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Google Prepares Very Creatively to IPO
Friday, April 30 2004 @ 08:22 PM EDT

Sometimes, when you talk about the public good and not just the bottom line, you get attacked as an idealist with no concept of the hard realities of business. In fact, I got an email yesterday from a guy who wrote the following charming message:

there is no free lunch pj ! open source is a myth . its like a recipe with no ingredients . sunw is no more guilty than red hat or novell or any one else trying to make money on their linux flavor of the month . remember when water was free just wait for the bottled oxygen because its coming . wake up its called capitalism . gotta love it and join the party . regards

It's odd, but whenever I write about Sun, I get the most unappetizing email. It's worse than when I write about Microsoft or even SCO. Open source is a myth. That's silly on its face.

But is it true, as my correspondent apparently thinks, that there is only one way to make money, to viciously sell people air? Is a corporation's highest goal to maximize shareholder value? Do I "gotta love it" and join their hard-hearted party? I don't think so, and I offer as my Exhibit A: Google.

Google has just filed their S-1 with the SEC, preparatory to going public in about six months. You can read the S-1 itself, or a breakdown of the important points here on Tristan Louis' blog. What stands out are two items on the list he made:

• The founders announced that they will continue to focus on long-term strategy instead of delivering guaranteed quarterly gains. They said that If opportunities arise that might cause us to sacrifice short term results but are in the long term interest of our shareholders, we will take those opportunities.

• Public Trust: Google wants to do good and considers "making the world a better place" and "doing good things for the world" to be part of their core values, even if it impacts short term gains. This places Google among a few companies that look at themselves as having a mission beyond return on investment.

If you think they are dewy-eyed innocents, consider that last year, "Google made almost a billion dollars in revenues in 2003, and earned about $100 million on those revenues. It looks like the technology is yielding significant returns on investments that have gotten them to the point where they are sitting on almost half a billion dollars in cash."

In order to try to stick to their core values, they intend to set up a corporate structure similar to media companies like the New York Times. The S-1 includes a letter to shareholders, a feature they say they will have every year. Here is a taste:

LETTER FROM THE FOUNDERS
“AN OWNER’S MANUAL” FOR GOOGLE’S SHAREHOLDERS

INTRODUCTION

Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one. Throughout Google’s evolution as a privately held company, we have managed Google differently. We have also emphasized an atmosphere of creativity and challenge, which has helped us provide unbiased, accurate and free access to information for those who rely on us around the world.

Now the time has come for the company to move to public ownership. This change will bring important benefits for our employees, for our present and future shareholders, for our customers, and most of all for Google users. But the standard structure of public ownership may jeopardize the independence and focused objectivity that have been most important in Google’s past success and that we consider most fundamental for its future. Therefore, we have designed a corporate structure that will protect Google’s ability to innovate and retain its most distinctive characteristics. We are confident that, in the long run, this will bring Google and its shareholders, old and new, the greatest economic returns. We want to clearly explain our plans and the reasoning and values behind them. We are delighted you are considering an investment in Google and are reading this letter. . . .

CORPORATE STRUCTURE

We are creating a corporate structure that is designed for stability over long time horizons. By investing in Google, you are placing an unusual long-term bet on the team, especially Sergey and me, and on our innovative approach.

We want Google to become an important and significant institution. That takes time, stability and independence. We bridge the media and technology industries, both of which have experienced considerable consolidation and attempted hostile takeovers.

In the transition to public ownership, we have set up a corporate structure that will make it harder for outside parties to take over or influence Google. This structure will also make it easier for our management team to follow the long term, innovative approach emphasized earlier. This structure, called a dual class voting structure, is described elsewhere in this prospectus.

The main effect of this structure is likely to leave our team, especially Sergey and me, with significant control over the company’s decisions and fate, as Google shares change hands. New investors will fully share in Google’s long term growth but will have less influence over its strategic decisions than they would at most public companies.

While this structure is unusual for technology companies, it is common in the media business and has had a profound importance there. The New York Times Company, the Washington Post Company and Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, all have similar dual class ownership structures. Media observers frequently point out that dual class ownership has allowed these companies to concentrate on their core, long-term interest in serious news coverage, despite fluctuations in quarterly results. The Berkshire Hathaway company has applied the same structure, with similar beneficial effects. From the point of view of long-term success in advancing a company’s core values, the structure has clearly been an advantage.

Academic studies have shown that from a purely economic point of view, dual class structures have not harmed the share price of companies. The shares of each of our classes have identical economic rights and differ only as to voting rights.

Google has prospered as a private company. As a public company, we believe a dual class voting structure will enable us to retain many of the positive aspects of being private. We understand some investors do not favor dual class structures. We have considered this point of view carefully, and we have not made our decision lightly. We are convinced that everyone associated with Google—including new investors—will benefit from this structure.

To help us govern, we have recently expanded our Board of Directors to include three additional members. John Hennessy is the President of Stanford and has a Doctoral degree in computer science. Art Levinson is CEO of Genentech and has a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Paul Otellini is President and COO of Intel. We could not be more excited about the caliber and experience of these directors.

We have a world class management team impassioned by Google’s mission and responsible for Google’s success. We believe the stability afforded by the dual-class structure will enable us to retain our unique culture and continue to attract and retain talented people who are Google’s life blood. Our colleagues will be able to trust that they themselves and their labors of hard work, love and creativity will be well cared for by a company focused on stability and the long term.

As an investor, you are placing a potentially risky long term bet on the team, especially Sergey and me. The two of us, Eric and the rest of the management team recognize that our individual and collective interests are deeply aligned with those of the new investors who choose to support Google. Sergey and I are committed to Google for the long term. The broader Google team has also demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to our long term success. With continued hard work and good fortune, this commitment will last and flourish.

When Sergey and I founded Google, we hoped, but did not expect, it would reach its current size and influence. Our intense and enduring interest was to objectively help people find information efficiently. We also believed that searching and organizing all the world’s information was an unusually important task that should be carried out by a company that is trustworthy and interested in the public good. We believe a well functioning society should have abundant, free and unbiased access to high quality information. Google therefore has a responsibility to the world. The dual-class structure helps ensure that this responsibility is met. We believe that fulfilling this responsibility will deliver increased value to our shareholders.

So there you are. Somebody thinks there is a choice. You don't actually have to pillage the countryside or sell air to stay in business. And, they say, maximizing shareholder value short-term can actually damage the long-term value of the company. Instead of GNU/Linux "growing up" as SCO put it once, and "joining the party", it can do a Google and stand firm on core values.

And for our geek side, the same blog tries to calculate just how many computers there are on the Google farm, using the S-1 filing's info as a jumping off point.


