Freescale Linux BSP review
nicolas.pitre at linaro.org
Wed Dec 22 09:20:32 PST 2010
On Wed, 22 Dec 2010, David Rusling wrote:
> Now for a bit of a rant. Personally, I have a deep and abiding
> respect for open source (for me, it's the key social invention of the
> internet age), however I also recognise that it would not exist
> without companies using open source as part of their products. Let's
> face it, an awful lot of open source engineers are getting their
> mortgages paid by companies that make use of open source.
I cannot be in full agreement with the above statement. I think the
reality is way more nuanced than that.
The truth of the matter is that Open Source came into existence without
and despite involvement from the corporate world. And the very reason
it started to attract interest from the corporate world is because of
Open Source's superior quality and performance at a lower cost. Open
Source would have existed even without companies using it as you would
still have those Open Source activists using it themselves in your
product, even without the help of the corporate money. The company
involvement in Open Source did indeed accelerate its development by
paying many people to work on it full time. But Open Source would still
be there and still be in good shape even if corporate involvement didn't
happen, just like it was before.
And this superior quality and performance characteristics of Open Source
are not a coincidence. They are the first motives in a world which is
not driven by monetary profits, unlike most if not all the proprietary
alternatives. The people leading Open Source are driven by the
technical excellence of their work and the recognition they get from
their peers. Money is a far secondary motive, and in this age you can
choose between different sources of sufficient money not to have to
worry about it anymore and compromise too much on your primary motives
when you already have a track record in this Open Source world.
So to say that the corporate world might need to consider Open Source to
be competitive and survive, but the reverse is not true i.e. Open Source
doesn't _require_ the corporate world to survive.
> No company invests in open source for philanthropic reasons; they
> understand that it is necessary for their businesses. The tricky
> problem is always in how ethical a company's usage is (and I use the
> word 'ethical' deliberately because this is wider than mere legal
> words smithing); whenever I give talks on GPL, I emphasise both the
> moral as well as the legal duties. In my experience, most companies
> struggle to understand open source when they first start to interact
> with it. It usually takes some open source zealots within the company
> to persuade their management of the right way to behave. The best way
> to get companies to change their behaviour is to find them and support
> them. Making threatening GPL noises in email does not help them in
> any way.
Here I'm more in agreement with you. However this is again not the full
Ethical or not, the first motive of a company is to make profits. If
that was easy to get away with it, all that companies would do is simply
to grab this body of source code for themselves and never contribute
back. And a sizable number of companies, even some sizable companies,
are doing just that. While this isn't going to kill Open Source, this
certainly makes it weaker because this is contrary to that very first
principle that made Open Source a success in the first place.
Companies doing that are after the immediate monetary profit and not the
technical excellence and performances.
But even when leaving the ethical aspect aside, it is not going to be
profitable for companies in the long term to grab Open Source results
and move it back to the legacy proprietary model. Doing that will be to
their disadvantage when some other companies come along to compete on
the market using Open Source to its fullest technical excellence and
performance potential. Fortunately, a sizable number of companies, even
sizable ones, did understand that already.
But... while some companies are struggling to understand how to interact
with Open Source, the Open Source world still dash ahead without much
concerns for corporate profits. As said above, those strange Open
Source animals are motivated by the technical excellence of their work,
and they're going to fight on that front against anything that might
affect or prevent that goal. This is again why Open Source has always
progressed even despite initial attempts to kill it from some
corporations. So far, Linux has always been immune to monetary forces,
whether those forces were against it or not. So it is fair to say that
Open Source survival depends primarily on its technical advantages above
In conclusion: don't get surprised if technically inferior propositions,
such as proprietary 3D libraries coupled with kernel-side interfaces,
are met with strong or even vehement opposition. Some people will be
sufficiently moderated to tell you that if you want to do such thing
then you get to deal with it all yourself and that they are not
interested in any accommodation that would help you. But it is clear
that you will never get a consensus for supporting such technically
inferior solution in the mainline tree, as from an Open Source point of
view such a move simply makes no sense.
Accepting such things in mainline would weaken the very principle that
as made Open source in general and Linux in particular such a success,
while refusing it isn't going to affect the survival of Open Source
anyway. The compromise here would be only in the corporate world's
favor. And as the past history has shown in such cases, the Open Source
way always ends up prevailing eventually, despite the lack of corporate
So, while I'm not overly optimistic about this issue, I wish those
companies lobbying for the weakening of the Open Source principle could
rethink and truly evaluate the economics and actual value their
proposition has on their long term profits, given the fact that the Open
Source community with lower monetary ambitions is highly unlikely to
back down on that principle.
In the end, free has its price too.
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