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Posted Sep 14, 2004

Evil of August 2004

To Evil!
by Danny O'Brien

How do you work out who the movers and shakers are in the free software hacking world? For most of them, there's no income to be appraised, there's no stock market valuation to watch. What value can you give to these contributors, who work without care of reward, except maybe all those groupies hanging out at the stage door of the Sourceforge ftp servers?

Well, I guess you could review their software or something. Sadly, I suffer from a debilitating illness (which I shall not mention here) that tragically precludes me from doing actual research. So, instead, I have decided to evaluate those involved in our so-called industry in terms of what we all, I think, see it as.

A battle between good and evil. With the emphasis on evil, because, let's face it, who wants to hear about bloody goody two-shoes coders?

So who was the most bad in the world of open source last month? And can we get them to do it again, for the cameras?

August's candidates, in order of potential Dantean circle of Hell:


Rob "So often quoted that my own middle name has quotes around it" Enderle keynoted this year's SCO Forum, with an analysis "Free Software and the Idiots who Buy It".

As you might expect, this wasn't a talk with many Excel graphs and MATLAB analyses of relative IQs inside. En route to his conclusion, Rob explained to his audience that one of the reasons he has a bias toward Microsoft and against IBM (and by extension, IBM's support for Linux) is because when he worked at IBM, they were sneaky, whereas Bill Gates has been very good to him:

"With Microsoft my relationship goes deeper. A few years back, when I was first starting out as an analyst, I got myself into a lot of hot water by doing something I knew was wrong to prevent a crime from being committed... By all accounts I would have lost my job and probably had to change careers again if it weren't for Bill Gates personally coming to my defense and pointing out that what I did probably kept a lot of folks out of jail. He didn't have to do that and, to this day I doubt he even remembers he did, but I remember."

I don't know about you, but now I have this image in my mind of Rob Enderle as Capt. "Howling Mad" Murdock in the A-Team, with Bill "Hannibal" Gates breaking him out (and others) out of jail at the beginning of every episode so he can to help them analyse the hell out of a new market opportunity.

But is Enderle actually evil? I'd say Enderle's confession is not a confession of evil as an admission of humanity. His knee-jerk defences of SCO and attacks on open source come partly from his emotional experience at the hands of ... well, he's not clear on the facts, but something bad that happened to him a long time ago.

When you read his presentation, and after shifting a bit uncomfortably in your seat during the shoutier bits, you mostly ending up feeling sorry for him. He's clearly gone through a lot, and that definitely affects the tone of his opinions. Perhaps the evil here is that our industry doesn't assume our pundits are all too human. I, for instance, am gung-ho about open source because my family is being held hostage in Rob Malda's basement. But who fact-checks me, or Enderle, when we say something in public? No-one! Once again a sign that the motto "Consider the source" has more application than just fixing software.

II. Jörg Schilling

Jörg "Just trying to make an honest" Schilling took offence at SuSE's changes to his GPL cdrecord application, on the grounds that they'd patched it so much that it wasn't really Jörg Schilling's cdrecord at all, but more like some sort of awful Hollywood remake, like Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula. To fix that, he stuck in a line which announced to SuSE users that their vendor was "known to ship bastardized and defective versions of cdrecord", then put in a comment above that SuSE wasn't allowed to change that line. You know, just in case they managed to bastardized the bastardization.

Cynical bystanders thought Jörg's harsh words had something to do with the addition of DVD burning features to SuSE's Jörg Schilling's Cdrecord (Jörg makes money from a commercial "cdrecord-dvdpro" which has the same added features). Jörg said it was more having to deal with answering tech support questions from people running software he hadn't even written, dammit.

Whatever the reason, by adding the comment, it turned out Schilling was breaking the GPL himself, by adding extra restrictions.

Now, we know that the furthermost pits of hell are reserved for those who break licensing agreements (unless its clickthrough, where you get put in purgatory until the law can be clarified). But we should also give pause before we place the epaullettes of satan on someone who, let's be fair, learnt the intricacies of the SCSI bus so that we do not.

Anyone who has played with SCSI knows that the interface is, frankly, Lovecraftian. A few terminators and DIP switches in, and you're constantly running saving throws for your sanity. Jörg's moment of alleged evil was fleeting, and he removed the restriction in the subsequent increment of cdrecord. Let's say that he was possessed by some old ide-scsi bug, and speaking in tongues at the time.

Not evil; a tang of the Yog-Sothoth in the air, maybe, but not evil.

III. Gareth Jones

Final contestant for this month's "Most Likely to Go Bwah-hah-hah Out Of Context" comes from an unexpected source. In my homeland of the United Kingdom, the Chief Operating Officer of "3", Hutchinson Mobile's un-googlable 3G network, was caught saying this: "People don't want open access, that's not what our customers tell us they want" he said. "Anyone in their right mind who tries to do anything on the Internet with a screen that size has to be nuts."

Reactions to the comment have been mixed. In between the pitter-patter of slapped heads across Greater Geekland, most thought this was a little, shall we say, short-sighted. Here, they said, is a company waiting to be eaten by the free market Grues. Others defend Jones saying that - well, if the customer's don't want it, why give it to them?

Me, I think Jones temporarily represents the living embodiment of all that is eeeevil (for the microscopic values of real eeevil involved in our fairly innocuous industry).

Fast, cheap, mobile data networks represents an amazing opportunity for innovation, but is currently saddled in Compuserve-era walled gardens.

It's understandable that companies like "3", having spent so much on license fees and network roll-out, should want to recoup that cost by acting as highwayman on their own routes, but it's simply bad policy to try and hold back the thousands of applications and the millions of people that those network could be used to talk to.

