charges consumers $19.95 a month for access to services based on free software. People forget that it's free software routing their e-mail and serving their Web pages. Software as a service is the business model that Microsoft wants to move toward, and nobody seems to recognize that this is a business model that free software already has a big head start on.
A Response to Andrew Leonard on the Demise of Eazel — My May 17, 2001 weblog response to Andrew Leonard's gloomy Salon article regarding the demise of Eazel.
I challenge the idea that open source business models have to look like proprietary software business models or they somehow don't count. One of the key points that Eric Raymond made in The Cathedral and the Bazaar was that far more software is built for use than for sale. All of the most successful businesses in the open source realm are users of open source. For example, the entire multi-billion dollar ISP industry is based on selling access to services (email, web, domain name services) that are largely based on open source programs… I find myself completely baffled by the failure of the hardcore open source community (or really the free software community, which focuses so single-mindedly on the GNU part of the Linux heritage) to acknowledge and own its real business successes, while endlessly obsessing about the markets (the Windows desktop and office applications) where open source not only has a steep uphill climb but also a less compelling business model.
Information Wants to be Valuable — May 2001. This is my contribution to the web debate in Nature on the future of scientific publishing and electronic access to primary research literature.
What many people fail to realize is that both Larry Wall and Bill Gates have a great deal in common: as the creators (albeit with a host of co-contributors) of a body of intellectual work, they have made strategic decisions about how best to maximize its value. History has proven that each of their strategies can work. The question, then, is one of goals, and of the strategies to reach those goals. The question for publishers and other middlemen who are not themselves the creators of the content they distribute, is how best to serve those goals. Information wants to be valuable. Publishers must focus on increasing the value, both to its producers and to its consumers, of the information they aggregate and distribute.
Opportunity Lost, Challenge Declined — May 2001. A post I wrote in a discussion on the Free Software Business list explaining why participants should engage with people from "the other side" rather than sending them away. I put a summary of other links to the discussion in my weblog on the O'Reilly Network.
Personally, I think it's an extremely interesting challenge, and one with a lot of social benefit (which is my main goal) to get Microsoft to open up and realize the benefits of cooperation as well as the benefits of competition, and to find a better balance between the two. Just as I urged Allchin and Mundie and other MS folks to talk to open source folks, I urge you guys to be more open to talking to Microsoft.
Cass Sunstein's book republic.com talks about the dynamics of groups that talk only to people who already agree with them: they tend to become more extreme, reinforcing their existing beliefs, while groups that regularly engage in dialogue with people who have opposite views tend to moderate towards the middle.
Now, I have nothing against this group wanting to sit in a corner and be extremists, if that's what you want. But since this is the premier gathering and conversation place for people who really care about the intersection of free software or open source and the business world, I'd much rather see us put our collective weight into engaging with "the enemy". Yes, it might cause those of us in dialogue to become more moderate, but my firm belief is that it will help Microsoft to become more moderate as well.
Shuttle Diplomacy Between Allchin and Stallman — February 2001. My response to Richard Stallman's piece, The GNU GPL and the American Way, which was itself a response to some intemperate comments by Microsoft Executive VP Jim Allchin. Richard had sent his piece around for comment before he published it. Since he largely ignored my comments, I decided to publish the email I'd sent him in my weblog as a counterpoint. I call for a real dialogue rather than assuming the worst.
I really like what Richard has to say, and certainly have many reservations about some of Microsoft's business practices, but at the same time, I have been disappointed by how quick members of the free software and open source communities have been to assume the worst in Jim's remarks.
I got lots of mail on this one, and published a followup article on the O'Reilly Network that includes many of the most thoughtful responses and my own commentary on them. In particular, it delves into the issue of Kerberos as an example of the implications of BSD-style licensing vs. GPL.
Tim O'Reilly on Open Source and Linux — A November 1999 interview with Simon Cozens for LinuxPlanet.
