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Capitalism vs. communism

There's a restaurant at the resort where we have our summer place (it's really just an upscale trailer park, but the owner likes "resort"). It's not a great profit center because most people eat at their own trailers. There are "day-trippers" and weekend visitors who will use it, though, and even the regulars will go there now and then.

However, there's a problem brought about by the social nature of the community. People have pot-luck suppers and "general invitation" parties, and very often those day-trippers and weekend visitors get invited, drawing business away from the restaurant.

That's a bit of a problem for the owner. On the one hand, he doesn't want to run the restaurant at a loss, but on the other hand he certainly can't forbid pot-luck suppers etc. He wouldn't want to anyway, as the friendliness of the place draws people to return again, and that makes more money for him than a plate of spaghetti does. Still, restaurant vs. deck party has been a sore spot now and then.

I tell you all this because Linux is a pot luck supper, and folks like Microsoft and SCO are restaurant owners. Unfortunately, they only see the negative side and want to outlaw the free dinners if they possibly can. We could draw this analogy out with references to stealing recipes etc. but I'm sure you get the point: it is Capitalism (big C) vs. communism (little c). Both a pot-luck supper and Open Source are communal efforts.

We know what the motive of the Capitalists is, but there's also the motives of the "communists" to consider. At our resort, during a period where the owner was being particularly bitter and vocal about loss of restaurant business, some members wanted to boycott the restaurant entirely. In our case, that all got smoothed over and straightened out, but I am hearing a similar attitude from the Linux folks: I've been told that I shouldn't be supporting or selling SCO. The reasoning goes something like this:

Since you are enabling SCO to gain revenue (even through the support of a legitimate product), you are by default one of the "bad guys", a collaborator with SCO and a supporter of their lawsuits and legal threats, an enemy of Linux and of open source software.

See Brian, I'm Just Curious....

Well, I'm certainly not an enemy of Linux or open source software. It's simply that my allegiance lies with the customer.

This isn't some lofty moral principal: it's just business sense. My survival is dependent on my customers. Not on SCO (fortunately!) and not on Linux or any other OS. It's not good guys and bad guys who provide operating systems: I don't make money from any of them. I ONLY make money from customers who USE operating systems.

Now, at a much higher level, some moral and philosophical issues do enter the debate: is Open Source a "good thing" for the world in general? I'd say yes, but it is a point that can be argued. Is the present state of patents, copyrights, DMCA legislation etc. "bad" for innovation? I'd agree with Lawrence Lessig (Future of Ideas) and say it definitely is bad, but again, this is an area where people can disagree.

So: it's the customers that are important to me. It may or may not be true that in the long run their best interests lie with Open Source, but since that is a matter of opinion, it is up to them to decide that. Their decisions will be both at the individual level (shall I keep using SCO because they are suing IBM and threatening Open Source?) and at the political level (do I care about the state of patents, DMCA, etc.?).

It's not up to me to try to force my political opinions on them by refusing to service or sell to them. That's THEIR choice, and I might add it is also their choice whether or not they care to educate themselves on these issues at all. In fact, most don't: they have their own problems and concerns, and these higher level political/moral arguments aren't of much interest to them. I don't like that: I think that disinterest is what lets big business get away with all that it is getting away with, but the same is true of many political and moral issues: most folks don't care until their ox gets gored.

But it is their business, not mine. My business is to provide what they want. That's where my survival comes from in a capitalist society.



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© Tony Lawrence



"Since you are enabling SCO to gain revenue (even through the support of a legitimate product), you are by default one of the 'bad guys', a collaborator with SCO and a supporter of their lawsuits and legal threats, an enemy of Linux and of open source software."

That kind of sophomoric thinking, more than anything else, turns me off to the Open Source crowd. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with SCO's posturing, the fact remains that they have the right to sell their stuff to anyone who wants it. I happen to, in general, like OpenServer. I've worked with it a long time and, again in general, think it's a pretty decent package. I know it very well (though not as well as Mr. Lawrence) and can set it up to handle most anything that may come along. I also happen to think that most of my clients will do okay by sticking with OSR5-powered servers.

Now, do I think OSR5 is better than Linux? Not really. However, what I think is secondary to what my clients want. My clients who are on OSR5 are satisfied with it and see no reason to switch over to Linux simply because the Open Source way is/may be the better way. After all, as Tony said, clients have their own concerns and don't need to lose sleep over the fate of Linux.

Now, if that makes me some kind of Benedict Arnold, so be it. I too intend to sell my clients what they want. If they want SCO instead of Linux, SCO it is. If they want Windows 2003...not sure about that one.

--BigDumbDinosaur




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