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January 04, 2005

Krzysztof Kowalczyk Is Completely Insane

In an astonishing display of public stupidity, he screams and leaps, fangs bared, for Google as he writes:

Krzysztof Kowalczyk weblog: Let's estimate how much money did Google save by using open source software that they would otherwise have to purchase. The operating system for tens of thousands of their computers. Web servers they use. All the Unix utilities they use. Editors, compilers and debuggers they use to write their code. E-mail smtp server. E-mail pop servers. Languages like Perl and Python. Databases like MySQL and PostgreSQL. It’s safe to say that if Richard Stallman was never born, the licenses for those kinds of software would cost them tens of millions of dollars.

And what does Google contribute back? Where are their patches to gcc, gdb, python, postgresql, sendmail, emacs?

Google - we leave open-source to Microsoft. Come work for us. It's very ironic that I can find more open-source code created by Microsoft and its employees ( RSS Bandit, IronPython, Windows Installer XML (WiX), FlexWiki) than by Google employees. Not saying that there aren’t any but they are certainly not easy to find, even when I use mighty search engine trying to find google open-source.

Google - we like our hardware cheap and our software free. Come work for us. If you're into this stuff you know that Google is known for it's highly tuned process of selecting hardware components (i.e. all those thousands of computers they need to index and store the web) to hit the best price/performance ratio. In a way, they use the cheapest thing, when you define the cost as the total cost of ownership (as opposed to simply the cost of buying the hardware). Thanks to Adam's admision:

Indeed, in these days of open source, I wonder if the software itself, should cost at all?

we also know, that they like their software free.

As a side note, it's a surprising statement coming from Adam who knows very well that writing software costs a lot. Open-source doesn't eliminate this cost, it just shift the costs and allows unlimited number of free-riders, like Google...

Is there anyone in the world, anyone at all--except for Krzysztof Kowalczyk--who claims that Google has a negative whuffie balance with him? The services--free services--Google has provided to us all have been immensely valuable, and far outstrip what would in some alternate universe be the fully-allocated cost of the open source software that it uses. I'm grouchy about Google these days because of its role as an enabler of comment spam, but even so Google's whuffie balance with me is positive and very large.

To call Google a "free rider" is to demonstrate residence beyond the Gamma Quadrant.

Posted by DeLong at January 4, 2005 01:55 PM


In any event, the kind of benefit that Google gives a society is probably exactly the kind of thing Stallman had hoped that free software would.

Sure, it is hypocritical and a little bit annoying for a company that benefits so greatly from free (as in speech) software to give nothing back and hide behind a veil or intellectual property, when it comes to software, but their service is free.

But then again, that's the kind of thing free software empowers them to do, and in the end society sees a net benefit, I imagine.

Posted by: Timothy Klein at January 4, 2005 02:22 PM

Free services? As I recall there are targeted ads on every Google search page and that Google turns a profit on them. I'm exchanging my eye-time on those ads with Google for its services. I happen to think its a pretty great bargain, but I wouldn't call it free.

Posted by: David Clingingsmith at January 4, 2005 02:31 PM

Let's see, Microsoft has 57,000 employees and Google has 1900. What a surprise that Microsoft employees write more free software!

Google actually does contribute patches to linux drivers that they use. I don't know if they even use the other software mentioned. I would be very unpleasantly surprised if google used sendmail for their mail service.

Posted by: PaulF at January 4, 2005 02:37 PM

Oh, I don't know. In the anecdote he presents, it does look like Google is asking for a bunch of consultants to work for free.

But the thing is, Google management owes a fiduciary duty to its stockholders to be a free-rider wherever possible; only once that free-riding threatens shareholder value should Google actually contribute to the Open Source community.

Posted by: Matt Davis at January 4, 2005 02:56 PM

I am even more a defender of google than you (proven in that I am the one that told you it was Movable Type's comment design that leads to blog spam and not google, leading to your remark that you'll have to reconsider...)

Anyway, Krzysztof has a point. I'm not surprised you don't see it, it's the sort of point an economist that sees that free trade is better than fair trade would miss.

You're measuring benefit on this global scale, just like economists can only measure everything in dollars. And you value everything based on those dollar costs. But that sets up and easy way to miss that you're making an apples and oranges comparison.

