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Feature: Open Source

Bob Metcalfe re-evaluates open source

By Staff on April 25, 2007 (8:00:00 AM)

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Bob Metcalfe may not have invented the Internet, but few people's technical achievements have done more to make it popular and accessible than the father of Ethernet and founder of 3Com. Metcalfe and the open source community got a little bit sideways with each other last century, but that appears to be all in the past now.

Metcalfe remembers being accused of "likening the open source movement to Communism, which, as you know, failed after a 70-year experiment in the Soviet Union. Even after I wrote I was just kidding, the movement was relentless in its vicious anonymous-coward Slashdot-ish counterattacks, which I found revealing about the movement. Fortunately, I have thick skin.

"Anyway, Linux has not killed Windows, contrary to the then movement's claim. And of course, Windows has not killed Linux. Your movement's character assassins tend to forget I was as negative on Windows as on Linux -- both being back-to-the-'60s technology.

"The big organization-of-human-capital question remains -- whether good modern software, like a many-core and/or mobile operating system, is better developed by the rapacious software corporation a la Microsoft or by rag-tag volunteers a la open source. I am delighted to watch the competition and see how both models evolve under the pressure, which they most certainly have been and will. They look to be converging."

Metcalfe is not only talking the talk, he's also walking the walk. "Just to prove that my mind is open, my partners at Polaris are backers and I am a director of SiCortex, a provider of open source Linux/MPI scientific high-performance cluster supercomputers.

"Scientific HPC people own and routinely recompile their own codes, which makes it all work. But most software users do not recompile, and probably shouldn't if they do."

Metcalfe hasn't swallowed the full glass of open source Kool-Aid. "It's the sustainability long-term of the open source model that I worry about. Who will take care of the software after the novelty wears off and the volunteers lose interest and get real jobs?"

So while we can't say that the years have changed Metcalfe from anti-open source -- especially since it appears he was never as anti-open source as it was claimed -- to an open source evangelist, it does seem fair to say that he has become open enough to the benefits and possibilities of open source to become associated with it professionally.

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on Bob Metcalfe re-evaluates open source

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Not surprising

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 03:21 AM
Metcalfe has almost always been negative on open source, calling it "open sores" at one point. His speculation that the software will not be developed when the volunteers get real jobs has never happened on the major projects such as the Linux kernel, Gnome, KDE, Gaim, Nessus, Open Office, etc. Sure, some projects never get going in a Darwinian, survival of the fittest fashion, but many open source projects are terrific and far better than their proprietary counter parts. It's the end-all, be-all, like he says, but you can build a full, free stack Feisty Fawn or Fedora too for Desktop or Server.


You can't accuse someone of being a commie

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 04:20 AM
and then say, naw I was just kidding.

The communists killed tens of millions of people. They stoled the property of hundreds of millions more. When they failed they cast hundreds of millions of people into abject poverty with countless people starving to death, or doing anything to get a meal.

Metcalf said, "The Open Source Movement reminds me of communism. Richard Stallman's Marx rants about the evils of the profit motive and multinational corporations. Linus Torvalds' Lenin laughs about world domination."

If it was just Metcalf, then I wouldn't have cared, but Metcalf was one of hundreds of media people saying this in an orchestrated attack against Linux by the convicted criminals over at Microsoft. I am sure that Metcalf cashed his check from MS for his slander against Linux.

The open source movement is 180 degrees opposite from both communism and capitalism. Open source is a new thing, which has never been seen before, something worth billions, with no margin cost to duplicate, which gives an unlimited supply to everyone.

Linux isn't communism because everyone individually owns their own Linux, that has an estimated value at 20 billion dollars. You actually own the software and can do anything you want without restrictions, as long as you don't distribute. If you distribute the software you must abide by the license agreement, because nothing else gives you the right to distribute the software. In communism the state owns and controls everything. In Linux the individual owns and controls everything.

Linux is the opposite of capitalism because it's margin cost to duplicate is essentially zero. Capitalism only works when there is a limited supply of something that a corporation owns and controls. Since each and everyone of us individually owns and controls Linux there is no limited supply for corporations to charge what the market will bear. There is no Linux market.

Even Windows depends on open source software for it's networking, compression and authentication layers. The hard stuff in Windows is nearly all BSD or MIT software.

