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To read comments to this article, go here
Only 11% of OS Targeted Programmers Willing to Help MS-Funded Study
Tuesday, May 22 2007 @ 06:38 PM EDT

I changed the title, because the headline at eWeek is misleading, I think: "Study: Developers Do Not Want GPLv3 to Police Patents." I'll bet they do now, after last week's headlines about Microsoft's patent threats.

[ Update: Many are reminding me that the bias in the study is clarified by this breakdown on Freshmeat of the number of projects that are released under the GPL compared to the BSD license. It's not even the tortoise and the hare. GPL is about 70%, if you combine with LGPL. Alone it's just under 66%. BSD, old and new together, is not even 10%. The GPL is the overwhelming choice by the FOSS community. If you'd like to know why, you can find out in this article by David A. Wheeler.]

What I gleaned from a quick reading of the report is that between Feb. 28, 2007, and April 4, 2007, prior to Microsoft rattling its patent saber, Microsoft funded a study about the GPLv3 patent clause to find out how much FOSS programmers simply adore the idea of Novell-Microsoft patent/interoperability types of deals. It targeted specific programmers, avoiding headliners, so to speak, but they don't tell how they were chosen. If I were Microsoft, I'd look for folks who really don't much like the patent clause in the GPLv3 draft or the GPL either. I don't know if they did that. The study says they were looking for quiet folks who are unrepresented in the noisy debate.

Right. The silent majority gets trotted out again. Didn't SCO have them behind them, the last time they showed up in public?

Then they sent out emails to 354 programmers, some of whom are never going to use the GPL anyway, like the Apache developers, who are great guys but they already have their own license. 332 emails reached their targets. Only 11% of those asked even responded. And of that number, 32 of the 34 said pretty much what Microsoft must have hoped they'd say (at least one response sounds like the guy's on a job interview at Microsoft), that all they care about is license compatibility and they like the BSD-like licenses and often choose them and they don't like an organization like FSF telling them what to do, that they just want to solve problems, blah blah -- "most developers are aligned with the Open Source Initiative's open source definition, which focuses on allowing users to extend open-source creations but avoids mandating that users strictly adhere to the philosophies of upstream developers, the study found." Well, most of your 34 are aligned that way.

What do you know? Microsoft paid people to find what it was looking for and they did? Is that a crazy dovetail or what?

It's only a few zealots that care about patent clauses like the one in GPLv3, they conclude, after talking to these 34 individuals, hand-picked by Microsoft's hired study implementers, despite there being millions of developers in the FOSS world, thousands in the Linux kernel work alone. Why, the study participants are eager to let proprietary companies use and expand on their work in proprietary ways and vice versa. "'So it is natural that most see a value in having commercial software firms exist—and are very happy to leverage the technology from these proprietary efforts,"' he said." What could be better? Oh, except there's that little problem about patents standing in the way of said leveraging, unless you cross Microsoft's palm with silver. Isn't that the way it worked in the Novell deal? Sheesh. How stupid do they think we are? FOSS developers don't charge for their software, so where are they going to get the money to pay royalties, even if they were willing to sell their grandmother to get interoperability with proprietary code?

Here's the kicker, from the eWeek article:

The report concludes that its results suggest the actions of the Free Software Foundation may only be favored by about 10 percent of the broader community. "That leads us to ask, Should a committee be created with a charter to create and revise open-source licenses using a governance model similar to that of the open-source development model?" MacCormack said.

"Is it contrary to the spirit of the open-source community, which relies on the wisdom and view of the masses, to have the governance of licenses controlled by a few individuals whose views run contrary to the objectives of potentially 90 percent of the people affected by their actions, especially when the community members are the very creators and developers of the software under discussion?" he questions.

Like the GPL revision process was done in a cathedral.

Here is my question: how did he get from 11% of a tiny study to 90% of the worldwide FOSS community? Must be higher math. And since when do folks who do studies tell us what we should do with the study's results? A study with an agenda. How could that ever happen?

Joke. I know.

So, I guess that's the plan, Stan, a plan I am guessing preceded the Novell-Microsoft announcement. By the way, Novell told the world too it was supported by a silent majority, now that I think of it, and it was just a few zealots making a lot of noise. They know better now. Even the study participants said they don't like that deal, even if the rest of the study went whizzing past them.

What do you want to bet Microsoft sets up a committee called "Open Something or Other" to create and revise "open source licenses" it really likes, and then tells us it needed to do it because a Harvard professor did a study and found the vast majority of the FOSS community, judging by 34 people, wanted them to? Hey, that'd be great! They're all about openness, Microsoft. Who better to set up such a committee to define it? And then Forbes can write about it, and drop some thoughts about how great HP is believed to think it is and how the FSF is losing members or whatever they can think up to write, and Fortune can print a horrible picture of Richard Stallman waving his arms around and looking like a madman. It'll be fun.

I'll bet even that 11% who did respond wouldn't say the same things this week, after Microsoft's bullying about patents, but then again, one never knows. But since there is absolutely no way I can know who the 11% actually are, we'll just have to guess as to the value of this study and hope the guys woke up last week and smelled some coffee and are now hoping their names don't get leaked on Google or something.

Peter Galli snuck into the article that OpenLogic just did a study on this very subject, and it found half of respondents think that GPLv3 is looking good. So who are you going to believe?

Hey. If you can't trust Microsoft, who *can* you trust?

Seriously, the more Microsoft bashes the GPL and hires others to do it, the clearer it becomes that the only real safety from Microsoft is the GPL. Think about it. They obviously have, and judging from this study, I'd say they think they can't achieve World Domination if that icky GPL is allowed to stand in the way. Because it does.


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