This article by Dan Lyons of Forbes was picked up by Slashdot. The gist of the article is that OSS advocate and Linus friend, Larry McVoy claims innovation CANNOT happen in OSS. He is venting his frustration with OSS users and the cost of supporting the Linux kernel development (est 500k/year). Basically he is dropping support for Linux and criticizing the business model heavily claiming the model is not sustainable, not economically viable, period.


I know Dan, the journalist, he is one of those clever guys that I keep briefing but who never really writes anything about us :) I talked to him last week about the IBM announcement but he kept coming back with a line of questioning around "OSS can't innovate". He was working on that article already.


Of course McVoy gets teared to shreds by the script kiddies on slashdot for claiming that developers should make a living and that creating innovative software requires pay. I must admit that I actually think a lot like McVoy on some of the points he makes. I am not all doom and gloom like he is, in fact I KNOW that the professional open source business model works and will argue that POSS is inevitable as a business model. However after 5 years of professional open source, I know how hard it is to do and how frustrating the "opinions" of many clueless so called "OSS advocates" can be.


Making a living at OSS is tricky, taxing and leaves me wondering at night. We pulled it off and are making money at about 130 employees but it is a trick. We are destroying value for over-priced software vendors who’ve been milking the licensing system for the past 30 years— we create tons of value for the IT consumer—and whether or not we participate in this wave it is happening anyway— this sort of whining by McVoy is like people complaining about the horse and buggy business going down hill because of the invention of the rail-road. AS LONG AS THE MODEL IS SELF SUSTAINED ECONOMICALLY, the system is defendable.


One of the arguments detailed in the thread is about getting hourly pay for consulting services. Namely, write the core software for free and then pimp yourself for hourly wages. Honey, get me my gun! The communists are on our lawn! This line of thinking could turn software developers into the equivalent of low paid burger flipping slaves, which would be bad obviously. If we end up, as a professional category, as highly paid hourly professionals, say like doctors or lawyers in the US then that would be good but still it would be a far cry from the fortunes that were made in the license model.


30 years ago Bill Gates III wrote the vribrant "open letter to hobbyists" , I reread this last week and I can't say how much I RELATE to the points made by BillG, which incidently are exactly the same as the points made by McVoy. Namely that developers that are writing great software should get great pay and that it is a good thing for the industry to have full time dedicated people. Developers working for free is still a romantic deception embraced both by the press in general and the developers THEMSELVES. Why this is so controversial (developers require pay) really puzzles me, maybe it is human nature to cling onto romantic deceptions and ideologies?


I get pissed off everytime I have to articulate this but it is surprising how many people believe open source is about free development, for the umpteth time FREE SOFTWARE != FREE DEVELOPERS.


Some business people don't get that point, which is funny because it is about money, I am growing convinced that the developers that flame on this topic are either burnt out hackers who don't want anyone to make money or kiddies in college where communism still looks good since mom and dad are the ones paying for the rent and the groceries.


You can only go so far as a hobbyist. Some people wrongly assume that all software can be done on a volunteer basis, and they usually point to Linux as an example of software that compounded over time, without financing, into something decent. The thinking goes that if you give enough time to OSS then you will achieve the same result as dedicated professional full time teams. Also Linux has not innovated as much because the target was to copy Unix—this is not the case with OS middleware…


Here at JBoss, we are exploring a particular strand of self-sustained software production in open source. Our revenue scalability is non-linear with people (that is good). The important question all the business models are addressing is "IS THE OSS SOFTWARE BUSINESS MODEL ONLY A LOSS-LEADER MODEL OR CAN IT BE A SELF-SUSTAINED AND PROFITABLE ENTITY".


See, when it comes to philosophy I am much much closer in spirit to MSFT, which says that developers should make money, tons of it if possible. IBM on the other hand says that developers should wag their tails for low wages and IBM laptops. IBM today, just as they did 40 years ago, still sees software as a tactical loss leader-- something to make hardware and services palatable. OSS development is funded by profits coming from elsewhere, hardware, services, govt and proprietary software. We, and others like MySQL, continue to prove that professional open source is a standalone category.


As a counter point to McVoy though I will argue that OSS has a track record of proven innovation. While it is true that OSS thrives in commoditized, standardized environments (Posix, HTTP, SQL, J2EE), professional OSS also sustains innovation. We at JBoss provide anecdotal evidence of this with work like AO/EJB3/Hibernate/JBossPortal/JBossCache. There is tremendous work done in the open source community, pushing the state of the art in terms of technology and this is particularly true of the Java camp. We drive innovation and standardization.


I believe that some of the innovation comes from the OSS licenses themselves by allowing tighter feedback loops with our users that then become contributors to the code base. To me open source is a powerful model because of the community of USERS.


But the point remains that to do this seriously, professionally, in a sustainable fashion you need to make a living. What is clearly compromised imho is the "instant billionaire" club. I remember the first time I saw Torvalds on a panel and someone asked "why isn't there an open source billionaire", and I immediately thought "cause you are distributing FREE SOFTWARE dummy why else?"... and there still isn't an open source billionaire today. There are very few billionaires period. Your average MSFT developer certainly isn’t one, maybe Paul Allen…millionaires are an achievable category in OS and for JBoss.


I for one, don't believe there will ever be an open source billionaires club, there are and will be many multi-millionaires though. If we execute on our plan without screwing up, we will create a large batch of OS millionaires… we care about the developers and people who create real value in companies getting rewarded.


We never saw OSS, passion and money as being mutually exclusive. We aim to have it all.