  


Google Prepares Very Creatively to IPO | 240 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Mistakes Here Please
Authored by: PJ on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 08:43 PM EDT
Corrections here please, so I can correct easily. Thanks.

[ Reply to This | # ]

URLs and such (nt)
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 08:44 PM EDT
I told you. There's nothing to see here. Keep moving.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Solaris
Authored by: dmomara on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 08:51 PM EDT
Just another kernel for the GNU operating system.

There's no Joy left in Sunville, wonder why.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Good Corporations
Authored by: wepprop on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 08:54 PM EDT
There are now and have alway been good corporations; it isn't always about
greed. I can list off many good corporations (I won't bore anyone by doing so)
and I can list many, many more businesses that went out of business rather than
sully their names and reputations by turning into corporate vampires.

[ Reply to This | # ]

antidote to the big lie du jour
Authored by: gdeinsta on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 08:58 PM EDT

Google's IPO filing should be an antidote to the big lie du jour, that corporate management is legally obliged to maximize shareholder return at the expense of everything else (like social responsibility). Actually corporate management is obliged to further the goals set out in the corporate charter. Some corporations are chartered to be schools, hospitals, or charities; some are chartered purely to amass wealth; and some (not enough, alas) are chartered to do well and do good at the same time.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Google Prepares Very Creatively to IPO
Authored by: tizan on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 08:59 PM EDT
We do believe in dreams and if 5% of those is achieved ...then its much better
than 0%.
When Stallman stood up and decided it cannot continue he tried for an ideal that
he thought was worth
and many thought that it will go no where... but slowly from that principle
things are getting done and its changing the world whether the cynics would like
to admit it or not.
Gnu Licensed stuff exists and are doing well thank you.

I for one is able to say, i am where i am partly because of the gnu licence... I
would not have been able to reduce and get the data for my PhD in the third
world ...if it was not for Linux...in the early 90's ..the other option Sun was
way too expensive for us.

Good things can be done ...okay good people turn bad ...money is good and
necessary but it can make people do bad things...but then its just the way we
are...
Let me stop before i start philosphizing for miles and miles...





---
tizan: Knowledge is shared

[ Reply to This | # ]

Thank goodness!
Authored by: Khym Chanur on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 09:05 PM EDT
Thank goodness the insiders are keeping control of the company. If the
investors gained control, it wouldn't be long before there'd be pop-ups and
Flash "shoot the monkey" ads, and they'd probably reduce funding to
R&D. So good to see a company that believes in the long term.

---
Give a man a match, and he'll be warm for a minute, but set him on fire, and
he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Corporate governance
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 09:20 PM EDT
I am convinced that corporations tend toward psychopathic behaviour; with the
exception of those whose founders are still active. I can think of many
examples where the founders vision has guided their companies with much greater
than average wisdom. (Of course, standard management texts typefy the founders
as 'craftsmen' and suggest replacing them with 'professional' managers as
quickly as possible.)

I like what Google is doing. I like the idea that they want to keep focused on
the long term. I wish there was a way to foster that kind of thinking
generally.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Good luck, Google
Authored by: Jude on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 09:54 PM EDT
I'm not being sarcastic; I really do wish them well.

I'm just afraid that the Weasles of Wall Street are already plotting to
circumvent Google management's announced intentions and bring it under the
control of the vampires.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Share price antidote: dividends?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 09:57 PM EDT
Isn't this how it used to be done? Using the share price alone seems like an
awfully heavy load for it to carry.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Facts
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 10:03 PM EDT
In the grand scheme of things, profit maximization is not what cold economic
rationalists obsess over. As an economist in training, it worries me that
economists often are misrepresented by polarizing the debate with emotive
arguments. My view on the subject is the following and should not be confused
with an attempt at rational debate, but rather as a canard to today's topic of
debate.

The simple guiding force in all economic models is welfare/utility/happiness
mazimization. I firmly believe that it is this simple force is what got man to
invent the wheel, (sorry ladies, but you weren't in the picture); established
towns and cities so that gains could be made from specialization in labour; was
the catalyst to the creation of the social contract between population and
government, and hence nation states; created corporations to take advantage of
scales of economies/economies of scope; and even develop the open source model
of software production.

In some cases, the means to welfare maximization is profit maximization and
*not* the end. The problem with viewing all decisions as being driven by short
term profit maximization ignores this truth. In fact, the Nobel prize winner
Milton Freidman once said that the only business of business is business. This
quote has often painted economists with the same brush - that we are godless,
heartless, soulless and yes, even enjoy burning the odd beetle with a magnifying
the suns rays through a lens. I would like to emphatically deny that we do
*not* enjoy burning those beetles - they deserve it!

More seriously, long term maximization of happiness is what we all do. For
example, when we go to the supermarket, we are internally conflicted over the
choice between the scrumptious Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, (expensive), and the
passable Safeway alternative, (cheap). By making the decision between the two,
(or even forgoing both choices and living a miserable life), we have shown that
we are quite content to get the most out of our dollar.

There is much more. But I think that you probably get the point. The choice
between propreitrary (spelling?), and open source can be viewed along these
lines. Just as one can make the choice to live in a closed society (Stalinist
Russia), or a freedom loving one (any democracy), so to can we make the choice
between paying for licenses or downloading for openness.

There is my rant. Please read, forget, and never mention this to an economist.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Unappetizing email; Google's software patents
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 10:15 PM EDT
open source is a myth . its like a recipe with no ingredients
It's odd, but whenever I write about Sun, I get the most unappetizing email.

PJ, you sound an awful lot like Rob Enderle or Laura Didio complaining about some of the stupider comments they receive from rabid linux devotees.

The internet has no shortage of idiots on all sides of every issue. Please resist the temptation to point to the idiocy of some people on the other side as evidence that you are on the right side. I would rather see you focus your effort more productively on countering the more cogent arguments from the other side (such as those from Sun executives rather than the ones from anonymous emailers who never received training in how to use the "Shift" key).

As for Google, be sure to read their section on patents:
We seek to obtain patent protection for our innovations. It is possible, however, that some of these innovations may not be protectable. In addition, given the costs of obtaining patent protection, we may choose not to protect certain innovations that later turn out to be important. Furthermore, there is always the possibility, despite our efforts, that the scope of the protection gained will be insufficient or that an issued patent may be deemed invalid or unenforceable.
See their patents at http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1 =PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=0& f=S&l=50&TERM1=google&FIELD1 =ASNM&d=ptxt. They have six, all software patents. They started filing for them in 2000, and started receiving them last year. Of course, they're not nearly as evil as IBM yet in this regard.

