Open sourcerers slam licensing slur

And where's my Tiffany MP3?

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Letters Ah, open source. Is there a topic more likely to spark an animated discussion among geeks of a certain type? [Yes, plenty: DRM, IP, patents, ID cards, biometrics, etc, etc - Ed] More to the point, is there a middle ground on this? Are there any people out there who can discuss it with anything less than a passionate, even religious intensity?

All we did was run a story looking at open source from a business perspective. Well, who knew such a thing could be quite so provocative? Well, OK, maybe we did. Maybe that's why we ran it...

Dear Philip,

Very interesting article (Open Source: just another licensing model) - I'd like to suggest there maybe other reasons for moving towards open source.

Information technology has commonly been seen as a differentiator between business, a source of competitive advantage. Whilst this may have been argued in the early days - due to the scarcity of Information technology - in my personal experience, this model would appear to be changing as information technology tends towards more of a commodity.

This is more clearly seen with hardware, but there are arguments that the same will happen with software.

From my experience, most companies want those information technology services which are needed to run a business to be at least as good as a competitor and preferably at a lower cost. Increasingly, information technology is seen as a cost of doing business.

A company can create advantage (difference) through novel services and how information technology is used, but this is only a stepping stone to the next advantage, as each change is again adopted throughout the market.

The pace of integration and adoption of new concepts in competitive systems appears to have accelerated and the open source approach and the move towards open source standards could further accelerate this. Inherent in the open source model is a pressure to do this due to the cost of re-applying internal modifications to new releases. The balancing act becomes the advantage of the modification against the constant cost of re-applying the change.

The open source model has the potential to drive software towards more of a commodity, whilst providing a "battleground" for companies to identify the few individuals (wherever in the world) who have the skill to create those novel services (or modifications) which may at any time differentiate one company from another. To pinch a phrase "the rise of talent."

It is potentially a catalyst for a fundamental change in how information technology is viewed.

For companies providing services in information technology, future value may well be derived from consultancy and support of products (for those companies who wish to purchase this) and not the licensing of general (as opposed to niche) products themselves.

Business will in general seek to obtain the lowest cost for a commodity product. Premium will be paid for that which really creates difference.

Whether this will happen may well depend upon whether the open source model extends beyond operating systems and applications into entire business applications (ERP etc).

We are not there yet, but I suggest that this has the potential of far more than just another licensing model.

Your sincerely

Simon Wardley

Your writer says: There are four different reasons for choosing an open source solution...second, because you have ethical concerns over the extent to which proprietary vendors should be allowed to profit from their products; Now, as far as most businesses are concerned... they couldn't give a tinker's cuss about the philosophy

Quick, someone lock him in and give him a good gouging, then make him repeat what he said about this being a purely philosophical concern.

Best regards,


To add to the doubtless hundreds of mails you're getting about this:

"I don't think you could point to any open source product that was demonstrably better (or equivalent in most cases) than all of its proprietary counterparts"

Apache Mozilla Firefox (Check out the new 0.9) Evolution (Ximian/Novell) BIND Exim / Postfix / Sendmail CVS / Subversion PHP JBoss C Perl / Python / Ruby Nmap / Nessus

That's just off the top of my head. And as for:

"There is no doubt that Ingres will rapidly become the open source database of choice"

Oh really? Has the author ever actually tried to *install*, never mind use, Ingres? Let me tell you, it's a PITA. Plus, the "strength of features" that he talks about are undoubted, but most of them (replication, solid transactions, snapshots etc) aren't required for the task of most current instaances of open-source DBs (MySQL, PostgreSQL): powering web applications. These DBs both have a bundle of bindings to languages and other applications that Ingres doesn't, as well as a groundswell of developer support. Do jobserve searches for 'Ingres' vs. 'MySQL' and see what comes up.

The fact is that users who need mission-critical databases aren't using open source products, they're using Oracle or SQL Server, and they're not likely to move to Ingres just because CA has decided they're sick of getting murdered in the market by Oracle and Microsoft and they'd rather cut their costs by outsourcing their development to the community at large.

According to the author's Bio, he moved into 'product management and marketing' in the early 80s. It shows: perhaps he should talk to some people who actually use the products he opines so presumptuously about. Your publication has a well-deserved history of technical savvy in its articles. Please, run any future submissions from this source through a bullshit filter.



"Now, as far as most businesses are concerned, they are not interested in the code and they couldn't give a tinker's cuss about the philosophy. The third point is worth consideration but I don't think you could point to any open source product that was demonstrably better (or equivalent in most cases) than all of its proprietary counterparts."

Ummm.... Apache.


Dear Me, how simplistic.

"Let's be clear about this. There are four different reasons for choosing an open source solution. First, because you want to play around with the code; second, because you have ethical concerns over the extent to which proprietary vendors should be allowed to profit from their products; third, because you think the product is better or more suitable for what you want it for than any proprietary equivalent; and fourth, because it is cheaper."

Well, yes and no. Because there's a fifth reason. Which is that you want to have strategic (that is, long-term) control over your information and your costs. You never want to be locked in again. You understand the difference between tactical cheaper (this year's licence costs) and strategic cheaper (the though-life cost of being held over a barrel by lock-in to some proprietary vendor whose business interest is directly contrary to your own).