I guess I see Open Source as a wave front, a weather front that's moving through the industry, and technologies that are most productively Open Source at the front end where you're really doing new and interesting things. People just don't care after a while.
Opening Pandora's Box — A roundtable with me, Eric Raymond, Michael Tiemann, Andy Hertzfeld and Jeremie Miller talking about the future of open source, with a focus on web services and peer networking.
O'Reilly: The future of software is the result of a lot of small decisions, but those small decisions do somehow generate patterns. It's a little bit like the old Warner Brothers cartoons--everything ACME. It's everything NET; everything is going to be networked.
Raymond: Let's go to another level. Three trends, all of which are reinforcing each other: (1) transparency (code transparency, data transparency), (2) decentralization, and (3) individual empowerment.
Open Source Challenges — My opening remarks at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Monterey on July 18th, 2000. This talk is in streaming audio.
The Network Really is the Computer — The text I prepared for my June 8, 2000 keynote at JavaOne in San Francisco. The page also includes links to a webcast and a transcript of what I actually said, which is close but not identical. I talk about wide area networking as a key element in the history of open source, about the need for an architecture that allows people you don't know to use programs you write in ways you didn't expect, and how that architecture is going to change in the era of applications delivered as internet services rather than downloaded and run locally.
If you believe me that open source is about Internet-enabled collaboration, rather than just about a particular style of software license, you'll open a much larger tent. You'll see the threads that tie together not just traditional open source projects, but also collaborative "computing grid" projects like SetiAtHome, user reviews on Amazon.com, technologies like collaborative filtering, new ideas about marketing such as those expressed in The Cluetrain Manifesto, weblogs, and the way that Internet message boards can now move the stock market. What started out as a software development methodology is increasingly becoming a facet of every field, as network enabled conversations become a principal carrier of new ideas.
Gated Communities — June 2000. This piece, originally in my oreillynet.com weblog, explains the origins of the term "gated open source communities", and argues that, despite the opposition of the free software and open source orthodoxy, there are many cases where this idea makes sense.
There are many thousands of vendors who could make use of the gated community concept who aren't ready to go the full open source route. The idea of making their source code available to the world doesn't make any sense to them. All they can see is the possibility of lost revenue as people who might have been customers download it for free. (And if the marketplace is small, this loss of customers is in fact likely to offset the chance of acquiring new customers by freeing the code.) But give them the idea that they can enhance customer satisfaction by setting up mechanisms for sharing among their user community, and they're all for it.
Lessons from the Layoffs at Linuxcare — May 2000. A brief article I wrote for my weblog on the O'Reilly Network containing some thoughts on the nature of the open source service business model in response to news coverage of Linuxcare layoffs.
First off, service does not equal tech support! It does not equal training and certification. It does not equal custom development services! It can include all of these components, but it must go beyond them, by reframing a problem that your customers are struggling with, and offering a compelling outsourced solution.
Service means helping other people to get their jobs done, effectively becoming an invisible enabler of their business. When IBM or Oracle sells service as part of their software offering, they are really selling solutions, the assurance that some kind of business problem is going to go away, or some kind of business process is going to be carried on in a more streamlined fashion.
Open Source: The Model for Collaboration in the Age of the Internet — The prepared text for my keynote at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference in Toronto on April 6, 2000. This talk is also available in real audio.
I'd like to argue that open source is the "natural language" of a networked community, that the growth of the Internet and the growth of open source are interconnected by more than happenstance. As individuals found ways to communicate through highly leveraged network channels, they were able to share information at a new pace and a new level. Just as the spread of literacy in the late middle ages disenfranchised old power structures and led to the flowering of the renaissance, it's been the ability of individuals to share knowledge outside the normal channels that has led to our current explosion of innovation. Just as ease of travel helped new ideas to spread, wide area networking has allowed ideas to spread and take root in new ways. Open source is ultimately about communication.
