Wake up, Linux hippies: No one 'morally obligated' to give back
Open source selflessness does not exist
Open...and Shut For years, open-source advocates – including me – have demanded greater open-source contributions from the world's largest beneficiaries, from Google to Morgan Stanley and the US Department of Defense. Now Amazon is on the firing line for not giving back commensurate with the benefits it receives from various open-source communities, and the thinking behind the arguments are as wrong-headed as they ever were.
Open source, it turns out, is doing just fine, with or without Amazon. And always will.
My friend and open-source expert Glyn Moody does not agree. He believes that contributing to open-source projects is both rational and a moral obligation:
Amazon's contribution to the open source world seems pretty minimal. That's not only ungrateful, it's unwise. It's in Amazon's best interests that the projects it depends on thrive: the better they become, the better Amazon's infrastructure and products will work....
[Contrast this with] Google, which does choose to support that community in a variety of ways, because it knows that it is not only the right thing to do, it is the rational thing to do.
Perhaps. I've made similar arguments in the past. But it has become increasingly clear to me over the years that open source tends to do just fine without all the normative arguments about who should contribute this or that.
Self-interest regulates open-source software quite well.
In a recent interview with Argentina's La Pagina, Linux founder Linus Torvalds notes that "[s]upporting all the random hardware out there is what most of the actual [Linux] programming effort goes into." Guess what? Many of those contributions come from the companies that manufacture that hardware. Just take a look at the list of who contributes to the Linux kernel (PDF), and it's immediately apparent.
Those companies contribute because it suits their self-interest. The minute it doesn't, they'll stop.
Torvalds touches on this in the same interview:
I think there can be *many* ideologies [that motivate open-source development]. I do it for my own reasons, other people do it for _their_ own reasons. I think the world is a complicated place, and people are interesting and complicated animals that do things for complex reasons. And that's why I don't think there should be "an ideology".
I think it's really refreshing to see people working on Linux because they believe they can make the world a better place by spreading technology and making it available to people more widely - and they think that open source is a good way to do that. That's _one_ ideology. I think it's a great one. It isn't really why I started doing Linux myself, but it warms my heart to see Linux used that way.
But I _also_ think that it's great to see all the commercial companies that use open source simply because it's good for business. That's a totally different ideology, and I think that's a perfectly good ideology too. The world would be a _much_ worse place if we didn't have companies doing things for money.
So the only ideology I really despise and dislike is the kind that is about exclusion of other ones.
Torvalds' pragmatism is refreshing, and instructive, particularly in light of the finger-wagging at Amazon. To Moody (and Joe Brockmeier, who echoes and amplifies Moody's arguments), I say, if it's rational to contribute to open-source projects, Amazon will contribute. The moment its perceived self-interest is furthered by contributing rather than free-riding, Amazon will contribute. And not until then.
What many overlook is that contributing to open-source projects is a huge burden, and not just a blessing. It's hard work to clean up code, run the internal legal gauntlet, and all the other things that are required to successfully participate in an open-source project. For many companies it's just not worth the bother.
And while Moody and Brockmeier rightly laud Google for its open source contributions, they seem to have forgotten that Google went years as a huge consumer of open source before it contributed much of anything back, and that to this day it hoards far more than it contributes. Even its most open projects, like Android, are open only on Google's preferred terms.
Google contributes out of self-interest, not because of some divine should.
Like every company, or individual, for that matter. Each of us contributes (or doesn't) out of perceived self-interest. Now, it may be that Amazon will come to feel that contributing to open-source projects like Linux correlates with its self-interest, as Google has, and will open up over time. Fine. But let's not pretend that there are compelling normative arguments that demand it do so on anyone's terms but its own and those of the open-source licenses it uses. ®
Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears twice a week on The Register.
You're quite wrong, SoaG.
Ayn Rand thought selfishness a virtue. There appeared to be no room in her philosophy for the enlightened altruism associated with open source. Instead, she seemed to be enamored with psychopaths with no empathy for other people.
One of Rand's heros was William Edward Hickman - a 20's criminal famous for the kidnapping, torture, murder and dismemberment of a 12 year old girl by the name of Marian Parker. He did other stuff as well - armed robbery and other murders - but the death of Marian Parker was the most shocking crime of all. No wonder he went to the gallows. What was Rand's reaction to this, you may wonder?
"In her journal circa 1928 Rand quoted the statement, "What is good for me is right," a credo attributed to a prominent figure of the day, William Edward Hickman. Her response was enthusiastic. "The best and strongest expression of a real man's psychology I have heard," she exulted."
I have no idea what Rand would have made of Linus Torvalds; I suspect it would be uncomplimentary. She would have blasted all the people who use Linux as "parasites", no doubt.
Whole article is an Aunt Sally based on your own misperceptions.
>"Glyn Moody does not agree. He believes that contributing to open-source projects is both rational and a moral obligation:"
Except that no he doesn't, not for one second, you are just putting words into his mouth. In the quote you provide, he says it is ungrateful of Amazon not to contribute; that means he thinks it would be grateful of them if they did. Also, he says it is unwise of Amazon not to contribute, that means that he thinks it would be wise if they did.
However, what he does not for one second say is that it was immoral of them not to contribute. He does not mention, raise, or imply issues of morality in either the quote you selected or the entire post you linked to.
You entirely confabulated that angle, based on your own ideological spin on what he was trying to say. The whole thing only happened in your own head, derived from an outward projection of your own personal issues onto your interpretation of the whole world. ("Right thing to do" does not even necessarily imply morally right, there are many other ways in which something can be right, from the pragmatic to the short-term advantage to the tactical or strategical, none of which need to be morality-related, and in any case, saying that Google did the right thing would still not imply that Amazon must therefore have done the wrong thing unless you engage in some kind of fallacy of the excluded middle.)
So the entire article is a strawman argument, and indeed you even provide plenty of quotes that make it perfectly clear that the open source movement is well aware that there are many reasons to contribute to open source, ranging all the way across the scale from pure self-interest to outward-going other-directed selflessness. Everything you said is already well-known to be the case, and already long-since acknowledged so by all the people involved; only in your imagination was it ever any different. So what are you *actually* trying to say in your content-devoid article? I think you're just having an emotional rant at a bunch of people you find ideologically disagreeable.
and make sure you comprehend it before posting next time, please.
(Here's a hint: the ENTIRE POINT of the article is that the quantity and quality of, and rationale for, OSS contribution is an individual, amoral*, decision. So claiming that Google is somehow right or wrong for their OSS contributions or lack thereof is, in the context of the article, akin to claiming that purple is 5.)
* That's amoral in the literal, correct meaning of the term, not "immoral".