I'm sure we can trust Google, because, unlike other corporations that just *say* they aren't evil, Google puts it in writing:

DON'T BE EVIL

Don't be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Google Prepares Very Creatively to IPO
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 10:18 PM EDT
Another Google IPO innovation is their scheme for setting the price of the IPO
shares. Basically, it will be an auction -- people will bid on shares at
whatever price they choose. The price is finally set at the value that fully
subscribes the offering, anybody who bid over that price gets their shares.

This is opposed to the typical way, with the underwriter handing out blocks of
share to their friends to sell.

I heard an investment banker on the radio complaining about Google's scheme,
saying that "Big investment firms would be more likely to hold the shares
longer, where individuals will just flip them to make a quick profit". It
was a rather stunning statement, for two reasons.

1) It's almost certainly not true. Investment bankers are only in it for the
money -- they'll sell whenever it makes economic sense.

2) Google really couldn't possibly care less how long shareholders hold the
shares.

Really the problem was "We won't make a killing on the IPO day, and that
pisses us off."

Thad Beier

[ Reply to This | # ]

What's the Asset? or Where's the Value?
Authored by: Bill The Cat on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 10:19 PM EDT
Before the dot.com downward spiral, my friends and I often discussed "Why
are these stocks priced so high?" or "How are these free services
making money?" or "where's the value?" As it turned out, the
stocks were over priced, they weren't making any money and they had no assets to
back up their stock values. Collapse was inevitable.

So here we have google with all its advertising but again I need to ask, where's
the real value? I carry on-line advertising and I've seen the cost per
impression drop significantly over the past years. What used to get 2 cents per
unique page view now get 2 cents per 1000 unique page views. Costs are falling
faster than you can measure. So, the value isn't in their advertising.

They have news, groups, directories and page rankings but then so does Yahoo,
Excite, Ask.com and many others. What does Google have that the other's don't?
I'm not sure I can identify anything concrete that has a measurable dollar
value. Maybe its the SCO factor - Nothing supports the stock price.

Maybe we're just seeing history repeat itself. There is nothing in the IT world
that I live in to indicate any kind of recovery. Wages are still depressed,
jobs are scarce and if you have a job, you're not seeing any raises, promotions
or growth.

I'd like to here what is justifying their value to be higher than
Lockheed-Martin. At least Lockheed makes physical products. I seriously doubt
that the Internet would be any less for wear if Google didn't even exist. It's
just one fish in a pool of many others.

Maybe its me but I don't see the value for their IPO. I would expect that after
the initial gold rush, that its true value will come to pass and it could be a
lot less than folks think. Maybe I'm wrong (I usually am when I try and figure
out the manipulated stock market) but I just don't see the value to support the
price.

---
Bill Catz

[ Reply to This | # ]

Tom Watson, Jr. proved that Google's goals are both noble and profitable
Authored by: brian-from-fl on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 10:21 PM EDT
I once saw a video in which Tom Watson, Jr. (of IBM fame, and its last truly
great CEO) once said that a (presumably publicly held) company must worry about
three profits. In order of decreasing importance, those profits are: (1) Your
customers' profits, because if they don't make money they can't afford to buy
from you, (2) Your employees' profits, because if your employees can't profit
from working, they won't build products for you to sell, and (3) Your
stockholders' profits. But if you take care of the first two, this one is taken
care of automatically.

I am, of course, paraphrasing as the exact words are long gone from my memory.
But I watched the video and heard him for myself, and the message has stuck with
me.

[ Reply to This | # ]

A viable business model?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 10:31 PM EDT
I don't think its wise to categorically dismiss people who say that open source
and free software is a non-viable business model.

The obvious problem with open source/free software is the value that it appears
to place on the work of programmers. If software is free, then what is its value
and what is the value of the work of the programmers who coded it - can it be
measured monetarily? Sure the plaudits of your fellow man and the knowledge that
your code is used by many gives you a warm fuzzy "civic" feeling, but
this is not going to clothe or feed you.

It may well be a "new economy business model" and "I don't get
it" (I'm being facetious re dotcom), but its hard to imagine that any open
source programming department can be a profit center when its output is being
given away for free! Of course companies do channel profits from other parts of
their business to support open source programmers and treat it as a business
cost, but this doesn't make purely open source programming a viable business
model.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Capitalism? Where?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 10:36 PM EDT
Capitalism - n : an economic system based on private ownership of capital.

I don't think that the US is an example of capitalism anymore. Most big
companies are C corporations. Their stock, millions, often billions of shsres,
are held by those who cannot use them to effect control of the company.
Corporate management is so powerful today, that shareholders cannot be said to
be truely the owners of the company. Indeed, a typical corporate bankruptcy
wipes out all shareholder rights and leaves the management as "debtors in
possession." Moreover, many corporations do not pay dividends. Claiming
instead to pay their shareholder owners with more stock (i.e. splits) or more
equity for the same stock (i.e. stock buybacks). The shareholders have no say
in such matters because the board of directors is beholding to the corporate
executives rather than the other way around.

The class of corporate executives and corporate board of directors is actually
quite small and very incestuous - excutives of corp A are board members for corp
B whose executives are board members for C ... whose executives are board
members for A. These same few are those, of course, who buy the lobbyists who
write the laws for our government, comprise the task forces and experts relied
on by our government, and occasionallly take a break from their corporate
directorships to run the government.

So, what does one call a system wherein the
capital is owned by an extremely small, very elite few who select themselves to
run the country and do so for their own behalf?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Google Prepares Very Creatively to IPO
Authored by: jasonstiletto on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 10:38 PM EDT
People already sell air, oxygen bars aren't that uncommon. In that sense, it's
not coming, it's been here. At the same time, while there are those who sell
air- that is only because there are those who buy it. Just because there are
people who sell it, and people who buy it, doesn't mean, that at some point in
the future, that all air will be comercialized, and that we'll have to pay to
breath.
Likewise with software. There is software you pay for. It exists because
people are willing to pay for it. There's free software. It exists either out
of sense of public good, or because people pay for it in non-literal ways.
There will be software that doesn't have a price tag as long as there are
programmers who love programming. Those of us who love it code just as a matter
of course. People knit and give away their product for free. It's the same
thing- when you make a scarf, or a toy, or something like that, you can only
make the one copy you can give away. When you write software, you can make
limitless copies easily. As long as we can do that, free software will always
exist.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Dining on good intentions
Authored by: escoles on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 10:46 PM EDT

It's the very nature of IPO's that they destroy any pretense to conscience.

Once the chief metric is "shareholder value", the leaders can be deposed at any time in favor of ones who are willing to dare all to maximize that value. That's a truism (and they call them "truisms" for a reason).