Lack of Open Source support for Mozilla — June 2000. This piece contains the text of an email that I sent around to CEOs and CTOs of a number of Linux companies back in March of 2000. I got only a lukewarm response to the letter, and as a result organized no followup meeting. I do continue to feel that the Linux community missed a great opportunity to embrace the web more fully as its strategic center. Mozilla had many problems, but the fact that the strategic focus of so much of the Linux and open source investment was on the desktop features of the operating system, instead of on the web, was a contributing factor. Now that Microsoft owns the browser market, their opportunity for owning the next generation internet operating system is also correspondingly greater, and in some ways, open source has gone from being out front to being in catchup mode again.
I really see a huge amount of evolution in the web application space, and I see Linux lagging behind. Increasingly, people are writing applications that cross web/desktop boundaries. Many of these applications use features that are specific to Microsoft's browser. Further, Microsoft has made integration of the web into the next generation of Visual Studio a high priority, so that (in theory at least) MS application developers will be building applications that make use of remote web site data as easily as they use local data. Web sites are increasingly thinking about how to create APIs (perhaps xml-based) that will allow application developers to make use of their services other than through the canonical browser. Much of this ferment is leaving Linux behind.
Tim Machine — An interview with Robert McMillan in the February 2000 issue of Linux Magazine. I talk some about company history, and general open source issues that I've covered elsewhere. What people might find most interesting is the discussion of the SCSL versus various open source licenses:
What we want to do is figure out a way to shift the balance in favor of more open rather than less. We know that Sun is not going to ever go all the way over. The question is how far can you get them to go? I say let them experiment, and one of two things will happen. Maybe they will find out that they don't get a lot of community participation this way. Then we'll get to say to them: "Look, you guys, you missed something. The Sun Community Source License did not work." On the other hand, if it does work and it does enable some participation, what we'll have done is we'll have gotten the whole computer industry to move a little bit more toward a developer-centered world in which they recognize the power of individual developers. Then we can move on to the next island. I think a half-open development model is a heck of a lot better than a closed one. I'm not willing to say: "Either go all the way or we hate you." It just seems silly to me.
Why Didn't He Sell Out? — An interview with Doc Searles of Linux Journal and The ClueTrain Manifesto, which was done in Jan-Feb 2000, but not published till January 2001, as part of Doc's Linux for Suits site.
At the first Linux World Expo after the turn of the Millenium (January 31- Feb 3, 2000) I had a brief talk with Tim O'Reilly that I recorded and then lost. Recently when that tape reappeared I gave it a listen and found that it was as relevant as ever—perhaps even more so—because Tim is one of those rare businesspeople who likes to take the longest and broadest possible view, and act constantly on Yogi Berra's most impossible advice: "When you see a fork in the road, take it." Looking back, Tim seems to have taken every fork along the way, and sometimes several at once. Yet there also seems to be something consistently broad and encompassing about every one of those decisions. In retrospect, the vision Tim shared in that talk seems exceptionally knowing and precient, especially since I was mostly interested in just one question: why didn't he sell out?
Language, Thought and Reality — June 2000. An intro piece I wrote for one of our direct mail catalogs featuring Perl, in early 2000. I've included it because I've always loved Whorf's book, Language, Thought and Reality, and the connection with Perl and Larry Wall's own linguistics background really is significant.
This may seem a rather far-fetched introduction to a catalog of books about Perl, yet it helps to explain Perl's enduring popularity. There are problems that Perl is uniquely suited to solving; in fact, you can argue that Perl helps us to realize the existence of those problems, and to understand a new range of possibilities in our computers.
Ten Myths about Open Source Software — The text of a talk given to a private meeting of Fortune 500 IT executives in November 1999. I bang a lot of my usual drums, from the open source software at the heart of the internet to the way the web itself has opened the doors to a new computing paradigm, to the shift of power from companies to individual developers:
If you create low barriers to entry, you increase the opportunities for surprise… Open source gives us a better tool for innovation, not because of any magic in its development methodology (although there is great power in distributed peer review), but because it is part and parcel of an environment in which multiple players can take us in unexpected directions.