I have had positions where I put open source software into my companies projects and gave updates back to the open source project. This saved my company months or years of development time and kept us from needing to hire dozens of additional highly skilled developers to implement the needed functionality. This gives startups a chance against large established companies.

Metcalf to this day can't seem to grasp these concepts. He is still saying "Who will take care of the software after the novelty wears off and the volunteers lose interest and get real jobs?" What he fails to understand is that there are tens of thousands of people who get paid to directly support open source projects everyday.


Re:You can't accuse someone of being a commie

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 05:19 AM
The idea of Free softwares and open source softwares are very old. They are not "new".

They been around since before they were called open source softwares or even Free softwares.

Please read your history book.

That is one objections I will bring to you. I have other objections to your statement.


Re:You can't accuse someone of being a commie

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 02:01 PM
'The communists killed tens of millions of people. They stoled the property of hundreds of millions more. When they failed they cast hundreds of millions of people into abject poverty with countless people starving to death, or doing anything to get a meal.'

That's ridiculous. Totalitarian dictators have killed millions of people. Communism is an economic system. Further communism is the IDEAL economic system, so ideal that human faults assure that it can never work.


Re:You can't accuse someone of being a commie

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 27, 2007 09:38 AM
OK, it's technically true that communism never killed anyone, just as capitalism never killed anyone, religious extremism never killed anyone, and planes, tanks, bombs, guns, and atomic weapons never killed anyone.

But that's lawyer-style hair-splitting and utter intellectual dishonesty.

In other words, you're a liar.

Communism and socialism both concentrate all power in the hands of the state, the individual is subservient to that, and both subscribe to the notion that the ends of achieving socialism and communism justify any means. For Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, that meant killing anyone who opposed you, either outright with a bullet or via labor camp. the death toll is, indeed, in the millions. Stalin made Hitler look like a rank amateur when it came to mass murder.

To be sure, communist dictators hardly have a monopoly on state mass murder, but with the sole exception of Hitler, all the worst have been communists. Coincidence? I doubt it.

As far as communism's merits as an economic system go (it's also a political system, whether you say so or not, and a thoroughly evil one), how can a system that is such an utter failure be called ideal? How can a system that denies the individual the fruits of his/her labor be called ideal?

Here's a good example of why it's not:

- Capitalism: I get some land, plant some wheat, harvest 10 times as much as I need to feed my family, and sell the rest to others who can't or won't farm, so they can feed their families too

- Communism: if I have any land (the state would usually have taken it from me already), I plant some wheat and grow 10 times as much as I need to feed my family. The state comes around, they take 90% of it (or maybe all of it, and I buy some back at the state store). Half of it goes to corrupt officials to is exported for hard currency, half the rest goes to waste because of the inefficiencies of the system, and what's left can be purchased at the state store. Next planting season, I either plant just enough to feed my family, or maybe none at all, figuring I'll just get it at the state store like everyone else. There's certainly no reason for me to plant any more than I need. The government has no wheat and buys it for hard currency on the world market and eventually collapses because communism doesn't work.

That, boys, and girls, is a one-paragraph history of the USSR. Communism has no need of external enemies; it's its own worst enemy to a degree sufficient to bring it down.


Re:You can't accuse someone of being a commie

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 28, 2007 05:26 AM

``...everyone individually owns their own Linux, that has an estimated value at 20 billion dollars.''

That reminds me... I've got call my insurance agent. Let's see $20B * N servers... Oh, man! My rates are gonna go through the roof!


Re:You can't accuse someone of being a commie

Posted by: Administrator on April 27, 2007 03:31 AM
apparently you haven't had your fill of hatred.
Some people are that way. but to put it into perspective communism has never killed anyone. People kill people. We humans have free will and the possibility to choose right and wrong is in all of us, for some reason many choose to hate. as far as killing goes from the beginning of time man has killed man. as there were more men there were more men for more men to kill. Catholics, Muslims, Communist, Capitalist's label them as you will have all taken great numbers of life's and the worst is probably given to the capitalist of the USA who fought England, themselfs in the civil war WW1 WW2 Vietnam Korea Cuba desert storm and Iraq, not to mention constant involvement in the death and destruction of others like in Somalia going on today. The US(capitalism(Greed)) is by far the largest destroyer of humanity of all(Responsible for Millions of Deaths). So before one points his finger at others be sure to look at yourself first, Right Now the US is the largest Terrorist Network in the world. And is surly on track to poison the whole planet.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 04:21 AM
"It's the sustainability long-term of the open source model that I worry about. Who will take care of the software after the novelty wears off and the volunteers lose interest and get real jobs?"

