Freescale Linux BSP review

Nicolas Pitre nicolas.pitre at
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 
anything else.

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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