How the Web Was Almost Won — My November 16, 1999 Salon article about the role of Apache in preserving the open standards of the web. This article was triggered by some comments in Judge Jackson's findings in the Microsoft antitrust trial.
I don't think people realize just how close we came to a Microsoft-dominated Web. If Microsoft, having trounced Netscape, hadn't been surprised by the unexpected strength of Apache, Perl, FreeBSD and Linux, I can easily imagine a squeeze play on Web protocols and standards, which would have allowed Microsoft to dictate terms to the Web developers who are currently inventing the next generation of computer applications.
Q&A with Tim O'Reilly — An interview with sendmail.net done around October 1999. Contains some thoughts about who is doing good work supporting open source among the corporate titans. I also talk about why it's important to focus on the internet and the contributions of Berkeley UNIX rather than just on Linux in thinking about the successes of Open Source, why it's important for web companies to start consciously recognizing their debt to open source and contributing back to the projects that enabled their success, and reflect on some of O'Reilly's contributions to the computer industry over the years.
I also want to put in a good word for Sun. While they get some amount of grief from the Open Source community because the SCSL is not a true Open Source license, I think that they are grappling with real issues that other companies may also have to face one day… And as I like to point out, if Open Source is science and not religion, we're going to learn something from their experiment. Either they'll be able to spur collaborative development by the community of their users or they won't. Telling them that they're wrong before the experiment has been tried impoverishes us all. If they succeed, we'll know something about collaborative development that we don't now know; if they fail, we'll also learn something very important.
And in another vein:
...in the long term most of us will be forgotten, even as the creations we've set free have changed the world. Somehow that reminds me of a Rilke quote that my friends now make fun of because they hear it from me so much. In his poem "The Man Watching," he describes Jacob's Biblical wrestling match with an angel, and concludes with something like this: "What we fight with is so small, and when we win, it makes us small. What we want is to be defeated, decisively, by successively greater things."
Where the Web Leads Us — This xml.com article was adapted from my keynote address for Linux World in Tokyo on September 29, 1999.
Almost everyone who talks about Open Source software wants to know whether or not Linux stands a chance of dethroning Windows. I'm here to talk about something completely different—the role of open source software and Linux in building the future of the Internet, and more specifically, the future of the World Wide Web.
The New Age of Infoware: Open Source and the Web — My keynote at the Wizards of OS Conference in Berlin during the summer of 1999. The text here is a transcription, complete with ums and ahs, run on sentences, and some transcription errors. I guess that's how I really talk vs. how I clean it up when I write :-(
You notice I'm skirting the strict definition of open source because while I think licenses are very, very important, what's more important is what people do in practice: Do they share? Do they copy? Is it easy to build on what other people do? And I think the web was incredibly driven by those low barriers to entry that were implicit in having that HTML 'View Source' available all the time. And what's more, you didn't have to be a programmer to make a web page, you didn't have to be a programmer to build an application, we really started to have this new layer on top of the software.
After the talk, there was a Q&A that included me and some of the previous speakers. The real highlight was that one of the main interrogators was Richard Stallman. We exchanged some thoughts about the impact of the new web paradigm on open source licenses. They are a fair way through the Q&A, so read on down:
RMS: "...the issue of free software versus proprietary arises for software that we're going to have on our computers and run on our computers. We're gonna have copies and the question is, what are we allowed to do with those copies? Are we just allowed to run them or are we allowed to do the other useful things that you can do with a program? If the program is running on somebody else's computer, the issue doesn't arise. Am I allowed to copy the program that Amazon has on it's computer? Well, I can't, I don't have that program at all, so it doesn't put me in a morally compromised position..."
