- Good morning everybody, my name is MTG.
- (all) Good morning MTG!
The first time I did it, I didn’t even know what I was doing. In truth, nobody in the team really did. It was in the mid 80’s. The pre-copyleft era. We needed to write specialized compilers for a distributed LISP and a distributed PROLOG. They would compile for dual-core CPUs embedded in blade-like boards each connected to a fast bus and sharing memory. Lots of work; good pay though.
We downloaded a LISP compiler strain from CMU. It’s public domain now, but we didn’t know it would be nor did we care. It was hard enough to deal with parallelism, special loaders, state-of-the-art Becker (ever tried to debug an incremental garbage collector?) and a common virtual machine (micro-coding is fun!) for LISP and PROLOG; we couldn’t have possibly done it without a good bootstrap to start from.
Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.John of Salisbury –Bishop of Chartres – 1159
Could we have given back to the community? Maybe. A couple of highly specialized compilers, working on a very, very specific architecture that nobody could access anymore anyway: the company was dismantled later on because the owners became cash-strapped after they bought a soccer team. The system guys published a bit on their distributed UN*X though.
The second time I did it I was when managing the developing effort around a very specialized networking box. It was built on Linux plus a few mod kernel patches. The idea was to experiment first and maybe to rewrite the whole stuff in BSD later on.
Whenever I was meeting with VCs, they were asking: so guys, what’s your barrier to entry?. Well, we have several patents filed. Which firm did you guys use? Good because we don’t mind you working on Linux and all but you know, we want our investment to be protected.
It didn’t happen quite that way. Part of the team split up and much later, chose to release it as an open source project. Good move? Right. This convinced me to do my part too: I killed the patents we had filed. Yup, the software patents. My ethic doesn’t scratch me so badly anymore. Except that certain times, I wonder.
Would have I released open source and subsequently killed the patents if those VC guys had offered us 3 or 4 years of funding? Probably not, at least not before they would kick me out anyway.
And what about all these slowly aging senior software engineers in medium-sized companies, pressured to get results or eager to show that they can “do it”? Do they really care about free software or is it just too overwhelming to manage? I’m sure some of them do, but how many?
How much is worth your open source ethic if a bit of denial helps you become say Engineering Director and subsequently rent or buy a decent house you know, now that your family is growing and all? Nobody will have to know, right?
Except that maybe your spouse or your kids will ... feel the difference?
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