-- who takes care of the product once the company goes bankrupt, or doesn't care, or doesn't want to support that product? Actually sustainability is one of advantage of opensource.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 27, 2007 10:03 AM
Funny thing is, when I saw the subject of your post, I thought it was going to be about RMS.

Don't get me wrong, I have tremendous respect for his accomplisments in software and with FSF; we quite simply would not have what we have today without him. Free software, including Linux distros, would not exist at we know it, if at all, were it not for Richard Stallman.

That said, if you read/listen to what RMS has to say on political subjects, he does indeed sound like a a sixties radical style communist. The guy is utterly full of crap on politics and economics.

Metcalf's problem is he takes some things that may be true of RMS (I suspect very strongly that he's a closet commie, or something very much like one, and he's not even terribly closeted about it) and applies them to the entire Free software movement, the entire open source movement (and doesn't get the differences between the two), and then goes on to make rash accusations and predictions based on that.

(Note: while RMS may be very communistic, I'm sure he's not a communist in the Mao/Pol Pot/Stalin sense of the word; while many communists believe in violence, murder, and the end of communism justifying any means whatsoever, others are peaceful and law abiding. The Japan Communist Party uses exactly one weapon: the ballot box. Not with much success, but they are a law-abiding group, and that is paramount.)

I missed his rant against Linux and open source back at the time he wrote it, but I was already a Linux user then and could already see the tide starting to turn, as did many others in the FOSS camp.

Now, in 2007, we see Microsoft truly being pressed by Linux. Sun, also pressed, as open-sourced both Solaris and Java. Vista is not doing well compared to how Windows 95, 2000, and XP did when they were launched. IBM and Sun support Linux strongly. Linux is huge in the server space, and is making some headway on the desktop. Open source applications like Thunderbird and Firefox are taking real marketshare and mindshare from Outlook Express and IE. Two of the most popular relational databases are both open source (Postgresql and MySQL).

People have often used the Gandhi quote about Linux and the FOSS movement: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win." FOSS today, and Linux in particular, have been in the thick of the "then they fight you" phase for a good while now, and the transition into the "then you win" phase is beginning.

That doesn't mean Microsoft and other proprietary vendors will dry up and blow away; they will always have a place. However, five years on, Linux is likely to have a significant and growing share of the desktop market, especially in emerging economies. If major distros such as Ubuntu, Red Hat, and Novell/SuSe are successful in exploiting the window of opportunity that Vista is surprising, five years on the combined market share of Linux and Mac will be really making Microsoft sweat.

I'll make a bold prediction here: in five years, Microsoft executives will be reading the tea leaves and preparing for the day when Windows has less than a fifty percent market share.

Heck, I'll make a foolish prediction to go with my bold one and say there's a small chance that five years from today, the 50% milestone may have already been met by Linux and Mac.


Good engineer, lousy politician

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 04:57 AM
Kudos for ethernet and all; Metcalfe is a talented engineer. But I stopped taking him seriously about the third time he mentioned "open sores". I suppose that he enjoys riling the slashdot crowd, but his behavior is far from statesmanlike, and his emotional outbursts hurt his credibility.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 05:27 AM
Well, lets get one thing straight, open source is not a fad or something, it isn't going away. Open source is here to stay.

Also, Slashdot does not represent Linux. Slashdot is an awesome place though, its a fun place where geek hangs out and get geeky, and saying funny stuff and joking around there is the charm of Slashdot.


mod -1, Flamebait

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 08:26 AM
Thick skin, eh? Then why is he still bugged by things said over seven years ago? Especially when his talent for incitement is his biggest talent?

Open source evangelist? Not at all. Just some jerk trying to stir up a bit of trouble. Talented engineer, sure, but otherwise a waste of space.


False premise

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 04:34 PM

He's still operating on some false premises. One of which is the incorrect assertion that the majority of open source developers are hobbyists. True that hobbyists make a contribution that cannot be ignored. However, it appears that a larger portion come directly from the corporate sector.

Look at all the contributors to Apache, MySQL, Qt, the Linux kernel, and so on.


Metcalfe smears the FOSS community

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 04:55 PM

the movement was relentless in its vicious anonymous-coward Slashdot-ish counterattacks, which I found revealing about the movement.