The point? You can't eat good intentions. And you can't take them to the bank, either. But you can build a myth around them.

This document will become the stuff of myth -- that much is sure. Google will, most assuredly, compromise on all of these values. But a core constintuency will continue to hold forth this document as some kind of naive "proof" that they were better than the rest, when the truth is that they never could have been.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Schizophrenic Sun floats GPL'ing the Solaris Kernel
Authored by: NZheretic on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 11:29 PM EDT
Sun considers GPL license for Solaris
"Maybe we'll GPL it," Schwartz said of Solaris, referring to the GNU General Public License under which the Linux operating system is distributed. "We're still looking at that."
...
Though Sun executives have been cool on the GPL in the past, Schwartz said there was "not a lot" preventing Sun from releasing Solaris under the GPL. It would offer support contracts as an option, in a model similar to that of Red Hat Inc. "We view the GPL as a friend. Remember, (Sun) was built off of BSD and the BSD license," he said, referring to the open-source Berkeley Software Distribution license.
Once it sinks in, that last statement must blow the head of the SCO Group executives, as the Solaris kernel is actually a merge of the old BSD based SunOS and the original AT&T Unix code base.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Google Prepares Very Creatively to IPO
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 30 2004 @ 11:40 PM EDT
Up until 3 years ago, I worked for a very large IT company which had been
privately held for many years. (If I told you the name of this company, you'd
recognize it right away). Well, unfortunately it came to pass that the owner
died after a long illness, and a year later, the people who replaced him on the
board of directors took the company public.

As a privately held company, it was the most exciting place to work especially
as it's growth went thru the ceiling during the boom of IT. Management wasn't
afraid to make long term decisions. In fact, the CEO thrived on pulling off some
of the best long term maneuvers most of us will ever see. But, there was more.
The place had a pulse. It was like the electric bull in the bar. You just knew
you could always ride that bull and be successful. Well, working for this
company left the majority of employees feeling like they would always be
successful. Management decisions were often made for long term good. Employees
and managers pretty much pulled in the same direction and for the most part, got
fabulous results.

But, when the company went public, all objectives became short term for the
stockholders benefit. The pulse died to a slight dribble and the best and the
brightest left for other opportunities. For employees who would not leave
voluntarily, there came the layoffs. Customers defected in mass numbers.
Employees and management became antagonists to each other. The "Them
against us" mentality, along with all it's ugly suspicions, pervaded every
department in the company until employees felt like they actually worked for
another company (which, in a way, they did). The company went thru a period
where it was no longer profitable, finally returning to profitability only
recently.

Folks, it's really sad to watch the incredible waste that comes with this sort
of thing, and the burgeoning, promising careers that get cut off at the knees
for "shareholder value". It's a fact of corporate life. But, I don't
really believe that shareholders would approve of this sort of backwards
management just for short term gains. Most of them are smart enough to know
better. But the system won't change. At least until someone figures out how to
change it right and that hasn't happened yet.

I wish Google good luck. I wish all publicly held companies and their
shareholders good luck as they are all up against it in a big way.

Take a look around your town. How many national chain computer stores have come
and gone in the last twenty years? How come that little guy down the street
stayed open through all the turmoil? It does make one wonder.

Good luck to all no matter who you work for. May your aspirations and your
fortunes be realized.

[ Reply to This | # ]

TISATAAFL
Authored by: xtifr on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 12:11 AM EDT

Pseudo-philosophers like to quote variations of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, such as, "there ain't no free lunch", but they forget that the Second Law only applies to closed systems, which our planet ain't. Life itself is a free lunch, provided courtesy of our local fusion generator, the Sun. Energy doesn't come from nowhere, but fortunately for us, it doesn't have to.

Few terms in physics are as misunderstood as "entropy." TANSTAAFL ("There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch") is both an absolute truth and (in practical terms) psuedo-scientific gobbledegook not much above the nonsense of the "scientific creationists" who also like to misinterpret the second law to their own advantage. I enjoy Robert A. Heinlein's writings, but some people take them much too seriously. PJ, your correspondant was a misguided fool.

---
Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for it makes them soggy and hard to light.

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Google enjoys the luxury of having great freedom of action.
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 01:32 AM EDT

"So there you are. Somebody thinks there is a choice. You don't actually have to pillage the countryside or sell air to stay in business."

Unfortunately, I don't have the book at hand, so I can't give the exact quote. But, in Richard Feynman's "Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman" book, Feynman wrote a passage that really touched me. It went something like this (sorry, Richard, I really do wish I had the reference handy):

"So, if I can wish you one thing in life, let me wish you this: may you be lucky enough in life to enjoy the freedom that you will always be able to say what you believe, and not be forced by circumstances to say or do things that you don't believe in ..."

Or something like that. Never before had I read anything where it seemed so clear to me that an author understood the charmed life that he had lived, truly appreciated the freedom of action that that had given him, truly understood that and empathsized with the fact that not everyone enjoys that freedom (by a long shot), and perhaps appreciated that freedom more than any other one thing in his life.

Google's Sergey Brin and Larry Page, in addition to being probably being quite gifted (not unlike Feynman), were in the right place (somewhere other than Iraq, for example) at the right time, and are in a position where they can enjoy the kind of freedom of action that Feynman so dearly cherished. Scott McNealy, for example, is not in such a position.

It kind of boggles my mind, PJ, that you can't appreciate and allow for the fact that different people find themselves in different positions on the road through life, and don't all enjoy the same freedom of action.

In my mind, putting up Sergey Brin and Larry Page as the model that, obviously, everyone can, and therefore should, conform to, is, in a word, just plain silly

Wally Bass

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Capitalism
Authored by: dtfinch on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 02:15 AM EDT
If I offer a cheaper, better product, and beat out my competitors, that's
capitalism. Even if by cheaper I mean free. Even if I add restrictions and
obligations regarding its use. Capitalism is market freedom. It doesn't bind us
to any particular business model or idea, but gives the choice to us, allowing
natural selection to decide which is better. Open source is an idea,
incorporated into many business models, which under capitalism is allowed to
rise or fall on its own merits, and combine with other ideas to form better
ones.

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Google & the future?
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 02:17 AM EDT
Google sounds great now, but what happens in the future?

As long as the founders are there maybe it will be fine. But what if profits
drop (they will), will there be pressure to change the dual-class structure? to
make more short-term profit? to replace the founders with "more
qualified" people?

Where will the pressure to make more money come from?

Aside: Did you know that many MLM (multi-level-marketing) corps started with the
honest intent to sell products in an innovative non-retail way?

It was only when it turns out you could make much more money scamming your
members, rather than selling products, that they became "evil".

