Posted by: 2stepsback | September 14, 2007

Open source, crime, and karma musings

Obvious for those in opensource, confusing for those outside.
True, nevertheless.
When you are young and have a lot of energy and you are waiting to “do something big”, all you are waiting for is a cause and a few tools.
What more technically and emotionally satisfying than contributing to a popular open source project? without spending a penny on license fees, you remove the greatest platform on which crime is built: Idle thought.
An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop. When you are coding and fighting technical problems, you don’t think of physical violence at all. (Ok, except if the program is slow or freezes often.)
Games that make you violent – like a Car-racing game that made the news for poisoning people’s minds while actually driving real cars – are fostering crime. Open source programming and constructing gadgets and tools divert energies to social, constructive causes.
Several experiments in prisons all over the world by respective governments have shown that even prisoners can contribute to society beneficially.

When you consider things over a long term and from a third party perspective, you find that the folowing law applies:
To get, first give. Rob and get robbed.

Am I being a karma preacher here?
High philosophy and no reality?
Consider these:
Heard of Windows(TM) and widespread piracy?
Read again: To get, first give. Rob and get robbed.
Makes sense now ?
Read about the second SCO(R) verdict?
Read again: To get, first give. Rob and get robbed.
Upto XP things were nice. Bill was richest.
Now, is Bill at number one?
Read again: To get, first give. Rob and get robbed.

Clear?

That is why I admire and thank Sourceforge, Google and Redhat.
Not only do they host projects, they also allow coders to work and benefit in this way. We could soon expect IBM and Oracle to follow (maybe they already have, I haven’t checked). Ingres had put up a few bounties for migration from one SQL variant to another, IIRC. And someone from here picked it up!

Exploitation of programmers in the name of open source:
A couple of days ago, I was chatting with some opensource programmers about their experiences with “community driven” companies.
I suggest to everyone in the open source community to hold a detailed discussion, at some central place, of how to ensure that no “open source company” cheats a talented, straightforward programmer by making false promises. These instances are not common, but not very rare either.
And the interesting part of it is that in many such cases, most are veterans in closed-source technologies.
These “veterans” continue exploitation of programmers, just like in your typical boss-is-god ๐Ÿ˜‰ companies.
Clearly,
technologies change quickly, but people do not.

These people give a bad name to opensource.
In fact, just think some more, vested interests may employ just such a model through a proxy company to spoil the name of open source, as a whole!
Who can stop them from doing that?

Closed-source is even more problematic .
I have myself been through, and have heard countless stories of false promises, cheating, and robbing. Anyone with experience at freelancer exchanges knows how bad it can be.
If you are stupid, sit cursing your luck. If you are smart, move to opensource.
You do not find Linux folks making false promises by telling a programmer that they have plenty of jobs, then extracting work from him and then going back on their words with neat excuses.
They tell you plainly:
Right now, there is no money in this. Hobby only.

Or, if there is money to be made in that project, you have to spend a couple of weeks making a nice add-on and put up a webshop and start selling.
If the product is good, you get sales quickly. Sales are not license sales since everything good is most likely GPLed. So you get paid for support. If you get the chance to walk into your customer’s office, you get to see and identify more of his problems and suggest more solutions. He will not take them right there. (Neither should he.) He will think over it, see your other work, and then decide to give you more work, if necessary. Sometimes works, sometimes does not. But sometimes works!
On a global scale, is there a collective cartel by huge corporations to grab the best code, then throw the programmer?
Maybe, maybe not. Here, Google SoC, RHX and SF Services are really doing a very very good job.
They are giving a platform to the small coder to help him write opensource code without financial issues. Right now, it has not taken off, but with time it soon will. That will be really good to watch.
Ubuntu will surely be upto something.
And, Ohloh is doing an excellent job of telling the world something like this – this coder here is a gem, pick him up, that project is super, use that. Thanks Ohloh!

As far as earning in Linux goes, the possibilities are ENDLESS, subject to one constraint – rampant piracy. If Microsoft steps in and checks piracy, all sections of the IT industry are then happy. As of now, intuitively, good guys are picked up by big companies. Medium guys, medium companies. Small guys can make money with web2.0 customisations, selling and supporting linux, working as tech support or general customer support. Illiterates can make a living by copying CDs. They just need to know how to push the buttons on the CD duplicator properly!
Making your own custom Linux distro is not difficult.
gNewsense and Suse both have GUI distrobuilders, AFAIK.

