Dr. Seuss, licensing, and WINE

Brett Glass brett at lariat.org
Thu Feb 7 21:31:20 CST 2002

[Note: This is a slightly revised version of some material which I've 
posted to Slashdot. Copy replies to me, as I am not on the wine-devel 
list (though I have been an active advocate of WINE and will continue to 
be so long as it is not licensed under a viral license such as the LGPL). -BG]

This entire issue is reminiscent of the well known Dr. Seuss story 
"Horton Hatches the Egg."

In the story, a bird lays an egg and then convinces a kindly elephant 
named Horton to sit on it. Horton braves all manner of hardships -- heat, 
cold, even the indignity of being captured and displayed as a freak in a 
circus -- to remain with his charge until it hatches.

Whereupon, the bird immediately demands that Horton return the fruits of 
his labor to her. (Were she a modern Richard Stallman, she might have 
declared that it was a GPLed egg.)

Writing a program -- like laying an egg -- isn't necessarily an easy 
task. However, bringing it to the marketplace and successfully selling it 
as a product -- especially in the presence of a free alternative -- is a 
much more difficult and dangerous one. The company that hopes to sell a 
product that's an improved derivative of one that's available for free is 
taking a big risk and must make a truly Hortonian (if I may coin the 
phrase) effort to be successful.

What Mr. Stallman and the (L)GPL would demand is that the person who 
manages to do this -- competing against all odds with a no-cost version 
and potentially infinite numbers of competitors publishing and bundling 
it -- get nothing.

Those who wish WINE to be published under a license which is not truly 
free, as the current license is, appear to believe that the emergence of 
products such as Lindows is a threat to WINE and/or to businesses such as 
CodeWeavers. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the creators of 
derivative works  act in their own best interests, they will return all 
but the most strategically important code from their implementations to 
the WINE project, reserving for themselves only what is necessary to 
differentiate their product from what another vendor (e.g. Red Hat) might 
produce. This minimizes their maintenance costs, and may -- there's no 
sure thing here -- provide them with sufficient value added to survive in 
the presence of a free alternative. (If they don't do this, there is an 
automatic penalty: they'll have to re-integrate changes into each new version.)

To (L)GPL WINE, on the other hand, prevents such worthy products from 
ever seeing the light of day. It is, in essence, snatching back the egg 
from poor Horton after all of his hard work. And it won't benefit WINE, 
WINE users, or CodeWeavers. Many companies' potential contributions will 
be lost, and CodeWeavers and WINE will gain themselves a reputation for 
being hostile to business. This will cause the consulting business from 
which CodeWeavers hopes to make money to dry up.

In short, the move is shortsighted and bad for all concerned.

CodeWeavers, and other companies that hope to profit from their work on 
WINE via paid consulting, should look instead to the model of Wasabi 
Systems (http://www.wasabisystems.com/ [wasabisystems.com]), which just 
received a round of venture capital funding worth more than $1M to port, 
publish, promote, and consult on NetBSD. NetBSD is truly free; it's 
published not under the restrictive GPL or LGPL but under the BSD 
License. And Wasabi is going strong; they just published a desktop 
package (consisting of NetBSD plus GUIs and applications) that is 
competitive with the best of the Linux distributions.

The WINE project, for its part, should resist falling prey to the spite 
and resentment that the Fascist^H^H^H^H^H^Hree Software Foundation 
encourages (and has made part of its licenses). If the project makes the 
mistake of adopting an FSF license, commercial programmers such as myself 
will no longer be able to so much as look at the code -- much less fix 
bugs or contribute. This license change would, effectively, close WINE to 
me and any other developer who writes commercial software... forever.

Here's why. As most people already know, the GPL and LGPL require 
developers who create "derivative works" to give their work away for 
free. But what most people do not understand is that if a programmer so 
much as looks at GPLed or LGPLed code, and later writes some code that 
performs the same function, he or she is open to accusations that the 
code produced later is a derivative work. (The late ex-Beatle George 
Harrison fell into a similar trap when he heard a song and, years later, 
wrote one with a similar melody. A court convicted him of "unconscious" 
copyright infringement because he'd heard the original song.)

For this reason, commercial programmers simply cannot look at source code 
that's published under one of the FSF's licenses without taking a 
tremendous risk which could destroy their careers as programmers. This 
may be fine with Richard Stallman -- who in the GNU Manifesto stated that 
programmers should code for love rather than money and that good salaries 
for programmers should be "banned" -- but for those of us who need to put 
food on the table it is simply a risk we cannot take.

Thus, if WINE is (L)GPLed, I can no longer look at the code, fix bugs 
when something breaks, or contribute to the project. Nor can I peruse the 
code in order to learn from it. It will, effectively, be as closed as a 
closed source product to me and to any other commercial programmer. WINE 
will be un-free and would not be open source (since it would be licensed 
under a license that discriminates against a group of people and a field 
of endeavor). Only a truly free fork (which I sincerely hope will occur 
if the license is changed) will be accessible to those of us who code for 
a living.

It would be a sad day for those of us who would LIKE to continue to 
recommend WINE to users who wish to free themselves from Windows, as I 
would immediately have to stop installing and advocating the use of WINE.

--Brett Glass (Who hasn't happened to contribute to WINE yet, but may do so if
it remains open source)

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