Tim: "Think about, for example, maps.yahoo.com: what if it gives the wrong directions? Can we fix it? Many of us who deal with websites, for example, that have data up there, have a real problem if we get the wrong data. And there is a very analogous situation to software, where for example, we provide data to Amazon, they get it wrong, and we can't fix it. You know we've got to send them mail, and they say 'Oh we'll get around to it later,' and maybe it never gets fixed."
Open Season: Raiding the Cookie Jar — In this conversation with Sam Williams of Upside Magazine, I start to sound the themes that concerned me for the next couple of years: the web is built on open source, but it won't stay that way unless we get the dot coms in the habits of giving back to the technology and standards base that made their opportunity possible.
Infoware is O'Reilly's term for products and services that use open-source software tools—HTML, CGI and PERL—to supply highly adaptable, highly targeted information such as stock quotes, book reviews and maps. This might seem like window dressing to some hard-core hackers, but O'Reilly says that's precisely the problem. Instead of looking ahead to the next conflict, open-source hackers are too busy fighting the last war.
To avoid a future outcome where the open-source community gets mowed down like a cavalry squadron charging a machine gun parapet, O'Reilly has proposed a peaceful solution. Companies such as Yahoo and Amazon can grow, devour and assimilate to their hearts' content. The only catch is that they have to give something back… "We have to build a rich ecosystem," says O'Reilly.
Open Source Software and the Future of the PC (audio only) — A June 11, 1999 interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation with me, Newsweek's Steven Levy, and Scott Bradner from the Internet Architecture Board (and Harvard).
Tim O'Reilly Talks Open Source — A brief, somewhat scattered interview with Andrew Orlowski of IT Week UK, March 31, 1999. I talk about open source and free speech:
It's a very natural impulse to share code. Programming is speech with computers--it's telling computers what to do. And a lot of rules we understand of free speech apply to it. You can't tell people to speak in prescribed sentences!
about the business model of Red Hat:
You don't say Red Hat is trying to be like Microsoft. I say no no no! It's more like Dell. Bob Young is saying we're better at delivering commodity components. Bob says: "We don't make traditional software—we're a marketing company and we package it."
and about the fact that open source licenses may not be enforceable:
That's true. If you talk to lawyers they say not all of them are legally enforceable… But it's like gravity—you don't need a law to protect gravity; the benefit will be apparent to everyone. In some sense the GPL is a transitional tool that gets us to the level that it becomes self-evident that users need to have these rights.
The Role of Public Authorities in the development of an appropriate market environment — A talk I gave at the EU Conference, Poliseo Europe, in Rome, on March 19, 1999. I talked about the lessons of open standards and open source for government technology policy.
We like to talk about free markets. But there are two kinds of free market. There is the free market of goods and services, which is what we normally mean by that term. But perhaps even more important is the free market of ideas. At least in the world of computer science, Open Source is the purest form of that free market of ideas.
O'Reilly and Collaborative Software Community Get 1998 Infoworld Achievement Award — The February 1999 article by Nicholas Petreley announcing this award led to the controversial statement by Bruce Perens that I was a parasite who hadn't actually contributed any code to the free software community. Ironically, I had said much the same thing, though more positively, in my comments to Nick on hearing of the award. Here's what I said, as quoted in his article:
All I've really done is to bring into wider awareness the work done by others. I suppose my major contribution has been to broaden the dialogue—to add to the debate the idea that open source is not just about Linux and the GNU General Public License. I've tried very hard to remind everyone that the Internet standards process has a lot in common with open source, that many of the key Internet technologies have been open source all along, and that we need to make room for different viewpoints at the table.
I've [also] tried to remind people of some of the unsung heroes -- people like Paul Vixie, whose Bind program makes possible all those URLs we type every day; or Eric Allman, whose Sendmail routes most of our e-mail; or Larry Wall, whose Perl language is `the duct tape of the Internet' and whose patch program was such a key enabler of code sharing. In so doing, I think I've helped people realize that open source isn't new, that it isn't yet another wannabe contender stepping into the ring with Microsoft, but a movement that has already had a profound influence on all of our lives.