Another issue is that of software patents, copyright violation, and litigation related to those. So far, legal teams of IT giants have specialised in learning and abusing “patentese” – deliberately ambiguous vague descriptions so that legal battles can continue for long – after all, everyone has to make a living.
Have any of you lawyers actually thought about GPL violations and revenue from those?
Some people will always be criminal-minded. For them, the most obvious thing to do is grab a free program and modify it, obfuscate it, nominally recode it, and sell it as if it were an original creation.
Much more than me, lawyers know how prevalent crime is, and how easy it is for a man to become a criminal. And these being tech criminals, will end up making a fortune before their GPL violation is caught.
Now think of the revenues that come from the n:1 ratio of GPL violation cases to Patent litigation suits (n >= 10, IMO).

Apparently, IP-only companies are the only ones to suffer.
But no, not true.
In fact, their skills in exploiting law and language are exceptional. So they are probably well-suited for the job. Instead of thinking hard and spending quality time and intellect on finding ways of going around the law, they could simply try supporting open source projects with legal aid. The numbers are big. Very big. And you simply have to catch the big guns trying to get away. Self-policing, self-nourishing, all-enriching system.

And you don’t have to do a lot of new legal work to make money.

Btw, I am talking only about software patents and “IPR” as applied to software. Patents outside software are a different thing, another discussion.

How to reduce spam(not block spam) and the delicate topic of “Russian hackers”.
IMHO, the term Russian hackers is a ton of garbage. Why?
Read to the end before you jump

Nobody likes to be bad.
Nobody likes to be called bad either.

The “Russian hackers” that people typically refer to are actually just a few tens of “criminal crackers”.
Not Russian crackers.
And who is to prove that they are Russian indeed?

Even those that are crackers, are forced to be so because of a socio-economic system beyond their control.
Cracking is a way of getting even at the system. Somebody is fooling them into the spam business.
Much like how the lions were kept hungry and caged before letting them into a ring in full public view, to devour poor unarmed humans or maybe “gladiators”.
Those devilish emperors are loathed by all civilised people. Then why does nobody think of “Russian hackers” as talents prevented from earning incomes rightfully? The game being played looks undeniably similar to the gladiator game.

Open source can prevent that, and your SPAM will reduce.

People will always be criminal-minded irrespective of geography. But for Heaven’s sake, for the crimes of a few, don’t call everyone “Russian hackers”!

They have the best high-complexity binary-data analysis skills.
Those skills are useless? Those skills are useful only for comitting crimes?
Think again.
Those skills are mighty useful for network security, spam classification and monitoring, and one very very important thing in open source:

Certifying that the binary of a Linux build is actually really built from the correct source code. And that the build is done 100% correctly. That is a complex task.

“Russian hackers” and “Eastern European criminals” are probably the best people to do that analysis.
I know that Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia are three very different things. But have you seen “aa”, the beautiful Linux toy? Go see it. No really, go see it on some Linux machine or get a LiveCD and check it out.
That is them, the Czechs, the Poles, the Russians. Hardly looks possible in Africa, Asia, Oceania. The Americas, well, is it not obvious that almost everything good originates from California, Texas, New York and Washington ?
And Brazil and Argentina are now coming into their own as well.

And from personal experience, let me tell you that the Russians I interacted with were very nice people – A long while ago, when I was looking around for a good project to work on, I approached a company working from Novosibirsk, Russia.
I told them that I’ll write code on contract basis and generally keep brainstorming about technical improvements for their PHP editor.
The second reply came with a full lifetime license of PHP and Python Editor without a single hint of a request from me. Worth about $50 each. At that time, I would not have purchased those at half the price.
But they sent it inspite of the fact that they could not accomodate me in their plans. I know that a license is nothing much for the programmer. But I did not ask even. Compare that to the endless cases of frauds at freelancer exchanges. Some of these guys are pretty much “hip and cool” people recognized by industry as being pioneers.

Far, far away from “Russian hackers”.
So, IMHO, in Soviet Russia, keywords DON’T enter you!
Keywords enter you over the internet, which means anywhere.. Just my opinion, YMMV.

Yes, I know my mailbox is going to get real good scrutiny, maybe more internal than external ๐Ÿ˜‰ , especially since I “side with the crooks”. Microsoft and a few IT magazines get away as noble for organizing Black Hat conferences. I will get spam for trying to identify the root cause and it will allegedly come from those very people who I am “siding with”.
Makes me think….. Should make you think as well.

Of late, I sympathise with the software industry in America – For effect, I’ll quote a line that I read somewhere on the web:
“In Soviet America, ……”.
I guess you get the picture…..

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