Somebody got under his skin. So of course "the movement", i.e. the free-software community, is to blame.

Who exactly "counterattacked" Metcalfe? Was it Linus Torvalds? Alan Cox? Richard Stallman? Eric Raymond? Does he have any reason - even the slightest reason - for blaming these people or other members of the community? Or is it more likely that it was just some high-school kid whose only connection to the FOSS community is that he's installed a copy of Firefox on his PC?

Maybe before Mr Metcalfe rants about "vicious" attacks on him by "the movement" he should consider his own behavior?


Nice historical revisionism

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 08:22 PM
If he was "never as anti-open source as it was claimed", then why does he repeatedly refer to "open sores" instead of open source? (<a href="" title="">reference</a>) This man is seems to have no problem dishing out the insults, but simply cannot take well written and well founded criticism of his brutally inept opinions. I think it behooves in the future to NOT treat the guy with kid gloves just because of his reputation. In the long term, Linus Torvalds has already far surpassed Metcalfe's influence in the industry, and has done so with more skill, humility and grace than Bob could ever dream of.


Re:Nice historical revisionism

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 11:40 PM
Agreed. Why is this schmuck newsworthy?


Re:Nice historical revisionism

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 26, 2007 11:49 PM
Thanks for the reference.

It's nice to know that this guy is just someone who can't take what he dishes out. This tends to describe most people in the media that end up complaining about the negative responses they trigger. They bait the trolls and then complain when the bait is taken.

You really can't take back labels like "Communist". Too many of us have 1st or 2nd hand information on what that term really means.



ethernet was co-invented

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 27, 2007 12:56 AM
What about David R. Boggs? Was not he the co-inventor of ethernet? Did Metcalf work collabortively with him and others and then take all the credit whilst bashing open source? Hmmmm....


It's funny that ....

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 27, 2007 01:19 AM
It's funny that he criticized Linux as being based on technologie from the 70s. After all, Ethernet, arguably the most popular physical/link layer network technology in use today, is almost that old itself.

Linux and Ethernet are both case of worst-is-best. They are both crufty and retrofitted for task they where not designed for. But, hey, they are so flexible and ubiquitous that we may as well just use them instead of re-inventing the wheel.


So, who exactly is...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 27, 2007 01:46 AM
...the staff, under whose byline this article appears?



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 27, 2007 04:43 AM
Is he sponsoring anything Linux related?


Re:A couple of points

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 27, 2007 11:41 AM
I am one of those people who spells Micro$oft with a dollar sign. I would replace all the letters with dollar signs but then it would be hard to read. Using the dollar sign is a valid and succinct form of protest because Micro$oft is all about dollars and greed and I resent that I am sometimes forced to use their software when I know there are better and freer alternatives.


Re:You can't accuse someone of being a commie

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 28, 2007 03:45 AM
Calm down, Osama.

You condemn hatred, but I see it dripping from your slanderous attacks at the United States, its people, and its democracy. If you are a US citizen, please leave. You might like Iran better. If you are not a US citizen, then mind your own business. You have no more right to generalize about us than I would have to generalize about your country or your people.


Re:You can't accuse someone of being a commie

Posted by: Administrator on May 01, 2007 02:30 AM
It never fails to surprise me the ignorance of you sheep who follow without question and don't have a damn idea of where you’re going or where you have been. I am a U.S. citizen and I am a veteran of the US Air Force. One of the things that make this a great country is the rights we have in this country that allow me to have freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I have defended this country and will continue to protect you poor week huddled masses till death. I stated fact not slander you should probably understand the facts before assuming anything. Just to impress you a little more I am more than an American, I am a Native American I am decedent of the Great Chief Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotanka) of the Lakota Sioux and I also have German blood. Now to put your comment into perspective I have more of a right to be here than do you. Now to really blow your mind I am an American Muslim. That is right and to be precise I am a Muslim that has more right to be here on the shores of this great land that I love and defend, than do you! I would suggest that you spend some time getting an education before suggesting that my rights are less than yours, because nobody and I do mean nobody has the right to hate another. It has to end my brother here and now. Quit judging people because of their look or religion or economic system. Judge the man and the deed not race and the creed. For if you didn’t know me you would look at me as an educated white man. You would consider me your brother you would fight with me side by side. And I would fight side by side with you. The only thing that makes us any different is I believe in One God (Allah). And I also believe in Peace (ISLAM). For truly the meaning of the word Islam is peace. I bet you didn’t know that. Don’t confuse terrorist, as the government would have you believe as Muslims. To take ones life in Islam is a sin and the gates of heaven would reject one who took his own life. To make a reverse judgment would cause one to say Christians are thief’s and murders because we imprison the largest amount of our population and have a long waiting list for death row. The US right now is running its campaign of terror from Saudi Arabia the original Muslim country home of the capitol of Islam, Mecca and Medina. And birth place of the Profit Mohamed (May peace be upon him).