Krzysztof takes a wish from Adam Bosworth for a better database more suited to google-like uses, and Krzysztof wants to know why Google doesn't create it and give it back to the community?

That's a very reasonable question. It's not insane. It's not stupid.

Who better than the Ph.Ds at Google could do this? If Google's added value to the world is as much as you think it is, than think how much more value they could add if the Google engineers were to create this new dynamic form of database and offer it to society? Who would know more about how to do this than Google? And that they don't and no one else can must then be a net loss to society, and Krzysztof is reasonably frustrated by that.

That's no more stupid or insane than an economist that believes that free trade is better in the long run for everyone, and that short term shocks to individuals are a reasonable cost to society (if devastating for the individual.)

In some sense, Krzysztof's complaint about Google's free loading comes down to a flaw about the GPL V2.0 which some folks have wanted to be changed for the GPL V3.0. That is that the GPL was created before the web world.

Prior to the web, Google would not have been able to serve the world using only Google's computers. Google would have had to distribute their software to your computer. Doing so would mean that if Google linked to GPL'd code, that they would have had to distribute the source to their software as well as the binaries. And that their source would be bound by the GPL.

Since web applications have come to prominence, there are many sites and services that run in the Google-like, Application Service Provider mode that can link to GPL'd applications and provide their value over the net without needing to distribute the source. Many people feel that that is a deep flaw of the GPL V2.0 and does create a free rider situation.

Note: I do not know that Google links to GPL code, but we all know that Google depends on GPL'd code, namely Linux. Depending on GPL'd code without linking to it does not bind one to the GPL, even though Microsoft would like you to believe it does. (And even though some reasonable people think it should.)

As a side, I could ask you that by throwing words like stupid and insane Krzysztof's way, coming from a Berkeley Professor, and a very prominent blogger, and ex-Clinton official (is that a reasonable description?) is not necessarily a good thing at all from Krzysztof's point of view. Never forget the power of a Professor to ruin someone's reputation.

All that said, I am waiting for Google's HR department to call. Well wishing is more like it. I'm in Arizona but I can telecommute!

Posted by: jerry at January 4, 2005 02:56 PM

If the GPL is so modified, then Google could move to {Free, Open, Net}BSD. The only catch is that gcc is used by BSD, and is under GPL, but you can't retroactively change the license on existing releases, and development on gcc would therefore probably fork into new-GPL and earlier-GPL versions, the latter probably maintained by one or more of the BSD groups, just to get around this issue. For that matter, Linux development would probably fork in a similar way.

Is that really a good outcome?

Posted by: me2i81 at January 4, 2005 04:40 PM

It's been a long time since major Open Source projects were developed by a bunch of altruistic hobbyists. OS software is developed by companies that need the capabilities that the software provides.

If your business depends on OS software, it behooves you to have somebody who knows how it works and can fix it if it goes wrong in your envoronment. The best way to do that is to have somebody on your staff involved with maintenence -- it takes a while to get up to speed on even a simple project, and when you need help, this is time you just can't afford.

Google uses OS software, but their main business is so specialized that their main software wouldn't be useful to most outfits (except, of course, the people doing comment spam :-) They seem to be good citizens; if they fixed up some of the tools that they use, I'd expect them to give the changes back to the community.

Posted by: lightning at January 4, 2005 04:44 PM

Just to note, that I really have no idea what will be in the GPL V3. About a year ago, articles I read were about the "ASP" problem. This year, the few articles I have read appear more focused on the software patent issue. I certainly have no idea how RMS feels about what the ASP problem actually is, or how best to resolve it.

Posted by: jerry at January 4, 2005 05:00 PM

Just because you don't pay them directly doesn't make Google a free service. Google is like any media company in this respect. You watch the TV show for free and then you pay when you buy a car, a beverage, or any other advertised product or service. And you pay whether or not you ever saw the ad, and whether or not you made your purchase because of it. So I will use it as if it were free, but not give it any points for being so.

Posted by: snsterling at January 4, 2005 05:33 PM

For anyone that thinks google maybe even close to being evil, just think of the good that comes from this search:


For an explanation see: http://www.graffe.com/forums/showthread.php?t=26886&page=1&pp=20

Posted by: jerry at January 4, 2005 07:25 PM

Allocate google stock grants to open source foundations.

