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Feature: On Being Proprietary

CmdrTaco posted about 15 years ago | from the stuff-to-read dept.

Technology 139

Russell Nelson has submitted a feature called "On Being Proprietary" which tries to explain why proprietary is bad, and vendors should really think about open specifications. Read on.


Are you a hardware vendor who includes a proprietary Windows driver with your product? If so, I intend to convince you that documenting your hardware, and providing OSI Certified(tm) open source drivers, generates enough value to overcome the risk that your intellectual property will be stolen.

You're in business to make money. You engage in activities that advance you towards that goal, and refrain from activities that don't. Therefore, the only sensible reason for holding information (drivers, and hardware documentation) proprietary is to protect your business from activities which would reduce its profit.

One reason is simply because you can -- because property rights exist. Another is because it is traditional and expected. Another reason is because someone told you to -- perhaps an investor or other trusted party. But these reasons aren't rational unless they advance the goal of making money.


The big fear of any company is competition. Every good capitalist wants a monopoly on their own products. Any hook that keeps out the competition has been used, and holding information proprietary is one of them. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and keeping information proprietary has its cost.

One of these costs might be that your competition has started using Open Source. There's a cartel-like effect when all the manufacturers keep all information about their hardware proprietary. No customer gets a benefit from choosing Open Source because that's not one of the choices. But as soon as one vendor breaks rank, that gives them a new product differentiator over the competition.

Value proposition

Another cost is not telling people how to use your product in the manner *they* wish. You are requiring them to abandon their chosen method of using your product, and pick up your method. This has a learning curve associated with it, so they will not buy your product as quickly as they might. It may make their use less efficient, so that they cannot afford to buy as much of your product. It may drive them to your competition, who might also be holding information proprietary, but whose approved method is more in line with the customer's chosen method.

Many companies are proud of their engineering, and rightfully so. It is a mistake, however, to presume that you know the customer's business as well as that customer. Some customers may have innovative and profitable uses of your hardware that you haven't anticipated. If you hold information about the product proprietary, you will never know about these customers, because they will simply not exist. Yes, you can use a nondisclosure, but there are costs and risks to using them. If you execute a nondisclosure with everyone, then what are you not disclosing if everyone can find out about it? In the world of science, many discoveries have been casual accidents. Nondisclosures get in the way of those accidents.

Other times a customer needs to make your product work in their environment, and alas, your engineering has a flaw. The less you tell that customer about your product, the less likely they are to be able to fix the flaw for you. Many, many times I have had packet driver bugs fixed, not just by amateur hackers, but by paying customers. The value of even a single fixed problem is inestimable. It is extremely difficult to decide which customers are able to fix bugs.The only way to solve that problem is to enter into nondisclosure agreements with all comers. And you'd be surprised by who fixes some problems. Someone in MIS at (a national automotive repair chain) whom I had never heard from before, sent me a bug fix for the token ring packet driver which allowed it to run under Netware as well as TCP/IP.

Scant protection

So far, I have assumed that not voluntarily disclosing information actually succeeds in keeping customers (aka potential competitors) from learning anything they need to know about your product. This is not the case. I can assure you that "no reverse engineering" shrink-wrap license terms are universally ignored by everyone concerned. The first thing an engineer does is whip out the reverse compiler to see how the code operates. This is not hearsay. When I was consulting for (a silicon valley fabless design shop), I actually saw a reverse-compiled listing of the 3C509 driver less than a week after 3Com started distributing it, with notes as to how the product worked. I produced my own source of MS-DOS which could be modified and assembled. I know someone else who did the same thing. Customers have been known to reverse-engineer products also, but they usually have less economic incentive. For a while, Diamond held back their variable VGA clock interface as proprietary. The information itself was widely available anyway. Connectix didn't want to release programming information for their Quickcam, but users reverse-engineered it. Eventually they released programming information after the horses had left the barn.

Trading off

The benefits, then, of protecting intellectual property through trade secrets are slim compared to the costs. A company that wishes to compete with you must make substantial investments in mechanical and electrical engineering, plastic molds, certification, prototyping, production, sales, and marketing. Another few thousand spent on the due diligence of reverse-engineering the competitor's products is lost in the noise.

There are some costs involved in releasing documentation and driver source. The documentation has to be good enough that people can actually use it. You have to develop a policy on answering questions about the documentation (charging a fee is not unreasonable). The driver source may not be in a state that you want to expose to the public. It might be poorly written. It might have profanity, or might have derogatory comments about the competition.

In summary

There is no track record which associates proprietary documentation and drivers with causing greater success in the marketplace. 3Com gives away information on how to program their network adapters. So does SMC. So does Intel. If proprietary documentation was truly a help, then how to explain these company's success? Hardware manufacturers, please document your hardware, and put that documentation up on your web site. Please use an OSI Certified(tm) open source license on your drivers, and put them up on your web site.

cancel ×


Re:Preaching to the converted... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813225)

Yeah baby go for it! Let your voice be heard!

Typical /. Fluff (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813226)

Is there any chance we'll ever see insightful commnetary on slashdot? with very few exceptions, the user-submitted essays here rehash the same argument over and over again, to an audience that already is converted.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813227)

Is a red light coercion? If you think so, then I guess that the GPL is coercion, too. But to most of us, it's just a way of helping people from letting there selfishness hurt others. Without enforced redlights, people would die. The GPL is the only thing that sets us free. It's not coercion to make someone do the moral thing by law. It's calling running a fair and equal society.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813228)

This is where the FSF's idea of a software tax comes in. Then we could pay people to write free software and we wouldn't be locked into this proprietary crap that needs huge budgets for advertising and other lies.

WTF ???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813229)

Is the troll brigade trying new tactics to stir up dissension in the ranks ? I'm seeing GPLers vs Free Software advocates... this is ridiculous.

Our goals are one and the same, people - a good, secure, trustworthy, open, standards-based platform. Debates over whether the software applications we use on that platform should be free, open source, both, or neither cannot be allowed to divide this community or disrupt its cohesion.

Re:Arguments Not Strong Enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813230)

Taking the point one step further:

If somebody out there in the market comes up with a compelling alternative use for a manufacturer's product, the manufacturer likely wants to have some control of the new market.

Throwing it all out into an 'open source' market takes all control of the destiny of the product away from the folks who own the design.

This whole essay is going to come off as amateur to anybody running a successful commercial enterprise.

Amateur efforts at advocating Linux make the whole thing look amateur.

Re:How about just no proprietary? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813231)

Making every aspect of all hardware the same, or similar, commoditizes the hardware market. Vendors like Compaq thrive on the ways they can make their product different (and hopefully better) than the Taiwanese clone hardware put out by screwdriver shops.

You're not going to see pure generic clone hardware everywhere you look until the Central Committee has taken control and issued an edict.

Re:WTF ???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813232)

Nice effort at unity building within the party, comrade. You'll probably go far with such an outlook. Maybe to the district, or even the central committee.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813233)

Jay, you Ignorant Splut, this is just like saying that a company's Intellectual Property Agreement is coercive. Of course it isn't. You don't have to work for them.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813234)

How is that worse than MS?

Most PC users (not to mention a large proportion of Mac folk) are already paying a fairly hefty 'tax', per system. Excluding VAR and a few of the more enlightened vendors, every retail PC sold today requires a generous donation to the Bill Gates World Domination Fund.

FSF's contention is that these fees should be spread around to the free/open software community.
Possibly impractical, possibly offensive to libertarati; but at least they acknowledge that tanstaafl holds true for Free/Open ware as well.

I pay MS tax for every PC I buy for my lab.
I would as soon send the money to RMS, but there's no practical mechanism for doing so, and so the MS tax gets paid whether I additionally donate to the FSF or not.

The argument that "MS Licensing fees are not a tax!" is semantic. Perhaps there should be no 'fees' paid at all, but if they are collected I'd rather see them put to productive use.

"Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben, und der Cherub steht vor Gott"

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813235)

your company's intellectual property agreement is coercive. If you find it not merely coercive, but restrictive and offensive, I urge you to question it, and if that fails, seek employment elsewhere. The bottom line is, there are many coercive 'agreements' we bind to and are bound by, it is difficult to avoid them all. If you must be a "free person" then live in the woods, and hope that the FBI/ATF don't take offense :)
For those of us who have jobs with strongly coercive aspects, and are unwilling to strongarm things, we find that level of coercion which suits us, and which is tolerable, and we live with it.
If its not then we should protest, but that can be problematic too.

GPL is coercive! damned right it is.
I'm willing to accept this level of tyranny for the time being. Are you? Why do you use GPLed code?

MS is coercive! disagree? I do not accept Bill's version of freedom, and I avoid using his code, when possible. Why do I use it? I have to accomodate other people's data; try to keep an open tent.

"Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben, und der Cherub steht vor Gott"

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813236)

What is this U-topia?
(latin: no-place)

Do you gain anything from use of his code? Does it improve your life or your standing, or aid in whatever cybernetic odyssey you've set out on?

You complain that the license is coercive and difficult. I will agree on both counts, but if you cannot accept his vision, how can you, in good conscience use his product?

If the software is sound, there must be some value to it, and perhaps something in the development strategy. You should at least consider both things.

If the software is unsound, then you should avoid using it; otherwise you intentionally infect yourself with "viruses" and I won't cry for you.

The Artistic License is probably the freest (libre, gratis, blue sky) license around, but its much less commonly used than GPL. Why is that?
People don't trust "blue sky" freedom.
Perhaps when we've evolved some more, we will.

Re:On the sticky subject of proprietary products.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813237)

One other major concern for businesses is the cost of customer support. When drivers become Open Source, any Joe User now feels he has the right to call the design engineer and speak his mind at all hours of the day. Nevermind that Joe doesn't have the number; he'll find out if it kills him. Since Joe can't get his poorly formed hack to work, he has no compunction about calling Mr. Design person at 4 am to bitch about how bad Mr. Design's hardware is.

The super-simple way out of this dilema is to make a big fuss that "Absolutely no support will be provided for these drivers". If you are concerned about the email, then here's what you do:

Setup an email alias, and then filter all incoming emails to that specific address and limit them to your design group or company. If someone is sending off-site, then they probably know the person they are sending the email to (from previous contacts) and they can then send to the normal address. Finally, setup a bug-fix email box and have people check this daily. You can quickly trash all the how-to-run-make questions and read the important stuff.

See? Not too hard... Just because you release a product does not mean you must support it. I would apply the same argument to damaging the hardware. It is hacker-beware. If they want to hack, they can damage the system. If they use your interface and don't change a thing, then the hardware is safe.

If you are concerned that someone will damage the hardware after modifying your software, and then deny it (blaming your software, but not mentioning his modifications) then all you have to do is include an MD5 checksum and compare this!!! Simple!!!

Excellent! Lets send this essay around!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813238)

This article really hits the proverbial "nail on the head." This is EXACTLY my view on the subject of proprietary hardware/drivers. Imagine how much smoother hardware could mesh with software if everything was open-sourced.. When will these old-foggie company executives wake up? Lets all send this essay around. Maybe if it gets enough exposure, it will start to soften up companies views on this issue.

Doesn't work in all markets (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813239)

For some of the hardware we sell it's the drivers that make the hardware better than our competitors. If we gave away our drivers, our competitors would have a produce as good as ours, and we paid all the development costs.

This "Essay" Is Poorly Written (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813240)

With all due respect to the author and his point of view, this essay is very poorly written.

No, I don't mean that his facts are somehow false or wrong, or that his opinion is not valid. I mean that the physical structure of the essay is not well formed.

A good, basic essay starts with an introductory paragraph that includes a succinctly stated point that the essay means to convey. It then has a number of expository paragraphs (three is a good number) that somehow illustrate or re-enforce this point, and then it ends with a paragraph that ties together the conclusions of the expository paragraphs, demonstrating the initial postulation as being true.

The article as written instead rambles aimlessly from point to point, whithout ever coming together to form a cohesive argument for or against anything. Free association is appropriate for certain types of writing (especially poetry) but it makes for horrible essays.

A greatly abridged, but much more effective, version of this essay follows:

"Converting a software product from Proprietary to Open Source involves a number of perceived risks, and produces a number of demonstratable benefits. Experience has shown though that the risks are mainly illusionary, whereas the benefits are real and immediate.

There is a risk that opening the source to a product may make it easier for a competitor to enter the market with a similar product. However, the greatest costs involved with releasing any product (at all!) are in engineering, tooling, production, and marketing - software production is often an ancillery task.

Furthermore, the near-universal practice of reverse-compiling means that potential competitors can already generate source (of a kind) from your existing object code. Not having source does not provide an effective barrier to entry.

There is a another risk that etc.

There is a benefit in that providing source means that your customers now become part of your development team. The greatest need for a given feature or bugfix is within customer space, so there is a high level of motivation on the part of a customer to track down whatever bug or missing feature is irritating him the most. These bug fixes will be passed back to you for inclusion in the "official" product. Adopting them not only produces better product, but also builds a reputation for customer service - and in an industry that is increasingly commoditized, intangibles like "good customer service" become increasingly important to sales.

Another benefit to providing source is that often your product will be adapted to interface with other platforms you had not forseen, or had decided were not economically viable. Once a product has been ported this way, an entire new customer base is opened up, the scope of potential customers for your is now greater, and the cost to you is minimal.

A third benefit to opening source is etc.

Compared to the benefits, the risks involved with opening the source code to a product are minor. etc."

See how much better that flows?

All that English you got taught in high school and college was very important - no argument, no matter how powerful, is going to hold up unless it can be communicated effectively. Attention to the details of proper essay/article structure, and indeed to the writing process itself (reaserch, outline, draft, revise, edit, finalize, publish) pays great dividends.

To skimp on either lessens the force of your argument.

I encourage the author to go back, re-write the article according to proper essay structure using the proper writing process, and re-submit the results. The end result will be a much stronger piece.

A also encourage Rob and his cohorts to exercise a little more editorial discretion - it's OK to send back a promising piece (as this one was) for more revision when required.

Conan the Grammarian

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813241)

Yes, OSI had no gifts to bring to the free software community. All they have done is ride on the success of FSF whose work in the last 15-years has brought you something radical: software that have freedom!

The accomplices in this OSI fraud are many, too many to mention. The people associated with Linux Industry are the primary supporters of OSI, from O'Reilly all the way to Malda's Slashdot. Keep supporting them then, you will soon loose all the free software developers, if you have not lost them already.

Software Socialism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813242)

I don't think socializing software development will have a possitive benefit in the long run. I don't want the government deciding what software gets funded with the tax, or how much my skills are worth. I think that gives me less choices on how to live my life, not more.

Re:We're killing each other (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813243)

Don't you see, we're killing each other, which is just want Micros~1 would love to have happen. Stop your pointless bickering about BSD vs GPL vs OSI vs FSF vs Daffy Duck vs Elmer Fudd.

Isn't a driving force behind all these movements the freedom of choice? No matter how much you all bitch and moan, the world will never entirely composed of GPL'd software, or BSD'd software, or proprietary, or anything else for that matter.

If you're a GPL guy, BSD is not the enemy, and vice versa. I think we all need to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813244)

The last few test systems I bought for my lab I bought with NO OS INSTALLED. I paid no unnecessary "software tax". I do have to agree that laptops are much harder to purchase without an OS, but that doesn't justify a software tax.

If there's a software tax, who decides how the money is spent. Would Microsoft get a share if they released some free software, or are they the devil incarnite and don't deserve any of the money.

If you tax software to pay the developers you end up with a new burocracy. There's nothing that leads me to believe that the money will be distributed based on the skill of the programmer and the value to the consumer of the product. And if it's not going to be distributed that way, why try to excell.

Focus on the structure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813245)

Thanks for the comments - I think.

What is important to get out of my critique is not the difference in the "voice" (that verbose poly-syllabic Salon-esque style I adopt from time to time) but the underlying structure.

