And the FUD begins in earnest … (mostly non-HPC)

Ok, so color me amused. I knew that it would not take long, and sure enough, the “independent bloggers” doing marketing for various organizations have fired their second shot. The first one is the “Linux is too hard” meme that seems to have died the quiet death it deserved. This next one is unfortunately as laughable as it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of something critical.

This meme could be called “Open Source is Dangerous”. Causes warts, high fever, rashes, loss of appetite, jobs, higher brain function, competitiveness. If it sounds like I am heaping derision upon this meme, well, …

Someone blogged about this topic, and Ken Farmer of LinuxHPC.org and WinHPC.org linked there.

Before you go any further, note that the link is to an aspx based site. And whose technology is this?

Ok, the major thesis of the thing this blogger linked to is the following quote:

“With open source, there is no intellectual property. Anyone can use it and all your ideas become public domain. If nobody can make money from it, there will be no development and open source software quickly becomes outdated,” he said.

Really? Copyright is not an intellectual property asset?

Lets look this up. Here.

I am going to do a fair-use re-print of the relevant section below:

Patents, trademarks, and copyrights are all ways of protecting original creations. When we create an original machine or process, we patent it, which means we own the rights to produce the invention: we can sell (or rent) those rights to others, and we can receive compensation for such use. When we create an original work of words or art, the same premises apply, only it’s called “copyright” instead of “patent.” But we still own the rights to reproduce our work, we can sell (or rent) those rights to others, and we have the right to receive compensation or recognition for such use.

Patents require formal registration; copyrights do not. An author owns his or her words the minute they are “fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device” (USPTO qtd. in Walker).

There is more on that page, and I suggest looking it over.

But there is another interesing sentance in there, well worth mentioning:

When copyrights expire, works go into what is known as the “public domain.”

So it behooves us to ask, when do copyrights expire?

Again, a little Googling helps (this may not be true in all locales BTW, laws do vary, but commonality of copyright and IP legislation has been a cornerstone of US trade policy for decades)

Here we see the answer.

For works created on or after January 1, 1978: copyright lasts for life of author plus 70 years

And then it is good to ask what public domain means.

Quoting from the link:

Public domain comprises the body of knowledge and innovation (especially creative works such as writing, art, music, and inventions) in relation to which no person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests within a particular legal jurisdiction. This body of information and creativity is considered to be part of a common cultural and intellectual heritage, which, in general, anyone may use or exploit, whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Only about 15 percent of all books are in the public domain, and 10 percent of all books are still in print. [1]

If an item (“work”) is not in the public domain, this may be the result of a proprietary interest such as a copyright, patent, or other sui generis right. The extent to which members of the public may use or exploit the work is limited to the extent of the proprietary interests in the relevant legal jurisdiction. However, when the copyright, patent or other proprietary restrictions expire, the work enters the public domain and may be used by anyone for any purpose.

We have public domain, and we have copyright. When the latter expires, you get the former.

Ok, so what has this to do with Open Source Software? The original author of the work retains copyright of the work, unless they assign it to another person or entity.

If they wish it to be public domain, they need to say so. This means they give up ownership of it.

If you want to own it after you have created it, you must indicate that you have copyrights to the work in the work itself. It must be unambiguous.

The two are quite different.

So back to this meme.

Point #1 “With open source, there is no intellectual property.” I think we have rather soundly deconstructed this point. Open Source is all about intellectual property. It is not abandonment of IP.

Point #2 “Anyone can use it”. Sort of. You own it, you create a license for it, or use one of the existing open source licenses. You can even dual license it, ala MySQL. Free for open source users and non-profits, not free for commercial and closed source, or supported environments. If they use it outside the conditions you have set, you can take them to court. Really.

Point #3: “all your ideas become public domain”. This one stinks like last weeks fish. Not true, unless you have previously declared that all your ideas are public domain. Since no one is likely to do this …
lets consider this one also appropriately deconstructed.

Point #4: “If nobody can make money from it, there will be no development and open source software quickly becomes outdated”. Lets ask MySQL AB, SugarCRM, and others if they can make money from Open Source software. There is a trick to it to be sure, just like there is a trick to building a successful and sustainable business. In fact, they are the same trick. You have to demonstrate that what you have is of value to a customer. You take away the acquisition cost, and you increase the support costs. If they don’t need help, then it lowers the cost for your customers (and you!). If they do need help, they can pay for it. Yes, we have experienced others expecting that the support is free, and some folks do get bent out of shape when you ask them to pay money. This is life. Customers haggle, they negotiate.

But the point is that if you build a large community of users who are willing to pay for support, as compared to a huge community of users you get micro-payments for basic access to the product and then give away support for the first N days …

Ok, lets try this another way. Those “free” cell phones you get with your cell phone plan… they aren’t really free … right? The cost to make and distribute them is low compared to the support and service cost … right?

See it yet?

Short version: people are making money on open source, it is simply a different business model. FWIW our BBSv3 (Bioinformatics Benchmark System v3) has generated some significant revenue for our day job in terms of support, optimization, requests for benchmarks and white papers. BBS is absolutely open source. Use it as you wish subject to the license. Quite a few people do. Some are not yet at the point where they quite grasp what this is all about, but they are getting there.

At the end of the day, this meme is as incorrect as the previous one I alluded to. There are so many more things that Microsoft and its friends could be doing to increase value in the HPC market; so many positive things. Not spinning or supporting the spinning of easily deconstructed and ridiculous memes.

Now that Java is GPLed, and is (at least in theory) usable everywhere (in practice, who knows), what will Microsoft do? Hint: they should bless Mono as the open source .Net, make sure all languages hook into it (Perl, Python, C, Fortran, …) on all platforms … Then you can integrate anything across any platform anywhere. That my dear reader, is valuable. And useful to HPC workflows.

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