Which parts of the Kiips model are more proprietary

Open source software development

Seminar "Open Source Software Development" at the University of Osnabrück in the summer semester 2018

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To the topic overview

To the interview with B. Reiter



  1. Differentiation: commercial vs. proprietary
  2. Proprietary and free software used to be
  3. Commercial handling of free software up-to-date
  4. Free software as the center of business
  5. Negative experiences with free software in a commercial environment

0. Differentiation: commercial vs. proprietary

According to Duden [1], commercial refers to “business”, “relating to trade” and “focused on profit”. The first two definitions state that commercial software is used in the business field. The last definition suggests that behind a commercial product there is a company that offers, markets and services this product in order to maximize its profit. Both possibilities are not mutually exclusive, but neither are they mutually dependent.

Proprietary comes from the Latin “owned”. Legally, this term can be compared to “copyrighted”, meaning that a proprietary product belongs to the owner. In case of doubt, he has all rights to the product as long as they are not assigned via contracts and licenses [2]. A simple copyright does not count as proprietary software, since then, by definition, all software (based on Germany) would be proprietary. Rather, it is about terms of use that can be restricted or prohibited by licenses. The goal of proprietary licenses is usually to restrict the distribution and to make the use exclusive. This also includes the closeness of source code.

Most commercial software (often perceived to a greater extent by marketing) is often proprietary, but the two types are not mutually dependent: It is important to make it clear that it is also free (i.e. Not proprietary) software that is intended and designed for commercial use [I Z.202 ff.]. In turn, behind this free software there can be a company that, for example, concludes maintenance contracts with customers. The commercial factor can thus be found in the use of the software itself, but also in the maintenance, care and further development of the software [3].

1. Proprietary and Free Software Earlier

Until about 1975 there was almost exclusively “free software”. There were no licenses for software, with a few exceptions, since programs were created primarily for research and large, specialized applications. You either had to write the source code yourself or try to include finished components from others. As a result, software was often shared and copied. The software was not licensed because it did not want to prevent its spread. In addition, there was no copyright on software. Accordingly, all software components were placed under the “public domain” (even this was not a term at the time) and it was not possible to commercialize software (in the USA). The “Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works” (CONTU) campaigned for source code to be copyrighted so that any software could be placed under a license. After further legal proceedings (especially 1984), bytecode and operating systems could also be placed under copyright. These are the basics of selling proprietary software [4].

With the arrival of computers in private households, finished software became more interesting for the general public, so that software companies sold their products as binaries, since not every user was able to compile and set up programs themselves. The trend went from free to proprietary software. For most users, one of the reasons is likely simply convenience. Using ready-made software is more user-friendly for the “normal user”, since the effort is almost zero. Companies are also increasingly using ready-made, proprietary software solutions, as there was usually greater support and initial innovation. There are two effects:

  • The “masses” do not care about their freedoms, as Richard Stallman describes [5] and wishes. He then founded the FSF to counteract the new trend towards closed software.
  • For companies, it is less effort to just take care of the provision of the software via a distribution channel.

An interesting fact: in 1976 Bill Gates wrote a public letter complaining that less than 10% of all Altair BASIC users have bought this software and that he finds it unfair not to get paid for a job [6].

There are various reasons for selling proprietary software. For companies, far-reaching aspects can be decisive not to develop and sell free software: [7]

  • Fear that someone else will gain from their own work.
  • Fear that the software contains security flaws with the mindset that they will not be revealed until the source code is known.
  • Fear of free software that their customers don't understand the mindset and other business models. (Fun fact: I've come across this many times since I've been working in a company that exclusively sells free software. Especially questions like “How do you make money with it?”, “Who is my contact in the event of errors? ”And further doubts out of sheer lack of understanding are not uncommon.)
  • Believe that the software is so good / elegant / important / ... that you have to ask for money for it.
  • Fear that the software isn't ready enough to be released.
  • The challenge of maintaining documentation and preparing the project so that it is acceptable to the community.
  • Effort to generalize software that may be highly application-specific or hardware-specific.
  • Fear that the competition will take over important parts of the software (the “company secret”) in their software and create better software.
  • Hope that customers who are bound to the software stay with the software in order to earn more money with the loyalty of the customers.