An essay is an argument. It aims to convince. It must postulate, then prove, then re-enforce.

Boiled down to its essence, an essay is:

"Thus is so.

Here's why.

Here's another reason why.

Here's yet another reason why.

See? Thus is so."

Now you can increase the complexity of the structure as required (for example, the opening paragraph may be "X is so because of A, B, and C", so then you may have 9 paragraphs in the middle instead of 3 - 3 proving A, 3 proving B, and 3 proving C) but the underlying "State it, then prove it" structure is absolutely essential.

As an aside, that "rule of 3" is not hard and fast either, but it works well. There is a certain symmetry and cadence that 3s bring to writing.

The author - was it you? - wrote an essay, in that he intended to make a point. He had a view to argue. However, by not adopting a proper essay structure - "state it 'n' prove it" - it stops being an argument, and becomes a ramble instead.

When was the last time you were convinced of something by somebody rambling at you?

Anyone, be he a professional writer or a tech-head engineer, who wants to write well would do well to study the forms of writing in which he intends to communicate. Need to convince the boss of something? Write your e-mail in essay _structure_ (not necessarily essay _voice_) and see how much more convincing your argument becomes.

Writing is just like coding; good structure works.

Conan the Librarian

Who does not write for Salon, but who would listen to offers. :)

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813246)

You are the one who "measured" the KLOC of GNU software in based on the 6-CD set of the SuSE distribution. You even forgot to count Emacs, but counted XEmacs instead to help bring the numbers the other way. What a FUDster!

Re:On Why HW Card Mfg's don't publish source code (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813247)

Tweaking drivers and squeezing out every last bit of performance is also enjoyable work for those of us that do it, but it often takes a considerable amount of time. If also often requires some relatively expensive toys from time to time (anyone have an extra PCI bus analyzer lying around). If a company is just going to give the software away when I'm done, they aren't going to be willing to pay me to do it right. Where's the satisfaction in doing a half-assed job.

Re:Legal soundness of Reverse Engineering Clauses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813248)

The worry of hardware manufacturers is not that someone will reverse-engineer their drivers, but that someone will use the available sourcecode and product specs being asked for here to reverse-engineer the HARDWARE. It's easier to revere-engineer your Chrysler if you have a complete specification than if you have to go over it by hand testing every component to see what it is.

But not enough easier to invalidate the arguments given in the article - plus which, opening up source makes drivers more portable, which in principle makes the hardware saleable to a wider market - an argument which depends on "non-standard" systems becoming a bigger peice of market share than they have been, since most hardware companies just write drivers for Windows (and maybe Mac, if appropriate). With greater diversity of OS's in the market, they'd have a good reason to want someone else to do that work for them, rather than giving MS/Apple a free product (the driver).

Re:This "Essay" Is Poorly Written (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813249)

Precisely. Altogether too much of the advocacy, and writing in general, which is produced by engineering people is unreadable and incoherent. They frequently have excellent ideas, backed up by sound reasoning, but lack the know-how to make this apparent to anyone. As a result, their writing convinces nobody, and is believable only to those who already share their convictions.

The ability to communicate coherently using a well-designed, universally understood protocol (such as essay format) is as important, if not more so, in inter-human communication as inter-machine communication. And the implementation of good ideas requires that they be communicated.

Not everyone needs to be able to write powerful essays, but anyone involved in advocacy should, and anyone can benefit by the clarity and structure it lends to one's thinking by vitrue of the habits of thought it encourages.

swiss cheese (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813250)

this guy's argument is full of holes

Re:Reasons for proprietary drivers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813251)

The bit about lawsuits only applies in the US, of course; certain more enlightened countries (e.g. the UK) don't even recognise the validity of patents on algorithms!

What's really needed is a world-wide ban on these patents. No-one actually respects them, anyway - they just spend extra $$$ on hiding their work in case they might infringe a patent - dumb, or what?

Calculation error (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813257)

He said _DEBUGGED_ lines of code. At last count, there were only 314 bug-free lines of code in windows, so we could kick out the equivalent by about 9:30 tonite ;)

Re:On the sticky subject of proprietary products.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1813258)

> The super-simple way out of this dilema is to
> make a big fuss that "Absolutely no support
> will be provided for these drivers".

Tried that, it doesn't work. You still spend a lot of time saying "sorry we don't support that" over and over again. If you have 5 people who want help you'll have to say it 50 times because they call back hoping they'll talk to someone else who will help, or you'll change your mind. You also get a bunch of upset people complaining about how unhelpful you are.

> Setup an email alias, and then filter all
> incoming emails to that specific address and
> limit them to your design group or company.

Too easy to filter our important e-mail with the bad. Just another way to waste more of your sysadmin and engineer's time.

> Just because you release a product does not
> mean you must support it.

Your company's image, not to mention your self respect, is strongly based on how well you support what you produce. Every time one of our marketing poeple says they want to release an "unsupported beta" of somthing I'm working on I know my timeline just went out the window. When it comes down to it, every thing that goes out the door must be supported to some extent. If the customer convinced marketing to send them the beta, they can convince them we need to support it.

> If you are concerned that someone will damage
> the hardware after modifying your software, and
> then deny it (blaming your software, but not
> mentioning his modifications) then all you have
> to do is include an MD5 checksum and compare
> this!!! Simple!!!

Not so simple. The customer will say they didn't change anything significant. This has happend on products we have provided the source to the drivers. You can call them liars, not a good choice even if it is true, or spend the time looking through their modified source to find out what they changed.

One important note is that really good technical support people are hard to find. A skilled, technical person who can stand to be lied to and insulted by customers, treated like the plague but engineers who don't want to "waste the time" answering their questions, and handle the stress of being blamed for every return by every idiot that couldn't figure out how to remove the shrink wrap from the packaging is a rare commodity. If you can't justify developing a driver for that platform in house. You may not be able to justify the increased strain on your support team.

It does (1)

Erich (151) | about 15 years ago | (#1813259)

Look at the (new) postfix license.

Postfix, by the way, is a fantastic piece of software. End sendmail, use postfix. It's probably a drop-in replacement for you.

Re:Preaching... (slightly off-topic?) (1)

Isaac-Lew (623) | about 15 years ago | (#1813260)

I don't mind constructive criticism. However, the problem comes when someone gets irrationally flamed for having an unpopular position and/or outright attacked. That propagates a common misconception (that SlashDot readers are a bunch of immature jerks).

Preaching to the converted... (2)

Isaac-Lew (623) | about 15 years ago | (#1813261)

How about forwarding this to some "mainstream" news organizations? They're the ones that really need to disseminate this.

Re:Typical /. Fluff (1)

shogun (657) | about 15 years ago | (#1813262)

I somewhat agree with you on that, what should be going on is that the author should take all the input from all the comments that follow his article and use them to improve it, before being passed onto 'real' media. Open source essay anyone? ;]

Re:Good points, but ... (2)

Eccles (932) | about 15 years ago | (#1813264)

The possibility of damaging hardware while programming it can be mostly eliminated with decent documentation, and the rest of the cases can be handled by including a disclaimer.

This is simply not true. A vendor can't claim no warranty, and customers are going to claim they used them with the vendor code, not hacked, warranty-violating drivers. If Joe random programmer releases a new driver that gets 5% better performance but fries cards on a random basis, and a bunch of people download and use it, the vendor is going to get returns from those people. Since it's nigh-impossible to prove that it's the driver's fault, the vendor will end up having to replace those cards at their expense.

Re:Focus on the structure (2)

Eccles (932) | about 15 years ago | (#1813265)

Or as Dr. Fred "Mythical Man-Month" Brooks said to us about presentations:
"Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em, tell 'em, and then tell 'em what you done told 'em."

Re:He doesn't seem clear to me. (1)

sterwill (972) | about 15 years ago | (#1813266)

He's referring to the certification of the license under which the drivers are released, not the drivers themselves.

