Shuttleworth Don Quixote Tilting at FLOSS

Passion can be a good thing (Christ) or a bad thing (Hitler). Mark Shuttleworth’s passion has been a good thing for FLOSS in that he promoted its use on PCs and servers. He provided cash, a lot of cash. He provided a structure, Ubuntu. He provided infrastructure, sales, marketing, offices, and people all promoting FLOSS (Canonical).

Mark Shuttleworth doesn’t get FLOSS, the concept. He gets FLOSS as a business, but doesn’t understand that an essential element is that Free Software remains Free.
Jake Edge wrote, “In Shuttleworth’s view, the participation of companies is vital to bringing the Linux desktop to the next level, and there is no real path for purely software companies to move from producing proprietary software toward making free software.” If that is a correct interpretation of Shuttleworth, and it is consistent with what we have seen lately, then Shuttleworth’s belief is based on a simple error of logic. Shuttleworth assumes that because businesses are important for the promotion of FLOSS that the world owes businesses that produce only software a living. That is false. A business has to sell product and/or services. If the world finds merit in the products in price/performance, the world will support that business. There is no need to sell out software freedom for that to happen.

Canonical is doing very well by FLOSS without selling out FLOSS. At its present rate of growth Canonical will have a huge positive cash flow shortly. Is that not good business? It was also good business for SUN to open because they got StarOffice for less than the cost of one round of licences for that other office suite and it cost SUN nothing to open A lot of the work was then done by others at no cost to SUN and SUN got a perpetual licence to a great office suite for very little cost forever. Oracle does not get FLOSS and they damaged and MySQL to some extent and Java largely, but that is their problem not FLOSS’s problem. Oracle is attacking a business validly using FLOSS, Google, over Android/Linux. The world can make software without large companies contributing software. Businesses do well to contribute to FLOSS but in their own interests because FLOSS is so useful to business either as a product or included in products and services. There is no need to sacrifice software freedom to make FLOSS more attractive to business. Business loves FLOSS as it is, most businesses anyway.

FLOSS needs simplified licensing. The GPL does that. Ask Linus. He’s not the greatest promoter of FLOSS but he loves what the GPL provides his project, the Linux kernel, lots of developers contributing freely, most from businesses. FLOSS is a great idea and a business that doesn’t get FLOSS is welcome to use FLOSS still but not to pollute FLOSS with non-free licences and restrictions. A business that gets FLOSS will have cheaper software, more software, more developers, independence from a single supplier, strength in numbers etc. There is no downside whatsoever to business. There is a downside to monopolists who insist on making $X per copy. There is a downside to businesses that use non-free software: higher costs, lower performance, burdens of audits/compliance, dependence on a single supplier, all liabilities. There is a cost to folks who don’t use FLOSS, the burden of non-free licensing.

Consider the ultimate example of the monopolist, M$. M$ is diversifying as fast as it can because it cannot beat FLOSS without a monopoly and the monopoly is in free fall. OEMs are now shipping millions of units with FLOSS. Retailers are now selling millions of units with FLOSS. M$’s only hope is to diversify and they are. Look at the proliferation of products unrelated to the old desktop monopoly. Everyone seems to get that non-free software only is not a valid business plan, even Shuttleworth. So, why does he tilt at windmills? The real enemy is non-free software as a concept implemented by monopolies, not FLOSS. FLOSS is good for everyone, businesses and organizations and individuals. There is no downside to normal folks who use FLOSS.

see LWN – Jake Edge- Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

The ultimate proof of my thesis is that companies that normally do not produce software are adopting FLOSS and getting involved in producing hardware that runs it and distributing the software. If existing business do not see that producing non-free software only is a failing business model they are in for a rude surprise. This year, shipments of Linux-powered systems running Free Software will eclipse shipments of non-free software and FLOSS is still picking up speed. FLOSS is beginning to take bigger share on the desktop, the last outpost of monopoly, and by next year that effect will be too big to ignore. The end of the failed business model (monopoly+non-free software) will be soon. FLOSS will prevail regardless what Shuttleworth does.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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31 Responses to Shuttleworth Don Quixote Tilting at FLOSS

  1. People buy PCs to compute, not to keep books. The Free Software licences are much less burdensome. Many school systems actually need one or more bodies just to keep track of licences for that other OS. Why should they do that when they could hire teachers or more/better equipment? FLOSS works in education. Keeping track of the licences is one way M$ enslaves the world getting people to work for free for M$.