There are probably many more reasons not to publish software. However, many have to do with the fear and challenges of taking the hurdle to free software. To look at the almost philosophical position of the GNU project on this topic is very recommendable! [8] Many of the reasons are also not clearly understandable, since these justifications are vague. However, the first point mentioned, that the competition draws profits from its own work, has occurred to me several times and I also see it as the strongest counter-argument against free software. Reiter thinks that “on the one hand you can take a strong protective license” and, as an original author, you always have a better marketing position. It is better to cooperate better with the competition in relation to customers than to take something away from each other there [cf. I line 237 ff.]. Other points often refer to the financial aspect of free software. However, it does not exclude making money with free software - whether in a commercial environment or not. This doubt, which is also widespread, is unfounded (see Chapter 3 for more details). Even the GNU project calls for every opportunity to be used to earn money with free software: “Distributing free software is an opportunity to raise funds for development. Don’t waste it! " [9]

In order to drive this further, “the‘ Open Source ’model was even viewed as hostile” [I, line 102]. The first of the so-called Halloween documents are Microsoft reports on free software and Linux that became public on November 1, 1998. They contain strategies to act against open source. The first of eleven documents primarily contains a detailed analysis of the situation around open source software. Some of the main points compiled by E. S. Raymond are as follows [10]:

  • "Recent case studies (the Internet) provide very dramatic evidence […] that commercial quality can be achieved / exceeded by OSS projects."
  • "To understand how to compete against OSS, we must target a process rather than a company."
  • “OSS projects have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications because of the wide utility of highly commoditized, simple protocols. By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can deny OSS projects entry into the market. "

You can see Microsoft's fear of having to compete against OSS. The attempt was made to use the “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt” (FUD) method, which translates as “fear, uncertainty and doubt”. This tries to make the customer afraid of a competitor's products and to persuade them to remain a customer of themselves, since they presented themselves as better and more trustworthy. Microsoft was unsuccessful in attempting this, and in the end it even advertised Linux [I, line 89 ff.]. Raymond took this as an important point from the first Halloween document: "OSS is long-term credible [...] FUD tactics can not be used to combat it." [10] In addition, Microsoft even has to admit that they have become so successful in some cases with open source components, as they had installed a free TCP / IP stack in Windows as an example, which is an essential part of new communication [I Z. 87 ff .].

Nevertheless, in addition to the proprietary software, there was a lot of free software that was used professionally. In addition to the Apache web server and GNU / Linux, there was other free software and advocates of free software distribution. In November 1998 “The QT Company” decided to publish its work under the QPL (followed by GPL, currently GPLv3) and at the same time to get a business area that sells QT without copyleft in order to use QT in proprietary products [11 ]. Subsequently, on January 22, 1998, it was announced that the source code of the Netscape Communicator would be disclosed [12]. Out of this action, the Open Source Initiative arose, which is committed to spreading the term “Open Source” (which is equivalent to free software [13]) in the commercial environment. In addition, there is a strong focus on education about free software in order to break down prejudices and barriers.

A study by Mr. Reiter shows that there was a large area of ​​application for free software: The strongly protective GNU GPL is the most widespread single license on the (then) representative open source platform “Sourceforge”. Likewise, important components have always been provided with a strong protective license, so that there has been a good balance between free and proprietary software [I Z. 136 ff.].