Bad Statistics. (1)

Christopher Craig (1394) | about 15 years ago | (#1813267)

I'll start by assuming that the 35M LOC used in Windows has the same proportion of unneeded lines to lines absolutely required as Linux (i.e. I've written code that does in 2k lines more than what someone else did in 13k lines, these are not comprable based purely on LOC). The Linux kernel source is 1909546 lines (including documentation), XFree86 on the other hand, which you don't have statistics for, is 6874758 then you add in Mozilla M6 which is 41483 and just for fun we'll throw in Gnome which weighs in at around 2230149 LOC. Now we add a 505543 for glibc 2.0.6 and an extra million or so for all the shell utilities and random X programs.

Now we're showing more than 10 times the size of the kernel and probably a great deal larger in number of LOC debugged per unit time by nature of the fact that application code is easier to debug than kernel code and we still haven't figured in initial development or upgrades, only continuing support. The real comparison would be between the Service Packs to the NT kernel only and 1 LOC per 2 minutes, but not really because the NT kernel contains things like video card drivers and web server bindings that aren't in the Linux kernel. Also it wasn't specified if this was purely submitted lines of code or if it included fixes by the developers as well. If it's only submissions then you can count 0 for NT, otherwise I'd still bet on Linux versus SPs to the NT kernel, even with all the junk that's in the NT kernel.

Re:one comment for the author (2)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | about 15 years ago | (#1813268)

While being modest on /. may be a good thing, it doesn't help the targetted desicion makers know why he should bother to read the article. So, assiming that it is going to be published somewhere else (closer to the target audience), RN should give his (quite impressive) credentials.

Good Points! (0)

Trashman (3003) | about 15 years ago | (#1813270)

I agree whole-heartedly.

Here's to hoping that Creative, 3dFx, and Matrox read this and become enlighted.

Good Points! (1)

Trashman (3003) | about 15 years ago | (#1813271)

I agree wholhartedly

Here's to hoping that Creative, 3dFx, and Matrox read this and become enlighted.

Re:What we need are statistics. (2)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 15 years ago | (#1813272)

The Linux Kernel is gaining one debugged line of code every two minutes. This information from Alan Cox, the #2 kernel developer.


Re:What we need are statistics. I did Math (2)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 15 years ago | (#1813273)

Windows 2000 ~= 35000000 LOC

No, there are not 35000000 LOC in the Windows kernel, or if there are it's much worse than I thought. You're confusing the entire distribution with the kernel. Debian has about tripled in size in the past three years (source included), but I don't have a line count. Someone with more time on their hands could generate that.


one comment for the author (2)

The G (7787) | about 15 years ago | (#1813274)

One comment for the author: You have some credentials, but you make the reader infer them, and even that's hard until you talk about your own experience three quarters of the way down. How about front-loading your credentials on this, so that some corporate type knows who you are and why your opinion might be well-informed?

Just a suggestion.

Good points, but ... (1)

Aleatoric (10021) | about 15 years ago | (#1813275)

The possibility of damaging hardware while programming it can be mostly eliminated with decent documentation, and the rest of the cases can be handled by including a disclaimer. The process of writing a driver isn't all that much trial and error, unless you don't have good documents, or if you're trying to venture outside of what the board is designed to do. I've blown up a few boards while writing drivers for them, but the majority of those were due to incomplete information about the hardware (the rest were coding errors and pushing the limits of the board).

As far as customer support goes, yes, there are those who will abuse it, especially if there is individual contact information handy in the distribution.

But this merely highlights a problem that is becoming even more endemic to the industry, that of poor support across the board. Customer support is often treated as an afterthought, and is usually staffed with neophytes or other poorly trained personnel. Admittedly, it is hard to deal with the clueless among the user community, as well, but a lot can be done with a good support service.

Even for a purely proprietary product, a support infrastructure is required, and they will have to deal with bug reports (accurate or otherwise), installation problems, driver conflicts, etc., anyway. One advantage of open source support for hardware would be that you would still provide a standard support model, in addition to being able to provide a single point of contact for bug fixes, etc., from the user community. This has the advantage of providing the service dept with more information than they might otherwise have, allowing them to provide even better support. There would be a need for more technically knowledgeable support personnel, but IMHO, these are needed anyway.

Sadly, there is no way to completely circumvent the clueless user, and as a result, someone in a service dept, or even the designer, will end up dealing with it. But a great deal can be ameliorated with good documentation for the specifics of the hardware and the software, and by providing a single point of contact (to a GOOD service department) for support issues.

Reasons for proprietary drivers (2)

Hanno (11981) | about 15 years ago | (#1813276)

Some people commenting this article don't see that Russel is talking about drivers, not about proprietary software in general.

Only few (but loud) radicals complain that closed source applications exist. So what. You don't have to use them. You can always write an alternative open source application if you have the time.

But proprietery drivers are a different problem. You cannot use a device without drivers and if the reseller doesn't support your favourite OS, bang. Without hardware specs or - even better - example source code, writing a driver for some extravagant device is extremly painful and sometimes even impossible. You can try to re-engineer, but go ahead and try - it ain't fun.

But now to my subject. I have read in an article that most graphics card manufacturers keep their drivers closed source because they are afraid of lawsuits.

Thanks to strange laws, virtually every modern graphics algorithm is patented by someone out there. They are afraid that some competitor finds out that their driver uses such an algorithm or method...

How about bloated code too? (1)

lenthe (14112) | about 15 years ago | (#1813277)

I wonder how much of windows code doesn't really need to be there.

I have worked with a proprietary software product which came in source code, and I have added features to certain parts of it, but instead of modifying their spaghetti code I just wrote the file over--the right way. I have written c programs with the same functionality as the canned one with some added features in half the lines of code. One of the programs was a single file with over 16,000 lines! And all it did was print a friggin' one page bill! I wonder if windows has anything like this in it.


Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

Maciej Stachowiak (14282) | about 15 years ago | (#1813278)

The GPL is not legislation, it's a license agreement. A voluntary agreement is by definition not coercive.

Re:Preaching to the converted... (1)

godel (15830) | about 15 years ago | (#1813279)

Heh. At CMU, 'rtfm' is a command which,
roughly, is to 'man' as 'less' is to 'more'.


Re:Calculation error - Further calculations (0)

Shoeboy (16224) | about 15 years ago | (#1813280)

Lets have some fun. Lets assume that there is one bug per every 50 lines of windows code. This means that a team writing 1 line of buggy code every 2 minutes (lets call them the lobotomized linux hackers) would take ~2.6 years just to = the number of bugs in windows. For mor fun, we take the .5Loc/Min number and times it by 8 years - the time that linux has been around - this means that the linux kernel is just over 2 million LOC. Is this true? Now, lets assume that the linux hackers got tired of linux, and are writing
void main(void) {
printf("Hello World!\n"); }
over and over again. They could produce 87600 versions of hello world in a single year. Yeah. Now lets see how MS stacks up - NT has been in development for 10 years (a guess, and a nice round number), it has 35000000 LOC (another guess) This has them writing about 6.5 LOC/Minute. They could write over a million copies of "hello world" per year, except the MFC version of hello world is huge, so no, they really couldn't. I'm way off topic now, and I don't know what any of this has to do with anything.

What we need are statistics. (1)

Shoeboy (16224) | about 15 years ago | (#1813281)

Open source enthusiasts need to put numbers behind their claims. I'd like to see a list of say KLOC's per second of patches generated by open source. Or maybe a user happiness quotient. These essays are good and all, but how can we make decisions without dubious statistics gathered by unspecified methods?

Re:What we need are statistics. I did Math (1)

Shoeboy (16224) | about 15 years ago | (#1813282)

1 LOC per 2 minutes = 720 LOC/day.
Windows 2000 ~= 35000000 LOC
Unless I hit the keys on my calculator wrong, this means that it would take the Linux hackers ~133 years to write W2K. Wonder how that compares to MS? (insert your own W2K shipping delay joke here) No wonder the free software community is opposed to bloat.