Re(1):You can't accuse someone of being a commie

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on October 05, 2007 02:18 PM
Islam means SUBMISSION, there is ONLY peace when everyone submits to ISLAM
Please explain the concept of abrogation? How abaout Takia?

Having been revealed later in Muhammad's life than 50:45, 109, and 2:256, the Verse of the Sword abrogates their peaceful injunctions in accordance with 2:106. Sura 8, revealed shortly before Sura 9, reveals a similar theme:
8:39. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism: i.e. worshipping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone [in the whole of the world]. But if they cease (worshipping others besides Allah), then certainly, Allah is All-Seer of what they do.

8:67. It is not for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war (and free them with ransom) until he had made a great slaughter (among his enemies) in the land. You desire the good of this world (i.e. the money of ransom for freeing the captives), but Allah desires (for you) the Hereafter. And Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.

9:29. Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

9:33. It is He {Allah} Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam), to make it superior over all religions even though the Mushrikun (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah) hate (it).

The Quran's commandments to Muslims to wage war in the name of Allah against non-Muslims are unmistakable. They are, furthermore, absolutely authoritative as they were revealed late in the Prophet's career and so cancel and replace earlier instructions to act peaceably. Without knowledge of the principle of abrogation, Westerners will continue to misread the Quran and misdiagnose Islam as a "religion of peace."

And don't come with "it's out of context" you should know that the Sura are sorted according to their length, how's that for context?


A couple of points

Posted by: Administrator on April 26, 2007 05:22 AM

While it is true that Linux and OSS was largely dependent upon volunteer effort in the 1990s, it is largely about corporate sponsorship today. The barrier to entry is low, however, and anyone with the necessary skills can volunteer if they so desire. The volunteers are still a significant source of contributions. But the major projects: Linux, Samba, Cups, etc. along with the Distros themselves are pretty much covered by paid employees.

Also, I would caution you on judging OSS by its most vocal fans. Would one dislike the New York Jets based upon comments made by rabid fans? Would one find comments by rabid fans to be "revealing" about the New York Jets' players? Of course not.

Rest assured, that the majority of us are quite rational and would not consider launching personal attacks upon those who don't happen to agree with us. But most of us tend to be less vocal than a certain well meaning, but, lets say "over-enthusiastic", subset of the community.

And Bob, you should not be at all surprised to have received some pretty negative feedback. As I recall, you regularly acted in such childish ways as calling the "Open Source" movement the "Open Sores" movement. I put this in the same class as I do spelling Microsoft with a $. I think less of people in my own community who do that. And, likewise, I thought less of you for acting as you did. You really did set yourself up as a target, so please don't feign surprise at the response you got. This is not to say that I condone flames and personal attacks... but I think we've both been around the block enough times to know what to expect.

Good luck with your new undertaking. And I hope that perhaps in the future you might consider yourself a full-fledged member of our community.

I'm sure that you have a lot to contribute that would be greatly appreciated by the community, and which would benefit many people around the world.

But stay focused on the constructive feedback and ignore the flames. Life is too short not to focus on the constructive.


Re:A couple of points

Posted by: Administrator on April 26, 2007 05:31 AM
One other item which I forgot to address in my previous post.

Try not to think of GPL as *just* a license that fosters collaboration between ragtag groups of volunteers.

Also consider it as a license which has provided a level, protected, playing field for a bunch of companies that, historically, have never been able to hold to a partnership with their competitors long enough to accomplish anything, before they all started stabbing each other in the backs. The GPL actually has these companies cooperating with each other on certain goals which they all share. Each knows that the terms of the license ensure that their contribution will not be used against them unfairly, and also ensures that they will get their fair share of benefit from the other players' work.

GPL is good for volunteers, yes. But applied strategically, and wisely, it is also good for business.


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