2. Commercial use of free software up-to-date

After Microsoft, Apple and other companies fought for a copyright for software and its enforcement, the acceptance of free software by these companies is currently mostly much different:

  • Microsoft's Github account records 1793 repositories (as of May 12, 2018) These include, for example, the VS Code Editor, TypeScript, the .NET Framework, and many more [14]
  • Google writes in relation to their open source projects: "We believe that a healthy ecosystem is important for the sustainability of open source for all." [15]
  • Apple also writes: “Open source software is at the heart of Apple platforms and developer tools” [16]

Facebook also uses open source software, just as Facebook itself has launched numerous projects, most of which arose from the software developed by Facebook. The question arises as to why Facebook is opening its doors and releasing the code that has made a significant contribution to the company's success. This must actually have a negative effect, since competitors can now work with the same (possibly better) technologies. Tom Occhino (Lead software engineer at Facebook) says: "The technology we have isn’t our competitive advantage, our advantage is the thing that we built." [17]

Apple also works with open source: Darwin, the OS X kernel, is freely accessible. In addition, Apple is behind software such as Webkit, Swift and other tools mostly developed for the Apple environment. But here, too, the core lies in the proprietary software: "Analogous to a car, the engine and wheels are open source and free but the car frame and all other features are not." [18]

It is precisely these features, and not the basic technologies such as the Darwin kernel or the published software from Facebook, that are decisive for a product. Rather, the products that emerged from the open software are the actual goal of being successful. Likewise, Microsoft keeps the Windows source code closed (or does it? [19]), Google does not release the actual search and algorithms used, and Facebook does not publish the code of the Facebook website. Ultimately, it is these trade secrets that determine the market power of these companies.

However, all companies, large or small, have to admit the benefit of free software. It is mostly free software components that make companies successful. The above quotation from Apple says this implicitly: Without an open source kernel, the entire software environment around OS X would not work. Referring to the Halloween documents in which Microsoft wanted to position itself against free software, Reiter says: "The fact that Microsoft is now involved shows that they have understood that they would otherwise fall further behind Google, for example [...]." [I line 161 ff.]

The question now arises why companies are interested in having to maintain code of free software, prepare it for the community and interact with the community - in all cases this costs time and effort, but this does not help to maximize the company's profit . The reasons for this can only be guessed at, but it definitely has to have a positive aspect. Because if working with free software turns out to be negative overall, no company would take this route. The four companies examined are all very limited when it comes to information about their motivation to involve the community. An exemplary reason is quite obvious: Voluntary work is done in the community for the respective project. Testing, writing documentation, finding bugs. All these tasks do not have to be done by employees, so that these contributions are available to the company as free work. As a kind of consideration, the community gets access to the latest developments and can continue to use proven technologies. One can also expect that the free software will have a long lifespan in which the software is at least maintained. This allows innovations to be promoted and digital further development to take place.

If you look at the following examples, you will notice that every published project from companies does not use licenses that protect freedom:

  • vscode: WITH
  • tensorflow: Apache 2.0
  • .NET Framework: MIT
  • react and react-native: MIT
  • HHVM: PHP (similar to BDS)
  • Swift: Apache 2.0
  • go (compiler, libraries): BSD

It should be clear why licenses without copyleft should be used: If one were to use a copyleft license, all projects that use this software would again have to be approved. As a result, all “trade secrets” would have to be published and this is not in the interests of the company, because only free software without (or with weak) protection can be used in proprietary software. It becomes clear why non-protective licenses and software are prominently represented these days. When I asked whether this is still good for the free software culture, Reiter said: "Yes, I think that society as a whole benefits when more free software is used." [I. Lines 166 f.].

3. Free software as a business hub

"Distributing free software is an opportunity to raise funds for development. Don’t waste it! " [7a]

As mentioned at the beginning, free software is not only released as building blocks by companies in order to use the contribution and positive effects of the community. There are companies, such as Intevation GmbH, in which Mr. Reiter is the manager, that have their business focus exclusively on free software. This means that all sales are generated from free software, personnel and other costs are covered by it and at the same time you have to successfully compete against other companies for customers on the software market.