Without access to the handset, and the handset's access to the wider net, not only will we have to wait to get open source applications in the mobile sector, but we'll have to wait for the true flowering of creativity in the mobile world to arrive. It's nuts to assume, as so many telco providers do, that they can have a monopoly on creativity using their phones. Demanding a monopoly on the destinations people will visit, the packets that will fly, the people you will meet using it, is just evil in my book. Pure eeeevil.

Yes, the free software world runs on purest ethics, and some of us have been sniffing the fumes of that heady fuel longer more deeply than the rest of us.

If you have any recommendations for sources of evilitude in September, mail me at, and I'll try and banish them with my incantations. Until then, hunch your backs and raise a toast - To evil!

Danny O'Brien is the co-editor of NTK incarnate.

To Evil! will appear monthly.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Re: Evil of August 2004 (Score: 0)
by Anonymous on Sep 15, 2004 - 02:35 AM
But riddle me this: why do 3 get slated for not offering open Internet access when Mr Jones explicitly says that he has no philosophical issue with offering it, but he has limited resources and wants to respond to explicit customer needs first?

Contrast with Sky, who are in well over 6.7m homes in the UK and could offer open net access to a much broader group of folks... but I don't hear them getting slated for not doing this.

I'm personally completely in favour of open access via mobile, for all the reasons you mention; but at the same time I can understand that in the early days, operators are being very careful how they present these services to their customers. Remember the last time we were invited to "surf the BT cellnet"?


Re: Evil of August 2004 (Score: 0)
by Anonymous on Sep 15, 2004 - 02:00 PM
"Whatever the reason, by adding the comment, it turned out Schilling was breaking the GPL himself, by adding extra restrictions."

only if cdrecord has other people's code in it that say GPL-only.

And now for some licence neepery (Score: 1)
by rickmoen on Sep 16, 2004 - 08:15 PM
Danny wrote:

Whatever the reason, by adding the comment, it turned out Schilling was breaking the GPL himself, by adding extra restrictions.

At the risk of being gruesomely and tediously pedantic:

First, Schilling not obliged to accept GPL terms of usage for a codebase he owns outright. I.e., other people have to consent to GPL conditions attached to a distributed copy, in order to get substantive rights; Schilling, by contrast is the origin of all codebase instances, and doesn't have to agree to anything to be in possession of one.

Second, GPLv2 prohibits creating derivative works from other people's GPLed code instances that impose additional restrictions. It also prohibits creating modified versions of GPLv2 itself. However, Schilling was doing neither of those things. Instead, he was saying "You may use this codebase instance under GPLv2 terms, with the additional restriction that you may not remove blah-blah line of the documentation." Adding that additional term doesn't infringe anyone's rights, nor does it create a code instance under conflicting licence terms that cannot be satisfied, as sometimes happens when people are careless (**cough** early KDE **cough**).

Now, if a third party were to create a derivative of Schilling's GPL + snit-clause -covered tarball, adding code of his own that is proclaimed to be pure GPL without the snit clause, then that derivative would not be lawfully redistributable, on account of licence conflict.

Re: Evil of August 2004 (Score: 0)
by Anonymous on Nov 11, 2004 - 07:20 AM
First of all, I just subscribed to the RSS feed last week. The world needs more writing like yours, Danny. Obviously I love the rant.
I was warming up the ICBMs in the silos when you started talking about Jorg Schilling. I'm glad you came back around, but my contribution is just to reiterate your point.
Here is a guy who has spent A LOT of time sitting in front of an Ultra 10 or whatever, as you say, exploring the SCSI buses, opening up the body bag and studying the gore. Here is a guy who allowed me to download two files onto my girlfriends XP laptop, which had no iso support in the gigs and gigs of software the OEM forced on her, and make the darn thing burn or create isos, from the convenience of the cmd prompt. God bless him.
This is 2004, and I watch users of commercial CD software all the time burning coasters and having strange failures when burning cds, while cdrecord does not fail. There be dragons.
Six years ago it wasn't surprising when glitches happened burning a cd. Again, this is 2004. This is not a simple technology, even though NeXT had it in what, 1987 or so?
The boy had flash of anger, it's understandable. SUSE hijacked his project, and I'll bet they did not do it in a display of good etiquette, but instead left him to find out the hard way. Maybe SUSE would be a better target for your list, although Novell/SUSE is competition in a competitive industry, which is good. It has to sting when you have donated a large pool of code to the community, which a)is asking for an incessant stream of emails with subjects such as "htis crdecodr ware2 is fuxored" b)means it's only a matter of time before somebody expands your software to do the 'feature added' stuff your commercial version does, effectively ending your ability to get paid to work on the project you gave them in the first place. Heartbreak.
It's a cruel world sometimes, but isn't it evil to include on a list of evildoers someone who had just had their guts stomped on by the wheels of progress?

I am not Jorg and I don't know him, just another FSF member and halfass OSS developer who feels his pain.

Progress needs to be careful not to kill the root to grow the tree. As they say in my Appalachian ancestry...

Let's put Larry Wall on the unemployment line by getting everybody to use Qerl, and Linus Torvalds out of work by switching to Ninux (m was used), and Guido Van Rossum doesn't even make money from Python, even though Red Hat uses it for almost all of their contributed tools, and Google uses it most everywhere but the places where only C will do. Okay, Google uses everything, but they use a lot of Python. Commercial interests may stomp out the creators of new technologies without a second thought.

Doesn't that sound evil?


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