Brother, can you spare a dime?

It’s tough being a blogger and open-source developer. As a blogger you labor in obscurity. As an open-source developer you probably labor in penury. Even worse, attempts to escape penury may expose you to calumny.

See for example, the words of the master of the flurry of fury, Dr. Marc Fleury, from
Another 15 years of Java: JBoss’ Fleury on the GPL, IBM, patents and Microsoft:

He was less generous about Sun’s critics. “IBM reacted negatively to the Sun announcement because IBM’s approach to open source is what we call ‘strip mining’, which is to let the open source community do things – then IBM comes and packages them, and adds proprietary code, and markets the result – witness WebSphere – so they have this dual strategy of proprietary products and low-end open source,” he said. This kind of strategy “usually works well with BSD style licenses where you can create, as a vendor, a competing offering that is proprietary.”

Dr. Fleury is not alone in thinking there is something wrong about making money using open-source. I noted similar sentiments voiced during the recent announce of the Sun/FSF alliance, endorsing the use of the gpl license because it wouldn’t allow corporations to “fork” the code and create commercial derivatives. This is a misunderstanding of the term “fork,” but that a topic best left to a future post.

As those active in the open-source arena know, there are two broad camps: the “free software” folks and the “open-source” folks. I’m in the latter camp, and so take my instructions from the Open Source Initiative (OSI). OSI is dedicated to managing and proposing the Open Source Definition (OSD).

The OSD lists ten criteria that must be met for a license to qualify as an open-source license. Here’s the sixth:

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

Rationale: The major intention of this clause is to prohibit license traps that prevent open source from being used commercially. We want commercial users to join our community, not feel excluded from it.

The OSI has no objection to using open-source code in commercial offerings. For example, the Apache License explicitly allows corporations, or anyone else for that matter, to use their code and modify it without imposing any requirement that the modifications must be made public.

IBM is not alone is using open-source code in this fashion. Other companies do it as well, including Dr. Fleury’s new employer, Red Hat.

As does MySQL.com, which licenses their code under both the GPL and a commercial license. Indeed they can be viewed as a commercial entity that uses the freely-available GPL-licensed version as a come-on to encourage customers to acquire the commercial version.

But, irony of ironies, Dr. Fleury should be the last to argue that it’s wrong to make money off open-source. After all he has made oodles of boodle by selling his open-source based company to Red Hat. He probably even made enough so he can afford a comfortable upper-middle class lifestyle.

Other companies strive both to make a profit and support open-source. A good example is Collab.net’s funding of much of the development cost of Subversion.

But if Dr. Fleury is that troubled by making money off of open-source, he might want to unload some of his oodles of boodle. Since so many open-source developers labor in penury, and some including myself find this topic depressing, perhaps we can find some solace from some Songs of the Great Depression


“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931) (with “railroad” replaced by “package,” as in open-source package)

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad package, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad package; now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Rudy Vallee
“Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” lyrics by Lew Brown, music by Ray Henderson (1931)

People are queer, they’re always crowing, scrambling and rushing about;
Why don’t they stop someday, address themselves this way?
Why are we here? Where are we going? It’s time that we found out.
We’re not here to stay; we’re on a short holiday.

Life is just a bowl of cherries.
Don’t take it serious; it’s too mysterious.
You work, you save, you worry so,
But you can’t take your dough when you go, go, go.

So keep repeating it’s the berries,
The strongest oak must fall,

The sweet things in life, to you were just loaned
So how can you lose what you’ve never owned?

Life is just a bowl of cherries,
So live and laugh at it all.

Ginger Rogers
“We’re in the Money,” lyrics by Al Dubin, music by Harry Warren (from the film Gold Diggers of 1933, 1933)

We’re in the money, we’re in the money;
We’ve got a lot of what it takes to get along!
We’re in the money, that sky is sunny,
Old Man Depression you are through, you done us wrong.

We never see a headline about breadlines today.
And when we see the landlord we can look that guy right in the eye

We’re in the money, come on, my honey,
Let’s lend it, spend it, send it rolling along!

Oh, yes we’re in the money, you bet we’re in the money,
We’ve got a lot of what it takes to get along!
Let’s go we’re in the money, Look up the skies are sunny,
Old Man Depression you are through, you done us wrong.

We never see a headline about breadlines today.
And when we see the landlord we can look that guy right in the eye

We’re in the money, come on, my honey,
Let’s lend it, spend it, send it rolling along!


How about it, Brother Fleury? I am not seeking any of your oodles of boodle — I have enough dimes so I can both put food on the table and also work on the Open Source Volunteers project on my own time, so I suggest you might want to consider sending some of your money “rolling along” to the good folks at the Apache Software Foundation?

One Comment

  1. Posted November 28, 2006 at 15:49 | Permalink | Reply

    Sorry… any work I do will be GPL’d. I’m not out to get the rich richer 🙂

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