The first reaction from potential customers is usually a suspicious look and the question of how you can earn money with it (this has happened to me several times).However, this is due to a lack of education about free software. The area of ​​business models for free software is very diverse. On the one hand, as “professionals” in the company, you can easily expand and adapt the software through expert knowledge. In addition, customer-specific adjustments, e.g. in the layout and branding, are easily possible thanks to the freedom of the free software. Service products can be created from the free software, such as hosting the products as SaaS. Additional support services and software maintenance can be agreed. [I Z. 211 ff.] As a whole, this corresponds to the services that must also be provided by a company that wants to sell its proprietary software.

Accordingly, Reiter estimates the entrepreneurial risk of specializing in free software to be equivalent to that of other companies. [I line 188 ff.] Working with free software brings many advantages, because you can act in partnership with your customers. Instead of identifying with a product as a company, the focus is on the customer. This is one of the most important differences that Reiter mentions: "I think every company does well to talk to customers on an equal footing, no matter what the company does." [I Z. 311 f.] This will overcome the information gap between developers and customers, which is usually quite high with software. You can support each other and clarify issues better so that both sides benefit. Often you let the customer decide alone so that he can make a good decision [cf. I, lines 322 ff.].

The decision to use free software is met with rejection by some customers. Reiter: “In the end you won't do business with them. Sometimes the aversion even goes so far that I then find out later from other sources that the customer could use the product very, very well. " [I line 252 ff.] If customers do not want to insist on their freedoms due to ignorance or other reasons, one must accept this. For Reiter, it is more important to promote free software than to develop proprietary software for these customers.

Another benefit is the security of free software. In order to subject software to a security audit, the source code has to be released. However, this is not enough to seriously review the software. It is part of a check to change the source code in some places and to be allowed to recompile it. The four freedoms of free software allow you to do just that. Security checks are much easier to carry out and allow more transparency towards customers and the community.

There is still a financing problem if no company provides financial compensation for the developers. Reiter criticizes the fact that there are people who think, use and benefit from the services of others, but are not willing to pay for this work. [Cf. I, lines 297 ff.] In order for a market to function with free software, there must be a corresponding reward for the work of the developer. However, this fair financial reward is only practiced by a few. Reiter adds that 1% of Intevation GmbH's annual turnover is donated to free software. The projects selected for this are those that have helped Intevation to generate sales, such as web servers, operating systems, but also application components, frameworks and organizations such as the FSF. This financing helps to maintain projects over the years and to support them in such a way that they are actively further developed in addition to care and maintenance. Another rule of thumb can be used for companies but also for private individuals: You pay 10% of what a proprietary license of a comparable product costs.

In addition to fairer wages, Reiter would like more information from (potential) customers. As a customer, you should insist on your freedoms and use them: “You can only tell the customer‘ Demand more free software ’” [I Z. 406].

4. Negative experiences with free software in a commercial environment

To anticipate the main point: No, by and large there have been few negative experiences. This is mainly due to the freedom of the software. The mechanisms involved, mainly the freedoms to copy free software and offer modified versions, work well. Software products from Oracle are prominent. After the acquisition of Sun Microsystems and the products MySQL and Open Office, the public development of both products was not promoted. Due to the size of the community and the spread of the software, this led to a split into MariaDB [20, 21] and LibreOffice [22].

The only situation that can be significantly improved is in the area of ​​hardware-related software. This is mostly a result of proprietary drivers because much of the hardware is proprietary. This leads to license incompatibility, e.g. in the Linux kernel. In the commercial field, these problems repeatedly affect server operators and providers of powerful hardware. On the other hand, there are many “no-name manufacturers” who mainly use a Linux variant for their devices in the embedded area, but do not release the software and thus violate the license of the Linux kernel. One could wish for a little more transparency here. This does not only affect the massive IoT market from Asia, but also large manufacturers in Europe and the USA. In 2011, AVM sued Cybits, who sell modified firmware for the FRITZ! Box sold by AVM. However, since the Linux kernel is used for the FRITZ! Box, AVM lost the dispute before the Berlin Regional Court, as the GPLv2 Cybits (used at the time) grants Cybits all the freedom to make changes to the firmware [23]. Tesla has also tried to maintain secrecy for years to ensure compliance with the GPL of the Linux kernel used by Tesla. However, the Freedom Conservancy software complains that not all parts have been disclosed yet [24]. These examples make it clear that there is still a lot of work to be done for free software.

