Scott Hanselman

Hanselminutes Podcast 86 - Open Source Software Licensing with Jonathan Zuck of ACT Online

October 29, 2007 Comment on this post [14] Posted in ASP.NET | Musings | Podcast | Source Code
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3271123971My eighty-sixth podcast is up. In this one we turn to Jonathan Zuck, President of the Association for Competitive Technology to demystify Software Licensing and the industry's many Open Source Software Licenses. Jonathan also talks about their Innovators Network and what it can do for entrepreneurs.

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If you have trouble downloading, or your download is slow, do try the torrent with µtorrent or another BitTorrent Downloader.

Do also remember the complete archives are always up and they have PDF Transcripts, a little known feature that show up a few weeks after each show.

Telerik is our sponsor for this show.

Check out their UI Suite of controls for ASP.NET. It's very hardcore stuff. One of the things I appreciate about Telerik is their commitment to completeness. For example, they have a page about their Right-to-Left support while some vendors have zero support, or don't bother testing. They also are committed to XHTML compliance and publish their roadmap. It's nice when your controls vendor is very transparent.

As I've said before this show comes to you with the audio expertise and stewardship of Carl Franklin. The name comes from Travis Illig, but the goal of the show is simple. Avoid wasting the listener's time. (and make the commute less boring)

Enjoy. Who knows what'll happen in the next show?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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October 29, 2007 5:15
Nice!, but the links are bad - e.g. the torrent links to:

But the correct is (as browsed by archive):
October 29, 2007 7:59
Doh! Fixed.
October 30, 2007 9:11
You decide to do a show on open source licenses and you invite the president of the Association for Competitive Technology? There are a ton of organizations that actually specialize in open source licensing issues like the Open Source Initiative, the Software Freedom Law Center, and the Free Software Foundation, not to mention huge numbers of people involved directly in open source projects. Did you try to get any of them before inviting someone who runs an organization that's basically a Microsoft sockpuppet?
October 30, 2007 9:26
Appalled - Feel free to use your actual name, everyone is welcome here.

Did you listen to the show? We talked about different licenses and some of the options that are available to programmers. We didn't talk about Microsoft issues. Take a listen. I have known Johnathan for years and he's hardly a sock puppet. Listen to the show and let me know what you think.

On the other hand, I've been talking to the Eclipse Foundation and should have an interview with Bjorn Freeman-Benson in the next month or two. I was actually down at their offices ready to record but had forgotten my microphone and we had to reschedule.
October 30, 2007 10:43
I have listened to it, Scott. Quite frankly I would rate it as the worst Hanselminutes shows that you've done (I've listened to all 86 of them). There are so many people in the Open Source community who can speak eloquently about it like Eben Mogen, Eric Raymond, Bruce Perens, Lawrence Lessig, Linus Torvalds, and Richard Stallman (though his eloquence is somewhat tempered by a messianic zeal). Compared to speeches and interviews I've heard from people like them it was just painfully clear that Jonathan Zuck is on the outside looking in, rather than someone who is intimately familiar with open source.

As far as content goes, the biggest problem I have is that you discussed open source licenses mostly in terms of their legal and technical issues (who is allowed to reuse code and how, etc.) This really misses the point. When choosing an open source license, legal issues are really the least important factor. Technical issues are more important, but they're still not at the top of the list.

First and foremost, choosing an open source license is about deciding what kind of community is going to be able to grow up around your software. Open source software projects are primarily social entities and only secondarily pieces of executable code. Of course, there are a lot of other decisions that affect if and how a community will develop around your code and many of these are arguably more important than which license you choose. However, the license is one of the first decisions to make and is probably one of the most difficult to change later on. The community that you'll get with a MySQL style dual-licensing scheme is probably going to be quite different from the one that develops around a vanilla BSD license project. Use one of the 'look but don't touch' licenses like Microsoft does, and you won't get much of a community at all. I think that if you'd actually talked about open source licenses with someone from the open source world, the community aspect of licensing probably would have come up, and you would have had a far better show for it.
October 30, 2007 12:00
I appreciate your frank feedback. I don't appreciate you not leaving your name, but that's your choice. Who are you? Do YOU want to do a show?

I will get ahold of Linus or Lawrence and see if one of them will do a show.
October 30, 2007 12:09
Dear Appalled,
I'm sorry you didn't like the show. I was trying to discuss a broad range of issues surrounding software licenses without engaging in any short of philosophical rhetoric about them. Having released code as commercial, shareware, freeware, public domain and BSD, my guess is that my perspective was somewhat more balanced than a number of the people you named who have a specific agenda when it comes to licensing. My only agenda is to prevent situations that ristrict the ability of small businesses to do business such as legal mandates and procurement preferences. I think everyone should choose the license that is right for them.