Well, If all those employees / founders are benefiting from the millions (Billions?) (In the form of ESOPS and Stock grants) from google stock sale, did any certified Open software foundations receive any stock options at all ?

It would be a tremendous boost to open software.

Google are you listening ?

Posted by: dave at January 4, 2005 10:14 PM

go to google-watch.org

markus wolf would be jealous.

so happy that you're in step with the times.

feeding appetite ain't same as bearing witness.

just another, how shall we say it, contradiction?

the kids'll be fine, uh-huh

Posted by: spot at January 5, 2005 12:42 AM

>Doing so would mean that if Google linked to GPL'd code, that they would have had to distribute the source to their software as well as the binaries. And that their source would be bound by the GPL.

No. Linking is OK, if it means USING functions of an LPGLed library.

Otherwise everything linked to the glibc would have to be GPLed.

MODIFYING existing GPLed code would force putting it under the GPL.

And using the Linux kernel doesn't force Google to share their userland applications. They DO share kernel patches.

So what's the problem here?

Posted by: Felix Deutsch at January 5, 2005 01:28 AM

Yeah, I don't quite see the problem here either. There is this notion that free software exists in a realm governed by some sort of gift or prestige economy, but as far as I can tell, it is nothing of the sort. Linus Torvalds has gotten fame, prestige and well-paid work through his reputation as the father of Linux, and a few folks GPL code on principle whenever they don't see an easy way to make money off of it, but otherwise, I see fairly transparent cash reasons for most sources of successful free software to contribute to it.

If IBM puts money into developing the Linux OS, it's because fixing up Linux to do what they want is cheaper than writing and maintaining proprietary OS software, and they estimate that the revenue they lose from not selling their OS is less than the savings from not having to write it from scratch. The economic logic of it is not very different from what would happen if IBM and Apple formed a consortium to share the costs of OS development. The only difference is that with GPL, there is no need to formally negociate entry into such a consortium nor bar to other participants.

The largest contributors to free software profit in fairly simple terms from their choices. Ergo, there is little reason for the users of that software to feel obligated to contribute back to them.

I'm in the same boat as Google. I'm working with a number of openly licensed material to produce novel, marketable products and services. But, I cannot release those same products under GPL. I would like to, but my boss is of the opinion that shareholder value is not augmented by giving things away. IBM may well be making the right decision in their situation, but I can't say that my boss is wrong in our case.

For all that people treat GPL as an ideology, free software tends to live in world of more easily explicable profits and added-value. At worst, Google is taking nothing beyond the insignificant cost of digital copying and contributing nothing to free software. At best, it is a consumer of products and services from the same people who pour time and money into the software they use.

Posted by: Scott Martens at January 5, 2005 03:04 AM

Krzysztof Kowalczyk doesn't say that Google has a "negative whuffie balance" does he? He says that Google is not a great open source software citizen and appears to have a point.

That Google has other things to its (more substantial) credit and does not appear to have broken any rules is true but not in contradiction of what Mr. Kowalczyk claims.

Posted by: Jack at January 5, 2005 04:14 AM

Actually, I know a lot of people on Usenet for whom Google Groups has a negative whuffie balance. Personally I thought they provided a great service for a while, and actually added value to Usenet-- they were certainly better than their predecessor, the progressively deteriorating DejaNews/Deja.com-- though the recent makeover looks bad to me.

But there seem to be many Usenet contributors who think that Google is somehow unfairly capitalizing on their work.

[So archiving Usenet groups is inferior to not archiving Usenet groups?]

Posted by: Matt McIrvin at January 5, 2005 06:20 AM

let me get this straight:

Google is 'bad' because it uses open source software and does not 'contribute' its data base to the world, for free.

I read the NY Times, Wash Post for free. Should they be complaining that I don't contribute op-ed to them for free? or as I am a money manager I don't offer to manage their investments for free?