    The stickers are not even sufficient proof for the BSA. The stickers are designed not to be transferable and so are destroyed if one tries to remove them. That means transcription. Students are not all sane and any machine exposed to students are likely to have the sticker damaged if the sticker is in a prominent position. If the sticker is not in a prominent position it means crawling around on the floor or lifting the machine to view it. It is often difficult to touch type to enter the code in that positon. It would be easier with two people but that is an even greater cost in time/manpower. Where I worked, I set up a database of the codes and serial numbers but there were machines where the codes were lost. I eventually installed GNU/Linux on all of them. It was less work.

  2. oldman says:

    “I have never worked for an employer who had proof of licensing on hand.”

    The fact that you have worked in businesses where people did not do proper bookeeping does not change anything. The licenses of authenticity are usally come on the packaging or as a sticker attached to a document, or even if you buy from a manufacturer like Dell, as a sticker attacned to the actual system. All one needs to do is collect these and store them.

    Again., I have no patience with bad bookkeeping.

    “The BSA is sufficient reason to have nothing to do with M$’s software.”

    IN your opinion perhaps, but not in reality.

  3. BSA will not accept “normal” proof. Proof of purchase, etc. is insufficient. They require a licensing document from M$ which most users of PCs do not have and cannot get. Therefor, many settle out of court because it is less costly than fighting. The settlement usually means buying licences for stuff that was already licensed. I have never worked for an employer who had proof of licensing on hand. PCs are donated, arrive without sufficient documentation etc. Most consumer PCs do not have sufficient documentation. Many schools have consumer PCs. I was at one school where there was documentation but no one had bothered to record serial numbers and “certificates of authenticity” so it was useless. The BSA is sufficient reason to have nothing to do with M$’s software.

  4. oldman says:

    “Ernie Ball had properly licensed software and the BSA sent men with guns…”

    Ernie Ball SAID he had properly licensed software, but when push came to shove could not provide proof. Without proof he was SOL when the BSA came calling because of a disgruntled employees calling, and doubly so because they decided to make an example of him.

    But in the end I have zero patience with what seems to have been Ball’s improper bookkeeping.

  5. Ernie Ball had properly licensed software and the BSA sent men with guns…

  6. Contrarian says:

    “Nothing FSF or BuyBox have done comes anywhere close to the horror of licensing that other OS.”

    The horror seems to stem from “not” licensing it, at least in the case for the guitar maker. I need to comment that the BSA is not solely a Microsoft organization, either, and it seems like all of the commercial companies are members, much like the RIAA with record companies and the MPAA with film makers.

    Reading the article, I get the impression that the guy is not so incompetent for the misuse to be a total accident. He seems pretty aware of the issues, at least now.

    Where I used to work before retirement, the company provided an easy to use audit tool that a customer could run to verify that all the instances of our product located on the network were legitimate and it gave a recap of what was available where and if any of the installs needed updating. We had an autoupdate capability or else the customer could disable that and do updates manually.

    I think you miss the point in regard to the BusyBox lawsuits, too. I do not find any problem with the legitimacy of the GPL. I only say that in these specific instances, the assertion of the letter of the law seems ill-advised considering the specific circumstances of these suits and seems to be only intended to soothe the vanity of the project administrator. At the same time, it is giving FOSS a black eye as being a source of harassment to a company that might want to use Linux embedded in their product rather than a source of satisfaction.

  7. FLOSS benefits businesses in many ways, for example bringing in unpaid contributions by folks outside the business who are interested in the same software and by using FLOSS libraries or pre-existing FLOSS code. That lowers the cost of code development and maintenance and may increase the quality by getting more brains working on the task.

    A business modelled after doing everything in house is determining to maximize the cost of code development. That is pretty stupid.

  8. oldman says:

    “Employers who don’t want source code public could be really stupid.”

    Now THAT is a stupid statement!

  9. Employers who don’t want source code public could be really stupid.

  10. Zombie Chan says:

    “Using the GPL as a licence is not stupid.”

    It is if your employer doesn’t want the source code to be viewed by the public.

  11. Using the GPL as a licence is not stupid. Linus said that was the best decision he made starting Linux. Millions of developers use the GPL because it works for them.

