Tuesday, December 7, 2010

FOSS, focus, philosophy: setting the record straight

Yesterday, in a report on my visualization of Apple's patent disputes with HTC and Motorola, Fortune.CNN.com made the following reference to the title of this blog:

"FOSS, by the way, stands for Free and Open Source Software, which may suggest a bias on Mueller's part. If so, we've never detected it in any of his reports."

In other words, my analysis doesn't come across as "FOSSy". It's true that I try hard not to be ideological about the intellectual property issues affecting the high tech industry. I'm always grateful for recognition of that effort, in public and in private.

But I can't deny that I often find myself misunderstood in different ways. On one end of the spectrum, there are a few who believe that this is an extension of the NoSoftwarePatents campaign I used to run years ago. On the other end, there's a certain number of people (greater than the first group) who misperceive or mischaracterize my activities as an attempt to speak on behalf of the open source community at large as an "astroturfer", or worse than that, suspect a divisive agenda. None of that is true.

Not in the name of open source

Most importantly, let me make it very clear -- right upfront -- that I never claimed or implied to be (or to be eligible as) an open source community leader or spokesman. Until I say otherwise, I don't have a mandate to represent anyone but myself.

I'm not trying to create a movement or subcommunity, nor the appearance of one. When some speculate about whether "the community follows" me, I can only shake my head because that's not my objective (it was a goal during the NoSoftwarePatents campaign, but not now). If that were the objective, I would have to do many things differently.

I just try to create unique, interesting, relevant and timely content, and to be thought-provoking. This blog gets read by lots of professionals and quoted in major media, so it delivers something others don't. That is, however, separate from knowing very well that on some important issues my views are not shared by a majority of FOSS community members. However, I believe that an increasing number of people will be interested in that perspective even if it isn't necessarily their own.

As a matter of principle, I never want to pretend to be something that I'm not, whether it generates publicity or support in some respects or negative associations in others. So I'll say it again, loud and clear: this blog is not an organ of the free and open source software community.

Holistic, in-depth, rapid and at times irreverent analysis

In an effort to counter misperceptions concerning my role, I updated the profile box (right-hand column), now introducing myself as "an award-winning intellectual property activist with 25 years of software industry expertise spanning across different market segments (games, education, productivity and infrastructure software), diverse business models (proprietary software, free and open source software, advertising- and subscription-based online services) and a variety of technical and commercial areas of responsibility."

Compared to many other blogs commenting on similar topics, I try to offer a particularly holistic perspective taking the technical, commercial, political and legal aspects of these issues into consideration -- and to provide understandable explanations.

Besides that, I often produce my analysis quicker than many others, and I dare to contradict or criticize persons and organizations whom many others revere unconditionally.

FOSS as a competitive force and business model rather than a philosophy

Some misunderstood my use of the term "FOSS" as a statement of strict adherence to Richard Stallman's free software values. Actually, the only reason for which I chose it was to recognize what RMS and his followers achieved. Saying "FOSS" instead of just "open source" is more efficient than placing "GNU" in front of "Linux".

I've been in this industry for 25 years, most of the time in closed source (such as when I marketed some Blizzard Entertainment games in Central Europe). For three years (2001-2004) I advised MySQL's CEO. It was a part-time capacity (about three days per month). I was also a small shareholder until the sale to Sun in 2008.

My NoSoftwarePatents campaign received most of its support from open source people and companies, and open source juries nominated it for awards. But when I gave speeches during that campaign I pointed out that my own software development was closed-source (.NET-based, in fact). The campaign website listed nine "dangers" due to software patents. The patent threat to "Linux & Open Source" was the first item, but there were eight others that weren't specifically related to open source.

In late 2009 and early 2010 I fought hard against Oracle's acquisition of MySQL. I worked with Michael 'Monty' Widenius, MySQL's founder, and his company Monty Program Ab on that effort. At the time I was, for sure, an open source advocate. But it was a project, an episode.

To me, open source is important primarily as a competitive force. In a position paper I wrote as part of my work for Monty Program, I made the case for open source as a competitive factor. I didn't claim that it's an inherently superior production model or the only ethically acceptable one.

I created my Apple vs. Android diagrams with OpenOffice Draw, and my current mobile phone is an Android-based Samsung Galaxy, but Outlook has been my email client for many years. Actually, most computer users are just like that.

In addition, I look at this from a competition angle, and even if I use proprietary software for a certain purpose, I want open source to exert competitive pressure on it. That's why I care about FOSS being competitive, which is admittedly a rather utilitarian view. It's the perspective I had in mind when I started this "FOSS Patents" blog. Over time my focus has shifted anyway. 7 out of my 10 most recent postings covered smartphone patent disputes...

When I report on patent litigation, I shut out all political considerations and focus strictly on the legal processes, the technical scope of the asserted patents and the commercial framework, and just like everybody else I'm interested in clues as to which litigant may have the upper hand and how a dispute might impact vendors, consumers and application developers.

I guess war correspondents find themselves in a similar situation, especially if they participated in peace demonstrations earlier on.

If you'd like to be updated on the smartphone patent disputes and other intellectual property matters I cover, please subscribe to my RSS feed (in the right-hand column) and/or follow me on Twitter @FOSSpatents.

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