Miker

17th level Hacker

Darl McBride

While joking in the IRC channel at pilot-link setuid pointed me to an analysis of Darl McBride’s behavior. It is a pretty funny read on its own, but what struck me after reading even a few of the quotes from Darl is that he doesn’t understand that everyone benefits from using open source, even software vendors (the competent ones at least). He seems to think that people using open source software means that the commercial software market is dead. That is not what it means at all. It means that software vendors have to ADD VALUE in what they do. It means that they can’t just sell the same old piece of shit year after year and expect to protect their “market position” using the law. Darl thinks that he has a right to sell software because he has customers. Weird. For some reason Darl thinks that the only way that software can get written and that ideas can be formed is by people working in companies:

McBride makes no bones about turning his back on the Linux community, or the fact that doing so may hurt SCO’s business. “We have customers in two camps, those who respect intellectual property, and those who don’t. We’re setting the standard. The whole world doesn’t spin around a free model. There’s no free lunch.”

What a fucknut. Open source advocates don’t want to steal the technology that SCO owns. Almost everyone I know who works on open source projects wouldn’t have taken an handout from SCO even before this whole thing started. That’s because open source projects can make better software. Open source isn’t about stealing IP from others and reusing it in free projects, what it’s really about is the realization that the computer industry doesn’t do well in terms of making products. And that yes, a group of loosely affiliated people can do a better job if what they’re working towards is simply making a good set of software.

The basis for why this would be is laid down in Innovation: The Attacker’s Advantage (sorry, no link available, but you can find it on Amazon). The basic reason is that once a company has a customer base they have a set of restrictions on how they can operate and what they can do. The conclusion of the book is that someone coming into a market normally has an advantage, and that once they enter the market they lose the advantage. This is certainly true in the software industry, and it has led to companies trying to protect their market using all sorts of anti-competitive behavior. The flawed software patent and intellectual property system in the US doesn’t do anything to help the situation either. These protectionist behaviors, such as vendor lockin and file formats that are not interoperable, led many people to take interes in open source. Even if open source was initially mainly worked on by college students and individuals to try to move away from corporate control of software, more and more companies are realizing that they can work around the traditional barriers to entry placed in their way by older corporations by working with open source. Because part of their solution can be made from open source and the rest their new product, they see this as an opportunity to avoid the creation of needless overhead and focus on their core competency. This leads to leaner business plans and quicker time to market. For most people this means a maximization of their profits. They work on only the high value areas in which they can create the most value. They do less work, but they get more for the work they do.

For some reason Darl thinks that this is an unworkable situation. He thinks that this results in companies not being able to sell software. He thinks that groups working together to make their combined situation better is somehow “communist”. I wonder if he thinks that efforts such as those carried on at the W3C are communist as well. Those are efforts which work to create a standard involving both multiple companies and interested individuals. There really is a strong parallel between writing a standard and producing a standard piece of software, especially if the software you’re producing is based on a standard. What happens there is that you move the bar up in terms of expectation. The more parts of a system that are standard commodity, the more a user can expect from a solution. Software providers can no longer make money off selling just a base solution. If users can get free software off the Internet, that doesn’t mean that they won’t ever buy software. It means that the software has to provide more value than the free solution. It means that software makers have to add something to the base in order to be able to charge for it. If having companies produce a standard so that they can be sure that all their parts work together makes sense, why doesn’t it make sense to have the same groups produce the parts of the system which are pure overhead? Group effort has existed for a long time, but Darl thinks that open source is wrong for allowing the maximum number of people to benefit from it. Weird.

I actually just started thinking through the parallel between standards authoring and authoring open source as I wrote this, and I really like it. I think it provides a strong argument against the “free lunch” argument that Darl keeps using. Open source is not a free lunch, it’s a potluck dinner. It’s a case where lots of people bringing together what they have and sharing it have managed to create something much more enjoyable than the pieces taken individually. Potluck dinners are not free however, everyone has to put something in. Sure, people may show up without a dish and be allowed to eat anyway, especially if there’s more than enough food for those already present. But potluck dinners don’t mean that there are no resturaunts. It just means that resturaunts can’t charge for food which is just as easy to make at home and the same in all other respects. Welcome to what the rest of us call a free market. Darl thinks this is communist. Weird.

Darl’s insistence that open source is a free lunch really shows how much he misunderstands the issue. Not that I can completely blame him for misunderstanding in the first place, even some open souce advocates don’t understand how value creation within the open source environment actually works. But he is the CEO of a major company. I would expect he would educate himself a bit. Either that, or the shareholders would rally and find a way to get him replaced. If he doesn’t see how open source would work to his shareholder’s and customer’s benefit I don’t think he should be making any decisions on their behalf at all. Yet still, with all this ineptitude, he’s still there and still blathering on. Weird.