I hope Google are "not evil" for a long time. But writing an IPO
statement is a piece-of-cake compared to the real world pressures.

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This time, PJ, you're being naive
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 02:54 AM EDT
The shares of each of our classes have identical economic rights and differ only as to voting rights.
The right to elect a company's directors is an ownership right. And ownership is definitely an economic right.
Dual "classes" of shareholders (basically real shareholders and sham shareholders) are a means for directors to con investors into giving them a lot of money without getting ownership of anything in return. The directors are then free to siphon off all the profits as inflated salaries for themselves, without the fear that investors will boot them out.
Google is a successful company, and does have some ideals, but don't confuse them with the heroes who brought us Free Software. You do a gross disservice to the Free Software movement and you mislead a lot of people.

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Google Prepares Very Creatively to IPO
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 03:29 AM EDT
http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/story.jsp?story=517048

It's great that Google have philanthropic goals, but why restrict ownership to
US citizens only?

Being British, I find this insulting, especially as Google is hailed for
upholding 'core values'. A lot of people outside of America will feel the same
way; not a good thing.

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Google Prepares Very Creatively to IPO
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 03:52 AM EDT
PJ,

Have heart. I am getting a degree in CS and I plan to code for OS projects
exclusively. The paradigm for making money in proprietary software is a
dinasaur. The money now is in services.

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Google Prepares Very Creatively to IPO
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 03:55 AM EDT
With regards to SUN: I notice that the really skilled admins are a proud bunch
of people, an the verge of behaving like elitist admins. I think there are a few
factors that create this:
1. no community around Solaris. The admins usually learned most of it
themselves, and some from direct collegues. At some point they got so deep into
their work, that they almost feel part of SUN themselves.
2. SUN is like a Mercedes E-class, while Linux is like a Porsche. A Porsche can
do 200mph, beast just about every other car, but needs relatively a lot of
maintainance. A Mercedes will do 200000 miles in it's live, and probably more,
and needs a qualified mechanic to be well-tuned and maintained. And a SUN admin
feels like he's the only qualified mechanic.
I think these two factors are the most important ones in explaining the
behaviour you saw, PJ. The admins feel you attacked their wifes. Yes, they
became closer with SUN then anyone else on this planet.
AT work I have a few SUN's and quite a number of Linux boxes to maintain. The
SUN's only need to be checked for full disks, while the Linux machines need a
bit more maintainance, although in terms of stability they seem to be on par
nowadays.
And then there's the hardware. SUN makes superb machines, able to deliver
sustained high throughput. And at todays prices, they are certainly an
alternative for the Intels.

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About Sun and Capitalism
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 04:01 AM EDT
The email you got made me think about a famous quote from Ghandi: "First
they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you
win.". I've been thinking allot about the actual reasons for the whole
SCO/Microsoft/Sun legal business. I don't think it's all that strange though.
Not after I've tried Sun's JDS. To me, S/M/S is trying to make Linux look bad in
front of the broader public, while on the other side (mis)use Linux within their
"new and better Linux alternatives".

JDS is based on a somewhat outdated version of SuSe linux. Since I'm a
GNU/Debian user and not such a big fan of RH and SuSe, I'm not familiar with the
licensing of both distro's. To my knowledge I though it to be imposible to sell
GPL software with a per-machine license. Since the GPL prohibits additional
restrictions on its license terms, it's quite strange that JDS is sold with a
per-maichine license. Furthermore it's strange that the JDS never mentions the
GPL besides once with a little message at boot. For as far as I've been told,
the license agreement (or is it another contract?) does mention a third-party
license involved but doesn't tell it's the GPL. This concludes to me as Sun
should be the one in court for stealing GPL software.

Now my thought are that the S/M/S camp is trying to discredit the GPL as much as
they can (using SCO). When their misuse of GPL software surfaces (besides JDS,
I've heard rumors that the GNU make tools where included in the source code
stolen from M$), they'll try to make a stand with the argument that the GPL is
void anyway. It would not surprise my if they bet that the majority of people
will choose their side of the argument, for it's the only profitable side (in
their conservative 80's style of capitalism thoughts). Companies like S/M/S are
still thinking that anyone's business decision is based only on maximum
financial gain. Little do they know or understand about the changing world of
today. These companies (and America's current politics) really underestimate the
changes starting to take place on politics and business making within
capitalistic countries. I think the start to figure out, and it starts to scare
the living shit out of them (as it should)!

I hope I'm all wrong about it, so feel free to correct any error in the above.
One way or another, I hope people will try to figure out if the JDS license
really is valid.

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Google Prepares Very Creatively to IPO
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 04:26 AM EDT
I hear this same line of angry reactionary reasoning (nonreasoning) from so
many people who have no idea what any business entails. Yeah right, people who
are viscious, dishonest up to no good etc. are better at business than people
who are basically honest and have something to offer. Well I wouldn´t be doing
business with that fool, but that is moot because he obviously is one of those
persons who has never really been in business. I know from personal experience
that people appreciate being treated right. Trust is the foundation of any
economic activity. Despite any rotten practices by this or that corporation this
is still the basis. And when that goes everything goes with it and that has
happened in the past. Looking at current events, the legal system, the multi
nationals, etc. I sometimes wonder if we might be reaching that critical mass
situation again, I don´t know. That so many companies, not just SCO, can carry
out these stupid schemes and often get away with them, is not a good sign.

Corporations like IBM for example are not pearly white but when they have
something good to offer you have to be a total imbecile to take offense. Open
source has incredible possiblities and I disagree with the emailer, I think IBM
Redhat etc. are not charitable organizations but rather for profit businesses
making a lot of money. I think I am right on that. And they are scaring the hell
out of the suddenly born again arbiters of ¨free enterprise¨ (falsely so called)
at MS and Sun. Thats funny.

The emailer is just another cynical idiot twisted out of shape by society´s
pliers.... another minion mouthing off for masters he doesn´t even know. His
only connection being that perhaps he has bought some software from one of their
corporations and gotten used to using it, and now he thinks he likes it. (more
likey just another clueless soap box ranter) I use and I kinda like Free BSD
myself but I´ll admit I have noticed that other people who use it aren´t as
friendly as say Linux users. And Solaris people are really weird. Unix weenies
in general tend to be a bit defensive and righteous. Why is that you might ask?
I wish I knew.

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SUN groupies
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 05:59 AM EDT
The SUN groupies have blind faith in SUN and as such it
must be hard for them to realize that SUN is not really
different from Microsoft, only less successful.

