Originally Published: Monday, 6 August 2001 Author: S.A. Hayes
Published to: develop_articles/Development Articles Page: 2/4 - [Printable]

Linux.com Interview: Brian Behlendorf

Linux.com sits down with Brian Behlendorf, President of the Apache Software Foundation and CTO of CollabNet to talk about open source, the meaning of freedom, Richard Stallman and aliens from outside our solar system.

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Open Source and Freedom

Linux.com: Switching to just open source: Looking back a 100 years from now, what do you think people are going to see as the most important thing that open source contributed to the world?

Brian Behlendorf: A 100 years?

Linux.com: 50 years? What do you like best about open source?

Brian Behlendorf: Well, OK, you put a really long time cycle on it. 50 to 100 years is pretty long and, well, what's happened over the last 50 or 100 years? Society has gotten more technologically based, machines and computers are more important to us than ever, and there is a large number of people who are concerned about that, concerned about whether at some point mankind will give up its humanity to machines, I mean, there are all these sci-fi stories about that, everything from Terminator to The Matrix or whatever, but what is it that is going to help keep humanity sane and keep us from surrendering too much of our humanity to the machines? It's going to be: do we retain our control and how do we retain our control by controlling the instructions that those machines use to run, and that is source code.

And, there are a lot of people who think very long term about this, and I think this is probably inside of Stallman's head too; that the only way we are going to preserve our humanity is preserving our source code connection to the software that is controlling the machines. So that's what I hope a hundred years from now people look back on - depending on whether we have won or lost that war, < laughs > is that hey, here's the group that was first identifying the importance of that.

Linux.com: So, are you saying that our souls are dependent on open source?

Brian Behlendorf: I don't know if I'd say that exactly. But I would say that source code is our language for communicating to the machine and if we ever loose that language or that language comes to be the domain of a few select individuals then the rest of humanity is at a severe disadvantage.

Linux.com: Yesterday you mentioned freedom, in the Richard Stallman sense of the word, was important to your thinking about open source business models at the moment. Could you talk a little about that?

Brian Behlendorf: Sure. When I talked about freedom on Wednesday the context I was thinking about was this: lets looks at Microsoft's shared source code license and let's compare that to the Apache license. After a few provisions about patents and certain other things the main difference is commercial right to use.

So, let's imagine that the Microsoft shared source license was successful, let's imagine for a second that there was a community of people who pay for the right to use it - you could call that the Microsoft tax if you wanted, and these people were sharing code within themselves, within that community, it might be a healthy community. Over time what happens is that those people, the individuals in that community will develop enough of their own IP, of their own intellectual property, their own source code, so that it could be what was once 100% of the code written by Microsoft , or whatever company, comes to be less than half of the code in that community, or maybe even 10% of the code in that community, and in that kind of situation you might see that community start to rise up against having to continue to pay their "Microsoft tax" .

We had a revolution in this country two hundred years ago that in addition to the set of freedoms everyone likes to talk about, including the right to free speech, also included the concept of no taxation without representation, and what that brings up is that when you have too much of a gap between those who do and those who charge, or those who set the power structure and those who have to work within it, you create a very politically unstable situation, and that exists when you have a licensing regime like with the shared source license, it doesn't exist when you have a licensee like the GPL or the BSD license or any open source license, which is rather a bi-directional type regime, everybody is an equal, a peer in the process no matter how much contribution of code they make.

Linux.com: Everybody wins?

Brian Behlendorf: Everybody wins. So, I think that's a form of freedom that is not as easy to encapsulate as the terms free speech or free beer. It's almost a third kind of freedom, but I think it might be at the root of what Stallman talks about when he talks about the freedoms that are important to him.

So, maybe we need more discussion about that, but it is something that is going to become more apparent over time.

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