Re:Really Really Bad Statistics. (2)

Shoeboy (16224) | about 15 years ago | (#1813284)

If debugged lines of code were nose rings, in 33years and 4 months, the linux hackers could decorate a nostril on every Algerian woman between the ages of 15 and 65. (based on July 1998 estimate.) Furthermore, if the linux hackers recieved $100 per debugged LOC, in 4581 years they would be able to make 120.4 billion purchases at the dollar store.

Oh yeah, and you should start by assuming that the 35M LOC in windows is a best guess.
You should follow it up by assuming that Alan's .5LOC/min number cannot possibly indicate either further kernel development rates, or the rate of accelaration in development rates over time - there's no way to measure this without a time machine. It would also be worth noting that MS code is in a large part wizard generated, and may not be strictly neccessary. While were at it, we can note that
#include "stdio.h"
#include "tchar.h"
#include "windows.h"
#define HELLO_MSG "Hello World.\n"
void main(void);
void main() {

is equivalent to:

#include "stdio.h"
void main(void) { printf("Hello World.\n");}

even though 1 has many more LOC. In conclusion, 75% of all statistics are meaningless.

Re:This guy is almost surely an MS-paid agitator. (3)

Shoeboy (16224) | about 15 years ago | (#1813285)

Ok, I keep seeing posts claiming that MS is paying people to post on /. If this is true, it totally redeems them in my view. In fact, I can't think of a better job. Free soda and /. Where do I apply? Do you get bonuses for "First Posts?" The one downside would be the performance reviews - "Well shoeboy, I'd like to give you a raise, but you keep getting moderated down for being off topic."

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

Victor Danilchenko (18251) | about 15 years ago | (#1813291)

You do not speak for me, or the large group of folks who believe the GPV is anything but "free". I do not stand for coercively making software freely available.

Oh, this is to tired and overused...

Let me put it simply: There is no such thing as 'absolute freedom'. have you considered the fact, for example, that my 'freedom to pursue happiness' confliucts with someone else's freedom of the same kind, if their pursuit of happiness involves punching me out?..

Freedom necessarily comes with SOME restrictions, one way or another, there is no way out of it. Just as you cannot have absolute ethical relativism, you cannot have absolute freedom -- it conflicts with itself. The best you can do is pick which restrictions you wish to use.

Do you want to guarantee that others do NOT have freedom to infringe upon my freedom? If so, you agree with the typical interpretation of 'freedom' by the modern societies (on the society level, that is) -- just as you lack the freedom to pursue your happiness by, say, robbing me and thus depriving me of my chances to pursue happiness. This is the GPL way.

Do you prefer to impose NO restrictions? then you leave the door open for others do deprive me of freedom by pursuit of their version thereof; this is the BSD way.

Both ways are free, in a different manner. So say that GPL is 'less free' than BSD is like saying that minimalistic libertarian government is 'less free' than anarchy. The latter seems to afford people more freedom -- by including freedom to deprive others of it; it is not at all clear that one is actually more 'free' than the other.

So, man, drop the political shit and get that anti-GNU chip of your shoulder. We are not the enemy.


Re:On the sticky subject of proprietary products.. (2)

Ian Lance Taylor (18693) | about 15 years ago | (#1813292)

Your life will be consumed with inane and demoralizing questions like "how to I run make?"

I've faced these sorts of questions, and I don't mean to minimize the problem. However, there is a solution: learn to be unhelpful. Learn the words ``I can help you with questions about X, but I'm afraid I can't help you with that question. Please ask somebody else. Sorry.'' Most of the time, they'll go ask somebody else, and they won't even think bad thoughts about you.

They don't have to support 10 thousand different compilers, repeatedly tell people not to use -O99 when they compile, or explain to people that you need version x.y of the foo library.

The way to handle these sorts of questions is through a FAQ. Then reply to people saying ``please see the FAQ at ....''

In other words, these problems can be solved, once you stop trying to solve problems merely because you know how to solve them. Never forget that your time is your own. By all means give it to other people when you can, but don't ignore the cost to yourself.

Re:More GPV (tm) Propaganda! (1)

Arandir (19206) | about 15 years ago | (#1813293)

Why do you have to equate nihilistic anarchy with liberty? Since you mentioned libertarianism, it's basic tenet is that one cannot deprive another of their liberty (non-initiation of force). By punching me in the nose, you have violated my fundamental rights. By disallowing force/coercion/violence, you have not diminished anyone's liberty. Nihilism is a much different thing than liberty.

Minimalistic libertarian government is of course less free than anarchy, and if human beings were angels, then anarchy would work. But BSD licenses have nothing whatsoever to do with anarchy! Neither does the GPL have anything whatsoever to do with liberty! These are licenses that grant permissions, not political rights.

You lose no freedom at all by using a BSD license. If microsoft comes along and "borrows" your code, it's still there! You have lost nothing, nada, zippo. You may be pissed because they aren't as altruistic as you are, but so what? The BSD says "I'm sharing my code with the world". The GPL says "I'm only sharing my code with those who share their code with me".

The problem with the GPL is it's "viral" nature. If I am coding with a GPL package, I must make sure that everything else I code with is GPL. If I am coding with a BSD package, I can code with everything else that is not GPL. Talk all you want about "free speech", but the BSD talks about "freedom of assembly"! Free speech means nothing if it is illegal for some people to speak.

Re:Methinks you have it wrong... (1)

Arandir (19206) | about 15 years ago | (#1813294)

The scientific community is hardly the utopia you describe. Fierce competition exists to acquire the limited grants available. Governments are lobbied for additional funding on glorious project Alpha, and if there isn't enough tax dollars to go around, then just take it away from that frivolous project Beta. And those few institutions that get away from the competitive infighting degenerate into mutual admiration societies.

I'm not criticizing the scientific community, just trying to point out that they're no different than any other community.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

Arandir (19206) | about 15 years ago | (#1813295)

I don't think he accused RMS of that. However, you can't deny that many of Richard's followers have said nearly the same thing, just not in quite so violent of verbage.

Calling the GPL the "GPV" is just a mild form of satire. It pokes fun at exclusivity clauses in a "free license. Lighten up! Have you never mischaracterized MS as M$? Have you never called Windows as Windoze? Honestly now!

Apparently it's okay for RMS and his disciples to mistype the users of proprietary software as "slaves".

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

Arandir (19206) | about 15 years ago | (#1813296)

"I'm willing to accept this level of tyranny for the time being."

I seem to recall Lenin saying something very similar. If you consider free software to be liberty, then think on this "Those who would sacrifice a little freedom for some security deserve neither." What is this "time being" stuff?

"Why do you use GPLed code?" Because this is not a liberty issue. Whether I use GPL or BSD or Proprietary is no different than if I use IBM's, Sun's or HP's hardware. But if my use of the software necessitates that I modify or distribute it, then I don't use GPL. Not because I think it's inferior or immoral or not free enough, but because I wish others to share my code. The GPL severly restricts the manner in which my code can be shared.

Free software is not free speech!

publish HW specs, not driver code (1)

muppet (20489) | about 15 years ago | (#1813297)

Okay, I understand this and agree with you, the software value-add of a good driver is A Good Thing for a hardware company.

However, I think that a more important thing, which the feature mentions but to which you didn't reply, is the hardware specs. The hardware specs allow anyone to write the type of driver you're talking about --- to complete with you, but not steal your stuff because they're writing their own algorithms.

Creating hardware without publishing the specs dooms your hardware to be used only by those with the supported platform. By publishing the specs, those on unsupported platforms who want to use it can write drivers, and, very possibly, when the user base for the unsupported platform grows large enough on the renegade driver, there just may be enough of a market to justify the release (for sale by you, the vendor) of a souped-up driver using your super-secret patented software algorithms. If this software is Good, people will buy it.

Everyone wins. Only the "all-software-must-be-completely-open" people are unhappy, but they would be unhappy anyway.

To run the point into the ground, if you're going to make hardware, you should tell people how to use it. Period.