  12. oldman says:

    “but when FSF et al try to persuade politely and gently distributors of FLOSS to observe the conditions of the licence they are seen as brutal by some… Sheesh.”

    Of course you are correct Pog, Anyone who does not understand the rules of the road viz a viz the GPL and gets asked to publish the code, while they may have IMHO stupidly put their own custom modifications into, does not get very much sympathy from me.

    Of course comparing companies trying to recoup losses of revenues from products that should have been paid for to the machinations of the FSF enforcing the copy-left provisions of the GPL to pry the source code out of those who were stupid enough to use GPL’s software to build on are two very different things to most people.

  13. oldman says:

    “Nothing FSF or BuyBox have done comes anywhere close to the horror of licensing that other OS.”

    A distinction without a difference IMHO.

  14. Software is protected by copyright. M$ has the BSA going around shaking down all kinds of organizations for increased licensing fees using underhanded and harsh tactics but when FSF et al try to persuade politely and gently distributors of FLOSS to observe the conditions of the licence they are seen as brutal by some… Sheesh.

    see The BSA Audit Blog

    see Rockin’ on without Microsoft

    see Schools Cry Bully Over Microsoft Licensing Fees

    Nothing FSF or BuyBox have done comes anywhere close to the horror of licensing that other OS.

  15. Richard Chapman says:

    Everybody knows about the GPL violations. That’s because that’s where the news is. Can anyone here enumerate all the companies and individuals who have successfully employed GPLed software without violating it? The nay sayers are seeing just what the wish to see, and nothing else.

  16. oldman says:

    “This is so far off the truth… ”

    An ad hominem statement does not constitute a rebuttal. We are talking about bu$ine$$ here, not good works. Than whether you like it or not the events that Contrarian notes are happening, IMHO to the detriment of the GPL.

  17. This is so far off the truth… The GPL empowers all kinds of people including developers to spend their time and money doing good works.

  18. Contrarian says:

    I am not saying that the GPL is not valid, I am saying that it is being misused and abused by the BusyBox guy.

    For an example, look at the article at

    “Another problem area is “legal pain”, mostly surrounding the GPL. That has caused developers to look at alternatives to glibc because they fear it moving to the LGPLv3. In addition, the GPLv3 has been interpreted by an unnamed company as being targeted at voiding its patents. Baechle doesn’t agree with that interpretation, but GPLv3 certainly makes some companies uncomfortable. Android avoids all GPL code where it can, he said. Also, the BusyBox lawsuits have caused some consternation in the embedded world because of the demands for Makefiles and installation instructions. Not everyone interprets the GPL to require those things, but it is, as yet, unresolved”

    As Shuttlesworth notes, Linux will only succeed if it can become popular and that means that lots of people use it and know that they use it. If the FSF keeps working to harass the very people who can make it popular by embedding it in lots of devices and that makes them shun its use, it will eventually fail totally.

  19. ray says:

    Like I say, it’s up to the community to decide, and more often than not, they reject them.

  20. Nonsense. The GPL is sound. You nor M$ would say M$ should not bother about copyright violation.

  21. Contrarian says:

    “Or, it could prove that Best Buy did not respond to reasonable requests to comply with the licence…”

    I am not saying that the lawsuits are not justified, although there is a lot of back and forth going on and it may very well come down against the GPL, that is a matter for the courts. What I am saying is that the issue strikes me as being trivial and not worthy of litigating. Companies are actually embedding Linux and the Busy Box utilities inside their devices and they are being sold by distributors such as Best Buy (in the current case). Then the FOSS lawyers come after them for not posting the source. Maybe that is what is required legally, but it looks to me like a lot of chicken scratch. A “Tempest In A Teapot”, “Much Ado About Nothing”. What company wants to invite this sort of litigation? It just makes it more likely that they will tell their vendors that they only want stuff from sensible suppliers who do not harass them for no real good reason.

    “In this scenario, the actual users of these devices lose out because they don’t get the four freedoms the GPL is supposed to guarantee.”

    That is a lot of nonsense in my opinion. There is so much FOSS software available from so many sources that no one has to do without. Suing some retailer like Best Buy because they do not have some source code on a website somewhere that is just a repeat of what you can find at the project source site. Nobody digs into someone else’s complicated program to try to fix something in the firmware used to run the device. They just report it to the manufacturer and somebody who already knows how to fix it will fix it and there will be an update made available on the web.