That's of course an unsettling reality and, like
everything that is unsettling, people go to great length
to deny such reality in order to bring peace and
consistency to their own believe system. You see the same
pattern in wives of abusive husbands: "he doesn't mean
it", "when he hits me it's my own fault", "he will
change". The reality that the husband, who they originally
thought to be a loving and caring man, is an abusive dork
is just too unsettling for such person to be accepted.

With SUN it is no different, all the signs are there that
SUN is the toxic boyfriend, but the SUN groupies keep
clinging to him because accepting that SUN, which they
once considered to be their technological Icon, has become
nothing more than a failed Microsoft wannabee is too
unsettling for them.

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Why do people work on free software ?
Authored by: Toon Moene on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 07:27 AM EDT
> But is it true, as my correspondent apparently thinks,
> that there is only one way to make money, to viciously
> sell people air?

I have been in the free software "business" since mid-1992.

I "make money" by being a researcher at our national meteorological
institute. I do not earn any money through my activities directed at improving
GCC (especially the Fortran part). In fact, it costs money to partake, because
of the necessary internet connection and the yearly GCC Summit.

Why do I do it then ? One of the earlier respondents remarked that you don't
ask that question from philatelists either - they're "in it" because
they like collecting stamps.

It's a "hobby". Of course, to me as a meteorologist, this doesn't
have the negative connotation it might have to others. In meteorology, the
national weather service knows that it is followed, critized as well as helped
by thousands upon thousands of "weather enthousiasts". Not all of
them have a formal training in meteorology (like I never got a CS degree -
computer science as such didn't exist when I graduated). Likewise weather
enthousiasts can perform very useful tasks for the national weather service,
even though they're not formally trained meteorologists.

The interesting aspect of the free software movement is the interplay between
professionals (for me: the paid Red Hat, SuSE, CodeSourcery, IBM and Apple
people on the GCC mailing lists) and the "enthousiasts" (like most of
the contributors to GNU Fortran).

I don't know if RMS ever foresaw this when he started the GNU Project, but it is
an interesting sociological phenomenon, that needs clarification.

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Homo Economicus....
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 11:40 AM EDT
I've never been sure if this near-relative of Homo Sapiens has a congenintal
lack of imagination or is hampered by a poor grasp of reality.
In either case they should be watched since they will harm themselves and others
if left unsupervised.

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"wake up its called capitalism"
Authored by: Hyrion on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 11:58 AM EDT

It's amazing how many people around me use that logic: everybody does it, if you want to survive you're going to have to do it too.

The most common example of that is fairness: "yes it's unfair, get used to it, life is unfair".

I'm here to agree with PJ, it's about choice. Just because life can be unfair does not mean an individual has to add to that unfairness.

I've been removing the unfairness in my life for a few years now. I'm much better off financially. I have improved family relations. I have improved friends, individuals I can actually use the term friend to describe as people I can trust, not as people I know but are likely to do something to harm me.

Every individual gets to make a choice and there's a LOT more people out there that want fairness then most would probably realise. As you seek fairness, you'll end up filling your life with those that also want fairness. As the group prospers as a whole, more individuals see that and are willing to give up what they used to know to be part of what you have.

The above is based on experiences in my own life. I choose the path where both the individual and the society prospers. It's been my experience that when the society suffers I tend to suffer, when the individual ends up suffering, the society is also harmed. And as a logical choice, I choose not to harm myself.

---
There are many kinds of dreams. All can be reached if a person chooses. - RS

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Before you get teary eyed
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 12:00 PM EDT
I'm astonished at the "good old Google" thread going on here. So they
want to be good corporate citizens. However, their IPO will leave investers as
basically without any authority or oversight at all.

The IPO will create 2 classes of stock. Class "a" is for peons like
you and me. Class "b" is reserved for the owners. In fact they are
"super shares", each share having 10 votes.

What's this all mean?

The two owners will effectively control 83% of the voting stock in this company
after the IPO.

No one will be able to question their motives and actions, and no one (or group)
will ever have enough authority to make them change if their idea of where the
company should go does not benefit the shareholders in the long term.

That said, I expect their IPO to fly high as the lemmings jump on board.

Maybe a great company, but not a good investment. imho

There is a great deal of controversy ongoing about this method of going public,
and grave concerns what it could mean to shareholder rights if other companies
follow their lead. Personally, I believe it's a horrible precendent for the
future.

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  • OK - Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, May 02 2004 @ 04:43 AM EDT
  • Before you get teary eyed - Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, May 02 2004 @ 09:24 AM EDT
Disagree with Email
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 12:23 PM EDT
The guy that wrote you is wrong PJ. He calls it capitalism, I call it greed.
After all the corruption that has arisen in the last 2 years only a uninformed
person would call it capitalism. Greed is what drives this country and open
source goes against that, which is why it is objected agaist so heavly by
people. Opensource is more for the better of humanity then money, sure you can
make money but it's not the driving force behind it.

I work at a large private company and the owner does not want to go public to
the greed and the influence it brings to improve profit every quarter.

Think about it is impossible for a company to make better profits year after
year. You can only raise the cost of you product and lower your cost of
producing your product so much until there is nothing else you can do.

Just had to vent a little.

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From the S-1 filing
Authored by: FrankH on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 03:02 PM EDT
"A management team distracted by a series of short term targets is as pointless as a dieter stepping on a scale every half hour."

I'm getting to like Google more and more. Does anybody know if they have a mission statement. My own personal mission statement is "to strenuously and vigourously resist any attempt to force a mission statement on me. Especially one that contains split infinitives."

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Idealist views...
Authored by: tydyed on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 06:28 PM EDT
Hang in there PJ,

Some of us remember when there was a time when being profitable meant delivering
a great product and outstanding customer service rather than trying to keep
others out of the marketplace. The open source model seems to put the emphasis
on service and that can't be anything but good for the general computing
public!

Thanks for your dedication and for your willingness to take a stand for what you
believe in!


---
An older member of the "GNU" generation!

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"Open source is a myth? That's silly on its face." I'm not so sure
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 07:08 PM EDT

I'm not so sure that that there isn't considerable truth to the the statement that open source is a myth. It didn't start as a myth, but it is becoming one.

The truth of the matter is that Linux is a godsend, and that it has a darn good chance allowing those who care to get off the monopoly train run by Microsoft. I think that that is just great. But I will point out that it has been a long time coming, and we still really aren't there yet for desktop users.

But, in large part, Linux thrives largely because MS greed has made the MS alternative an untenable place to stay (and because governments have completely botched their obligations to keep the MS monopoly under reasonable control). That reality has caused IBM, Sun, and others to contribute extensively to "open source," in hopes of enabling an absolutely essential (to all) non-Microsoft alternative world. Even with those contributions, progress is slow and limited.

