Microsoft : FSF :: Republicans : Democrats

The parallel I’m drawing is less about the participants and more about the people caught in the center. Thank goodness the software business is not a two party system.

Microsoft : FSF :: Republicans : Democrats

The parallel I’m drawing is less about the participants and more about the people caught in the center. Thank goodness the software business is not a two party system.

The traditional view of Republicans is that they are business-oriented, conservative when it comes to individual liberties, are in favor of a strong defense infrastructure, but want to keep taxes low. The traditional view of Democrats is that they are more oriented towards people, wanting more social programs and liberal individual liberties, and that they are willing to pay a little more in taxes in order to see their social programs enacted. I’m sure there will be people out there who may disagree with these characterizations, but bear with me because that’s not the main point.

Somewhere between the Democrats and Republicans there is a spot in which a large number of people sit. A spot for people that believe that there is a balance to be struck between individual liberties and the good of society, the needs of businesses and the needs of people, social programs and defense, ann all programs and a moderate tax rate. In other words, these people don’t really fit under the Democrat or Republican umbrella. They’ll generally fall in between. I think nothing highlights this more than the last Presidential election and the change in power in the Senate. Politicians have been forced into the center, because that is where the people are.
Now we come to the Great Software Licensing Debate. On the one hand, you have Microsoft, defending their business model and their right to produce closed-source software. On the other hand, you have the Free Software Foundation (FSF) claiming that all software should be free as a matter of liberty, because they feel that it is a right to have the source code to their software and to give the software to people they know. Just as in American politics, I don’t think either of these groups reflects the view of the majority.
The recent debate between Tim O’Reilly (O’Reilly and Associates) and Richard Stallman (FSF) has brought more attention to the fact that a large chunk of people in the software community fall somewhere between Microsoft and FSF. Most people think there is a place for commercial software, and for open source software (even software released under the GPL). I think many people realize that GPLed software can be safely used in business without worrying about any “viral intellectual property-destroying” effects. Most people feel that even if they don’t like the GPL or closed-source licenses that it is a software developer’s right to choose whichever license suits them best.
If you cut through Microsoft’s FUD and the FSF’s view of absolute “freedom” and just look at the GPL and the LGPL, you’ll see licenses that may make sense for some people. Those licenses allow someone to release their software as open source and ensure that they’ll have access to future work based on their work. That’s a reasonable thing to request, given that they are giving their work away.
So, maybe what we need now are replacement licenses that have essentially the same terms as the GPL and LGPL, but do not carry any of the political baggage. Maybe a license like this already exists? (Mozilla Public License?)
Right now, the laws of the US allow us to release software under whichever terms make sense for us. As long as the law reflects that basic principle, the exact license terms are just details.