    The kinds of things that go wrong are so obscure that you would have to spend hundreds of hours just getting a line on the problem Back in Stallman’s day, software was pretty elementary and maybe it made some sense to allow users to see the source and it was simple enough to understand without any further training. But that is not the case today and the whole issue is becoming downright silly to fret about.

    If you read some of the lawsuit material on the Busy Box case, you find that the FSF lawyers didn’t seem to file a current copyright registration before pursuing the lawsuits and the guy that wrote the thing originally, Bruce Perens, says that the guy doing the suing actually does not have any right to the copyright and there are dozens of other authors who do and are not party to the case. I think that FOSS is going to get a major black eye over all this and when the dust settles the GPL is either going to be almost impossible to enforce or commercial companies are going to run the other way as soon as GPL is mentioned. They are going to lose the sort of support that they have now fromm Google, IBM, and Ubuntu.

  22. Adrian Malacoda says:

    I think that the lawsuits leveled at the various users of Linux and the Busy Box utilities are detrimental to the whole community

    When it comes to FOSS, the “user” is the person actually using the hard/software, not the person putting it on devices. This is what Mr. Stallman means when he refers to rights and freedoms of “computer users” for example. In this scenario, the actual users of these devices lose out because they don’t get the four freedoms the GPL is supposed to guarantee.

  23. Contrarian wrote, “Suing Best Buy just proves Ballmer’s claim that Linux and FOSS is “cancerous” or “viral” and does nothing for anyone except the lawyers who get legal fees from the victim of the suit.

    Or, it could prove that Best Buy did not respond to reasonable requests to comply with the licence under which the software was provided. Best Buy did not get sued without some preliminary discussions.

  24. Contrarian says:

    My understanding of the FLOSS idea is that someone can develop a program that meets some need and expose it to others who might have similar needs. The expectation is that the followers will work on the program to extend and refine its characteristics and/or expand its range of use. Those improvements then flow back to the original developers who can benefit from the new functions.

    The GPL license tries to make this process somewhat mandatory, requiring those who follow to disclose the source code for the improvements if the follower does any further distribution of the program to others. Of course the follower could keep everything secret if it were not necessary to distribute the extended work.

    The concept of a bunch of people working together and keeping one another informed of improvements seems reasonable enough and it should operate with or without any mandate such as in the GPL for each contributor to disclose the source of any improvement.

    I think that the lawsuits leveled at the various users of Linux and the Busy Box utilities are detrimental to the whole community, though, by insisting on the letter of the law, so to speak, while ignoring the sense of true openness. They are suing Best Buy for selling products that use embedded Linux and utilities, not for not sharing their improvements, but rather simply for not publishing yet another copy of the source that went into it. I think that it is more of a vanity issue for the guy that administers the Busy Box project than it is any crusade for software freedom.

    Anyone who has the talent and the inclination to want to use Linux and the Busy Box utilities in some project is not going to look on some Best Buy website for a snapshot of what went into some MP3 player or such, they are going to go to the project source to get the latest versions. Suing Best Buy just proves Ballmer’s claim that Linux and FOSS is “cancerous” or “viral” and does nothing for anyone except the lawyers who get legal fees from the victim of the suit.

  25. Ray says:

    True, but the community ultimately decides if they should be allowed to help or not.

  26. Canonical is growing rapidly. They are near break-even now. The rest is maths.

  27. The Other Dave says:

    At its present rate of growth Canonical will have a huge positive cash flow shortly.

    Aah ha ha ha ha ha ….


    ah ha ha ha ha ha …

    Thanks for the laugh, that was comedy gold!

  28. Nothing in the GPL and other FLOSS licences prevents charging for a service.

  29. Ray says:

    It could also mean giving the option of allowing people to buy services for FLOSS, like having online multiplayer support, a game economy system, a way to purchase virtual coins, etc.

  30. The FLOSS community provides and uses and develops FLOSS that companies can use freely. How hostile can that be? Shuttleworth appears to be claiming that FLOSS has to change to make companies “comfortable”, able to make FLOSS non-free. That is suicidal for FLOSS.

  31. Ray says:

    I think he meant that the community should be less hostile to companies in general.

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