Originally Published: Friday, 17 March 2000 Author: Rob Bos
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Piracy, Marketing, and the GPL

The idea of piracy in the Linux world -- violating the licensing terms -- is something that is a good deal more odious to anyone who has spent a significant amount of time working within the communities that make up free software. John Carmack, in threatening to sue for violating the terms of the GPL, might just end up giving the GPL the court case that people have been complaining about for years.

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A collection of random thoughts, from my notes.

Piracy in the Windows and Linux World

When we think about software "piracy," the first thing that comes to mind is the ability to "steal" software -- that is, to violate the licensing schema to distribute software to friends, neighbours, or for profit without the permission and often at the utter forbidding by the software developer.

In the free software world, however, this kind of piracy is null and void. You are encouraged to modify, discover, and distribute your software -- the concession being that if you distribute your modifications, you are required to distribute the effective source code along with them.

I refer of course to a recent incident involving the Quake source code. A young coder, in a laudable but misguided attempt to reduce the copious cheating that has been going on in that community as a direct result of that source code release, attempted to violate the terms of the GPL. He restricted the availability of his modified source to a small group of people.

The idea of piracy in the Linux world -- violating the licensing terms -- is something that is a good deal more odious to anyone who has spent a significant amount of time working within the communities that make up free software. To not distribute your heavy modifications, when so many people have done the work that made your modifications possible? To selfishly hoard the changes that you've made, when so many people coming before you have given you the opportunity to learn and benefit from your work? This is the height of hubris, a load of unmitigated gall and, not to put a fine point on it, rude.

John Carmack, in threatening to sue for violating the terms of the GPL, might just end up giving the GPL the court case that people have been complaining about for years. But instead of having to contest a large corporation in the courts, a corporation that might have significant interest in seeing the GPL weakened, if not invalidated, the GPL might have the opportunity to fight a battle where it is clearly in the right against someone clearly in the wrong, with the resources and money on "our" side for a change.

Where are the Windows 2000 Marketers?

In an interesting article on the recent efforts by IBM to port Linux to their S/390 mainframes -- efforts that have been extremely successful to date -- users are hit with a popup window offering free Windows 2000 CDs for evaluation purposes.

Now, as one might imagine, the sheer hubris and irony involved here will hit one like a tonne of bricks. Microsoft, the classic "bad guy" to the Linux community, is advertising their new operating system, which is claimed to scale to 16 or more processors in a single machine, next to information about a project that makes Linux run on that ultimate of powerful commercially available beasts, an IBM mainframe?

When Steve Ballmer remarked recently that Linux does not scale as well as Windows 2000, I'm sure he hadn't this kind of development in mind. This claim was ridiculous when it was first made, and today, with contrasts like the S/390 mainframe and the free Win2K evaluation copy on the same web page, that claim simply looks so ridiculously, laughably inaccurate that one wonders how Microsoft manages to stay in business. Even the intended audience of that article, the readership of "it-director.com," can not be expected to miss the irony of such a thing, applied with that kind of heavyhandedness.

Linux and Old Paradigms

Linux doesn't just think outside the box. Linux set the box on fire, rang the computing industry's doorbell, set it down and ran away. Computing is in the middle of a dramatic shift in viewpoint, a dramatic shift in the way that people interact and use their computers. It is evident from a hundred different perspectives: portable computing, embedded computing, and so on. Linux is poised to make a big difference in a lot of different places. Freely available source code makes it possible for Linux to adapt to niches that no other computing environment can hope to touch.

All that's required is the last 10% of the work, since all the basic work and infrastructure is simply finished. This, if anything, is a critical part of Linux. It can be used anywhere without having to deal with the vagaries of a central planning operation. You want to see a port to your pet microprocessor? Here's the software, go right ahead and do it. You want to see it running on a Palm? Here's the software, see if you can get it running. All we ask is that you don't begrudge us the work that we did to make it in the first place.

Rob Bos (rbos@linux.com) is a student at Simon Fraser University and has midterms soon. Yay.





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