Freely Redistributable Software is Alive and Well

The first conference of its kind, this historic meeting was attended by a small but knowledgeable group of freeware enthusiasts.
Words from Other Attendees

While I found the conference extremely interesting and valuable I wanted to get feedback from others. Here is what a few attendees had to say.

Russell NelsonCrynwr Software, nelson@crynwr.comCool stuff: Meeting people f2f (including Linux && girlfriend [Tove], Peter Deutsch, Tom Christiansen, Greg Wettstein and that fyl fellow. Badges with e-mail addresses on them, so you'd know who people are.

Uncool stuff: The price relative to the length. ... Badges printed with a too-small font, so I had to squint at people's chests to know who they were. ... I like to call it freed software. It's a little ungainly, but it carries more information than the confusing appellation “free”.

L. Peter DeutschAlladin Enterprises, ghost@aladdin.comCool stuff: the two keynote talks. I found Stallman's quite inspiring in terms of getting a more spiritual/emotional understanding of the “free” software concept. Meeting people face to face. Having the opportunity to present my own twist on “free” software to a lot of people who didn't entirely agree with it. The gamelan concert. The free Linux CD-ROMs.

Uncool stuff: I second Russell [Nelson]'s comment on price versus length. If I hadn't been presenting a paper, I probably wouldn't have come. The small attendance, presumably arising from the short notice.

(Russ and Peter's comments continued from each other. Russ commented that he thinks the FPL (which is what his paper was on) encourages free software even more than the GPL. He points out that products live and die by market share.)

Steve ImlachSynergy, eyes have been opened to some great opportunities in our area using Linux on our hardware and some contributions that we may provide to the continuing Linux development.

First, I thought it was a good sign to see in the Boston Globe Business section about Apple and the Linux server on top of the Mach kernel. This is some good stuff. Synergy is already at work with the Mach 3 kernel and would be very interested in getting more information in this area.

Since we are manufacturers of high performance Single Board Computers, we are interested in first, porting Linux and second, helping with the real-time development. Synergy is also highly interested because it would not only help us in performance but also improve the bottom line to our customers.

The ideas keep coming. Linux can also provide a high performance testing environment for our boards because we would have the source to tweak in any areas we deem to be a snappy enhancement.

It's just a matter of getting started. I see a lot of full weekends ahead. Luckily, unlike our FSF friends, I have a job that supports this development in an ugly capitalistic evil manner. You know, it's the profit mongers like Synergy that donate to the FSF year after year because we haven't learned to steal what is free yet.

Ok, that was a little jab at RMS. His speech was a little tainted, I thought. His story about the “community” in college reminded me of how I felt when I played ball at school. I was sad it was ending and about the camaraderie I felt should never end. The thing is, you move on. That is not to say, however, that the same type of teamwork couldn't happen at the workplace. He shouldn't knock it. Has he tried it? I think he is exactly right when he says he doesn't like the competition. There is plenty of it out here in the real world. What could he do if he was pushed via that competition. Too bad. FSF stuff is used everywhere and has great admirers here at Synergy as reflected by the annual donations. I believe he should balance his remarks to reflect what is really allowing the FSF to survive. Cooperation with the business community. He seems to affect a lot of views in the FSF “community”.

Linus was the type of guy I would like to work with. He certainly shows it in the product and the way he handles himself while juggling everyone's ideas, good and bad. It's no wonder that he is such a popular fellow. I hope I may be factor in the coming days along with other engineers at Synergy that are more experienced than I in the advancement of real-time Linux. First, there will be the Linux learning curve as we delve through the source ...

Dr. Greg was inspirational and a great new-found friend. We talked about just about everything and he is just the type a person that you would want to help up at Roger Maris cancer center in N.D. What was really amazing was watching him and Tom Sargent (Synergy-Tucson) talk forever about everything from Cancer research to spelunking to circus maneuvers in vintage aircraft to man-eating viruses found in the depths of Africa. These guys need to have a talk show on cable.

P.S. Linus Torvalds deserves great credit for the revolution of free OS. What is his status now and how does he get support for the continuing effort? I am also forwarding this to Dr. Greg. I would like to see how his efforts are paying off up there in what would otherwise be a drain on the spirit of a mere mortal.

Dr. G.W. WettsteinOncology Research Div. Computing FacilityRoger Maris Cancer Center, I enjoyed the opportunity we had to visit at the conference (and the beer). I think the Conference on Freely Redistributable Software was important for its implications about the entry of free software into commercial venues. This was probably demonstrated most appropriately by a sampling of the selected papers. Of particular interest was the paper from the Apple/OSF consortium as well as the papers from the group working through SBIR and Peter Deutsch's thoughts on marketing. Hopefully my discussion of our accomplishments at the RMCC were helpful in this area as well.

The impact of redistributable sources on the commercial arena was also underscored by the presence of commercial enterprises at the conference. Of notable interest was the presence of Apple and representatives from HP and Synergy Systems. Apple's presence was extremely important with their announcement that Linux would assume a role in their strategic presence and would be marketed as an Apple offering. Who would have ever thought that an organization such as Apple, which considers software as strategically central to their business plan, would consider free software as a viable marketing tool.

What I found extremely interesting were discussions with Steve Imlach and Tom Sargent from Synergy Systems. Their interest in Linux is specifically for the strategic advantage that it will confer on their hardware marketing efforts. Their group feels that Linux represents a high quality solution which will allow them to more effectively penetrate markets due to the cost advantage it imparts to their hardware platform.

The implications of this are extremely important for the freely distributable software movement. Steve Imlach indicated that the leadership of Synergy is committed to the philosophy of free software. This commitment includes monetary donations to the effort as well as a commitment to release sources back into the Linux kernel development stream. In my mind this is representative of the wonderful synergy that can and should develop between commercial enterprise and the free software movement.

In business parlance this is a win-win situation for everyone involved. Commercial enterprises gain a strategic advantage and the free software movement reaps monetary advantage. An even more intrinsic advantage and one that must be carefully considered is that the software remains free. Capitalism flourishes and ultimately incubates the growth and development of freely distributable software.

This conference came at a particularly important time for the free software industry. If the concept is to move forward, it is imperative that advocates join hands with commercial endeavors wishing to exploit the benefits of free software. Niche markets must be targeted and developed so as to promote commercialization of free software with the ultimate benefit of subsequent re-investment.

Phil Hughes, publisher of Linux Journal probably phrased the imperative most correctly when he said, “It is time for Linux and free software to have applications and markets which allow it to DO something.”


Phil Hughes