On the topic of selecting among specifically OS licenses, I think your point about community is a good one. I need to go back and listen to the show myself but I'm pretty sure that I mentioned that a primary reason for selecting the GPL was in fact to facilitate the creation of a community both around your code but also around code in general. That said, I would never assume that someone's decision to release their code under some sort of open source license is a function of their desire to build a community around that code. In fact, as you state yourself, there are plenty of OS licenses which do not particularly prompt community building so logically, a decision to use those might not have anything at all to do with building communities but instead may have to do with building brand, for example.

I hope that clears things up and I'm happy to take further questions.
October 30, 2007 13:08
It seems like my posting this criticism anonymously upsets you, and I'm sorry about that. I decided to post this anonymously because this is a really atypical reaction for me, usually I really like your stuff. Like I said earlier, I've listened to all of the Hanselminutes podcasts and I've also read a lot of articles on your blog. Your writing and podcasting played a role in my decision to take the plunge and upgrade to Vista (though not the 64 bit version quite yet) and sparked my interest in Windows Home Server (thank you for turning my on to WHS by the way, it's really great!) I haven't commented on your blog before and I didn't really want the first thing out of my mouth to be this rather criticism. However, my disappointment in this particular show was strong enough that I felt compelled to say something, so I decided to post anonymously.

I suppose you could take this as sort of a back-handed compliment. I have high enough expectations that I'm disappointed if you fall short and enough passion that I feel I have to say something about it.

In any case, as someone who likes almost all of your stuff, I'm looking forward to hearing about Eclipse on Hanselminutes. I recently started using Eclipse with the PyDev extension as my primary programming environment, but I feel like I don't know much about it. I'm sure an Eclipse focused Hanselminutes will help remedy that (see, there's those high expectations again).
October 30, 2007 13:46
When you mention philosophy I think you've put your finger on part of what I feel was lacking in the podcast. Trying to talk about various open source licenses without talking about the philosophies that underpin them leaves out a great deal of the picture. These philosophies, and how they are perceived by others is why choosing a particular license has an effect on what sort of community will emerge. I'm not trying to push you or Scott to endorse any of these philosophies, but I think you have to acknowledge and explain the elephant in the room.
October 30, 2007 22:49
Perhaps you could do a Hanselminutes on anonymity and identity on the net, Scott?

There are some compelling reasons for opting to stay anonymous - cowardice is not the whole story, I don't think. In a sense, it's the little man's defence against the harshness of the web. If you are a Hanselman or an Atwood or an O'Brian and make a some statement that might be a bit bold, controversial, offending or even stupid, you have 1) a reputation to calibrate the statement (your set of reasonable previous statements mitigate and dilute it), 2) an audience who will listen to your follow-up statements, allowing you to provide nuances or even withdraw what you said. And even if you are big, it can be tough - consider the Kathy Sierra story.
November 01, 2007 17:48
Scott - I love listening to the poscasts. The only thing is you need to do more of them. :) My commute has recently become longer and I run out of good audio before I run out of road.
November 02, 2007 15:33
I'm not sure we are any longer moving the ball forward here but I'll just close by saying that the notion of "community" is a particular reason to choose one particular license which is the GPL (or other licenses with reciprocity) which I tried to mention in the podcast. Even this isn't a crisp thought though because if you ask Linus about the value of the GPL, he would say community. If you ask Richard Stallman, he would say "freedom." Some would argue that the REAL elephant in the room has to do with whose rights are most important to you frankly. There are many philosophical debates to be had about licenses and I'm happy to have them. I just didn't think a podcast aimed at helping developers choose between myriad licensing schemes was the place to do so.
November 04, 2007 6:32
Whether your preferred philosophy emphasizes community, freedom, or who's rights are most important, you can't really have an informative discussion about open source software licenses without discussing the philosophy behind them. Developers need to understand the philosophies behind these licenses in order to make an intelligent decision about which license to use.
November 17, 2007 15:00
I am not sure that a person that describes the GPL as viral is the best advocate for a reasoned choice of Open Source Licences.

Intellectual Property is a nasty term that tries to mix up distinct legal issues and apply physical property laws to things that do not apply.
It covers trade marks, copyright and patent law. These are different things and need to be treated separately not nebulously merged into intellectual property.

The GPL gets triggered by distribution. You do not have to offer it back to the community, just to the people that you distribute it to.
It is a convention that the code is given back, but not a hard and fast requirement.

For 90% of developers that spend there time writing in house only line of business applications then there is no reason why they can't freely use GPL code.
The intent of the GPL is that if you get a GPL application you should not be prevented from modifying it. In addition you should pass on the terms that you received it under. That is the price of the GPL. If you don't like that then negotiate with the authors for a commercial licence. The GPL fits best in a gift culture rather than a secretive ownership one. The benefit to the end user is that they can always find a new developer if the initial developer loses interest.

I also found it interesting that more was not made of the far more business friendly MPL. This only requires attribution plus typically an offer of changes back to the author. I found this to be of great use especially in the Delphi world there is a very strong MPL community.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.