Re:What we need are statistics. I did Math (1)

Floris (21037) | about 15 years ago | (#1813298)

Except that 1 line of 2000 code != 1 line of Linux code. Linux code here only means kernel code, while 2000 code includes the GUI etc, meaning 80% of that doesn't count. Add to that the fact that one line of kernel code is worth more in terms of stability and design and the equation goes totally haywire.
I wonder how many centuries the NT programmers would need to build Linux ..


Re:one comment for the author (1)

adlerspj (21924) | about 15 years ago | (#1813299)

One comment for the author: You have some credentials, but you make the reader infer them, and even that's hard until you talk about your own experience three quarters of the way down. How about front-loading your credentials on this, so that some corporate type knows who you are and why your opinion might be well-informed?

And if he put that in there somebody else would be reaming him for 'bragging about where he used to work' or something stupid, like Jon Katz always got when he would just mention Wired or whatever.

Legal soundness of Reverse Engineering Clauses (1)

lythander (21981) | about 15 years ago | (#1813300)

Do these hold up in court? Does this mean Chrysler could sell me a car, and stick in the agreement (and who knows if they've already done it) that I can't take the thing apart to see how it works? Has anyone ever actually taken one of these clauses to court?

I know that the difference here becomes hardware v. software, and that my reverse engineering my jeep doesn't reduce the value of chrysler's property, whereas with software it just might. But then, these drivers are more often than not free, anyway, right? Wouldn't an Open Source model actually reduce driver development costs for people like Diamond if they required modifications to be submitted back to them for testing and release for the good of all?

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

Rombuu (22914) | about 15 years ago | (#1813301)

Boy I love FSF double speak... its free software, but we want you to pay a tax on it. They are worse than MS in their own way.

Re:He doesn't seem clear to me. (1)

artg (24127) | about 15 years ago | (#1813302)

He doesn't threaten - just points out that the paying customers are struggling to be able to use the hardware to best suit their needs, while the competition has the tools and resources to reverse-engineer in minimal time.

In a product development cycle, that reverse-engineering time is irrelevant when set against tooling, purchasing, and marketing.

So, just as with dead-end copy-protection schemes, secret designs offer no barrier to the competition while disadvantaging the paying customer.

Re:one comment for the author (1)

artg (24127) | about 15 years ago | (#1813303)

You mean he's modest ?
Seems good to me ..

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

PigleT (28894) | about 15 years ago | (#1813305)

I didn't think businesses had morals...

Don't feed the trolls :8]


Arguments Not Strong Enough (2)

KevinRemhof (29738) | about 15 years ago | (#1813306)

This article makes some interesting points, but does not present enough arguments for Open Source. The author tries to compare the scientific world to that of hardware vendors by stating: "In the world of science, many discoveries have been casual accidents". I dont' find this to be a convincing reason to open up drivers and hardware specs.

Most hardware is designed for a specific purpose and most users are happy with that purpose. That's why they bought the device. If they can find another use for it, great. But, that doesn't mean that everyone wants to do that with it.

Open Source drivers are be great, but are not necessary for making money. Companies have done fine without them and will continue to do so.

Re:Good Points! (1)

synx (29979) | about 15 years ago | (#1813307)

Matrox is already enlightened! You can download the specs for the G400 which hasn't even been released yet from their webpage after a free registration! Some guys have hacked a G200 3d driver (which runs quake2 at 8-10fps on the g200, and 20%-80% faster on the G400 aparently...) already (the guy was from VA and had a pre-released demo or something).

Matrox is already enlightened... no code, but the specs of programming a device driver is there. Not to mention that Xfree 3.3.4 which is being released soon will support the G400 and you can't even buy the G400 yet! Well, within a week you'll be able to, but the Matrox website says "preorder the G400..."


Establish expertise (1)

Wah (30840) | about 15 years ago | (#1813308)

I agree with the above post. You should most definitely establish yourself as a expert, especially on /. where a good number of very confident poster are college students.

For such a short article a simple sentence or two could do the trick. "We faced this issue during the 20+ years I was working in xxx industry" or some such. Modesty works, but make sure we know that you are being modest and not just some 2-bit hack.

On the sticky subject of proprietary products.... (2)

Silverpike (31189) | about 15 years ago | (#1813310)

Let me start by saying this article has quite a bit of capitalistic merit. My company (IBM) should certainly pay more attention to this.

HOWEVER, I feel I must post a "caution" (for lack of a better term) about this feature, which has evolved through years of Finding-Out-the-Hard-Way.

There are two problems that this article does not address. By releasing a driver for a piece of your hardware in Open Source form, you open up a big can of worms in two areas: customer support and hardware damage.

I will speak on the second topic first because it's probably less obvious. I have worked in houses which design some pretty complex devices. These devices typically make network cards look like a child's plaything. With this hardware, it is often possible to apply certain register settings that will destroy the boards, aside from the possibility to hang your machine. Please note that this possibility is more common than you might expect. Also note that these kinds of boards are now becoming more common, and are more likely to make their way into the Open Source/Free Sofware/etc. community.

Given the trial-and-error nature of Open Source debugging, there would exist a significant possibility users would start frying their boards after tinkering with it. They would then direct all their anger toward the manufacturer, and the end result is obviously not good for either party. In this case, keeping the drivers closed protects the consumers from damaging their products and contains the damage to those few unlucky prototypes in the lab.

One other major concern for businesses is the cost of customer support. When drivers become Open Source, any Joe User now feels he has the right to call the design engineer and speak his mind at all hours of the day. Nevermind that Joe doesn't have the number; he'll find out if it kills him. Since Joe can't get his poorly formed hack to work, he has no compunction about calling Mr. Design person at 4 am to bitch about how bad Mr. Design's hardware is.

I am not making this stuff up. It happens every day to design engineers, who end up spending their entire working lives answering tech support questions to people that really aren't qualified to hear them. There is no way to move on to new designs when your email address is at the top of a Linux driver header file. Your life will be consumed with inane and demoralizing questions like "how to I run make?".

Engineers are blissfully shielded from all this when it's done in house, which keeps them happier and more good products rolling out the door. They don't have to support 10 thousand different compilers, repeatedly tell people not to use -O99 when they compile, or explain to people that you need version x.y of the foo library.

Granted, this is NOT an argument against Open Source support for hardware -- I sincerely hope that effort continues to succeed as well as it has been of late, because I plan on running Linux forever :). But everyone needs to consider these things when you start ranting "Give us all your source or we'll say bad things about you."

What exactly is the problem? (1)

The Welcome Rain (31576) | about 15 years ago | (#1813311)

He first states that companies should open up their source because there is a larger market -- then threatens that even if they don't, we will reverse engineer your product anyway -- so just give us the goods now.

So you're confused by the author's presentation of more than one reason to do something. What's the problem?

He also touches upon, but fails to strike down the idea that if everyone has your product specifications, then the competition can clone your cycle even faster.

This is false. He quotes some frighteningly short times for the reverse engineering of some products -- go back to the article and to a search on 3C509 to refresh your memory.


Salon Magazine gives tip to Slashdot contributor! (2)

AtariDatacenter (31657) | about 15 years ago | (#1813312)

I'm trying to figure out if I like or I hate what you say. On one hand, you take the all too bitter "education" point of view that an evil high school teacher (Kimmery) of mine did. On the other hand, you write with the classy style that I find in Salon Magazine.

But we're engineer types. We focus on the meat and not so much the trimmings. It made sense even before reading your re-write. Actually, it made a little more sense. It didn't use "ancillery" and "postulation" or "expository".

But you are quite correct... it could use some touch-ups.

How about just no proprietary? (1)

Patman (32745) | about 15 years ago | (#1813313)

I'd just be happy to see hardware manufacturers manufacture a standard board for once. Companies like Packard Bell, HP and Compaq manufacture these shitty boards that have proprietary plug-in cards. My gf had a Compaq system that had a proprietary freaking modem. Talk about re-inventing the wheel. Friend of mine had a HP that used a riser for expansion cards - and his case was BIGGER then my standard-board case. Total crapola. I'll be happy when they make these cases easy to open, easy to get into, and easy to upgrade.

