From vs. to + for Microsoft and Linux

To put patents in perspective, Figure 1 shows the Burton Matrix, which Craig Burton created originally to make clear that the opposite of open was not proprietary, but closed. And that the opposite of proprietary was public domain.

Figure 1. The Burton Matrix

Patents that aren't encumbered by property rights threats would go in the lower-right quadrant, while Linux and other forms of open-source code would go in the upper-right. Could it be that Microsoft would like to follow DIX's Ethernet move by pushing some of its patents in a rightward direction here? I guess we'll see.

Meanwhile, it should help to be mindful of where patents, and their corporate parents, dwell in civilization. To help with that, let's borrow The Long Now's "Layers of Time" graphic (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The Long Now's "Layers of Time"

Here's how I explained the graphic in O'Reilly's Open Sources 2.0, published in 2005:

At the bottom we find the end-to-end nature of the Net. It's also where we find Richard M. Stallman, the GNU project, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and hackers whose interests are anchored in the nature of software, which they understand fundamentally to be free.

When Richard M. Stallman writes "everyone will be able to obtain good system software free, just like air", he's operating at the Nature level. He doesn't just believe software ought to be free; he believes its nature is to be free. The unbending constancy of his beliefs has anchored free software, and then open source development, since the 1980s. That's when the GNU tools and components, along with the Internet, began to grow and flourish.

The open source movement, which grew on top of the free software movement, is most at home one layer up, in Culture. Since Culture supports the Governance, the open source community devotes a lot of energy and thought to the subject of licensing. In fact, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) serves a kind of governance function, carefully approving open source licenses that fit its definition of open source. While Richard and the FSF, sitting down there at the Nature level, strongly advocate one license (the GPL or General Public License), the OSI has approved around 50 of them. Many of those licenses are authored by commercial entities with an interest in the governance that supports the infrastructure they put to use.

In fact, it was an interest in supporting business that caused the open source movement to break off of the free software movement. That break took place on February 8, 1998, when Eric S. Raymond wrote "Goodbye, 'free software'; hello, 'open source'". Here is where the Culture layer can clearly be seen moving faster, and breaking from, the Nature layer....

Not coincidentally, the Culture on which this new world depends is hacker culture, about which Eric, a founder of the OSI, has written extensively (he edited both editions of The Hacker's Dictionary). Both he and Bruce Perens, another leading open source figure, have purposefully advocated open source to business for many years.

And although open source hackers tend to be more interested in business than free software hackers, both want Governance and Infrastructure that support business but are not determined by business—except when business works with the hacker community. Hence OSI's license-approval process. While the number of open source licenses has been a source of some debate (almost everybody would rather see fewer licenses), it is important to note that the relationship between these layers is not the issue. The last thing anybody in the free software or open source movements wants is for anybody at the Commerce level to reach down into Governance to control or restrict Infrastructure that everybody relies upon. Even though that's exactly why large companies, and whole industries, hire lobbyists. More about that issue shortly.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal