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Software libre

Reading the thread "Is free software Microsoft's fault?" brought to mind an article that I came across a year or so ago when it was work in progress. I finally tracked it down. It's still WIP, so I don't know whether the author still thinks the same way, but it I think it gives at least a plausible reason why corporations should at least consider open/free-speech/libre software.

Here's the URL:

I too have had my backside bitten by closed source. In my case when the supplier of the cross platform GUI/framework we were using decided to shut up shop.

I'd also be interested to hear whether people consider that all (particularly British or European) public administration software should be open source? Why, for example, should councils not be encouraged to develop open source software for housing management, or council tax administration? I would have thought that, across Britain, the core functionality needed by every council would be very similar, even if it were desirable to customise it locally.

I'm not suggesting, by the way, that councils need do their own software development; just that they should require that all software developed for them should draw from the 'common good' and return to it.


David Roper
Friday, May 2, 2003

Who was the supplier of the cross platform GUI/framework that shut down?

In any case, one non-uncommon way to protect yourself from these specific problems is to insist on a license agreement that keeps the source code in escrow, and you get access to it if the supplier shuts down.

I suspect most people who use commercial components have come to the conclusion that it's worth the risk of the supplier closing to get the higher quality component.

Joel Spolsky
Friday, May 2, 2003


The toolkit was Galaxy from Visix. At the time that we made the decision to use their product Visix had been around for quite a number of years. I had first come across them via their Looking Glass window manager for X. That was in the days of Xr10.4, which I think must have been about 1991 or '92. They had a blue chip client base including a number of large financial institutions so we weren't unduly concerned about their stability. In any event, we were dealing with the UK branch of the company and weren't buying very many SDKs. The UK company were given virtually no freedom of action regarding contract terms and getting the parent company to put the code into escrow would have been a hard job for us.

What really bugged me about the whole affair was that they didn't go bust, their VC backing just decided that they were one of the 'living dead', were never going to make any serious money and decided to put them into voluntary liquidation and get their money out. As far as I know they didn't even try to sell the company as a going concern.

David Roper
Saturday, May 3, 2003

Hey, that's what happens with VCs. If the company has no shot of performing the way they want, they turn off the money. You ought to get used to it, because it's the way a lot of companies come and go.

(It would've been TOP on my list to get source code in escrow for something that I couldn't easily replace that was being made by a VC-backed company, but hey, I'm paranoid.)

Brad Wilson (
Saturday, May 3, 2003

There is nothing bad about open source.
But there are pitfalls.
Most of the open source projects are under GNU. That means that the projects using them will almost certainly have to be open source.
There was an intent here in Bulgaria for a law about this, that all the national administration MUST use open source. And this 'MUST' is a problem because in many fields there in no good open source software.

Boris Yankov
Saturday, May 3, 2003

Many libraries are under LGPL, not GPL, so your products do not need to be open source.  If you distribute a modified version of the library, that needs to be open source, but it's only fair that if you improve someone else's library then they should get to use the improvements too.  For cross-platofrm GUI libraries (to use the above example), GTK+2.2 is:
- Works well on Unix and Win32.
- The code is well written, so it's relatively easy to find bugs and fix them yourself if something doesn't work for you.
- Can be used from C, C++, Ada, Python, ...

That's quite hard to compete with.

Tim Evans
Monday, May 5, 2003

I'm curious about the "most open source projects are under GNU" comment.  In what field is this true?

Apache, Perl, Python, BSD...  none of these are GNU-licensed.  I run into very few LGPL Python modules, and even fewer GPL.

In what field of software do you find that "most open source projects are under GNU" licenses?

Phillip J. Eby
Monday, May 5, 2003

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