The new myth is that the success of Linux (still quite limited) translates across the board to software in general, and that the "open source" model will be equally adept at producing the kind of "software for the masses" that now runs on the Windows desktop. Competition still exists in many of those market areas, so the urgency is much, much less. And many of those product areas don't involve lock-in, so there is still another drop in urgency.

The "open source" software model has been extremely slow to produce competative offerings, even in many areas where the urgency is high. For the part of the offering where RMS prevails, we have yet to rid ourselves of the culture that holds that learning to talk cat/grep/ls/whatever (with the infamous -x (for all x) "options" dialect) should be the price of admission, even for the casual user (in short, there has been virtually no movement in 20+ years). Yet many here would hold that the open source model should and is going to make proprietary/commercial (not-open source) software development model obsolete nearly overnight.

I would call that a myth. Although PJ's emailer didn't articulate it very well, I suspect that this is some part of the observation that he was making.

Wally Bass

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Why you get e-mail about your Sun posts...
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, May 01 2004 @ 11:18 PM EDT
You get e-mail like that because anybody who comes out against Sun in the way
that you write sounds like a linux fan-boy who has no idea how to run an actual
company with mission critical servers. Sun has always supported the ideals of
Open Standards, which is better than the non-standard Open Source mess that most
Linux projects are made of.

When Linux runs out of other people's work to absorb, where will the innovation
come from without a workable business model? The backlash against RedHat for
daring to charge for their work was unreal, but how could they pay developers if
they couldn't generate revenue?

It will be interesting in the next few years as more coders become homeless or
forced to work at McDonalds as their Open Source ideals conflict with the
reality of making a living. I hope they will still find time to support Linux.

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Only if you're American!
Authored by: TonyM on Sunday, May 02 2004 @ 03:46 PM EDT
See http ://observer.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,6903,1207721,00.html

http ://observer.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,6903,1207738,00.html

http ://observer.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,6903,1207729,00.html

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Google: Leech of the Open Source Commons
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, May 02 2004 @ 07:51 PM EDT

In one sense, it's easy to understand why Google is held in such near-universal esteem by FOSS types. They exemplify the triumph of great engineering over marketing, hype and glitz. They have single-handedly revolutionized advertising on the Internet, and in the process may have saved the possibility of a free-as-in-beer (ad-supported) Internet that isn't so obnoxious no one wants to use it. They have built the most successful web service on the largest and best-scaling computer in the world, and run it all on Linux ever since they started development 9 years ago at Stanford. And they provide a very well-run service that each of us uses every day--probably fifty times a day in my case.

The irony is that Google is arguably one of the greatest dangers to the continued success of the Free computing. Even worse, Google is the world's biggest leech on the FOSS movement, taking whatever they see of value and giving back nothing in return--exactly the behavior the GPL was crafted to avoid.

As PJ dutifully ogles over, Google runs all of its services--which now extend from Google search to machine translation, Froogle, Orkut, and GMail, among others--on a single gigantic cluster of approximately consisting of approximately 100,000 MPUs and 200,000 HDDs in perhaps a dozen or two geographically distributed locations. Many GNU/Linux advocates are actually stupid enough to view this as a positive thing.

Right. One question: can your version of Linux scale over a 100,000 MPU cluster?

Didn't think so. SGI had to make some significant kernel tweaks (which they released) to get it up to 64 MPUs in the new Altix. And no, these are not 100,000 seperate OS images. Ever notice how Google manages to pull out the actual text of the web pages it returns with your search terms highlighted? That means they're not just keeping the URLs and TITLEs of 4,285,199,774 (as of right now) web pages in memory; they're keeping the body text in memory too. Of the entire Internet. (More or less.) That means cluster-distributed memory. Can your Linux do that?

Can it manage hardware interrupts on a network level? Does it work with the Google File System, a radical rethinking of network distributed file systems to gain acceptable performance (for certain archive-related applications) over commodity equipment at maybe 1/50th the price of a dedicated SAN?

See, my copy of Linux doesn't do any of that stuff. Google hasn't released the patches yet.

Of course they never will. They have quite literally half the top-end talent in certain subfields of computer science on their staff implementing this stuff, and they want to keep all that knowledge and innovation to themselves. Lucky for them they get to use the GPL'd Linux kernel as their starting point from which they have created a radical solution to perhaps the most intractible problem of computer science: scalability.

We all use this incredible Google Linux operating system every day--fifty times for me. The purpose of the GPL was to allow anyone to get the source code to the software they use. But we can't get the source code to Google Linux. Google Linux is proprietary, even as it is quite literally the world's operating system.

Technically this is not illegal. GPL v2 was written back in 1991, before the concept of a web-distributed application existed in any sufficiently advanced form. Thus, because we never receive a binary copy of the Google Linux software we are running, we have no right to the source either. This loophole will be closed in GPL v3, but for now we're stuck with it, and the case of Google the FOSS movement might find itself very stuck indeed.

The problem with the FOSS movement, if I can rant for a while, is a lack of strategic vision. (This is distinct from technical innovation, of which it has plenty). FOSS tends to get distracted by the ephemeral targets that are obvious and annoying today, not the ones that pose a true threat in the future. As it has famously been said, FOSS programmers program to scratch an itch. They are much worse at performing the subtle investigations that uncover cancers lurking, much less the difficult surgery needed should one be detected.

Everyone knows that SCO will lose spectacularly and poses absolutely no long-term risk to GNU/Linux or FOSS in general. There was some question whether their FUD would hurt FOSS adoption in the short-term, but that has been conclusively answered in the negative as well. It is of course endlessly amusing to watch them twitch helplessly on the end of their stick, but they are obviously no danger to the continued progress of FOSS.

Most observers with a bit of foresight realize that Sun is not long for this world either, at least in anything like their current form. Their MPU design division has been hemorrhaging cash for years but still lacks the resources to come within two or three years of the state of the art. Indeed last month they cancelled all development of general-purpose MPUs, revealing that their next-generation core would not have outclassed last year's Celeron, and switching their remaining MPU development to an attempt to address a narrow market segment (essentially static web-serving) with a gaggle of embedded processors and a TCP offload engine corralled onto a single die. Its prospects do not look bright, to put it mildly.

Meanwhile Solaris's competitive advantages over Linux have nearly all been negated, and it will be convincingly outclassed by Linux in every respect in a year's time, if it is not already. There is essentially no reason, short of migration costs, to choose Solaris/SPARC over Linux on x86, IA64 or Power4/5. Indeed this was already true a few years ago (compared to house-brand Unixes on Power, PA or Alpha, and Linux on x86); the difference now is that the migration that began back then is in full swing now. Even when it comes to Java, IBM, JBoss and others are arguably closer to the center of gravity than Sun.