Why O'Reilly books aren't open source — An Ask Tim piece from December 1998. In addition to addressing the question of the differences between documentation and software, it talks about BSD vs. GPL licenses, and some of the reasons people contribute to open source projects.
Richard thinks there is a moral imperative underlying the free redistribution of software, and now, by extension, other information. Richard feels that since there isn't any physical cost associated with copying software, limiting free redistribution is a form of extortion. I on the other hand feel that it's immoral to try to compel someone else to give you something they've created without compensating them in some way. That is, when software is freed, it is a gift, not the result of an obligation...
Very few people write a book to "scratch their own itch." Instead, people generally write books for two reasons, to serve other people (a noble goal), or to earn something (either money or esteem, or both) for themselves. So one of the fundamental motives underlying free software is often missing. If someone wants to write a book because they believe in the Open Source or free software movement, more power to them. I'll be happy to publish that book if I think it's a good book. But I'm not going to tell my authors that they have an obligation to do so!
The Open Source Revolution (PDF) — A special issue of Esther Dyson's Release 1.0 that I put together in November 1998, with contributions from Mark Stone, Mark Jacobsen, Stig Hackvan, Dale Dougherty, and others. Includes Mark Jacobsen's estimates of the size of various open source communities in relation to each other, using newsgroup traffic and conference attendance for calibration purposes.
A year ago, if you had asked the IS manager at a large company about free software, he'd have told you he didn't use it. It's unsupported, he might say. Not robust enough. Not commercial quality. Suddenly, in a flood of mainstream activity, that perception has changed.
Tim O'Reilly Sends an "Open Letter to Microsoft" — This was written in November 1998, just after the release of the Halloween Documents.
The point that you seem to miss is that it is these simple, commoditized protocols and a culture of building freely on the work of others that brought us the explosion of innovation known as the Internet… Lacking the Internet, you would have had to rely on such dubious innovations as Microsoft Bob to drive upgrade revenue. And now you want to undermine Open Source? Try to be serious!
The Importance of Perl — An April 1998 white paper on perl and scripting that I co-authored with Ben Smith of Ronin House:
Despite all the press attention to Java and ActiveX, the real job of "activating the Internet" belongs to Perl, a language that is all but invisible to the world of professional technology analysts but looms large in the mind of anyone—webmaster, system administrator or programmer—whose daily work involves building custom web applications or gluing together programs for purposes their designers had not quite foreseen. As Hassan Schroeder, Sun's first webmaster, remarked: "Perl is the duct tape of the Internet."
Freeware, the heart and soul of the Internet — A short essay for oreilly.com from March 1998, just before the "freeware summit" where the term Open Source was ratified by a collection of key developers. This is where I articulated the point long known in the hacker community and now accepted in the wider world as well, that the internet infrastructure was built on open source:
Quick. Ask yourself what are the most "mission critical" pieces of software on the Internet. Here's my list...
A slightly later version of this piece, complete with photos from the freeware/open source summit, can be found on Web Review.
Netscape Releases Source Code: An Interview with Tim — A brief January 1998 interview with Richard Wiggins of WebReference.com, in which I comment on the NS open source release:
About three years ago I argued that the one company that represented the greatest danger to the Internet was Netscape. They really started the movement to take HTML private. This led to the browser war with Microsoft. Netscape's move back to a freeware model is an admission that the proprietary approach just didn't work.
Hardware, Software and Infoware — This talk was first delivered in March 1997, at the Linux Kongress in Wurzburg, the same conference where Eric Raymond first gave The Cathedral and the Bazaar. This is the version as written up for our book Open Sources, which was published in January 1999, and I'm sure it evolved considerably over that two year period. Lots of ideas about why open source in general, and perl in particular, has played an unexpectedly important role in the development of the web.