Re:He doesn't seem clear to me. (1)

shaum (32770) | about 15 years ago | (#1813314)

I think the author meant that the source should be distributed under an OSI-certified license (such as GPL, LGPL, Artistic, BSD).

Re:Preaching to the converted... (1)

nevets (39138) | about 15 years ago | (#1813326)

Although you have a good point, you would be amazed at who reads this.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (2)

nevets (39138) | about 15 years ago | (#1813327)

I'm sorry, but yes "They are trying to make money". You think business wants to make just free software. I'm all for RMS and his views but I believe mainly that libraries and OS should be under LGPL because other tools use them and should have full benefit of them. But all I care about a user-end app is that it is Open Source. Even as a developer, I like to see how something works, but I don't just want to have it for free (as in beer not speech).

Let Open Source get into the business market. Then worry about Free Software. No proprietary business I know wants to go Free yet. Let them benefit from Open Source then test the waters of FSF.

Like the good ol' scientists (2)

Mondongo (43895) | about 15 years ago | (#1813328)

What this guy is pointing out is the need to share your work in order to make it better. What's happening here is sort of what happens in the scientific community. Science people are expected to release papers when some experiment makes a breakthrough, so other scientists can replicate the experience. But when there's money involved, nobody shares anything.
Computing and programming is a science like anything else. And if we want to *really* make breakthroughs (AIs, sentient software, etc.) we should start to behave more like a community and not like a bunch of capitalists.

My $0.02, from Argentina.


I did Math - I marked it 2/10 see me. (1)

matthew.thompson (44814) | about 15 years ago | (#1813329)

Oooh I think we need to sit down and think about this one don't we.

1 - Alan's statistics are for lines of debugged code - I.e. code which has been checked and fixed. Not total lines of code.

It's easy to write lines of code but to write lines of code that are debugged is a hard job - why do you think windows 93 never shipped.

2 - The Linux kernal is the core of the Operating system. to create functionality you have to add in Apache, X Windows, FTP Server, User programs, Multimedia extensions, setup routines, easter egs, network utilities, network daemons blah blah blah.

I think you'll find that if you strip the kernel from Linux and you string the excess tat from NT you have a much closer comparison to make.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

Jay Maynard (54798) | about 15 years ago | (#1813335)

This is just another dumb peice of propaganda from the non-free software crowd.

You must not know who Russ Nelson is. He's the guy responsible for the existence of the overwhelming majority of the freely available driver code for Ethernet cards out there. He was releasing driver source code long before it was fashionable.

You keep posting things that directly or indirectly assault everything we stand for. What a bunch a turncoats! OSI does not have you're best interests at heart.

To borrow a famous punch line, "What's this 'we' shit, white man?" You do not speak for me, or the large group of folks who believe the GPV is anything but "free". I do not stand for coercively making software freely available.

They are a tool of business, created by Tim Oreilly and his flunky, Eric Raymond. There are trying to make money, not free software.

Your point is?

Let me put this another way: I'd like to see you walk up to the checkout counter at your local grocery store and pay the bill with a freshly updated copy of GNU EMACS. Like it or not, money is the only widely accepted medium of exchange, and making money is necessary to survive...that is, unless you enjoy living on the street.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

Jay Maynard (54798) | about 15 years ago | (#1813336)

Do you prefer to impose NO restrictions? then you leave the door open for others do deprive me of freedom by pursuit of their version thereof; this is the BSD way.

I'm STILL missing something. How, exactly, has the BSD code become less free even though others have adopted it and made it part of their proprietary, non-free (by either definition) code? What, exactly, IS the NetBSD source tree I'm tracking (for three different platforms)?

I contend that the BSD code is MORE truly free than GPV-infected code because I can do with it whatever I wish. Doing so in no way affects your freedom to do with it whatever YOU wish.

So, man, drop the political shit and get that anti-GNU chip of your shoulder. We are not the enemy.

You (collectively) are the enemy, at least for one of my main objectives: seeing freely available software gain acceptance in the real world. I'd much rather work ith Linux and BSD for a living than, say, Windows 2000. RMS' repeated posturing that his way is The One and Only Pure Path to Freedom and Enlightenment and that ESR and the OSI are heretics to be burned at the stake at the first opportunity do nothing to advance that cause at all. Writings such as Russ Nelson's and ESR's do quite a bit to advance that cause.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

Jay Maynard (54798) | about 15 years ago | (#1813337)

Jay, you Ignorant Splut[...]

(shaking off the effects of a trip down memory lane) Shame you posted that as an's been a long time since anyone has called me that, and I'd like to have known who was still around that remembered it...

this is just like saying that a company's Intellectual Property Agreement is coercive. Of course it isn't. You don't have to work for them.

That's not your only choice, though. It happens that I've had this discussion in the recent past, in a setting where it mattered, and such agreements are generally negotiable in a manner satisfactory to both sides. Neither deed restrictions nor the GPV are.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (2)

Jay Maynard (54798) | about 15 years ago | (#1813340)

The GPL is the only thing that sets us free.

This is the entire bone of contention between the followers of The Church of the Holy GNU and those of us who believe that calling something free does not necessarily make it so. It may set us free from one evil, but I contend it binds us to another: RMS' software communist utopia. I do not accept that evil either.

It's not coercion to make someone do the moral thing by law.

The objection here is the same as the objection to legislating morality in other areas: Whose morality? There are some moral values, like "killing without cause is wrong", that are noncontroversial; legislating those is not a Bad Thing. OTOH, legislating your morality is no better than legislating the entire Christian fundamentalist agenda would be.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (3)

Jay Maynard (54798) | about 15 years ago | (#1813341)

A voluntary agreement is by definition not coercive.

Would you call a deed restriction you must agree to before purchasing a house voluntary? Many folks do, arguing that you always have the choice not to buy the house. I believe that it, like the GPV, is what's known as a "contract of adhesion": an agreement that is not negotiable, and therefore not a true "meeting of the minds", but rather a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that's attached to something else.

(Those who claim that shrinkwrap software licenses fall in this category will get no argument from me, either.)

The GPV coerces me to join RMS' utopia if I wish to partake of the benefits of his "free" code. I do not think that's either freedom, or acceptable.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (2)

Tom Christiansen (54829) | about 15 years ago | (#1813342)

you will soon loose all the free software developers
But that which was free first, can never be loosed!
And that which was loosed, well 'twas never quite free.
With meaning so muddled as you have produced,
I wonder what else you can't manage to see.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

spinkham (56603) | about 15 years ago | (#1813344)

What the heck are you talking about? He is not talking about releasing any for-profit software for free, he is talking about releasing already free(beer) software as open(free speech) software.
I don't know of any company who makes money on their drivers, their drivers are just a way of selling the hardware, and as such it makes sense to have the drivers avalible to the largest number of people possible for the lowest cost possible.

Re:On the sticky subject of proprietary products.. (1)

styopa (58097) | about 15 years ago | (#1813345)

All very good points.
Commenting, and documenting the different registers by descibing what they do, what the limits are, and what the consiquences are when they are set to certain values would be much more helpful in preventing the destruction of cards than leaving it closed and proprietary. If the product is valued by a group that isn't supported, and if that group has the ability, the chances are very good that the product will be reverse engineered. This increases the chances of destroying the card because there better chances of changing one of those variables to a value that in inappropriate.

As for the average joe calling engineers. There is no good way to prevent that unfortunately. Perhaps in order to gain access to the code one would need to register themselves with the company as requesting it. To keep the code from getting into the wrong hands, so to speak, place some sort of identifing tag in it, so that derivations can be traced back to a specific person. That way when complains of broken code are sent in they can be directed to the person who owns the identifing tag. Not perfect, but it makes it harder for Joe to get his hands on code and from hunting down the engineer who made the original code.

