Wednesday, September 27, 2006

GPLv3: Innovation will Trump Narrow Agendas

The hullabaloo surrounding the current GPLv3 debate makes for great theater and good cocktail conversation, but it is unlikely to create any real serious trouble for Linux or the open source software movement. Any extreme attempts to promote a narrow agenda will be crushed by the greater weight of our collective craving for innovation. A simple historical case study serves as a great example of what happens to narrow agendas that stand in the path of the relentless march of innovation.

In August of 1997, a group of disgruntled compiler developers forked gcc2 because the FSF was no longer responsive to their needs to innovate. FSF had a "stability" agenda around the compilation of C code for GNU. The Cygnus crowd, Linux crowd, and other constituents of gcc2 needed innovations to promote their products that were not being accepted by FSF. They forked gcc2 and created the Experimental/Enhanced GNU Compiler System, EGCS (pronounced eggs). They proceeded forward with innovations that were important to their user base, and they left the FSF branch of gcc2 behind.

In April, 1999, FSF abandoned their branch of gcc2, and re-united with the EGCS crowd because their branch had become largely irrelevant to users because of their narrow agenda. In less than 2 years, the agenda of FSF was buried by the greater good because of the original license innovation of the FSF, the GPL. The GPL allowed the EGCS crowd to create the branch that ultimately became the trunk of the code tree because they were delivering value to a broader constituency than the FSF compiler maintainers.

I believe the same scenario will play out with GPLv3. If the FSF attempts to promote a narrow agenda with the new license, all the code that is created under that license will be marginalized and the competing branch that continues under GPLv2 will become the trunk of the tree. Ideology and agendas are the stuff of interesting theater and intriguing cocktail conversations. Large scale adoption of innovation is what makes our lives better, and narrow agendas that stand in the way of a good life quickly become marginalized.


At 11:47 AM, Blogger Crosbie Fitch said...

RMS stuck it out for many years while people predicted the better innovation that would arise out of proprietary software.

He will stick it out again.

Freedom of the people is a far bigger agenda than narrow minded economic incentives that rely upon restricting people.


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