Strictly speaking, freedom from lock-in means open standards, not open source. the only problem is that, so far, the open source solutions provide better compliance to the open standards than any proprietary stuff.

As to quality: I couldn't say whether Apache is better or not, but I notice it's gained two-thirds of the web "market" without a single ad or salesman. I couldn't say whether Mozilla is better or not, but it works for me, when IE won't. I couldn't say whether OpenBSD is better or not, but I do know its security trounces all comers bar none.

The bottom line is that open source is all about lucre. Of course it is. But not in the sense you mean it at all. It's all about cost of living, and husbandry, and sustainability, and not spending the rest of your life - as an individual or a business - paying blackmail to extortioners. You just haven't got that, have you?


El Reg,

Philip Howard gives four reasons for choosing open source over proprietary software, but I can see an obvious fifth reason which I think is one of the more important ones from a business perspective: avoiding vendor lock-in. A proprietary software vendor has great power over a business that needs its software, a situation usually called "leverage". This "leverage" is all bad for the party at the wrong end of the lever. With an open source program, there is no lever, just the usual healthy buyer-seller relationship of "if I don't like what you're selling, I'll buy elsewhere".

This also reduces the risk factor in dealing with an innovative but not well-established vendor. If your chosen vendor goes tits-up, then with open source you are at least in a position to find someone else to support the product, whereas with proprietary software you are at the mercy of whoever winds up with ownership of the associated copyrights. Think of it as an insurance policy, the likes of which just isn't available from any proprietary vendor I've seen.

"Freedom" isn't just a pleasant philosophical abstraction: it's a sound business decision.

Regards, TFBW

The third point is worth consideration but I don't think you could point to any open source product that was demonstrably better (or equivalent in most cases) than all of its C counterparts.

Have you not looked at Apache, Tomacat or Sendmail? These products lead in percentage of use, and leave their proprietary counterparts in the dust when it comes to security, stability, and cross platform support.

How about discussing MaxDB from MySQL and SAP. I would compare this offer to Oracle 7 to 8. How many of us need the total package of features built in to 10i? Where is the mention of Open Office?

To your point that people don't care about the availibility of source code, when's the last time you where involved in the purchase of a proprietary solution? It's the first item that is covered in the RFP. Dot com melt downs.... Who cares if the source code disappears with the firm, right?

Take a look at what Largo FL and Kenosha WI have done. Open source is not only a alternative solution, it the only player in town when fiscal responsibility is considered!

John Pederson

Putting this "article" in the category of "Software", rather than "Odds and Sods" (subcategory 'FUDnotes'), hurts your reputation with me.

Mr. Howard's initial paragraph, "Let's be clear about this...." says that there are 4 different reasons for choosing an open source software solution. He magically avoids the two reasons which nearly _every_ user of Open Source software puts First, and offers a gratuitous insult as his "second reason".

Real reason # 1: Open Source users want to assure future access to THEIR data. Most users never "play around with the code". Instead, they want the Source Code to be available so that future programmers may see how data is processed, stored, and sent between application components. Most users would describe this issue as, "no vendor lock-in of MY data in hidden formats".

Real reason # 2: Open Source projects grow to meet the requirements of their users, not a vendor. Does Mr. Howard remember all the months when Word-97 users couldn't save a file in Word-95 format, forcing all of their acquaintances to upgrade? Whom did that serve? And who really needs things in Word-XP which they can't do in Word-2000?

- - - As for Mr Howard's insulting "second reason", I will grant that I have ethical concerns with the ill-gotten gains of a particular criminal monopolist. But IBM and Red Hat, and many other companies, deserve the profits which they earn by providing real value to their customers, without resorting to criminal behavior to "earn" those profits.

I think that Mr. Howard's third reason applies to any selection of a software package over it's alternatives, and applies in both directions: A CIO might be using DB2 (proprietary) because the firm's needs can't be met by MySQL. Or, the CIO might be running Apache webservers (open source), because IIS lacks Apache's reliability, servicability, quick release of bugfixes, and proper design.

Mr. Howard's fourth reason is OK, but by ignoring the most important reasons for using Open Source, his subsequent commentary is useless drivel. Was he funded like AdTI?

Your disappointed but loyal reader, Rick Stockton

P.S. I'm writing you from Mozilla 1.7-RC3 on Mandrake 10. My freely given contributions to Mandrake have been much higher than the purchase price for Windows-XP, it's NOT about price. All Trademarked software product names which I have referenced are the property of their owners.

Nice article, but I have a different opinion on one of the points you're making: "Now, as far as most businesses are concerned, they are not interested in the code".

Well, in general, for the bulk of the software out there and the bulk of the companies, that statement is correct. But when you speak of database systems, as the rest of the article focuses on that, I think there is a representative number of companies among the ones using database systems extensively which *are* interested in the code. Even if only in order to fix a glitch or customize some functionality. Programmers can be found, the tariffs for such small changes aren't really significant even for most SMEs, and as long as the management is aware that they have this possibility, I think they would be interested in the code for this purpose. The catch, of course, is that at least IMHO most managers don't know this is possible due to the traditional licensing model they're been dealing with for so long.