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

Wolfheart (61224) | about 15 years ago | (#1813346)

Just a short comment... if you read RMS's article on /. from a couple of weeks ago, you will notice that he in no way attempts to call ESR and the OSI "heretics to be burned at the stake at the first opportunity". On the contrary, his comments are polite and constructive. You are free to believe in the BSD license more than in the GPL one, however, you should not insult GPL by mistyping its proper name. In so doing, you fall into the same trap that Mr. Metcalfe and others have fallen, and do not benefit any part of the Free Software movement.

Take care,


Re:Preaching to the converted... (1)

\u@\h (63956) | about 15 years ago | (#1813348)

how to use rtfm anybody? (overheard on Dalnet #linux)

some guy on freebsd-hackers started a thread about a new utility called "rtfm." Guess what it does :-)

Re:Legal soundness of Reverse Engineering Clauses (1)

Gestahl (64158) | about 15 years ago | (#1813349)

The analogy does not quite work. When you buy software, you are actually buying the liscense to use it, not the code itself. It is still owned by the company. You know that annoying little user liscense you click through every time, well that is a legal binding that you _agree_ not to do that in exchange for the right to use the software. It is the consumer who agrees not to reverse engineer.

Re:Preaching... (slightly off-topic?) (1)

Wholeflaffer (64423) | about 15 years ago | (#1813350)

The author probably submitted this here in order to gauge /.'ers responses to it. The Slashdot forum is probably the best one around for getting not only criticism, but also emotional feedback. I'm guessing the reason I'm hooked to this site is because I enjoy seeing how my feelings mesh with those of others', whether agreeable or not.

I hope that many more folks are inspired to put their arguments into cohesive articles, and then submit themselves to our relentless commentary. I further hope that those folks gain enough quality feedback to polish the rough ends (where necessary) and place their views where the powers of change can be most effective. Keep up the good work, Russ!

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (1)

mong (64682) | about 15 years ago | (#1813352)

I know, I know - I agree that manufacturers should let us have their drivers. Ultimately, an improved driver means that the hardware runs better/faster - which can only be a good thing.

I was generalisng though, and stick by my comments on software.


* Paul Madley ...Student, Artist, Techie - Geek *

Re:More Open Source (tm) Propaganda! (2)

mong (64682) | about 15 years ago | (#1813353)

The debate rages (on and on). Without paid-for software, computing would not be as widespread - many people wouldn't be here.

Can people not see, that in order to undertake big project, you need teams, facilities, _budgets_. Sure, release the source - let people make improvements (I agree, to an extent, with the Netscape stance). If people are gonna invest their time, effort and money into something which people want, why not charge a little - not M$ amounts, but enough to allow them to code the next version. Am I making sense?

There's no such thing as a Free Lunch. With isolated, individuals/organisations developing products, you'll get different standards and differing quality. Wanna go back to the dark old days? I don't.


* Paul Madley ...Student, Artist, Techie - Geek *

Re:He doesn't seem clear to me. (1)

dennisp (66527) | about 15 years ago | (#1813355)

Oh yeah, and why the heck is this person preaching that these drivers should be 'certified'?

He doesn't seem clear to me. (2)

dennisp (66527) | about 15 years ago | (#1813356)

He first states that companies should open up their source because there is a larger market -- then threatens that even if they don't, we will reverse engineer your product anyway -- so just give us the goods now.

He also touches upon, but fails to strike down the idea that if everyone has your product specifications, then the competition can clone your cycle even faster.

He makes one good point though. It is that once your device drivers are released in open source, you can expect the community to release bug fixes themselves.

I think the basic question is:

Is the Open Source market large enough for us to even worry about lost customers -- while still worrying about competition cloning our products?

Re:He doesn't seem clear to me. (2)

dennisp (66527) | about 15 years ago | (#1813357)

Oh? I'd like to see what creative has to say about that. They still haven't released open source drivers for their sblive.

It's been a while now too -- and we haven't seen any company come out with a very similar product (would likely be diamond).

One example I can give you though is with the Tivo digital VCR thing. I know of a company who has taken looked over their open source drivers and linux distro and included some 'ideas' in their windows computer version of the product -- all made possible by open source :). Lets see, a couple months reverse engineering or 5 minutes reading source code.. I wonder.

Re:What exactly is the problem? (2)

dennisp (66527) | about 15 years ago | (#1813358)

The point, however, is that, beyond ethernet cards and a few graphics cards, you arent going to see fast reverse engineering.

Just ask the people trying to reverse engineer the creative drx2. Linux doesn't have many drivers for multimedia products -- and probably never will until there is an actual market for such a thing.

Also, an ethernet card is an ethernet card. No one really gives a ##$# either way. I'm also willing to bet that creating drivers for that type of hardware as such is easy relative to other products. This is probably why drivers have been released for almost every ethernet card there is (not to mention that many use or are derived from the exact same chipsets).

An example of when a company has finally been co-operative and released specs is ATI. They've released specs 6 months ago and the initiative for drivers for their tv product has been moving incredibly slow. May I also mention DVD? How about some types of high end raid? How long has it taken to create drivers for miro cards? Let alone software to even use these specialty products.

Wether it be the amount of time it takes or the fact that no one is willing to put out the effort just yet; The simple fact is that companies are going to try and protect their investment for as long as possible. I think the author is trying to spur some investment in the movement on their part -- since this is often a weekend project for much of the contributing community. Bigger projects just can't be done, and won't be done unless hardware companies release specs and documentation to aid in the development of software and drivers for their products. If the market grows exponentially in the next couple of years, then maybe -- but not now. Not when they have other interests to protect.

Re:Preaching to the converted... (1)

j a w a d (66763) | about 15 years ago | (#1813359)

Like JonKatz said in the "End of wiredness,"...

Geeks read Wired as if it were the Koran. Everybody else read it because they were afraid not to.

And like a few /.ers said, "/. IS the new Wired."

So I'm sure we have plenty of people cruising slashdot trying to stay cutting edge. Me, for example.
..................................@ @

Parasites (O'Reilly) (1)

tacpprm (67226) | about 15 years ago | (#1813361)

On what grounds do you base that accusation?

O'Reilly books have given me infinitely more help when it comes to actually *using* free software than the, generally inadequate, online documentation ever has. This has made it easier for many people to write software (free or otherwise). Maybe there is a symbiotic relationship but describing them as parasitic is a bit extreme imho.

Dave (owner of a billion and two o'reilly books:)

On Why HW Card Mfg's don't publish source code (2)

granitehead (67354) | about 15 years ago | (#1813363)

As a commercial device driver writer, I can tell
you exactly why HW Mfgr's don't publish source code, it's called "value add".

These days, most HW boards are centered around a particular chip. In network boards, it's an ethernet chip, in graphics boards, it's the accelerator, in sound cards, it's the DSP.
In every market segment, there are generally only
one or two market leaders for a particular chip niche. Competition between companies using the same hw design is fierce.

All silicon vendors
publish "reference designs" which are unoptimized
(and generally buggy) versions of code that works with the chip in known design settings.

In todays world of short design cycles, most HW board designers don't stray too much from the reference design. They don't have the time.

In order for a HW board vendor to distinguish
themselves from the reference design, they have to
value add. This generally means figuring out how to make the chip run faster or better using software.

If I, as a HW board vendor publish my value add,
I'm allowing those Taiwanese companies that just
manufacture the chip reference design to kill me.

It is a non-trivial exercise to extract value add from a chip. This represents real investments. These "value adds" are not something that casual open source hackers are going to figure out.

I'll give you 2 personal experiences (with names left out because they were clients)..

I wrote drivers for a CODEC chip. There were
3 other companies using the same chip. In the
process of development, we discovered by accident
a non-intutive 7!! lines of code that would cause
the chip to encode at 15 frames/sec. The best that the reference design and other users could manage was 10. None of the other companies (nor even the chip mfg) ever discovered this and my client derived a great deal of money from the ability to show better video.

Another example was an S3 chip customer who was
able to blow away other vendors in benchmarks using the same chip by using some interesting hacks to the chip.

If you want to apply pressure someplace, don't talk to the HW board guys, talk to the semiconductor vendors and ask them to publish the source code to their reference designs.

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