Matt Asay Preaches

Matt Asay certainly views FLOSS differently than many others. Today he wrote, “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. “

see Wake up, Linux hippies: No one ‘morally obligated’ to give back

Matt Asay doesn’t get sharing. The world needs software and FLOSS is a great way to produce it. If someone needs some software and can produce it they should. They also get to use all the software floating around in the community of FLOSS to go along with that. That is the right thing to do. Otherwise that software may not be written and our world in which we are social beings depending on and supporting each other will be poorer. It is a moral imperative of every human being and their organizations to try to make the world a better place. That’s good for everyone, not just the one doing the good work.

Matt Asay gives the example of the Linux kernel as one where folks contribute out of self-interest, hardware makers in particular. It may be true that a maker of hardware will see it in their best interests to write drivers or whatever to promote sales of their products but most FLOSS is not in the kernel and their are many other motivations involved. SUN bought Star and opened the code of StarOffice because it cost them little in comparison to the cost of one round of licences for non-free software, that other office suite. They gave back and it was not really in their self-interest to do so. They had what they wanted, a good office suite. Google does not make a penny from distributing Android because it is FLOSS but their products will do better in a world with FLOSS infrastructure. That’s very indirect and hardly qualifies as selfishness. MySQL was opened because the developers saw the FLOSS as a great way to get people using their software, with low cost of entry. That’s like free advertising for them. The guys who wrote BusyBox did it for unselfish reasons:”Originally written by Bruce Perens in 1996, BusyBox’s original purpose was to put a complete bootable system on a single floppy that would be both a rescue disk and an installer for the Debian distribution.“. It’s now rampant all over the place.

So, I am not a physician, but it seems to me Matt Asay has tunnel vision and has a very narrow view of the merits and reasons for the existence of FLOSS. Too bad.

UPDATE Joe Brockmeier has a good article on this. He uses the terms “seal-clubbers” or contributors… That’s a little harsh but his point is clear. People should give back. I do a lot of educating and introductions of FLOSS. I should do something. Everyone who uses FLOSS should do something. It’s the right thing to do.

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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8 Responses to Matt Asay Preaches

  1. oldman says:

    “There you go, begging the question. No one is saying people should not prosper from their work but people should share.”

    I am more than willing to license my work for a fee, but being REQUIRED to share that which would can make me prosper is IMHO nothing less than communism.

    And we know how well that turned out.

  2. There you go, begging the question. No one is saying people should not prosper from their work but people should share.

    Reading a book is interesting. If I write a book and it gets onto the shelves of a library, 1000 people can read it for very little cost. One of those thousand may find reading the book a life-changing experience, inspiring them to write a dozen books. Sharing works. Sharing is profitable. Sharing makes the world a better place.

    Linus also said that “Imagine ten people putting in 1 hour each every day on the project. They put in one hour of work, but because they share the end results they get nine hours of “other peoples work” for free. It sounds unfair: get nine hours of work for doing one hour. But it obviously is not.”

    see First Monday

  3. Yonah says:

    Why not go further? Anyone who reads a free book should write one themselves. That’s how I like my freedom. I want to be free and told I am free, but at the same time be expected by others to do something that involves work or in some way consumes my free time.

    Seriously though, I love what Linus has to say, “The world would be a much worse place if we didn’t have companies doing things for money.”

    Now, I’ve never been a big fan of Linus. He made a clone of an existing OS that even at the time was about as exciting as watching a petri dish grow, rather than breaking new ground and trying new ideas like my boy Carl Sassenrath. So, I find his personal tastes very wanting. Still, the man has a brain that understands that a capitalist system is what makes life so much better today. People have the right to create and sell their own software, as much as people have the right to create or build anything and sell it. Anyone who tells you it’s wrong to want to profit from your own work is actually trying to curtail your own freedom for their own sake.

  4. oldman says:

    “Everyone who uses FLOSS should do something. It’s the right thing to do.”

    One of the reasons that I prefer commercial software, over and above the fact that it provides me the features that I want, is that there is none of this IMHO moralistic claptrap. One pays ones license fees, maintenance contracts, upgrades, or whatever.

    Its actually cleaner that way.

  5. Richard Chapman says:

    Matt Asay may indeed know both sides of the proprietary/open source equations from high-up in corporations but so do a lot of people and many of them don’t share his opinions. It’s dead simple from my stand point. People with Matt Asay’s view simply cannot understand making money from giving something away. When that something is software it can be done because they are usually starting with software given to them in the first place.

  6. Contrarian says:

    “It is a moral imperative of every human being and their organizations to try to make the world a better place. That’s good for everyone, not just the one doing the good work.”

    I don’t disagree that making the world a better place is an important thing for everyone to try to do. But I don’t think that you are considering that this has to be balanced in terms of giving and getting. If someone is capable of creating some software that is beneficial to others, there is a moral imperative of sorts to provide it, but I would think that there is an equally moral imperative for those who obtain the benefit to give back the fruits of that beneficial use to the origina author.

    In the ideal FOSS world that is easily seen to be the giving back of the improved code as demanded by the GPL. But in the real world there are a lot more people benefitting from the generation of FOSS programs than there is any giving back of improved code that would provide a benefit to the original author. The commercial model simply insists that anyone using the program pay the license fee/program sales price. Of course there is rampant piracy, too.

    I think the moral standard is met in either case, since those who need the program can obtain it for a price that is less than the benefit received.

  7. He didn’t stay long at Canonical.

  8. Linux Apostate says:

    I agree with him, and I think it’s interesting that he’s not any sort of “outsider” to FLOSS. He had a senior role at Canonical and has been working on FLOSS for a decade. So I think he probably does “get” it, he just has a different perspective to yourself.

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