Nevertheless, dealing with free software and within the communities can be described as very respectful. With fair remuneration and ongoing education of companies, customers and end users, the proportion of free software will continue to grow in the future and will continue to be a good alternative to proprietary software for commercial use.


[I] (Interview with Bernhard E. Reiter.) [Interview.md]

[1] https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/kommerziell (May 11, 2018)

[2] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propriet%C3%A4r (11.05.2018)

[3] Categories of free and non free software https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/categories.en.html (May 11, 2018)

[4] Apple Computer, Inc. v. Franklin Computer Corporation Puts the Byte Back into Copyright Protection for Computer Programs https://digitalcommons.law.ggu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1344&context=ggulrev (12.05.2018)

[5] What is free software? https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.en.html

[6] Open Letter to Hobbyists https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Letter_to_Hobbyists (May 12, 2018)

[7] What are good reasons to keep a project closed source?

https://www.quora.com/What-are-good-reasons-for-keeping-a-project-closed-source (05/11/2018)

[8] The GNU Manifesto https://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.en.html#rebutted-objections (May 11, 2018)

[9] Selling Free Software https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.en.html (May 11, 2018)

[10] Halloween Document I (Version 1.14) https://www.gnu.org/software/fsfe/projects/ms-vs-eu/halloween1.html (May 12, 2018)

[11] Brian Aker asks Richard Stallman about MySQL and the GPL at foss.my 2009 (0: 45-1: 05) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrVayqOHbZw (May 12, 2018)

[12] NETSCAPE ANNOUNCES PLANS TO MAKE NEXT-GENERATION COMMUNICATOR SOURCE CODE AVAILABLE FREE ON THE NET https://web.archive.org/web/20021001071727/http://wp.netscape.com:80/newsref/pr/newsrelease558 .html (May 12, 2018)

[13] OSI FAQ https://opensource.org/faq#free-software (May 19, 2018)

[14] https://github.com/Microsoft (May 12, 2018)

[15] https://opensource.google.com/ (May 12, 2018)

[16] https://developer.apple.com/opensource/ (May 12, 2018)

[17] Why Facebook keeps giving technology it invented away for free http://www.businessinsider.com/why-facebook-does-open-source-2015-3?IR=T (May 12, 2016)

[18] Apple releases macOS 10.12 Sierra open source Darwin code https://9to5mac.com/2016/11/24/apple-releases-macos-10-12-sierra-open-source-darwin-code/#comment-3019022476 (05/12/2018)

[19] Microsoft: Windows 10 becomes open source https://t3n.de/news/microsoft-windows-10-open-source-811243/ (May 12, 2018)

[20] Developers complain about Oracle's community practice https://www.golem.de/news/mysql-entwickler-bemaengeln-oracles-community-praxis-1208-93953.html (May 21, 2018)

[21] Free and commercial MySQL version are drifting far apart http://www.pro-linux.de/news/1/17505/frei-und-kommerzielle-mysql-version-driften-weiter-aushaben.html (May 21. 2018)

[22] OpenOffice.org becomes LibreOffice https://www.golem.de/1009/78259.html (May 21, 2018)

[23] AVM vs. Cybits: the case so far https://fsfe.org/activities/ftf/avm-gpl-violation.en.html (25.05.2018)

[24] Congratulations to Tesla on Their First Public Step Toward GPL Compliance https://sfconservancy.org/blog/2018/may/18/tesla-incomplete-ccs/ (25.05.2018)

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