Posted by: suresh krishnamoorthy at January 5, 2005 06:57 AM

Not only does Google provide very, very useful Web services at no cost, but they do the only thing I request of tech developers -- they publish. (e.g., Ghemawat, Sanjay, Howard Gobioff and Shun-Take Leung. "The Google File System" (In Proceedings of the 19th ACM Symposium on Operating System Principles, Bolton Landing, New York, October 2003))

I'm hardly a brilliant programmer (my current areas of interest require me to do agent-based simulations, which ain't rocket science), but one peer-reviewed USENIX paper is worth a thousand copies of Red Hat for my purposes. Doesn't mean I wouldn't like to see Google put some source out there for public consumption, but I'm not going to beat my chest and pour ashes on my head about it.

Besides, isn't "free-as-in-speech" what the GPL is all about?

Posted by: WatchfulBabbler at January 5, 2005 07:58 AM

Kowalczyk seems to be unclear of the definition of the word "free". The whole point of free software is that anyone - from 13-year old hobbyist to F500 corporation - can get it and use it without payment or obligation. Saddling it with some requirement to "give back" to the community (above and beyond the GPL) means that it's no longer free (or "free").

Otherwise, it comes across as a particularly whiny bait-and-switch.
Free Software People: Use free software! It's really good! And it's free! That's right, free!
Google: Looks good. Thanks!
FSP: Hey you took our free software and didn't give us anything back! That's not right! Free riders! Free riders!

Between this and a slashdot thread from a few days ago (about Google's interviewing practices), there seems to be great deal of Geek Rage developing against the big G.

Posted by: FMguru at January 5, 2005 10:09 AM

"Is there anyone in the world, anyone at all--except for Krzysztof Kowalczyk--who claims that Google has a negative whuffie balance with him?"

There seems to be a little angst among some Project Gutenberg participants, over Google Print.

That's largely due to the lack of information about how it will work when fully implemented, particularly as to what will be available of the out-of-copyright texts that get scanned in.

Posted by: Jon H at January 5, 2005 01:58 PM

considering my short position in google, the "whuffie balance with me" will be " positive and very large" by, I am figuring, May, where it'll be 20% off and heading further south from current levels

me is hoping they're helping with the disaster from a region whence much of their recent hires hail

Posted by: braight at January 5, 2005 08:10 PM

Google hasn't been a "free service" since they've been placing ads in the returned search results. I agree with you that it's been a valuable service, but not free.

Posted by: Andy at January 5, 2005 10:32 PM

>Google hasn't been a "free service" since they've been placing ads in the returned search results. I agree with you that it's been a valuable service, but not free.

They're not mixing them with the search results, but display them NEXT TO them.

And those that come up on my version of Google don't possess hypnotic powers that force me to buy something.

Posted by: Felix Deutsch at January 6, 2005 05:07 AM

Hi Felix, Google makes money from the ads on the side of the screen. That means it's not a "free service". End of story *grin*.


Posted by: Andy at January 6, 2005 08:21 PM

As has been stated before, Google is NOT free. The ads it provides generate a huge amount of revenue; otherwise, Wall Street would not like them so much.

And saying that the "free" services it provides gives benefit enough that overcomes their not giving back to the Open Source community?

Give me a break. If they don't provide them, someone else will. Blogging? LiveJournal, Xanga, MSN Spaces to name a few. Search? Yahoo!, new MSN Search - both quite good enough, and better in some ways than Google. Photo organization? Adobe Photoshop Album. Sure, it may be shareware, but it's better than Picasa.

Name a service that Google provides that isn't provided by a competitor. Google may provide them first - but the industry would eventually demand it. Google is simply a bit farther along.

And saying that if you're forced to contribute to Open Source, it's no longer free? Well, obviously. Ever wonder why very intelligent people claim that nothing is ever free? Open Source isn't an exception. It can ONLY flourish when people contribute back. The work - worth money - must still be done, and, for the Open Source business model to work, it has to go BACK INTO the Open Source community. Otherwise, the great revolution "Open Source" halts in its tracks.

I've nothing against Google, and use it every day. I applaud them for taking advantage of Open Source in the way that they have, because it's been an exceedingly profiteable business decision. I have no moral or ethical qualms about that, and no inimical problems with it. But saying that Google is free, and that they haven't ripped off the Open Source community is idiotic.

Google is a great company. That doesn't make them moral.

Posted by: Michael Griffiths at January 7, 2005 03:07 PM