You won’t be at the table

Monday, July 15th, 2019 has announced a ban on its customers selling “military-style rifles,” and this leads Eric S. Raymond to discuss the dangerous folly of “Software as a Service”:

It’s 2019 and I feel like I shouldn’t have to restate the obvious, but if you want to keep control of your business the software you rely on needs to be open-source. All of it. All of it. And you can’t afford it to be tethered to a service provider even if the software itself is nominally open source.

Otherwise, how do you know some political fanatic isn’t going to decide your product is unclean and chop you off at the knees? It’s rifles today, it’ll be anything that can be tagged “hateful” tomorrow — and you won’t be at the table when the victim-studies majors are defining “hate”. Even if you think you’re their ally, you can’t count on escaping the next turn of the purity spiral.

And that’s disregarding all the more mundane risks that come from the fact that your vendor’s business objectives aren’t the same as yours.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    Sane society interprets social justice as damage and routes around it. Find – or found – other middleman platforms to market wares.

    And those businesses dumb enough to outsource core functions? Hand them over to Darwin that they may be taught not to waste our oxygen.

    You can’t fix those who are stupid and/or evil. You can only protect yourself from them until they get deleted from existence. Outlast them. Survive now, inherit the earth later.

  2. CVLR says:

    Eric S. Raymond is a fundamentalist libertarian who by virtue of his fundamentalist libertarianism doesn’t understand why this is happening or what to do about it, and still less does he understand what has led us to this point.

    I’ll do my best to describe the situation in a few sentences.

    The economics of open source are archetypally communistic; the economics of SaaS are archetypally capitalistic.

    Open source is communistic because it is inherently the process by which very highly skilled men irrationally value the product of their very highly skilled labor at zero.

    SaaS is capitalistic because it is inherently the process by which rational, self-interested entities exploit their environment in such a fashion as to maximally internalize the greatest amount of profit and power and the least amount of risk, including the ruthless exploitation of the open source crowd.

    Open source men could exist without SaaS companies; SaaS companies literally could not exist without open source men. Yet, the SaaS companies make hundreds of billions of dollars while the open source men make zero.

    We have been led to this point because software engineers are utterly hapless and laughably politically inept, and volunteered cheerfully for their own exploitation and (increasingly) enslavement, and for no other reason.

    Linus Torvalds, in particular, deserves much of the blame, though Richard Stallman and a few others are similarly deficient in this area. Notably, the Linux Foundation should’ve been established not as whatever it was (which is as one of history’s greatest failures), but as a guild.

    As a guild, and with scary guild powers. Very scary guild powers. The power to revoke the use of Linux by misbehaving profiteering corporations, such as Salesforce, for instance. In this way the Linux Foundation could have successfully accomplished its mission of open computing for all (tagline: except fascistic state and quasi-state entities).

    Just imagine if Torvalds was worth a couple hundred billion dollars, was the most powerful man in Silicon Valley, and the Indian Sundar Pichai had to manage Google in such a way as to stay in his good graces.

    Open source needs an actual economic model, and without an actual economic model, it will fail to make the transition to VR/AI as it failed to make the transition to the smartphone.

    And because of past mismanagement, it’s already far too late. Unless, perhaps, Trump busts Silicon Valley to smithereens. And even then, a good outcome will take a minor miracle.

    I hope Eric is reading this.

    Open source must become guild-like.

  3. Bruce says:

    I think guilds were the root of both unions and corporations. I don’t know which path you suggest for open source.

  4. CVLR says:

    Open source (meaning Linux and its ecosystem) works to the extent that it does because of a unique and largely accidental confluence of historical events which produced an open, industry-standard hardware platform (the IBM PC), and an open suite of software which could run atop it (GNU/Linux).

    We look back and see this situation as predestined, but I suspect that things could have happened very differently. Maybe we got the right fate; maybe we didn’t. Certainly, smartphones are a scourge, and I’d be willing to re-roll the dice in the hopes that FAANG would eat dirt.

    Basically, GNU/Linux works where and how it does (exceptionally well on the server, marginally at best on the laptop, and not at all on the smartphone), because its labor inputs and core userbase largely come from and is composed by people working for these massive corporate behemoths — now including even Microsoft, which in addition to being a major contributor to the kernel, also owns GitHub — which are doing backend business work and so on and so forth.

    The problem is that the Linux Foundation itself has no substantial revenue (read: billions and billions of dollars to ensure the continued economo-political freedom of high technology) and has little observed ability to influence the corporate users of its technologically supreme edifice.

    Most of this could have been avoided if Linux had been originally licensed under a regime in which a flat percentage of Linux-derived profits found their way back to the coffers of the Linux Foundation, and the corporate (not amateur) users of the software had to adhere to certain ethical standards regarding privacy monetization and so on.

    Still, the Linux Foundation brings in a cool 100 mil a year — not chump change, by any stretch of the imagination. Go one step down: what about the Free Software Foundation? 1.3 mil. Go another step down: whatever’s another step down, those people are making bupkis. Maintaining core open source infrastructure isn’t profitable, and it’s quite frankly a miracle that stuff works at all. Like that one single dude who was working full-time to maintain OpenSSL and was getting donations of like 10k/yr and commercial revenues of a couple hundred thousand. And OpenSSL is a flaming pile of shit, BTW — just so everyone knows.

    Someone has to solve this, or basically the entire open source ecosystem is going to die with a whimper as the 70’s and 80’s dirty hippy Boomers get too old to maintain their pet projects, which is happening now and will accelerate over the next decade. Within 15 years, all of this freedom you think you have will be nonexistent.

    And that doesn’t even include what it’s going to be like if in 15 years everyone’s using Facebook’s platform for their VR vidya expeditions and the most recent open standards for free communication are STILL email and IRC.

    Uncle Ted is the lucky one, for he will never experience the exquisite horrors of the social normalization of always-listening microphones lining every “home” and brazenly panopticomical cameras perched on every street corner and ubiquitously networked drones flying everywhere at all times and MuskNet beaming directly into every last crevasse of the Earth.

    The technological society can suck a big fat one. The “N””S”A in particular, for having all of the technological know-how and using it to aid and abet the public and private wiretapping of every American’s every call, VoIP, email, SMS, Skype/Discord/Facetime, browsing session, cell tower ping, GPS triangulation, and so on ad infinitum.

    AT&T was playing classical music as late as the 1990’s, and when I rewatched The Matrix (1999) recently I was floored when Agent Smith really, actually uttered the phrase, “We’ll need a warrant.”

    This is a rant. After this I’ll stop for real.

  5. EDM says:

    ESR is himself one of the dying contributors…

    He is a “famous” programmer yet has no job and has to beg for Patreon contributions and borrow wheelchairs…

    Is he that disagreeable that he cannot work a job? Or is that beneath him?


  6. Bruce says:

    Everyone is dying, kid. Eric Raymond is pretty smart.

  7. Sam J. says:

    “…The economics of open source are archetypally communistic…”

    No I believe people program open source projects for status. Very much like the American Indian practice of potlatch.

  8. Sam J. says:

    And just for fun look at this operating system.

    Jehanne Operating System

    I really like this. I like the ideas behind it and if it was to take off, probably never happen, the world would be a better place. Seems to be a combination of plan9, QNX with a Unix user space laid on top.

  9. EDM says:


    Why is he asking for donations instead of using his smarts to earn money?

Leave a Reply