The only real questions involve how the end will play out: will they successfully reinvent themselves in some smaller role, like systems integrator or a software developer? Or will they try to hold on to the bigger pie and go completely bust? And, most important, will they open source Java as the ship is going down?

But the FOSS movement continues to fight won battles. It is abundantly clear that Free Software will soon outclass the current paradigm of proprietary software, particularly in the server and office environments. (There are a couple large gaps in the GNU/Linux experience, for example in the area of interface consistency and in groupware for the enterprise, but these will eventually be solved by efforts currently underway.) The current paradigm is basically the age of PC/server, where programs are generally stored and executed on the local machine, PDAs are limited to a small set of tasks and sync to a host PC via a local connection, and Internet access, while assumed, takes place through a limited number of interface programs like a web browser and email client. Free Software is poised to become the best way to compute in that paradigm, on the server definitely, on the PC in most cases, and even increasingly on the PDA.

The problem is that the rest of the world isn't standing still. Microsoft's upcoming set of technologies will present an extremely impressive platform for rapid development of web-enabled applications. Once Longhorn hits, and client PCs all support the combination of .Net, Avalon and XAML, there will be an explosion of web-enabled applications developed in half the time of current methods that Just Work. And unless the FOSS movement comes up with a strategy fast and executes on it, they will Just Work only on Windows.

Miguel de Icaza is one of the few who has been talking about this stuff for quite some time now. His blog has been one of the best introductions to MS's upcoming Longhorn-based platform (although it's not like MS has been secretive about any of it). He's very impressed. And he realizes that a coherent Free alternative, preferably source compatible, needs to be in place ASAP for the rollout of Longhorn. (Indeed he's realized that for some time, hence his starting the Mono Project.) The recent talks between the Mozilla and GNOME folks are promising but long overdue. A rewritten XUL extended to integrate with Java and/or Mono would be a powerful alternative to XAML/Avalon/.Net. The problem is standardization, coordination and focus.

There are other possible looming threats in the upcoming shift from client/server to distributed web architectures than MS and .Net. Indeed perhaps the most dangerous threat comes from a company trying an even more radical shift away from PC-centric computing, and one which, as far as I can tell, FOSS has no hopes of combating. I'm talking, of course, about Google.

Now, that "perhaps" is worth emphasizing. Rich Skrenta explains far better than I could some of the implications of Google's having what is now (by far) the world's largest computer. Google's unreleased modifications to the Linux kernel--completely legal under the current GPL, but completely contrary to its intent--and its conglomeration of computer scientists who implemented them represent a huge head-start, probably on the order of three years or so, on the rest of the world in network-distributed operating system design. Google is now uniquely positioned to move more and more of the world's computing through their computer; and no one will be able to compete. That most obviously includes the FOSS movement, even with the dubious help of its current partners like IBM. And the GPL need not apply.

What will they do with this unprecedented power? Hell if I know. GMail was a complete surprise to me too, but in hindsight it's an obvious and even elementary use of their infrastructure. I don't expect Google to resort to nasty tricks to encourage user lock-in. Frankly I doubt they'll have to. They will be offering services no one else can compete with.

And raking in monopoly profits doing so. Hell, they were already made a 60% profit margin last year, and that's in the midst of huge expansion and investment! Think about that--60% margins!! They can get away with that because no one can compete. And advertisers are still beating a path to their door, because Google ads work so much better than anything else on the web.

So isn't this a good thing? What's the harm? Well, it's a good thing in the sense that it's much better than what came before. (Annoying banner ads, the crashing web advertising market, free (beer) websites dropping like flies.) And no, the fact that Google is reaping huge profits for its path-breaking and visionary work is a good thing. Of course MS-DOS and the IBM PC was better than what came before it. So was Windows 95, and the first version of Office.

The problem is that Google is making it so that no one can compete. But where MS held on to control and monopoly profits through copyrights, buyouts, poorly documented APIs and closed formats, and illegal arm-twisting, Google will hold on through trade secrets and keeping by far the largest collection of leading researchers on algorithms and distributed operating systems in the world in their employ.

Of course, even if Google did release their modifications to the Linux kernel--the Google File System, cluster administration, network-shared memory and even potentially something as exotic as networked thread migration--it would still take hundreds of millions of dollars to put together a computer to rival the Google Cluster. FOSS as it is traditionally understood could never do that. (Unless as a huge P2P agglomeration of a subset of the Internet itself. The engineering and social coordination it would take to get such a thing running--how many people do you think would donate a significant portion of their computer's resources to serve as part of a P2P Google competitor?--makes it tremendously unlikely, however.) Instead it would take a Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, IBM or maybe various government agencies to "compete" with Google. Assuming all these services are free as in beer, the benefit to the end-user would be rather indirect--increased innovation; competition on the advertising end (assuming this is all ad-supported and not on some new business model), which would mean lower margins and thus a lower markup passed on to consumers. In truth the benefits would likely be tremendous, but they would be diffuse and hard to measure, and would likely go to companies we "like less" than Google (MS, AOL, ...).

Even if. But of course that's not going to happen unless Google lets it, and there's no reason why they would. In particular, I think there is nothing we as the FOSS community can do. Yes, the FSF could release GPL v3 which will almost certainly close the loophole Google is exploiting to allow hundreds of millions of people to use a modified Linux kernel and not release the source to any of them. But the current version of Linux would still be GPL v2 licensed and Google would clearly continue on using that fork.

I'm not even sure it makes sense not to cheer the Google IPO. I know I am--when a company has the balls to put, right on the first page of their SEC prospectus, their proposed aggregate share offering at exactly $2,718,281,828, (and then every news organization in the world reports it as "about $2.7 billion" with a straight face)...I mean, how can you not?? But then I'm probably less ideologically committed to Free Software than a lot of you are.

Certainly Google's tremendous success and power is not a positive development for the continued rise of FOSS. In fact it may be its death knell.

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Public Trust - An asset, not naivity
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 03 2004 @ 07:25 AM EDT
Sergej, Larry and Eric know damn well that Public Trust is their asset.
Especially vis-a-vis Microsoft.
Without trust nobody in his right mind would use a search engine. Widespread usage of Google is based on Google being having Public Trust.

BR

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Google Prepares Very Creatively to IPO
Authored by: beroul on Tuesday, May 04 2004 @ 04:48 AM EDT
Unfortunately, Google, which uses a great deal of free software (they run
thousands of Linux servers and use the Python language), hasn't contributed any
of their own code to the free software community. In this sense, they can be
seen as a parasitical company.

[ Reply to This | # ]

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