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Re: Why Would Fedora be Free ? Can it be Trusted?

At 06:57 5/12/2004, Benjamin J. Weiss wrote:
From: "Chalonec Roger" <Chalonec Roger pbgc gov>

> 1. Why is fedora free and why would people work on it for free?

Some additional comments to what others have said here.

Linux started out as a hobby, a free project just for fun. Its license was written by the GNU Foundation to ensure that the software could be legally modified or changed and redistributed in any way, with the ONLY CONDITIONS that the source code be made available as well and that any modifications carry the same license. This was done so that people wouldn't steal the work the hobbyists did.

That "hobby" became so successful that it turned into a major operating system, which now powers about 70% of the Internet's websites, a huge percentage of installed business servers, and a growing percentage of desktops. But the license still requires that people be able to see and modify the source code and that modifications be contributed in the same way. So it keeps growing and improving... it's a fun thing to do for a lot of people, but it has also grown to be such a useful tool that people work on it also so they can use it in their business.

For example, the commercial people who make firewalls such as Firewall-1 run their products on Linux because it is robust, stable, secure, and they can see and audit all the source code so it is a solid base for them. And since Linux costs nothing, they can make more profit on their product. So they have an incentive to see Linux grow and improve even if they do not profit by selling Linux itself.

Linux Torvalds wanted [...]

Err, that should be "Linus."

That's one reason why I used to volunteer for the Red Cross
and am now in the National Guard.  Not everybody's motivated by money.

In addition to that, not all money/profit motivations are direct. As I mentioned above, firewall vendors can make more profit on their products by basing them on Linux, and they have an incentive to improve Linux so their products get better... so they *do* make more profit because of Linux (by not having to pay Microsoft for licenses) even though they do not sell Linux itself.

As another example, I help run three small businesses. All of them use Linux for their servers (mail, web, database, etc.) and so far Linux has saved me *at least* $15,000 in Microsoft license costs. That is a fact and a cold hard number. I am very motivated to help Linux grow and continue to be free, since it will continue to save me money (and therefore increase my freedom, my happiness, *and* my profit).

>2.  Some people are concerned that since Fedora is open source that they
> don't know where the software comes from so they can't trust it.  How
> can they trust it?

The argument is silly, and just downright stupid. People are willing to trust Microsoft even though you are not allowed to see the program, even though they could do anything with your computer and not tell you, even though they have been shown to attach tracking numbers to your documents, even though they have been shown to send identifying information about your computer to themselves during the registration process, even though they have a TERRIBLE security record. Why? Because they know the name "Microsoft" and because it costs money... and in the USA, due to the mostly mistaken perception that you could sue them if you wanted.

In Linux, you can see and read *all* the source code, and tens of thousands of people *do* read source code. So nothing gets in there that shouldn't, and no one plays any tricks. You know *exactly* where each piece of software comes from since someone maintains it and their name and email address are always available. All code is audited and checked by Red Hat, the Debian Group, Mandrake, IBM, Novell, and hundreds of other groups. The security record is excellent.

So Linux is transparent, readable, auditable, open, and the origin of every little bit of code is clear. HOW can someone possibly say that this system is *less* trustworthy than Windows, with code you've never seen and never will see, and where one company *can* play secret tricks on you. Never mind whether they do or not... they point is that they can, and how are you going to know?

By definition, Linux must be *easier* to trust than Windows.

> 6. Ostensibly Redhat offered free versions of Redhat Linux because they
> could make a profit on support.  Now Redhat has built a market and
> Redhat is no longer free.  What is the profit motivation of the Fedora
> group and persons/orgs who make software contributions to it?
> (By the way, there is nothing wrong with profit.)

You are making a wrong assumption: "...ostensibly Red Hat offered free versions of Red Hat Linux because they could make a profit on support." The error is in assuming that this was Red Hat's only motive. Of course Red Hat wanted to make money on support, but there are surely other, additional, motivations as well. For example, by distributing free copies of the Linux operating system and a group of tools to work with it:

* More people would use it, more people would choose to work on it, and more bugs would be found more quickly. So the software improves more quickly with more users.

* They provide a social service to those who cannot afford to buy the software. Think about the entire world, not just the middle-class USA. How many of the 6,000,000,000 people on Earth can afford to pay for software licenses? Less than 10%, really.

* They honor their moral obligation to contribute something back to the Linux operating system which, by being available at no cost, allows them to make a business selling support.

Remember this: Red Hat did not offer Linux for free to make a market for support. No! In fact the opposite happened: the only reason Red Hat is able to sell support services is because Linux is free. :-) Of course they have put an enormous amount of work into improving it... but again we go back to profit and non-profit motives being less clear than you thought they were.

As another comment regarding motives, several countries around the world have passed laws saying that it is an issue of national security for them to know what code is in their software, and to know for sure that no one can change the file format and force them to upgrade. Issues of national security, cost (think about how saving millions on software licenses impacts a poor country in South America or Africa), openness and trust, freedom and liberty, open systems... these are all discussed frequently. So having the freedom to choose and not being tied to a single supplier is also an intensely strong reason for people to contribute to Linux all over the world.

As a strong example, proof that Linux is secure, and that its software can be audited and trusted can be seen by the Communist Republic of China adopting Linux as their operating system of choice. They trust nothing and no one, but they do trust Linux. If the Most Paranoid Countries on Earth [tm] use Linux to make sure no one is snooping on them, isn't this a good enough argument for you too?


-- Rodolfo J. Paiz rpaiz simpaticus com http://www.simpaticus.com

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