Obviously just my 2c, Bogdan

Philip has just TOTALLY IGNORED the fundamental raison d'etre of Free Software. Seeing as he can't see the elephant because he's looking at the mice, I think the rest of the analysis carries about as much weight as the mice compared to the elephant.

Cheers, Wol

Still running with the proprietory software vs. alternatives theme, it seems that Mr. Orlowski's been at it again. Upsetting people that is.

Andrew wrote: "A petition in support of the official online [here] points out that with 46 Brazilians living below the poverty line, the country can't afford proprietary software licenses", and the elusive "ed" added: (In which case, what's it doing buying PCs? - ed)

Errm, perhaps because PCs my be necessary, or perhaps more efficient at, implementing helpful gov't work whereas the various costly Microsoft licenses aren't.

I can only speak for myself but my Mandrake workstation (and servers) on 6 year old, or so, PCs work help me do far more for less (or even free) tan I was ever able to do with Windows and its re-boots, constant patching and faffing about with anti-virus, firewall and spyware apps.

I can ship an adequately powered, fully kitted-out (software-wise) secure PC/server to Sao Paulo for less than a Microsoft Office Student license costs.

The little mammals be a nibblin' round that dinosaur so when (not if) that comet hits... -- Lee Alley

"A petition in support of the official online here points out that with 46 per cent of Brazilians living below the poverty line, the country can't afford proprietary software licenses. (In which case, what's it doing buying PCs? - ed) "

Is he serious? Does your editor really think it's possible for any country to grow its economy in todays climate without computers?

Without developing an IT infrastructure, Brazil would end up with a lot more than forty-six percent below the poverty line in the long term. Any investment in development will have a regrettable impact on wealth in the immediate term, but if open source can reduce the immediate cost then so much the better.

Every country needs computers now. That anyone can maintain a position as the editor of such a well-respected news site and yet be incapable of grasping this simple reality beggars belief.

Name witheld

Another item that caught your attention was the stalemate reached in negotiations between the US and Europe over what to do with online hate sites:

It's a little shocking to find the Bush Administration doing something right, but even a blind pig will get it right once in a while. I'd rather they did something useful like opposing censorship than pursue the majority of the peculiar notions that seem to drive US foriegn policy these days.

The other obvious point is that we're all better off if hate material is easier to find. Datamining the bad guys is a lot easier if we know who and where they are. You'd rather these sites became "password only" and SSL-encrypted and known only to other "bad guys" will make you safer?

The theory that "hate material" should be suppressed is only supportable if one believes that the masses are so weak-minded that Bad Ideas will propagate among them if a paternalistic government doesn't protect us from them. I'm sure you've logged onto Stormfront (American Nazi site) at least once. Did you have a sudden urge to burn down synagogues after looking the site over?

The Internet *is* censored in places like Saudi Arabia. Is this doing either their people or economy any good? Is "limited" Internet censorship doing anybody in EU any good? Does anyone really think that the Nazis will take over Germany again if those idiots have freedom of speech?

Those looking for a positive sign in the deadlock consoled themselves with the thought that the issue was now at least on the global agenda.

A "positive" sign would be a strong EU movement to copy the 1st AND 2nd amendments of the US Constitution into the EU Constitution when you guys finally get one of your own. I promise that not one attempt will be made from any US entity to bust the EU government on a DMCA violation.


We would ask that readers in the US try to avoid the use of the word 'constitution' too often. It gets some people awful riled over here in Blighty...

Dispensing as quickly as possible with the politics of Europe, let's turn our attention to more important matters. We would like to apologise to any readers who were misled by a recent headline, as poor Michael below was:

I'm so dissapointed.

Saw the headline and assumed there were a lot of bootleg copies of 'I think we're alone now' on ebay.

Just checked on ebay and there aren't even any non-bootleg copies. :(


And finally...Intel's attempt to mix the disciplines of Web and wave surfing have not met with universal approval:

Hi Lucy,

Intel does the ridiculous. WiFi-ring the take off spot. We paddle out to get away from the manic techno babble. See: You Ain't Surfers.

Aloha, Mike

Aloha indeed. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
NSA man: 'Tell me about your Turkish connections'
Spooks ask Dabbsy to suggest a nice hotel with pool
In space... no one can hear you're green...
Indian techies-in-training face down MAN-EATING LEOPARD - and WIN
Big cat causes big trouble at Mumbai college
Carlos: Slim your working week to just three days of toil
'Midas World' vision suggests you retire later, watch more tellie and buy more stuff
Yahoo! Japan! launches! service! for! the! dead!
If you're reading this email, I am no longer alive
Plucky Rockall podule man back on (proper) dry land
Bold, barmy Brit adventurer Nick Hancock escapes North Atlantic islet
Motorist 'thought car had caught fire' as Adele track came on stereo
'FIRE' caption on dashboard prompts dunderheaded hard shoulder halt
prev story


Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.